A Freudian Perspective Of Shakespeare's Macbeth

2638 words - 11 pages

Macbeth:  A Freudian Perspective

      Macbeth and Lady Macbeth  We may take as an example of a person who collapses on reaching success, after striving for it with single-minded energy, the figure of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. Beforehand there is no hesitation, no sign of any internal conflict in her, no endeavour but that of overcoming the scruples of her ambitious and yet tender-minded husband. She is ready to sacrifice even her womanliness to her murderous intention, without reflecting on the decisive part which this womanliness must play when the question afterwards arises of preserving the aim of her ambition, which has been attained through a crime.

 

Analytic work has no difficulty in showing us that it is forces of conscience which forbid the subject to gain the long-hoped-for advantage from the fortunate change in reality. It is a difficult task, however, to discover the essence and origin of these judging and punishing trends, which so often surprise us by their existence where we do not expect to find them. For the usual reasons I shall not discuss what we know or conjecture on the point in relation to cases of clinical observation, but in relation to figures which great writers have created from the wealth of their knowledge of the mind.

We may take as an example of a person who collapses on reaching success, after striving for it with single-minded energy, the figure of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. Beforehand there is no hesitation, no sign of any internal conflict in her, no endeavour but that of overcoming the scruples of her ambitious and yet tender-minded husband. She is ready to sacrifice even her womanliness to her murderous intention, without reflecting on the decisive part which this womanliness must play when the question afterwards arises of preserving the aim of her ambition, which has been attained through a crime.

           Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thought, unsex me here
... Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers!

(I v 41)

... I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe below that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.

(I vii 54)

One solitary faint stirring of reluctance comes over her before the deed:

... Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done it ...

(II ii 14)

Then, when she has become Queen through the murder of Duncan, she betrays for a moment something like disappointment, something like disillusionment. We cannot tell why.

... Nought's had, all's spent,
Where our desire is got without content:
'Tis safer to be that which we destroy,
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.

(III ii 4)

Nevertheless, she holds out. In the banqueting scene which follows on these words, she alone keeps her head, cloaks her husband's state of...

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