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Macbeth: Sleep Motif

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Lacy Macbeth

on 24 January 2014

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Transcript of Macbeth: Sleep Motif

Sleep demonstrates the character’s internal struggles and helps to develop their fall into insanity. Sleep is described as calm and rejuvenating, but once the characters start to question their actions, their sleep is no longer so innocent. From when Macbeth feels pity for the crime he is about to commit, to declaring that he has murdered sleep, to the demons that torment the couple in their sleep: until they can rest properly no more. Sleep in a way represents their past innocence and the order/serenity within themselves. When this is disrupted, they slowly become more and more vexed and descend into sleep deprived insanity.
Sleep plays a key role when we further explore into one of the major themes in Macbeth: appearance verses reality. Sleep traditionally is a representation of peaceful rest of one’s mind, but in contrast, sleeping time was the most torturous time for both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Due to the guilt after Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s horrific killing spree, and intense anxiety trying to hide their guilt, nightmares started to hunt the innocent sleep, forcing Macbeth to see hallucinations and Lady Macbeth into insanity. Sleep no longer was what it appeared to be; it was stained with their victim’s blood, and had transformed from heaven into hell.

Sleep also helps to demonstrate one of the underlying themes in Macbeth: Even though one may try to disrupt the great chain of being, the "natural" order of things will always prevail. This can be seen in Macbeth overthrowing Duncan, but then he is defeated and the throne is given to Malcolm.
An Analysis by:
Hanna, Nancy, Angela, Alex
Macbeth Motifs:

"Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep,' the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast." (2.2.32-37)

Macbeth and his guilt, by murdering Duncan in his sleep he feels as though he has murdered sleep itself. Sleep is supposed to be calm and relaxing, but now it has been tainted and ruined.

The dark and sombre mood is of the story is brought on by the sleep motif. After having murdered so many people, Macbeth no longer sleeps because of guilt, Lady Macbeth no longer sleeps because of her fear of being discovered, and the people who were killed are in a new perverse kind of sleep: death.
"I have seen her rise from her bed, throw her night-gown upon her, unlock her closet, take forth paper, fold it, write upon't, read it, afterwards seal it, and again return to bed; yet all this while in a most fast sleep" (5.1.3-7). "A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of watching!" (5.1.8-10).

Lady Macbeth cannot sleep properly. What should be a restful time becomes a time for her actions to torment her mind. All she can think about is the horrendous act that she has committed. This leads to her becoming more and more psychologicaly troubled and eventually leading to her death. Sleep demonstrates that though Lady Macbeth may not seem as troubled as Macbeth, deep down she is greatly disturbed.

"Not so sick, my lord, / As she is troubled with thick coming fancies, / That keep her from her rest" (5.3.36-39)
"I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er. Strange things I have in head that will to hand, Which must acted are that may be scanned" (3.4.136-134)

Another role of sleep is to demonstrate Macbeth's descent into darkness. At first it is Lady Macbeth that appears to be the crueler one, but as the play unfolds, Macbeth's heart grows darker. As he loses sleep and the innocence of the sleep is destroyed, his own good will is destroyed too. He says how he has tread too deep in blood, so he must continue. He must continue to murder in order to keep his throne. This need is enhanced by his lack of sleep which tampers his thoughts and values.

"You lack the season of all natures, sleep" (3.4.141)
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“Still it cried “Sleep no more!” to all the house;
“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more! Macbeth shall sleep no more!” (2. 2. 41-43).

Throughout Macbeth, the motifs are like the threads in a tapestry, weaving and twisting and interlocking with one another, each one important on it’s own, but even more so when put together. They illustrate the entire tragic tale of Macbeth’s rise and fall from power in a tightly woven entity with each part greatly affecting the other. The motif we have chosen is sleep. It plays an integral part in emphasizing and reflecting the tense, dark and frightening mood/atmosphere. Sleep also demonstrates the character’s internal struggles and helps to develop their fall into insanity due to to the torment of their guilt. Lastly, sleep evokes the underlying theme of reversing of the great chain of being.
"Macbeth Navigator: Themes: Sleep." Macbeth Navigator: Themes: Sleep. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. <http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/macbeth/Sleep.html>.
"Setting and Atmosphere: Macbeth NB this is a PLAY,never a book." Setting and Atmosphere: Macbeth NB this is a PLAY,never a book. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013. <http://www.apclarke.freeserve.co.uk/mbsettingandatmosphere.htm>
Shakespeare, William, A. R. Braunmuller, and Rex Gibson. Macbeth. 2 ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.
"Sleep Motifs in Macbeth." Sleep Motifs in Macbeth. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2013. <http://macbethsleepmotifs.wordpress.com/>.
Macbeth is heavily paranoid after he murdered Duncan. He was constantly hearing hallucinations which told him that he has slain sleep. Macbeth was never able to sleep naturally again because he would always be haunted by guilt and unease.
“You lack the season of all natures, sleep” (3. 4. 42).

Lady Macbeth tried to convince Macbeth to forget his guilt and sleep, again reinforcing how Macbeth had been suffering of insomnia after having killed Duncan.
“A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once
The benefit of sleep and do the effects of watching!” (5. 1. 9-10).
Lady Macbeth sleepwalks because she feels guilty for murdering Duncan. In her dreams, she relives the scene of the murder and tries to cover up her actions. The doctor and the gentlewoman observe Lady Macbeth washing her hands of blood (which isn't actually there). Since she is and feels guilty of something, the calmness of sleep no longer exists.
Sleep is a motif tightly woven into Shakespeare's Macbeth and presents itself as an interesting and complex element throughout the length of the play. It is a precious occurrence, and is only awarded to those who are free of remorse. Transforming from an act of innocence to a representation of guilt, a closer examination of sleep is able to offer deeper understandings and further insights to the play.

While sleep is usually used to enforce the overall dark and sombre mood of the play, there are also times where it is used to return the atmosphere to a more relaxed and jovial setting. This acts as comedic relief and contrasts against the chaos that will follow.

"...nose-painting, sleep, and urine" (2.3.28-29)
"...equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him. (2.3.35-36)

This is a line said by the Porter about drinking and sleep. Drinking results in three things: a red nose, sleep, and the need to pee. The dreams are about erotic experiences, but the joke is on you because sleep has gotten to you before having had the chance to relieve yourself.

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