The Sleep and Sleeplessness Motif in Macbeth
We have consciences that function to tell us the difference between right and wrong. If we have clear consciences, we usually possess the ability to sleep. But when our consciences are full of guilt, we experience a state of sleeplessness. In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses the sleep and sleeplessness motif to represent Macbeth's and Lady Macbeth's consciences and the effect Macbeth's conscience has on the country of Scotland.
Lady Macbeth begins with an unrecognizable conscience. She explains to Macbeth that if she said she would kill her own child, she would rather do the deed than break her word to do so. As the play continues, however, Lady Macbeth begins to develop a conscience. After placing the daggers for Duncan's murder, she makes an excuse for not killing Duncan herself: "Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done't" (2.2.12-13). These words introduce her conscience. Towards the end of the play, Lady Macbeth falls into a sleepless state, and this sleeplessness represents her guilt for her role in Duncan's death, as well as all the murders Macbeth has committed. Her conscience is trying to rid itself of the guilt by her "washing her hands" (5.1.25) of the imagined blood. Lady Macbeth's new-found conscience becomes unbearable. Thus she resolves her problems by committing suicide, or "sleeping" permanently.
Macbeth, on the other hand, seems to do the exact reverse of Lady Macbeth. He begins as a valiant soldier with a good, clear conscience. His ability to sleep symbolizes his clear conscience. Further into the play, his...