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Guilt and Conscience in Macbeth
Transcript of Guilt and Conscience in Macbeth
One of the reasons that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, was to show the consequences for killing a king.
The play was first performed to King James I in the year of he gunpowder plot, 1605, when a group of conspirators planned to blow up the King by renting a house right next to Parliament House and filling it with 36 barrels of gunpowder.
The theme of guilt and conscience is strongly developed in the play by the protagonists Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. This is also done through the use of vivid imagery.
Macbeth's guilt then takes visual form when he hallucinates that a blood-covered dagger is leading him to murder Duncan.
Shakespeare has the murder happen offstage so that he can focus on Macbeth's tormented mental state.
Macbeth is terrified by his own sense of sin, as he could not say 'Amen' when he heard someone praying.
He imagines his guilty conscience will never let him sleep peacefully again: "Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more”". References to sleeplessness recur later in the play, as when Lady Macbeth says, "You lack the season of all natures, sleep". Even when he does sleep he will be tormented by his guilt in the "terrible dreams that shake us nightly".
One of the most striking images of the play is that of guilt associated with blood. Macbeth refers to his own hands as "hangman's hands", which would be covered in blood from murdering Duncan and his assistants.
When Lady Macbeth urges him to wash the blood off, he realises the impossibility of washing away his guilt. His crime is so wicked that the blood will "the multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red".
Lady Macbeth doesn’t appear to experience any sense of guilt throughout the beginning of the play, as she convinces Macbeth to kill the King and also while the murder is taking place.
During the murder scene, Lady Macbeth reassures him: "A little water clears us of the deed". The audience will realise the irony of this during her sleepwalking scene in Act 5, when she obsessively washes imaginary blood from her hands: “Out dammed spot, out I say!”
During this scene we see Lady Macbeth destroyed by the strain as her guilt becomes revealed for all to see. The metaphor of a guilty conscience being represented by the image of sleeplessness as shown in her sleepwalking. Throughout this ordeal her rambling words reveal her complicity in Macbeth's crimes: "Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? … The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now?"