In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the theme of guilt and conscience is one of many explored throughout the play. Macbeth, is a well respected Scottish noble who in the beginning of the play is a man everyone looks up to; however as the play progresses he makes a number of bad decisions. Eventually, as a result of his actions he suffers guilt and this plays heavily upon his character until his personality is completely destroyed. Shakespeare uses a range of techniques in order to develop this theme such as, characters, imagery.
Shakespeare uses the title character of Macbeth to effectively develop the theme of guilt and conscience in his play. Several times in the play we see Macbeth’s character crumbling as a result of a guilty conscience. At the beginning of the play he meets the witches with Banquo, and this prompts the first step toward killing the King. This helps in developing the theme because we get the idea that Macbeth does not trust the witches, nor does he fully believe them. Unfortunately his ambitious nature gets the better of him and causes him to listen carefully to how he might acquire his kingship. Macbeth feels guilty that he is thinking about killing the King because he’s basing his entire thought upon belief in the ‘evil creatures’. We see this when Macbeth has a soliloquy in which he says, “Cannot be ill, cannot be good” and also asks himself why the thought of becoming King makes his “seated heart” knock against his ribs.
Macbeth ‘sees’ a bloody dagger in front of him even before he kills the King; this shows that he feels guilty even before the evil deed. He tries to convince himself and his wife that he should not kill Duncan, and at one stage he orders her not to go any further with the deed. Lady Macbeth however challenges his manhood until he gives in, “Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour”, which basically says are you scared to take what you want. Macbeth’s conscience is further tormented after he kills Duncan. He begins to get paranoid and hallucinates, hearing voices saying, “Sleep, Sleep no more! For Macbeth has murdered sleep”.
As well as seeing the ghost of his murdered friend Banquo at the diner table, he also develops insomnia, and goes so far on as to suggest that he is jealous of Duncan because he can sleep forever whereas he cannot sleep at all. He also loses his appetite and can no longer eat well; this shows that his insides are turning with the memory that he himself had killed a King who had been so good to him and to Scotland. After getting Banquo killed, Macbeth sees his ghost at the banquet with twelve bloody gashes in his head; this makes Macbeth completely insane in an instant. He is not only scared by seeing the ghost of Banquo, but also by the thought that he had done these horrible things, and that his soul would be haunted by his murdered friends ghost for ever. It is through the main characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth that this theme of guilt and conscience is so...