What is This I See Before Me?


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What is This I See Before Me?

Macbeth’s visions seem to be a manifestation of his growing guilt and insatiable ambition. He is being driven to madness by his own actions. The first time we see this phenomena is just before Macbeth goes to kill Duncan; at this time he refers to a bloody dagger that seems to be floating in the air before him. This is a prelude to all that will come. Just after he commits his first murderous sin Macbeth claims to hear voices in the chambers crying out, “sleep no more, Macbeth does murder sleep” and, “Macbeth shall sleep no more” (57). These mystic voices turn out to be quite prophetic. Again after Macbeth has ordered the murder of Banquo he sees a vision of the dead mans ghost sitting at Macbeth’s table, in fact in his very chair, a gesture that can be seen to have more that one meaning. All of these visions seem to be nothing more than fabrications of his own tortured conscience. They serve as vehicles for his uncouth desires and as reminders of his unhappy deeds. It seems that the two people most affected by these hallucinations are Macbeth and his wife. He obviously is most directly affected but after a while it becomes clear that they are taking there toll on her as well. Three of the major visions or hallucinations in the play were the dagger, the voices, and Banquo’s ghost.

“Is this a dagger I see before me the handle towards my hand? Come let me clutch thee” (51). Macbeth speaks these words as he stands waiting for the correct time to carry out his first gory deed. “Covered with blood and pointed toward the king’s chamber, the dagger represents the bloody course on which Macbeth is about to embark.” (Macbeth Study Guide) It also seems to be a catalyst for his desire to kill Duncan in order to inherit the kingship. Macbeth sees the dagger as a sign that he shall proceed with this wicked night. “Thou marshal’st me the way that I was going, and such an instrument I was to use”. (53) The primary difference between this hallucination and those that followed is that this time Macbeth knows that it isn’t real. He seems fascinated by it, but aware that it is only a “dagger of the mind, a false creation” (53). He even suggests that it is a product of a “heat-oppressed brain” (53).

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But he then turns to the real dagger which he knows is in his possession and continues on with his task.

The next time that Macbeth experiences a hallucination is after he has murdered Duncan and is coming back to his wife. He says that he has heard voices crying, “Murder”, “Sleep no more, Macbeth does murder sleep” and, “Glamis has murdered sleep thus Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more” (57). It is doubtful that anyone was truly speaking these things because no one yet knew or even suspected what he had done. Rather, it seems more probable that these are the product of a guilty conscience. With this hallucination however Macbeth has a harder time convincing himself that it was not real. When Lady Macbeth asks, “Who was it that thus cried?” Macbeth does not answer. Lady Macbeth seems to do her very best to not brush it off. She may perhaps be trying to get him to forget that he thought he heard anything in the first place. The last time he says anything about it she replies with, “You do unbend your noble strength to think of so brainsickly of things. Go get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hands”, as if she is trying to get his mind off it and dismiss the very thought of such things. The voices in the chamber have a prophetic greeting when they cry that Macbeth shall sleep no more. “Macbeth cannot sleep; he is kept from the rest he needs by the guilt he feels over Duncan's murder. If he has consigned Duncan to eternal rest, he lives in eternal anxiety and torment over his bloody deeds.” (Act 2 Analysis) He says that, “the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care…balm of hurt minds…chief nourisher in life’s feast” (57). It is almost ironic therefore that Macbeth finds himself unable to sleep. The innocent sleep and he is not innocent anymore.

Another major vision of Macbeths is after he has become king. He begins to worry about the greeting that the Weird Sisters gave to Banquo; they said that he would produce a line of kings. This meant that Macbeth’s line would not hold the thrown. So he decided to have Banquo killed. This takes place during a dinner held at Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth is coming back into the dinner, after being informed that Banquo has been effectually exterminated, when he sees what appears to be the ghost of his deceased friend sitting at the table in the chair in which Macbeth had been seated. This vision is one of sheer horror for Macbeth; he even tries to convince the ghost that it was not he who murdered him. “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake thy gory locks at me.” (103). This is the first time that Macbeth’s hallucinations are witnessed by others out side of his family. Lady Macbeth reproaches him saying, “You have displaced the mirth, broke the good meeting with most admired disorder” (107). But it seems to take its toll on her. And others at the table seem to be quite disturbed and yet interested in what is taking place. Ross at one point questions him about what he has said and Lennox bids him better health (107). Lady Macbeth, when Ross asks of what Macbeth speaks, bids him to, “speak not…at once good night. Stand not on the order of your going, but go at once” (107). This is a testament to the stress that she is under due to the poor mental health of her husband. She is now the one who must keep their secret well, because he cannot always be trusted with so precious a duty.

Throughout the play we see the growing guilt on the part of Macbeth. He knows what he has done wrong yet does nothing to make it right. And that places a heavy burden on his conscience and it also hurts his relationship with Lady Macbeth. At one point during the scene with Banquo’s ghost he says to her, “You make me strange to the disposition that I owe, when now I think you can behold such sights and keep the natural ruby of your cheeks when mine is blanched with fear”. He has a wonder at her being able to keep composure when he was so taken with fear. I think that it was almost a fear on his part at her stoniness and lack of emotion. I think this guilt and pain where what prompted the hallucinations which became so common to him.




"Macbeth Study Guide." Sparknotes. Barnes and Noble. 12 Apr. 2005 .

"Act 2 Analysis." ClassicNote on Macbeth. Grade Saver. 12 Apr. 2005 .



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