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Damning Guilt In Macbeth Essay

1777 words - 7 pages

     Both main characters in the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth meet unfortunate ends, with this due in part at least to the huge burden of guilt which they must carry through most of the drama.

In Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy, Northrop Frye sees a relationship between Macbeth's guilt and his hallucinations:

The future moment is the moment of guilt, and it imposes on one, until it is reached, the intolerable strain of remaining innocent. [. . .] Macbeth's capacity for seeing things that may or may not be there is almost limitless, and the appearance of the mousetrap play to Claudius, though more easily explained, has the same dramatic point as the appearance of Banquo's ghost. (90)

Fanny Kemble in "Lady Macbeth" asserts that Lady Macbeth was unconscious of her guilt, which nevertheless killed her:

 

A very able article, published some years ago in the National Review, on the character of Lady Macbeth, insists much upon an opinion that she died of remorse, as some palliation of her crimes, and mitigation of our detestation of them. That she died of wickedness would be, I think, a juster verdict. Remorse is consciousness of guilt . . . and that I think Lady Macbeth never had; though the unrecognized pressure of her great guilt killed her. (116-17)

 

In "Memoranda: Remarks on the Character of Lady Macbeth," Sarah Siddons mentions the guilt and ambition of Lady Macbeth and their effect:

 

[Re "I have given suck" (1.7.54ff.)] Even here, horrific as she is, she shews herself made by ambition, but not by nature, a perfectly savage creature. The very use of such a tender allusion in the midst of her dreadful language, persuades one unequivocally that she has really felt the maternal yearnings of a mother towards her babe, and that she considered this action the most enormous that ever required the strength of human nerves for its perpetration. Her language to Macbeth is the most potently eloquent that guilt could use.  (56)

 

Clark and Wright in their Introduction to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare explain how guilt impacts Lady Macbeth:

 

Having sustained her weaker husband, her own strength gives way; and in sleep, when her will cannot control her thoughts, she is piteously afflicted by the memory of one stain of blood upon her little hand.  (792)

 

The Tragedy of Macbeth opens in a desert place with thunder and lightning and three witches who are anticipating their meeting with Macbeth. Macbeth is greeted by the witches with "hail to thee, thane of Glamis," "thane of Cawdor," and "thou shalt be king hereafter!" When Ross and Angus arrive with news of Duncan's reward ("He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor"), it is logical for Macbeth to assume that all of the weird sisters' prophecies will come true. At this point in the play there is no guilt felt.

 

After the king's announcement that "We will establish our estate upon / Our eldest, Malcolm,"...

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