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Mental Deterioration of Macbeth

Topics: Macbeth, Murder / Pages: 7 (1605 words) / Published: Feb 17th, 2014
In Shakespeare’s tragic play Macbeth, the lead character travels an emotional journey from esteemed noblemen to violent murderer. These actions lead to a series of unfortunate events which Macbeth is found responsible for. As tension in the kingdom rises, corruption of Macbeth’s mental ability begins to occur. Macbeth’s mental deterioration is the cause for his poor rational decisions which lead to his downfall. In the play, Macbeth experiences hallucinations, paranoia and overwhelming blind ambition; factors which consume his good qualities and result in his demise.
The hallucinations Macbeth begins to have are the first signs of his mental instability. In the beginning of the play, Macbeth appears to be a man of nobility and bravery, with no sign of a mental or physical weakness. However, the idea of murdering Duncan in order to seize the throne and become king is heavily suggested by Lady Macbeth, and penetrates through her husband’s mind. At first, Macbeth is wary about the idea, however he tentatively agrees and prepares for the murder later into the evening. The first hallucination appears as Macbeth starts towards Duncan’s room. He sees a floating dagger covered with blood that points him in the direction of Duncan. Macbeth believes it is simply his mind playing tricks on him, which is the first evident sign of his mental deterioration as he states, “Is this a dagger which I see before me,/ the handle toward my hand/ Come, let me clutch thee./ I have thee not, and yet I see thee still./ Art thou not, fatal vision,/ sensible to feeling as to sight?/ Or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?” (II.i.33-38). Macbeth senses the dagger may be a figment of his imagination, coming from his heat-oppressed or “fevered” brain. Macbeth begins talking to the dagger as well as trying to reach out to it, which further shows his confusion and mental corruption. Once Duncan is murdered, and Macbeth becomes King of Scotland, many people suspect Macbeth to be the one behind the execution. Once Macbeth is aware of those who are questioning him, he takes immediate action to make sure they too are killed. Banquo, one of Macbeth’s victims, had a close relationship with Macbeth prior to his crowning of king. Macbeth starts to feel guilt for his irrational actions when he sees what he believes is the ghost of Banquo. As Macbeth acts out in front of his guests from seeing the ghost, Lady Macbeth begins to get quite upset. She says, “O proper stuff! /This is the very painting of your fear. /This is the air-drawn dagger which you said/Led you to Duncan.”(III.iv.63-66). Lady Macbeth verbally points out his hallucinations, informing Macbeth of his insanity and foolishness. She is relating back to his hallucination of the dagger, while stating how he hallucinates when he is afraid. This is her way of protecting him from the people thinking he has gone insane. However, Macbeth happens to be the only one in the room who sees the ghost of Banquo, showing the effects the murders have on his brain. Later on in the play, Macbeth sees three apparitions. The first is an armed head, followed by a bloody child, then a child wearing a crown who appears to be holding a tree. The second apparition gives Macbeth great confidence by saying, “Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn/ The power of man, for none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth.” (IV.i.81-83). Macbeth believes the first apparition is warning him of Macduff, as he is one of the few who suspect Macbeth to be behind the murder of Duncan. This apparition is likely to be in his head because he is already paranoid with those who suspect him. However, the second apparition is telling Macbeth that no man born from a woman can hurt him. This is Macbeth’s way of reassuring himself as he regains his ambition and courage. The apparitions are still visions that he is seeing though; which shows no signs of improvement regarding his mental state. If anything, the hallucinations are worsening. Macbeth is having three hallucinations at a time, rather than just one. These hallucinations, amongst the others, are all supporting evidence that the mind of Macbeth was corrupted throughout his journey of becoming king.
After committing each murder, Macbeth pays the price by having his mind turn against him. The paranoia he experiences following the crimes he commits shows his mental instability and how he is incapable of handling such guilt. The paranoia begins once Macbeth murders Duncan. Shortly after Macbeth has done the deed, he admits to his wife, “Methought I heard a voice cry, ‘Sleep no more!/
Macbeth doth murder sleep’” (II.ii.35-36). Here Macbeth claims that he has made the world an unsafe place. He later states “Still it cried, “Sleep no more!” to all the house./ “Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor/ Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.” (II.ii.42-44). Macbeth is hearing voices that foreshadow his lack of sleep in the future. Macbeth realizes he will be murdering his own sleep, through his impending guilt. Macbeth hears these voices immediately after killing Duncan; which is the first sign that he is becoming paranoid. The voices are a result of the immediate regret Macbeth feels once he realizes the peace in the land has been disturbed. By saying he has murdered sleep; Macbeth seems paranoid that the murder will lead to terrible events. Once the people are aware of Duncan’s death, Macbeth becomes paranoid that he will be a suspect. He begins to speak nonsense and admits to killing the guards as he says, “Oh, yet I do repent me of my fury/ That I did kill them” (II.iii.84-85). He is saying that he killed the guards to act as a hero so he will not be suspected. However, Macduff is the first to realize that Macbeth is acting strange, and Macduff suspects him immediately. Later on in the play when Macbeth is informed about Macduff’s suspicion, he makes an irrational decision to kill his wife and son. “The castle of Macduff I will surprise,/ Seize upon Fife, give to th' edge o' th' sword/ His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls/ That trace him in his line”. Again, his actions are forming from his paranoia which comes from developing psychological troubles. Instead of being paranoid about the murder of Duncan, his worries begin to focus on losing his crown. He plans to kill anyone who may be in line for the throne, or those who are suspicious of him. Sacrificing the lives of others just to have some sort of reassurance is definitely a sign of someone who is mentally unstable, and the paranoia is yet another factor involved with his psychological descent. Blind ambition is another powerful factor which takes over the mind of Macbeth. After meeting with the witches and hearing their three prophecies, Macbeth becomes overwhelmed with confidence. However, the prophecies slowly begin to come true, all but the last one; becoming king of Scotland. The disappointment settles in once Macbeth finds out the Duncan’s son is next in line to the throne. His ambition turns into evil plotting which Macbeth must keep to himself. He says, “The prince of Cumberland! That is a step/ On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,/ For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;/ Let not light see my black and deep desires.”(I.iv.50-53). Suddenly, ambition to become king corrupts his mind, and although he is aware that he will have to somehow rid of the king’s son, the excitement of becoming king blinds all of his other senses. This scene is the starting point for Macbeth’s blind ambition. Earlier in the play, Macbeth appears to be very noble and brave; however he is now having thoughts of stepping over Malcolm, Duncan’s son, in order to become king. It is this ambition which drives Macbeth to commit several other murders following that of Duncan’s. Once Macbeth’s ambition takes him too far, he states, “I am in blood/ Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o'er”(III.iv.142-144). Macbeth realizes that he cannot go back to being the noble man he once was. Power and ambition have fully corrupted him, and his mind. Macbeth is aware of his actions here, however he still does not think about the harm he has caused. This scene contrasts with another scene from before Duncan is murdered. Macbeth seems wary and hesitant to kill Duncan, which makes him appear to still have the reasonable qualities and morals he representing in his earlier days when he was Thane of Glamis. Macbeth says, “I have no spur/ To prick the sides of my intent, but only/ Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself/ And falls on th' other” (I.vii.25-28). Macbeth is aware of the affect Duncan’s death will have on the people. He says the only motivator he has is ambition, which usually makes people rush ahead and only leads to some sort of disaster. However, at this point in time, Macbeth is still thinking with a clear conscience. It isn’t until after the murders that he begins descending towards his downwards spiral. His ambition lead him from a man of reasonable qualities and esteemed nobleness, to an out of control psychologically corrupted murderer.

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