Effects and Symptoms of a Guilty Conscience

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Guilt can manifest itself within a person’s mind in many different ways. To comprehend all the effects and resulting symptoms of a guilty conscience can be nearly impossible. However, the great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud developed theories long ago that are still the basis for much of the modern psychoanalytical thought. Even more impressive however, is that within Shakespeare’s Macbeth, there are several characters that convey his clear comprehension of theories proposed hundreds of years after his literary works were even written. Shakespeare’s literary genius is that he understood the psychological makeup of humans long before Freud. He demonstrates this understanding through his portrayal of guilt’s effect on the human psyche of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, and Macduff, as well as his depiction of how guilt can be effective if acknowledged.

Shakespeare’s clear comprehension of guilt’s effect on human behavior is most obvious in his characterization of Lady Macbeth as a hysteric. Initially, Lady Macbeth is seen as a strong female character who is able to block the murder of King Duncan from her memory fairly easily. This is seen in her conversation with Macbeth following the murder of Duncan when she says, “These deeds must not be thought/After these ways. So, it will make us mad” (II, ii, 45-46). This statement is significant because it causes the audience to initially view Lady Macbeth as a very cold hearted woman, who is not rent with any intense feelings of guilt. However as the play progresses, Lady Macbeth’s behavior becomes more like that of a hysteric. Although there is no verbal, conscience recognition of her wrongdoing, Shakespeare makes it obvious that her “pathogenic memories and feelings [are] dissociated…the actual content of [those] memories [are] disturbing, unacceptable, and in conflict with the rest of [her] ideas and feelings...Freud [sees] hysterics as people rent with conflicts and harboring secrets from themselves as well as from others”...
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