‘threads Of Suffering And Guilt’ In William Shakespeare's Macbeth 

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 Guilt is the fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime. It is the conscious voice that has the ability to cause humans to become insane. When guilt becomes a heavy burden, the effects it has on the human character go much deeper than the surface, but everybody has their own way of dealing with it. The human character is unarmed against the power of guilt that would consume them every second they live with it. The devastating effects of guilt are portrayed vividly in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. Guilt and suffering play a significant through the varied role in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth as seen through the characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Macduff.

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As Shakespeare’s tragic tale of ambition begins, the central character, Macbeth, undergoes a hugely dramatic shift of guilt and agreed to a tragic end. At the beginning of the play, the initial impression of Macbeth is a brave and capable warrior as the wounded captain informed to the king, Duncan, “ … For brave Macbeth — well he deserves that name— / Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, / Which smoked with bloody execution, / Like valor’s minion carved out his passage…” (I.ii.16-19). This explains how Macbeth’s character starts to appear in the play, as a loyal warrior to his country, that he is ready to sacrifice himself to protect the king of Scotland, Duncan. This perspective begins to complicate once Macbeth interacts with the three witches. The prophecy that he will be king brings him pleasure, but it also creates inner confusion. Three of his traits — courage, ambition, and self-doubt — struggle for dominance of his character throughout his role. As Macbeth was talking aside about what was going in his mind, he mentioned in a moonstruck position:

This supernatural soliciting

Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,

Why hath it given me earnest of success,

Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor.

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

Against the use of nature? Present fears

Are less than horrible imaginings.

In this quote, Macbeth is starting to be honest with himself, but his thought that is accompanied by the plots of death of Duncan, and further his mutual bloodthirsty ambition and shakes his loyal side with conscience and brings him back to reality. Nevertheless, when Macbeth shares the witches’ prophecy with his dearest partner of greatness, Lady Macbeth, she motives that horrible thought fed his bloodthirsty ambition by planning to kill the king. Finally, Macbeth killed the king, after being tormented with anxiety. After the murder of King Duncan, Macbeth decides to fight against his ambitious nature and chooses to not kill the king. Macbeth’s mental state can be described as anxious and confused in this situation. After that Macbeth understands that he wants to become king, but he is initially could not murder him. But Lady Macbeth shows her power over Macbeth when she questions his manhood and devotion to her. It takes Lady Macbeth’s steely a sense of purpose to push him by mocking him:

Was the hope drunk

Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?

And wakes it now, to look so green and pale

At what it did so freely? From this time

Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard

To be the same in thine own act and valor

As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that

Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,

And live a coward in thine own esteem,

Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would, ”

Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage?

Lady Macbeth persuades her husband into committing regicide. Following Duncan’s murder, Macbeth becomes overwhelmed with guilt and anxiety. He immediately begins to experience auditory hallucinations following that and has difficulty concealing his emotions. Unfortunately, in order to protect his crown, Macbeth orders the assassination of Banquo and Fleance. By the time, he begins to separate himself from his wife, planning Banquo’s death without telling her. This is demonstrated when he mentions to her, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, / Till thou applaud the deed. …” (III. ii. 47). After Banquo’s assassination, Macbeth begins to lose sleep and even sees Banquo’s ghost during the banquet feast. After a short time, he orders the slaughter of Macduff’s family, due to Macduff’s treason by fleeing to England to support Malcolm. Macbeth becomes an unsympathetic ruler, who is overconfident to retain his title as king. Macbeth does not feel guilty at all when the slaughter at Fife takes place. However, he pushes his guilt away to the corner, while Lady Macbeth loses the fight with her conscience. The theme of ambition is present throughout Macbeth. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are ambitious to seize the crown from the king Duncan. Lady Macbeth speaks about her husband’s ambition, “…thou wouldst be great,/Art not without ambition, but without/The illness sِhould ِattend it. …”. This important quote enables us to understand Macbeth’s nature which is ‘too full o’ the milk of human kindness…’ (I. v. 16). Lady Macbeth’s provocation enlivens the evil residing in Macbeth and his ambition receives a new dimension: “I have no spur/To prick the sides of my intent, but only/Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself/And falls on th’other’. However, there is a dramatic shift between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after Duncan’s murder. While Macbeth turns into a savage bloodthirsty ruler with no conscience, Lady Macbeth becomes gradually more unstrung by her guilt over Duncan, Banquo, and the murder of Macduff’s family. This is exhibited when Lady Macbeth starts to question herself about Macduff’s family’s slaughter, “The thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? — What, / will these hands ne’er be clean? — No more o’ that, my / lord, no more o’ that. You mar all with this starting.” She changes from the courageous, hard-hearted, vicious, relentless, and scheming assassin that she had been at the beginning to a gibbering and confused woman who is so overwhelmed by shame and remorse.

Starting a moment of reckless stupidly with ambition does not mean that who starts it is the only one blamed for what follows. Everybody has their own way to deal with guilt, and this reflects their character personality. Lady Macbeth shows a drastic shift in her dramatic character throughout Macbeth. This starts from the murder of the king, Duncan, until the slaughter at Fife. The first intentions of killing the king in the play are when Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth informing her about the weird sisters’ prophecy. Once she reads the letter she has the idea of killing Duncan so that Macbeth will receive power and, in return, Lady Macbeth will be able to share power with Macbeth. Lady Macbeth then knows she has to convince Macbeth to commit the deed because he will not do it for himself. Lady Macbeth believes he is a wuss. To be able to become evil enough to convince Macbeth of killing Duncan, she asks upon the spirits help to make her eviler and to have more power to get to the throne. The following quote shows how Lady Macbeth asks for help from the evil spirits in order to get the crown:

The raven himself is hoarse

That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan

Under my battlements. Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.

Stop up the access and passage to remorse,

That no compunctious visitings of nature

Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between

The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,

And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,

Wherever in your sightless substances

You wait on nature’s mischief. Come, thick night,

And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,

That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, …”.

Later on in the play, she continues with this heartless attitude by planning to kill Duncan and mocks her husband when he shows integrity. In other words, if he refuses to follow the plan it shows that he does not really love her, and he is a coward, no better than the ‘poor cat i’ the adage’, who wants a fish, but does not want to get its feet wet. Lady Macbeth is using the manipulation techniques to force Macbeth to commit the regicide. These ways show her powerful character. Macbeth tries to defend himself by saying, ‘I dare do all that may become a man; / Who dares do more is none’, but she does not listen and hints that she’s more man than he is:

I have given suck, and know

How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:

I would, while it was smiling in my face

Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums

And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this.

By using such a cruel example, she gets him to feel ashamed, pushing him to go against his good nature. Lady Macbeth won the argument, by using her skills of manipulation. All of sudden, the guilt and regret possess her which makes her mind becomes ‘infected’ (V. i. 64). She assumes that she has blood on her hands which cannot be cleaned, “Yet here’s a spot.” (V. i. 35). Lady Macbeth is showing a touch of deranged concern for her husband, even in the midst of her own degradation. She frequently reassures the away Macbeth that he has nothing to worry because ‘Banquo’s buried, he cannot/ come out on’s grave’. Lady Macbeth’s deterioration ends in suicide after suffering from a severe mental illness through sleepwalking to honest hallucinations. The repetitive justice is very important in the portrayal of William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, especially, when justice and fortune accompany each of the characters. Some of the characters may be prosecuted in an exaggerated way, not for something they have done but for their instigation of feelings and thoughts, which is seized by ambition. This is what happens to Lady Macbeth. Both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth suffer from guilt after killing their kind king, and both exhibited a hallucinogenic vision, such as seeing a dagger in the air for Macbeth, “Is this a dagger which I see before me, …” (II. i. 32). For Lady Macbeth, she pictures the king while he was sleeping as her father, “ Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, …” (II. ii. 12). However, both of them are judged by fate in a different way. Macbeth’s severed head is brought to Malcolm by Macduff, proof that Macbeth has been overthrown, and that justice takes place for what he does from crimes, while Lady Macbeth is punished through insanity which descends her to suicide for being the one who provokes the evil side in her husband.

A noble goal can shape the character’s long-term and gives a sense of direction and help that align their thinking, feelings, and actions. It is a brief and compelling statement of purpose. It encompasses all aspects of life. The noble Macduff chose for this position in play. But thinking of a noble goal in the bosom of the enemy blinds Macduff’s eyes for his minimum responsibilities, his family protection. Macduff suspects Macbeth of regicide, when Macbeth says, ‘O, yet I do repent me of my fury / That I did kill them’ (II.iii.102-103). Macbeth explains that he regrets killing Duncan’s guards out of rage. Macduff replies by questioning Macbeth’s deed “Wherefore did you so?” (II. iv. 104), which indicates that he inspects him with suspicion and deems that he may have played a role in the king’s death. Then, Macduff tells Ross that he will not attend Macbeth’s crowning at Scone and instead he will return to Fife by replying to him: “No, cousin, I’m going to Fife.” (II. iv. 36). Macduff’s denial to attend Macbeth’s coronation at Scone is notable and shows that he does not support Macbeth’s new title as the King of Scotland. Macduff’s responses suggest that he is suspicious of Macbeth, which is later confirmed when he visits England and supports Malcolm. Macbeth takes note of Macduff’s absence and recognizes that he has become an enemy. In response to Macduff’s actions, Macbeth has Macduff’s family massacred while he is in England. Macduff blames himself for their deaths; he was not there to protect them, and they were murdered because he is aligned with the forces working to bring down Macbeth. He also agonizes thinking about the terror-filled final moments of their lives: ‘Did heaven look on, / And would not take their part?’. Macduff implores that ‘Heaven rest them now!’. Filled with grief, he then turns his attention to Macbeth, the cause of his family’s destruction:

Front to front

Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself;

Within my sword’s length set him. If he ‘scape,

Heaven forgive him too! 

Macduff intends to make sure that Macbeth will not escape retribution for his horrible acts. Thus, his mission to place Malcolm on the throne of Scotland is the one that reflects his desire to have the true monarch ruling, but also shows his desire for vengeance for his wife and son’s murder. On the other hand, by contrasting Macduff, Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth, it shows that all three of them share an ambition to reach their goals. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth show a great example of ambition throughout the play, while both of them demonstrates a negative ambition such as when Macbeth says, “For mine own good …” (III. iv. 135), Macduff demonstrates a positive one, when he debates with Malcolm about Scotland and what happened in the absence of the right king. And that clearly shows in the following lines, when Macduff met Malcolm in England:

Let us rather

Hold fast the mortal sword and, like good men,

Bestride our downfall’n birthdom. Each new morn

New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows

Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds

As if it felt with Scotland and yelled out

Like syllable of dolour. 

Regardless, all of them experience different levels of guilt and deal with it in different ways. How Macbeth deals with his guilt is shown by his bloody actions. While he pushes his guilt to the corner and steps forward in rebellion against his conscience, doing more crimes, his wife – Lady Macbeth – suffers from a severe hallucination, which results in her insanity and suicide. The hero title, Macduff, suffers from a great regret for his family murder, a pang of guilt he does not deserve as a nobleman, who tries to put the true monarch on the throne. But he is deeply motivated by his wife and sons’ deaths, and speaks several times in the play about how he must avenge them, especially when Malcolm speaks to him: “Be comforted./ Let’s make us med’cines of our great revenge, / To cure this deadly grief.”, and Macduff replies with significant grief:

I shall do so,

But I must also feel it as a man.

I cannot but remember such things were

That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on,

And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff,

They were all struck for thee! Naught that I am,

Not for their own demerits, but for mine,

Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now.”

Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macduff share the same amount of ambition but with different inner intention as well as their different ways to deal with guilt. While Macduff’s guilt has been washed away, and he now can enter God’s presence as freely as little children run to their Daddy.

A long time ago, it has been suggested that the only way to face the guilt after a serious error is through confession, restitution, and absolution. This is the fastest way for redemption. The guilt theme demonstrated through William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, by the most titled characters; Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macduff. While Macbeth escapes the guilt that he felt in the inner recesses of his soul by continuing his bloody crimes, his beloved wife – lady Macbeth – has been driven insane which made her commit suicide at the end of the road. However, Macduff guilt washed over by the wind of Birnam wood, which followed it the great event of victory over greed. In my opinion, the guilt theme is demonstrated more than anything else in the play, because all of the major characters went through that condition of mental torture.              

16 December 2021

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