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Macbeth: Schizophrenic?

Macbeths tragic downfall into insanity could be modernly diagnosed as the mental disorder schizophrenia. Many of the actions carried out by Macbeth during the play lead the reader to believe that Macbeth is crazy. However, by todays medical standards, Macbeth falls into several of the categories under the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is defined as, “a psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life, and by disintegration of personality expressed as disorder of feeling, thought, and conduct.”
In Act I Macbeth is very uneasy in his and Lady Macbeths decision to kill Duncan. He says, We shall proceed no further in this business. For he hath honored me of late. (I.7.31-32) This is an unmistakable example of how Macbeth is not fully confident in his decisions. He feels guilt and anguish, as does Lady Macbeth, for she will not commit the murder herself, due to the fact that King Duncan looks too much like her father. At this point in the play, it is quite questionable as to weather either of the conspirators will consummate to the killings. Duncans death can be identified as the turning point of Macbeths sanity. This is when Macbeth starts to clearly display numerous symptoms of schizophrenia. OOne of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia is the inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Macbeth displays this characteristic as he speaks vehemently to an empty chair, which he believes is the ghost of his old friend Banquo, who he just recently had killed. He says, Prithee, see there! behold! look! lo! how say you? Why, what care I? If thou canst nod, speak too. If charnel-houses and our graves must send Those that we bury back, our monuments Shall be the maws of kites. (III, 4) Macbeth is the only one to see the ghost, not even the audience is allowed by Shakespeare to see this apparition. After this, his mental stability begins to deteriorate throughout the course of the play. Guilt and obsession are also among the leading features associated with schizophrenia. After Macbeth is coaxed into killing Duncan, he is plagued by the blood, which he has spilt. However, he still manages to kill anyone who threatens his reign, even those who are very close to him. One could say that his obsession with maintaining his royal stature drove him nuts. After Macbeth carries out the murder of Duncan, he returns to his wifes chambers, only to say, I have done the deed. (II.2.14) These seem like very uncharacteristic words from a man who, not that long ago, was torn apart over the mere thought of killing King Duncan. Macbeth can be further diagnosed as a schizophrenic paranoid type, which is a subdivision of schizophrenia. This category is defined by its criteria of: Preoccupation with one or more delusions or frequent auditory hallucinations. Macbeth frequently and vividly hallucinates during the play. The first indicator into his hallucinogenic illness is when he struggles to decide whether or not to kill his good friend, Banquo. As he argues to himself, he begins to imagine a dagger in front of him. Hay says, to himself, Is this a dagger which I see before me… (II, 1, 33) Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to feeling as to sight, or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? (II.2.35-39) In this passage, Macbeth even admits to himself that he is beginning to see things that are not only unreal, but a projected figment of his tainted mind. Soon after, as he returns to see the three witches, who started this whole masquerade, he sees another vision. This time, it is a vision of his future. He sees an armed child, a bloody child, and a child with a crown holding a tree branch. (IV.1) This is meant to represent Macbeths future and to warn him of what will happen with MacDuff. He then proceeds to vision all of the former Kings of Scotland processing past him, with the final King holding a mirror in which Macbeth is to look into. Macbeth is now beginning to have not only hallucinations, but also detailed fantasies, in which he interacts with the apparitions. Macbeth now relies totally on fantasy, he has pushed everyone out of his life. All those who he has not yet killed, he has ostracized completely, namely his wife, Lady Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth also demonstrates many of the schizophrenic characteristics herself. Her speech patterns become very choppy and incoherent, as is common among many schizophrenics. In Act V, scene one, she rambles, Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One: two: why, then tis time to dot. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our powr to accompt? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? These do not seem like the words of a woman who, not much earlier, had devised a brilliant conspiracy to kill the King. Lady Macbeth suffers severely from the positive symptom of thought disorder. Positive, meaning symptoms that are present in schizophrenics that would not be present in a mentally stable person. This entails, for example, the inability of a person to connect thoughts into logical sequences. Thoughts come and go so rapidly that it is not possible to rationally organize them. Because thinking is disorganized and fragmented, the ill person’s speech is often muddled or unreasonable. Thought disorder is frequently accompanied by inappropriate emotional responses: which means words and mood do not appear in tune with each other. The result may be something like laughing when speaking of shady or frightening events. Early warning signs, such as Lady Macbeths sleepwalking, her irrational speech, and her loss of normal temperament were all reverberations of her mental instability.
Extreme circumstances such as the ones presented in Macbeth are highly probable causes for both Macbeth and Lady Macbeths development of schizophrenia. Their behavior, although seeming quite erratic and irrational, is quite common among patients with this disorder. The term schizophrenic, however, was not even brought to the public until 1911, by a Swiss psychologist, Eugen Bleuler, almost three decades after Shakespeares Macbeth was introduced to England. Citizens during the sixteen hundreds would have just thought Macbeth and his wife were insane and should be locked away. With todays psychoanalytic sciences, though, it can be most likely predicted that schizophrenia was present in Macbeth.
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