Macbeth: the Psychological Effects of Guilt

Guilt plays a large role in human society and how humans work. It’s a powerful feeling and if it gets put on the back burner, it might just explode. An example of this is Macbeth by William Shakespeare. In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth slowly lets her guilty conscience eat at her sanity before she goes crazy. Her insanity causes her to commit suicide. Her experience is shown through words and her actions. She doesn’t address her conscience which makes her go crazy. Contradicting her story is Claudius from Hamlet, who is able to address his guilt and keep his sanity. In the long run, Lady Macbeth’s tragic story helps readers understand that guilt is a destructive feeling and will only lead to demise if it isn’t acknowledged.

Shakespeare intertwines the theme of guilt perfectly through his characters’ words and actions. He shows that guilt can be destructive when he has the Doctor say Unnatural deeds/ Do breed unnatural troubles (Act 5, Scene 2). The Doctor says this as he explains Lady Macbeth’s hallucinations and confessions. When he speaks of unnatural troubles, he is alluding to the supernatural consequences that people suffer under after they commit a wrongful act. These consequences can be ghosts or hallucinations that reminds the wrongdoer of their sins. This quote can refer to Lady Macbeth when she tries to wash blood off of herself. Shakespeare understands that people who know what they’ve done wrong will feel guilty subconsciously or consciously. Lady Macbeth isn’t consciously aware of her guilt, so her subconscious creates hallucinations to make her aware of what she’s repressed. These hallucinations slowly start to drive her crazy and reveal what she has been hiding.

Her delusions aren’t her only symptom of guilt, so are her confessions. When Infected minds/ To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets is said by the Doctor in Act 5, Scene 2, that quote can refer to her sudden blabberings about the people she’s killed. Shakespeare is aware that guilty people have strong urges to confess their evil acts, because it eases the overwhelming feeling of remorse. Lady Macbeth’s mind is manifested with immense remorse, which causes her to unconsciously blurt out her all her sins. Her sudden confessions are a prime example of a last-ditch effort to keep her sanity. Maybe, if she had eased her immense contrition instead of repressing it, she wouldn’t have let her insanity kill her.

A character who does ease his guilt and keeps his sanity is King Claudius from Hamlet. King Claudius expresses his remorse and prays at an altar for forgiveness. His attempt to get rid of his sins in Act 3, Scene 3 of Hamlet, ultimately help him keep a clear mind and keep his common sense. He is the complete opposite of Lady Macbeth who holds onto her toxic feelings and becomes deranged. Claudius probably wouldn’t have been able to continue his evil facade with a guilty conscience. He is a strong example of how effective it can be to acknowledge pent up guilt.

In essence, Macbeth is a great play with a perfect representation of the effects of guilt. Lady Macbeth’s attempt to get rid of her repressed feelings is truly tragic. Shakespeare helped his readers learn through his character’s solid words and actions that it is important to recognize a guilty conscience before it does any harm. This claim is still true today; many people confess their sins to priests in church or they turn themselves in to the police. Instead of these people restraining their remorse, they choose to address it before it hurts themselves. It is vital to learn from them and Lady Macbeth that if guilt is placed on the backburner, the heat should be turned off and it should be checked on before it explodes.

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