The Role of Guilt in Macbeth
Guilt plays a strong role in motivating Macbeth, and causes Lady Macbeth to be driven over the edge of sanity - to her death. Throughout the story, there are many different types of guilty feelings that play a role in Macbeth’s fatal decisions and bring Lady Macbeth
to commit suicide. Although there are many instances that show the power guilt
has played on the main characters, there are three examples
that show this the best. One is, just after the murder of the great King, Duncan. Guilt overcomes Macbeth where he can no longer think straight. A second example is soon after that, where all the guilt Macbeth feels at first, changes into hate after he decides that Banquo must be killed as well. The last example is just about at the end of the play, when we see Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, and then later committing suicide; this all because of the burden of her guilt. All of these examples build the proof that in this play, guilt plays a very large role in the characters’ lives.
It all began really in Act II, Scene II after the murder of Duncan, when Macbeth returns to his room to join his wife. As any person would be, Macbeth is very shaken by his wrong act. Killing a man, not to mention a beloved king is a sin and Macbeth knows it very well! He truly believes he has murdered all innocence, and only worse things will follow. Throughout the scene there are several quotes that show this; " Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more: Macbeth shall sleep no more," and " Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red." This shows the amount of guilt he felt. He describes this by saying that if he tried to wash his hands in the river, it would turn into the colour of the blood itself. Lady Macbeth attempts to make him stronger, " A little water clears us of this deed: How easy it is then!" But the guilt he feels just does not go away…At least for the time being.
As soon as Act III is set up, we see Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Banquo having a nice friendly conversation. Macbeth was already crowned king, and a dinner was planned for that night. Banquo was to be the "guest of honour". Little did any of us know, Macbeth was already conspiring his friend’s death. Guilt seems to play a motivating role when he says, "Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill" What he is referring to, is his guilt; if you do something bad once, it will bother you. If you do it again, it will bother you less. If you keep doing it, it will eventually stop bothering you completely. He also admits, (that one time only) in the scene, that after killing Duncan, his morals and guilt were poisoned and used to motivate him to commit more murderous crimes. " If’t be so, for Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind; For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered; Put rancors in the vessel of my peace…"
Perhaps one of the strongest evidence that shows guilt, is how it affected Lady Macbeth. After the absence of a story line for most of the play, Act V begins by re-entering Lady Macbeth; this time though, she is not at all the woman we were first introduced to. It begins with a discussion between a doctor and a very worried gentlewoman about the failing health of the lady herself. Just as we learn that she has begun to sleepwalk every night, Lady Macbeth comes in, doing just that. She starts to rub her arms, in a washing motion and says, "Out damned spot! Out, I say!" and, "…Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" The word blood, is really a metaphor for the enormous guilt she feels and her action, in trying to get rid of the guilt by "washing" and rubbing it away. In the second quote, the "old man" represents, King Duncan. Who would have known that killing the king carried so much guilt? Her sleepwalking continues as she talks about the death of Lady Macduff. " The thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? What, will these hands ne’er be clean?" After the continuous rubbing motion, Lady Macbeth cries out, "Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." She realises that nothing could ever get rid of the smell of the blood and the guilt caused by all the murders committed by Macbeth. It’s also shown here that she feels fully responsible for every person killed by her husband. Just several scenes later, Lady Macbeth commits suicide. What’s the reason? It was just a build up of all the guilt.
The quotes and explanations used throughout this essay, built up proof that guilt played a big role as the motivation for Macbeth, and guilty feelings were brought out through the characters’ actions and responses, until the very fatal end. Guilt itself, is a very strong and uncomfortable feeling. It can result though, in many good things, and just as easily into bad things. This is what happened throughout this story…And this is also why the play has been called, "The Tragedy of Macbeth."