Macbeth's Tragic Insanity Essay

1158 words - 5 pages

Insanity is defined as “[the] inability to understand the nature and consequences of one's acts or of events, matters, or proceedings in which one is involved.” In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the protagonist turned antagonist, Macbeth, was once “valour’s minion” (I.ii.16) a loyal and devoted nobleman of Scotland. However, he commits a heinous act of regicide in order to ascend the throne, only to become a tyrant who in the end was regarded as nothing but a “dead butcher” (V.ix.35). Macbeth was unarguably sane in the beginning of the play, however, at the end of the play its unclear whether or not Macbeth truly was a “deranged blood hound” (V.ii.32), or if he was still acting on his own accord. Critics may say that this “Bloody sceptered tyrant” (IV.iii.95), who murdered innocent people indiscriminately through the novel befell the holds of insanity, but in truth, Macbeth, whether for better or for worse, never was truly driven insane.
An attribute of insanity was previously defined as the inability to understand the consequences of one’s acts or events around one, which furthers the argument that Macbeth was sane. When Macbeth, due to his insecurity of his position as king starts eliminating his enemies, he does display a certain degree of incomprehension towards the consequences of his actions, saying “the very firstlings of my heart shall be/The firstlings of my hand” (IV.i.157-158). However, the very fact that he says he will not take into account what he thinks (such as the consequences of his actions), shows that he indeed does still have the ability to understand the consequences of his actions, hence he is not insane. Towards the end of the book is where Macbeth’s sanity is questioned most. One such question arises upon Macbeth’s wholehearted devotedness to the witches prophecies, which some attribute to insanity. Macbeth towards the end of the book is deceived by the witches’ prophecies (about what has to happen in order for Macbeth to fall), and begins acting with supreme overconfidence therefore. Throughout the siege brought upon by Macduff and Malcolm, however, Macbeth’s confidence dwindles as each prophecy comes true, and his life unravels. The prophecy delivered by the second apparition saying “The power of man, for none of woman born/Shall harm Macbeth” (IV.i.80-81), is the last prophecy to come true before the slaying of Macbeth. Macbeth, upon hearing Macduff’s proclamation of “Macduff was from his mother’s womb/Untimely ripped” (V.viii.15-16), realizes he is going to inevitably fall, and that the witches tricked him. This again shows that he can comprehend the consequences of events and proceedings around him, and hence is sane.

Albert Einstein once said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. By this definition, Macbeth’s sanity is once again proven due to his ability of repentance. “My way of life/Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf,/And that which...

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