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Importance Of Sleep In Shakespeare's Macbeth

964 words - 4 pages

Macbeth:  The Importance of Sleep


Macbeth   Sleep is a time when our minds are at rest and the subconscious comes out to play.  Sleep is oftentimes considered the place where we are able to see into our future and perhaps figure out how to solve our problems.  Sleep is also what heals and cures our minds and bodies.  Without sleep we slowly begin to disintegrate.  Mind and body no longer cooperate without the healing force sleep brings with it.  Shakespeare uses sleep both as a reward and as a consequence in his plays.  If a character is innocent and pure, he is allowed restful, fulfilling sleep.  If the character lacks these traits of goodness, he is condemned to a lifetime of insomnia and other problems.  In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, the reader can see this idea manifest itself in many different ways.  From the beginning, when Macbeth hears the voice to the end of the play when Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, the reader sees many examples of this use of sleep. 


One first encounters the idea of sleep in Macbeth when the central character, Macbeth, murders the sleeping king.  After the murder, Macbeth believes he hears a voice cry out, "Sleep no more… Glamis hath murder'd sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more"(II.ii.58-60)! At this point the reader does not really think much of this warning, assuming it to merely be Macbeth's guilty conscience rather than anything important.  But as the signs of the voice's prophecy begin to surface like the symptoms of a disease, Macbeth slowly becomes irrational and ruthless.  This is partially due to the, "terrible dreams, that shake [him] nightly” which serve as a symbolic reason for why Macbeth is unable to sleep.  In killing a [peacefully] sleeping king, Macbeth has murdered his own [peaceful] sleep. 

A second effect of sleeplessness is seen in Macbeth's lack of trust for mortals. Macbeth no longer seems able to trust his old friends, or anyone else for that matter; his lack of sleep develops into paranoia.  He orders the murder of Banquo and keeps it from Lady Macbeth, his partner in this entire evil feat.  Both of these events of distrust show a lack of good judgment.  Together, they again show that Macbeth’s lack of sleep is greatly affecting the way that he thinks, because he would never have acted in this way before.  By ordering the death of Banquo, Macbeth slips deeper into the grasp of evil.  As well, keeping this behavior from Lady Macbeth distances Macbeth from the one person who thought the same way as he did and who, even in the end, would defend him and his actions.   

Yet another effect of his self-inflicted insomnia is Macbeth's naiveté when it comes to the witches.  He seems to believe everything that the three...

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