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Psychology in Macbeth

Updated on December 14, 2013

This is an essay on the psychological elements of MacBeth, the play by the great William Shakespeare. It deals mostly with the relationship between Lady MacBeth and MacBeth. Please enjoy and do not be afraid to leave a comment!

Essay

Have you ever killed a man? No matter the case, all humans experience the same series of feelings in the occurrence of a tragic event. Usually, feelings of anger form when someone has been hurt or insulted. Any number of small offenses have the ability to incite this anger. Examples of this are all around, and on a larger scale, even the Iraqi War began due to revenge and anger. American pride was hurt and as a result of this, vengeful actions were taken. As the war raged on, the general consensus became that the war was a mistake and a certain hint of remorse flowed through the nation. This occurs throughout history, and even becomes a prominent part of literature. The psychological path presented in William Shakespeare's Macbeth reveals that inflicting pain causes many strong-willed people to resort to undesirable courses of action. Acts that affect a person's mind expose their true personas, much like how the 9/11 bombings affected George W. Bush.

Even the most hardened mind stands little chance of fighting off a well-placed insult, and the body expresses this pain through subconscious actions. In Macbeth, the idea of insulting one's manhood begins as Lady Macbeth cruelly asks of Macbeth, "What, quite unmanned in folly?" (Shakespeare III.iv.88). This questioning of Macbeth's manhood drives him to defend himself, and eventually prove himself to Lady Macbeth. In a sense, she becomes the puppet master, and by tugging on the strings of his heart and mind she controls him. Moreover, when Lady Macduff realizes her husband has left her,

she begins to degrade him and his pride by confirming to her son that "Ay, he was" a

traitor, and goes further as to claim that her husband "is one that swears and lies" (Shakespeare IV.ii.52-54). Out of pure hatred and fury, a woman that loves her husband insults him, due to the belief that he has insulted her through leaving. Sadly, this irrational thinking causes many problems in modern society to occur, since one does not realize the consequences. Lastly, upon first seeing the witches, Banquo cries out, "You should be women/And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/that you are so," (Shakespeare I.iii.47-49) in a defensive and unsure manner. Although spoken by a man in a different circumstance, Banquo insults the witches out of fear and uncertainty, much like Lady Macduff. This displays the commonality of these circumstances, and that when composure leaves them, they seize up and attack. The striking back only escalates as the play continues, and it leads to death and a series of uncontrollable problems.

Although disregarding an offensive comment remains possible, the act of revenge becomes a burning desire in the heart of the characters in Macbeth. Even though Macbeth seems unprovoked, he curses and demands “Stars, hide your fires;/ Let not light see my black and deep desires” (Shakespeare I.iv.57-58) for Malcolm has stolen what he believes is his right to the throne. He hints at his future intentions, and the evil that he eventually commits to his fellow characters. In other words, he claims that death comes to those who oppose him or those who stand in his way. Basically, Macbeth demands retribution for what he believes is an affront to him. In opposition to Macbeth, Malcolm calms Macduff down by declaring that “To cure this deadly grief,” they must enact a “great revenge” (Shakespeare IV.iii.253-254). Malcolm attempts to cover up the pain of losing a family

by destroying Macbeth. This comforts Macduff, because the human mind works in a way that enjoys taking an eye for an eye. Harold Bloom notes that “Macbeth now seeks to destroy, even upon the cosmological level” (521) due to his desire to be the best in the world. A very human quality, his ego gets the best of him and eventually causes his downfall. Bloom correctly displays Macbeth’s universal desire, because of all Shakespeare’s characters, he is the most ambitious. He himself exhibits this yearning as he continually demands to know the future from the witches. Revenge only leads to a painful experience for someone, and the person who causes the pain feels but one emotion.

After completing a devious deed, either out of revenge or pure spite, people experience a feeling of remorse or guilt due to their indisputable humanity. For example, Lady Macbeth, one of the cruelest characters in Macbeth, shudders at the thought of killing a man who “resembled/ [Her] father as he slept” (Shakespeare II.ii.16-17). She demonstrates she has a heart, for the familiarity crushes her resolve. She willingly claims that she can kill a baby, yet to kill someone so dear to her breaks her cold heart. Likewise, as Harold Bloom points out, “Macbeth suffers intensely from knowing that he does evil,” (517) which effects his life in other ways as well. Even though he attempts to kill all who oppose him, it pains him to lose his faithful friends. He must also be coerced into many of the unspeakable evils he commits. Finally, Macbeth submits to his guilty conscience exclaiming that only “the innocent sleep,” and his conscience tells him that he “shall sleep no more” (Shakespeare II.ii.47,57). After killing King Duncan, Macbeth comes to the realization that he has damned himself, and that he can no longer sleep.

Also, it portrays Macbeth’s true feelings, as opposed to his usual stoic nature. All humans feel for others, and if someone suffers, it only adds to the desire to help or repent for being the cause of the pain.

As a person travels down the path to revenge, emotions flare and their minds begin to swim with feelings ranging from remorse to satisfaction. This terrible desire causes serious issues all across the world, and will continue as long as there are people on Earth. People’s consciences betray them at times, and thus eliminating these discrepancies is impossible. If retaliatory acts such as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand had not occurred, many more people would be alive at the moment. Serbians were unhappy with the treatment they were receiving, but by killing the Archduke, World War I began. Examples like these occur all throughout history, and people manage to overlook their predecessors and make the same mistakes time and time again, reaffirming the fact that acting instinctually leads to a path of pain.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. "Macbeth." Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead, 1998. 517-22. Print.

Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. The Tragedy of Macbeth. New York: Washington Square, 2002. Print.

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