Macbeth Illness Motif

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  • Topic: Macbeth, Malcolm III of Scotland, Kingdom of England
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Macbeth Motif: Illness

Motif statement: Shakespeare utilizes the motif of illness to highlight how Macbeth’s thirst for power has led Scotland into tyranny. Illness symbolizes the decay of Macbeth’s morals along with the fall of Scotland.

Quotations with explanations:

1.Scene 4 Act 3 Lines 169-181
Context: Malcolm and Macduff are speaking; the doctor enters and reports on the well-being of a cured patient. Macduff asks about the illness, Malcolm explains that the English King has healing powers.

Explanation: This depiction of the king of England stands in an obvious contrast to descriptions of Macbeth. The king is shown to be one of the best of men, illustrated by his healing. His “heavenly gift of prophecy” allows his country to prosper. However, Macbeth’s forsight has led into a dark cave that it cannot escape from until Macbeth is dead. “Sundry blessings” hang around the English throne, while curses hang around the Scottish.

2.Scene 5 Act 4 Lines 62-64
Context: Just after Macbeth receives news of the soldiers marching against him, the doctor delivers a short but horrendous report of the condition of Macbeth’s wife. Macbeth compares the shambled state of his country to the unfortunate state of his wife.

Explanation: In asking the doctor for a cure for Scotland, Macbeth displays that he finally notices the consequences of his actions. However, he is not admitting to his own actions being the cause of his country’s “disease.” This is said just after Macbeth has been told of the army marching toward the castle, and of the desertion of his nobles, which illuminates that the real illness in the country is him, Macbeth. By asking the doctor to purge Scotland of her disease, Macbeth is really asking the doctor to cure Scotland by removing him.

3.Act 3 Scene 4 Lines 51-55
Context: Lennox and another character are speaking of the political terror in Scotland, and Lennox comments on the desire for Macduff to return soon and save Scotland...
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