In William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ sleep is a very significant aspect of the play which is portrayed by many references to it and occurrences that result in sleep deprivation. To emphasize the importance of resting Shakespeare uses varied poetic language and sleep distortions. Sleep comes as a significant theme of the play when Macbeth, persuaded by Lady Macbeth kills King Duncan while he is asleep at their house. Consequently, Macbeth suffers from devastating nightmares and delusions which are the reasons for his constant paranoia and anxiety that lead to numerous murders.
Shakespeare’s choice of language shows that he values ability to sleep, which in my opinion is influenced by his own experience. He thinks of it as a “balm of hurt minds” which I understand as a relaxing and comforting activity. Furthermore, the line “great nature’s second course” refers to the time we spend sleeping and signifies the fact that the rest is a vital human need in order for our minds and bodies to work well. This choice of vocabulary makes the audience realize how important the sleep is in a play and clearly portrays that Macbeth’s anxiety is a consequence of sleep deprivation and his overwhelming ambition.
The first important sleep reference is the witches’ revenge on the Sailor’s wife. The scene establishes the link between darkness, sleep and supernatural. The witches plot to avenge the wife’s insult. Their abilities are limited as indicated by words “Though his bark cannot be lost, yet it shell be tempest-tossed” therefore the way they curse the sailor is quite unusual as they control the elements and weather to punish him for the unpleasantness of his wife. According to the witches, the effects of sleep deprivation will follow by anxiety and misery. “Weary sev’n nights nine times nine shall he dwindle, peak, and pine” The sailor will be insomniac and constantly exhausted; no energy will limit his so that he won’t fulfil his dreams and waste away. The scene is an introduction to the sleeping problems that soon will be plaguing Macbeth. Three witches in the “Macbeth” seem to be connected with spiritual world, prophecies and the knowledge far beyond humans and indicate darkness, chaos and confusion. Thus, the tension and suspense is created; moreover it shows the impact the witches with their supernatural gifts will have on the protagonist later in the play.
Macbeth and his wife seem convinced that under the cover of night, their abhorrent act of murder will be disguised. Killing the King while asleep it disloyal and represents hurting the innocent and vulnerable. After Lady Macbeth allied herself with the darkness and evil, Macbeth is his speech in Act 2, scene 2 refers to “The curtained sleep” which indicates being under cover. Also, eyelids cover the eyes like curtains to prevent from seeing anything at night. The next lines are as follows:
“ (...) witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings; and withered murder,
Alarumed by his sentinel...