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The Descent Of The Despot: Sleep Deprivation, Hallucinations And Guilt

1462 words - 6 pages

Autocracy is in. From “Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things,” a popular blog featuring pictures of former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il looking at things, to a recent cinematic adaptation of Idi Amin’s maniacal reign of terror, fortuitously titled The Last King of Scotland, there is something about despotic regimes that fascinate the western world, albeit from the comforting privilege of our overstuffed armchairs. Frequently, as in the film previously mentioned, western narratives concerning autocracy feature a story arc that traces the rapid rise of a despotic leader who seizes power, often in conjunction with an assassination or coup d’etat, which is followed by a gradually crescendoing, ...view middle of the document...

Upon returning to Lady Macbeth, he subsequently provides an account of the events surrounding Duncan’s murder, to which she replies “These deeds must not be thought/After these ways; so, it will make us mad” (II.ii.36-37). Ignoring this entreatment, McBeth reports to her “Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!/ Macbeth does murder sleep,' the innocent sleep/ Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care/ The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath” (II.ii.38-41). This passage is significant not only because it provides the first instance in which Macbeth uses sleep as a metaphor for absolution, but also because Macbeth is prompted to express this view by the declarations of a disembodied voice, which appears to be telling him that as a result of murdering Duncan, he has irrevocably destroyed the mechanism by which he could conceivably reconcile his own conscience. While this passage does not, when taken in isolation, firmly establish that Macbeth’s hallucinations are the product of a guilty conscience, this relationship is strongly implied through the metaphor of sleep as a means of reconciling guilt, suggesting that the absence of sleep is indicative of a guilty conscience.
This passage is also significant in that it serves to establish Lady Macbeth’s response to Duncan’s murder. Although the text neither implies nor states that she hallucinates in the immediate wake of this event, the fact that she entreats Macbeth to avoid further consideration of it in order to preempt a descent into madness, coupled with the fact that she does so prior to Macbeth’s disclosure of this hallucination, suggests that she is fully aware of the effect that guilt may ultimately have on both herself and her husband. Although Lady Macbeth does not link this sense of guilt or Macbeth’s hallucination to sleep deprivation in this passage, as Macbeth’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, she does appear to make this connection, most notably when she uses a simile to ascribe Macbeth’s statement that “Strange things I have in head, that will to hand/Which must be acted ere they may be scann'd” (III.iv.140-141) to a “lack (of) the season of all natures, sleep” (III.iv.142)
Although the “strange things” to which Macbeth refers in this passage could conceivably be interpreted as some form of madness or hallucination, the preceding lines, in which Macbeth states “...I am in blood/ Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more/ Returning were as tedious as go o'er” (III.iv.139-137), suggest that these “strange things” refer to Macbeth’s intent to perpetrate subsequent assassinations in order to protect his crown (in this case, most likely that of Macduff’s family.) While this would in turn suggest that an instance of hallucination is not connected to the simile of sleep as “the season of all natures,” when one considers the fact that this conversation concludes a scene in which Macbeth has seen and attempted to speak with the ghost of Banquo in the presence of...

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