Sleep is the only time in life where one is able to take a break and recover their energy to properly function during the day. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare uses sleep to symbolize the most innocent state of a human being. Losing the ability to sleep represents the loss of innocence; in this case, Macbeth’s crimes and his subsequent guilt cause him to be unable to sleep. When Macbeth murders King Duncan in his sleep, he, and his accomplice wife also “murder” their own ability to sleep peacefully forever. While Macbeth and Lady Macbeth try to hide their crimes during the day, their inner thoughts and feelings are shown through their insomnia, which help readers understand how these characters are actually feeling. It is one of the only times characters can not hide their identities. At the same time, sleep is used to describe the most vulnerable state of a person because no one is aware of their surroundings when they are sleeping.Order now
The innocence of sleep is shown through former King Duncan. Right before the murder, King Duncan is “a-bed.He hath been in unusual pleasure” (2.1.15-16). Duncan was a well respected king and had not committed any crimes. Even the day of his murder, he shows generosity to his people. Because of actions like these, he is able to sleep soundly. Sleeping at the Macbeths’ home exposes him and makes him vulnerable, yet he does so anyway, showing his trust in them. After his murder, Macbeth hears voices crying “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep” (2.2.47-48). Macbeth had attacked a completely defenseless person in his own home. The voices cry that Macbeth has murdered sleep meaning that Macbeth uses those who are weaker for his own satisfaction.
However, Macbeth did not murder sleep: he murdered Duncan. Thus “Sleep no more” means that Macbeth will never be able to have a restful mindset and will be haunted forever for his actions, even as he sleeps. In the end, Shakespeare uses King Duncan to describe how he does not fight back and is quiet, showing the dream-like images of sleeping and how King Duncan is in peace because he does not understand the situation he is in. After Macbeth murders Duncan, he is unable to properly fall asleep; instead he gets haunting dreams, which Macbeth later uses to justify his murders.
He is mentally unstable and believes that only murders will be able to fix his mistakes. In Act 3 Scene 4, Lady Macbeth advises her husband that he has not been able to sleep for awhile, explaining his drastic change in behavior. Macbeth was now responsible for two murders and he continues to think about them while in bed. He is too far removed from innocence and would not able to rest with a hateful mindset. He starts to regularly see haunting visions/nightmares around this portion of the play. His dreams remind him of his crimes, but Macbeth refuses to understand what they are trying to tell him. He becomes paranoid and as a result, commits more murders. In the play, sleep is used as a symbol of innocence and lack of sleep represents guilt and insanity.
In Act 5 Scene 1, sleep is also a method of observing a character’s true feelings and thoughts. Lady Macbeth was able to hide her intentions about King Duncan’s murder throughout the entire play but her sleepwalking scene shows the horrors that she wants to run away from. Her conscience is stuck on the day of the first murder and she has not been able to recover, or rest, since. This “sleep” again shows her vulnerability as she is confessing to her crimes when she is not aware of it herself. The sleepwalking scene shows a turning point for Lady Macbeth and Shakespeare foreshadows that she is slowly going insane, leading up to her suicide at the end of the play. Sleep is an ambivalent symbol in the play of Macbeth.
It shows the innocence as well as guilt which are almost complete opposites of each other. While King Duncan sleeps in tranquility, the Macbeths dread going to sleep due to their guilty conscience. Ultimately, this mindset forces the two characters to carry out more violent deeds, further disrupting their “natural order of sleep.” Macbeth, indeed, has murdered sleep.