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Macbeth Themes

William Shakespeare, in his tragic play Macbeth, written in 1606, dramatizes the
unrelenting power of deception, insanity, and greed which ultimately results in
the demise of Macbeth. Macbeth allowed his desire to become king overrule his
judgement which consummately terminated his existence. The play is full of
pestilence and set in Scotland during the eleventh century. In Macbeth,
sleeplessness is an important motif that permeates the dramatic structure.


Shakespeare uses this fatigue to substantiate the guilt of Macbeth, to represent
subconscious insanity, and to show a foreshadowing of bad things to come. The
motif serves to dramatize the true overview of how the characters are handling
the various tragedies that occur. Initially, the motif of sleeplessness is used
as a model of foreshadowing. For example, in Act II, scene i, Banquo finds it
hard to sleep the night Macbeth is supposed to kill King Duncan. This is
evidence that evil things will occur throughout the play. Furthermore, in Act
II, scene ii, while Macbeth was killing Duncan, Malcolm and Donalbain arose in
their sleep. One laughed and the other “cried murder.” This is their
sleeplessness foreshadowing because Duncan was dead, even though the brothers
did not know it yet. Shakespeares use of the sleeplessness motif as
foreshadowing allows the reader to get a concept of what evil will come in the
future. Not only does Shakespeare use sleeplessness for foreshadowing he also
uses it as a mode of guilt. For example, in Act II, scene ii, Macbeth thinks he
hears a voice say, “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep!” This is
Macbeth imagining voices, telling him not to sleep because he is feeling immoral
and liable for Duncans murder. Next, Macbeth is afraid to sleep peacefully
because he knows that Duncan is “in restless ecstasy”(Act III, scene ii).

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Apparently, Macbeth is aware of his wrongdoing and feels culpable that he is
king and alive, but only at the sacrifice of Duncan. By using guilt to show
sleeplessness, Shakespeare shows that a corrupt crime can only leave the mind
unsure and unable to rest. The most significant aspect of this motif, however,
is how it is used to demonstrate the insanity of Macbeth and his wife. For
instance, in Act II, scene iv, Macbeth is at dinner with Lennox, Ross, and other
lords. He sees ghosts and is apparently insane. This proves that all the sleep
in the world could never clear Macbeth of his crime, he is already destroyed. In
addition, Lady Macbeth sleep walks and hallucinates a spot of blood on her hands
in Act V, scene i. This proves that she has gone crazy as well. She cannot sleep
because she is trying to remove the spot, which represents guilt. The strong use
of insanity as a moving force in the play causes the reader to understand that
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth cannot rid themselves of their evil deeds. The play
demonstrates that the subconscious can allow evil things to occur. The
sleeplessness motif is significant because it shows how the characters in the
play deal with their stresses. The eerie use of sleeplessness added to the guilt
of the characters, the foreshadowing of evil supplied a dark sensation, and the
irony of insanity showed that the characters souls could not handle the
calamitous situations. Macbeth could not sleep because he was too guilt-ridden,
which eventually drove him to the breaking point. Macbeths fate, foretold by
the witches, finally caught up to him and after his frighteningly sleepless
nights, he was now engrossed by the eternal sleep called death.

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