The influence of Dreams, Visions and Hallucinations in Macbeth and other Literary Texts
“The realities of the world affected me as visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas of the land of dreams became, in turn,—not the material of my every-day existence--but in very deed that existence utterly and solely in itself.” ---- Edgar Allan Poe Uncanny encounters with visions and hallucinations blur the presumed constraints of time and space. The ‘phantasms’ or sensory impressions incited by diurnal experiences which are unrealized in normal consciousness, gets holistically unveiled through conjuration of dreams. Referring to one of the foremost exponents of ‘weird’ literature Howard Phillips Lovecraft, definite emotions of pain and pleasure were associated to phenomena whose cause and effect could be discerned by men but those beyond his power of comprehension were marvellously interpreted as supernatural ploys thus, sowing the seeds of awe among a race possessing limited experience. The process of dreaming aided in constructing the notion of an unreal or spiritual world towards which man’s natural response was fear and hence, man’s hereditary essence became saturated with superstitions. Though the territory of the unknown has diminished in the present times, a physiological fixation in our nervous tissues makes the inherent associations, clinging around objects and processes once mysterious (but now explainable), become operative even when the conscious mind has been purged of all wonder. The appearance of the three Weird sisters at the inception of Shakespeare’s timeless play, Macbeth, excites a sense of awe coupled with a subtle dread due to contact with unknown spheres and forces and their re-appearance in the third scene after the King’s order establishes the influence of ‘supernatural soliciting’. The role of imagination is indispensible since, the deadly outcomes stemmed from imaginings of a sensitive mind and even the exposure of the crime happens due to the hallucination of the criminal which provides the turning point of the play. While Holinshed’s Macbeth was merely a brave warrior turned cruel murderer, Shakespeare’s Macbeth has an overtly fertile imagination which plays dual roles; when kindled with hope, it impels him to stifle the voice of his conscience for engaging in a heinous crime and also, increases the anguish of guilt when plagued with fear. Aristotle’s tragic hero has the “crowning virtue” or magnanimity (derived from the Greek word, megalospuchia) as a consequence of which, he knows no pettiness or restrictions and fearlessly pursues his passions. That Macbeth effectively slips into the role of an Aristotelian tragic hero becomes predictable early in the play in Act I, Scene 3 from his reaction to the prediction of the Weird Sisters which immediately gives rise to a “horrid image” which while, unsettling him propels him to play and replay the prophecies in his mind till he starts to believe in their future possibility and is driven towards their attainment. Contradictorily, Banquo is guided by reason and though the third witch predicts “Thou shalt get kings”, he prevents himself from taking any drastic step – “Oftentimes to win us to our harm, / The instruments of darkness tell us truths....” The disparity in personality of the different characters is ruled by the varied degrees of imaginativeness which originate from the varying proportions of humours in each person. According to the Greek scientists Hipp ocrates and Galen, a person’s character was influenced by a blending of four fluids or ‘humours’-black bile, phlegm, yellow bile and blood which ruled the body. Later, the Elizabethans applied this ideology in medical treatment and associated each humour with one of the four temperaments-melancholic (excess of black bile), phlegmatic (surplus of phlegm), choleric (predominance of yellow bile) and sanguine (superfluity of blood). Unbalance in proportion...
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