Sleep Walking Scene
In the “sleep walking scene” (Act V, scene i) of Macbeth, Shakespeare presents on the stage the terrible theme of how the entire personality of a human being is eaten up by the sense of guilt arising out of the murder of a saint-like innocent king. In Lady Macbeth the sense is so strong and deeply rooted in the unconscious that it ultimately brings about psychological disorder in her personality. But this does not simply focus on the guilty conscience of one character, rather it lays bare the entire tragic process in its extremity: how evil repays. Modern readers find the scene interesting because of the dramatist’s psychological treatment of the consequence of guilt, ...view middle of the document...
The trauma of committing an act of such magnitude as being an active party in murdering an innocent king—a relative and benefactor—unhinges her psyche.
It is important to note that Lady Macbeth appears on the stage in her sleepwalking with a light in her hand, and that “she has a light by her continually.” This is a case of nyctophobia or phobia of darkness. Light represents knowledge and knowledge means clearance of phobia of the unknown; for Lady Macbeth it arises out of her fear of persecution, out of the phobia of the unknown divine retribution. All this had been residing in the unconscious, but now her superego is operating so strongly that it has caused turmoil in the entire psychic process. That is why her words have lost coherence; but still the audience/reader discern pattern in those words, which are reflections on past misdeeds and their consequences.
In this the scene is, however, an antithesis of her previous confident boastings and scene ii, Act II, particularly, and her previous demonic assertions turn out to be terrible dramatic ironies. At her first appearance on the stage in scene v, Act I, she invoked the aid of the spirits for changing her sex and inject cruelty in her body and “take out my milk for gall”. It is to be noted that all these were unnatural and contrary to what is considered human. Again in scene ii, Act II, she rebuked husband and took the clearing of the blood of the king, the evidence of murder too lightly:
“Go get some water
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.”
Unlike her husband she did not anticipate the grave consequences that would follow the deed. Even she chided her husband there for being “infirm of purpose”.
Lady Macbeth has been obsessed particularly with the spot of blood in her hands; it becomes a metaphor of crime and guilt. This kind of symbolism is nowhere used so effectively by a dramatist except in Cassandra’s prophetic vision in Agamemnon by Aeschylus. Again, there is another metaphorical statement—“yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”-- meaning the consequences...