Guilt Theme in Shakespeare

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Guilt is something that every human being faces in the world in which we live in. Guilt has been around since the beginning of time and is something that most of us feel from one time or another in our lives. If you are not careful and don’t deal with the problem it can literally eat you alive. William Shakespeare uses the theme of guilt in two of his most famous plays, Macbeth and Hamlet. In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth starts to regret her decision in supporting Macbeth in murdering Duncan. In Hamlet, Claudius carries around the guilt of killing King Hamlet and doesn’t find it a problem until he realizes Hamlet knows what he did. Both circumstances in each play support a famous quote by Lady Macbeth about the truth of guilt.

In the play Macbeth, Lady Macbeth proves that a guilty conscience can lead to death devising a plan for her husband to murder King Duncan in hopes that Macbeth will take over the thrown. In the beginning of the play, she is portrayed as a strong and ruthless woman who pressures her husband into murdering Duncan. Even though Macbeth is hesitant, she manipulates her husband into following through with her plan. Afterward, however, Lady Macbeth develops a guilty conscience, which ends up driving her insane. By he end of the play, she commits suicide, signifying her inability to cope with her guilt and supporting the idea that a guilty conscience can cause death.

In the midst of this tragedy, Lady Macbeth comments on how she feels after her husband has murdered Duncan. She observes that “Nought’s had, all’s spent/ Where our desire is got without content: / ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy/ Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.” (3.2.5-7) Lady Macbeth is obviously regretting her decision to urge Macbeth into killing Duncan. Although they succeeded in their goal, she still isn’t satisfied with the outcome. She wonders if it would be better to be at “peace” with the dead than in this “torture” of being a murderer but ultimately decides to...
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