Fear is perhaps one of the most primal and basic human emotions. In many instances it is because of a reaction to this emotion that humans are able to make crucial decisions to their survival. In the ancestral environment, a proper response to fear or the "fight or flight" reflex often made the difference between life and death. Those humans foolhardy enough to tease the sabretooth tiger to impress the ladies may have made their point a few times, but quite often they ended up as a tasty meal. Clearly, fear is then an useful thing for evolution to pass along to following generations.
Yet modern fear is so much more complex and convoluted than that of ancient man. Even in the times of the middle ages where Macbeth takes place, the subtle compound nature of what people could fear and to what degree is staggering in comparison. At its most basic level, fear is useful because it can help the individual to survive situations by making them aware of inherent risks in their current situation. In the play, fear -or its conspicuous absence- are pivotal in helping to determine how characters are going to behave and what courses of action they will follow. However, due to the more elaborate nature of social roles, the proper course of action is no longer as simple as merely avoiding the sabretooth.
In the play, Macbeth's fear is particularly noteworthy because of its relation to his state of mind. The more overcome he is by fear, the less stable and more neurotic he becomes. Prior to killing Duncan the vision of a floating dagger begins to unnerve him, particularly when he sees on "[the] blade and dudgeon, gouts of blood" (Act 2 Scn 1 Ln 46) which he realizes is related to his p...
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...s indeed soiled himself for the benefit of others.
It is above all, this absolute vanquishment of his actions and the complete worthlessness of his travails which devastates him so. Shakespeare uses this pivotal moment in the play to show us that it really can only be all downhill from here. We know despite the witches' ambiguous prophecies how this will all turn out; we realize that "blood will have blood". Fear in this case comes too late for Macbeth because he has gone too far and has no avenues of escape available. Unlike Malcolm and Macduff, he cannot escape to England even if he has nothing to leave behind. He cannot undo the murders in any way nor come clean without losing his head in the process. He is trapped with no way out. It is at this point of desperation where someone like Anton Chekov might end the play: Macbeth is terrified, because the jig is up.
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