Shakespeare uses sleep as a reward and a consequence in his plays. If a character is innocent and pure, he is allowed restful, fulfilling sleep. If the character is not, he is condemned to a lifetime of insomnia and other problems. In Macbeth, the reader can see this idea manifest itself in many different ways. From the beginning, when Macbeth hears the voice to the end of the play when Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, the reader sees many examples of this use of sleep. Sleep is a time when our minds are at rest and the subconscious comes out to play.
Sleep is often times considered the place where we are able to see into our future and perhaps figure out how to solve our problems. Sleep is also what heals and cures our minds and bodies. Without sleep we slowly begin to disintegrate. Mind and body no longer co-operate without the healing force sleep brings with it. One first encounters the idea of sleep in Macbeth when Macbeth murders the sleeping king. After doing so, he believes that he hears a voice cry out, “Sleep no more Glamis hath murder’d sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more! At this point the reader does not really think much of this warning thinking it merely to have been Macbeth’s guilty conscience rather than anything important.
Then the signs of the voice’s prophecy begin to surface like the symptoms of a disease. Macbeth slowly begins to become irrational and ruthless, partially due to the, “terrible dreams, that shake nightly. ” A symbolic reason for why Macbeth is unable to sleep might lie in the fact that in killing a sleeping king, Macbeth has murdered his own sleep. A second effect of this lack of sleep is seen in Macbeth’s lack of trust for mortals.Order now
Macbeth no longer seems able to trust his old friends or anyone else for that matter. His lack of sleep is developing into a sense of paranoia. He orders the murder of Banquo and keeps it from his wife, his partner in all this evil. Together both of these events on their own shows a lack of good judgement and combined they again show that the lack of sleep he is getting is greatly affecting the way that he thinks, because he would have never acted in this way before. By ordering the death of Banquo, he slips deeper into the grasp of evil so that soon his soul will be beyond help.
As well, keeping this act from Lady Macbeth distances Macbeth from the one person who thought the same way as he did and who even in the end would defend him and his actions. Yet another effect of his self-inflicted insomnia is Macbeth’s naivet when it comes to the witches. He seems to believe everything that the three witches tell him. These prophecies, to most, would seem very unlikely and yet Macbeth questions none of them. Any sane person would question the source when someone tells him that he cannot be harmed by any man as long as a forest does not move, and yet Macbeth does not.
At this point most would probably start to question how tight Macbeth’s grasp on sanity is. Macbeth’s reduced sanity can be directly attributed to his lack of sleep. Macbeth, it seems, has even become envious of the dead king because, “Duncan is in his grave; After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well. ” Macbeth does not realise the full consequences of his actions of killing the king, and probably never would have even if his life had been longer. He did not seem to see that what he did had caused this dreadful lack of sleep that is debilitating him.
He fully expected to be punished in the afterlife, but in this life he considered himself almost an equal to the gods. Macbeth is not the only one to whom sleep is not being kind; Macbeth’s ‘fiend-like queen’ is also having problems sleeping. The way the lack of sleep affects Lady Macbeth is much different than the way it affects Macbeth. It causes her to sleepwalk and to relive the night they killed King Duncan. Lady Macbeth’s madness her almost a release and yet it binds her even more. Lady Macbeth has also becomes so fearful of the night that brings with it the horrible nightmares that she orders that, ” she has a light by her continually.
Her sleepwalking some could say is what happens when human emotion is denied, others might say it is a guilty conscience causing her inability to sleep. Lady Macbeth’s sleep walking is just another aspect of this lack of sleep for those who are not good. Macbeth’s lack of sleep has turned him into an evil tyrant; Lady Macbeth is turned not only into a fiend but, as well, a mad woman. Together the personalities of these two basically ‘good’ people were changed very drastically after sleep was withheld from them. King Duncan and his sons, Malcolm and Donaldbain, were considered innocent in this play and therefore they were allowed to sleep.
Their sleep was a restful, healing sleep that gave them clear judgement and in the case of the sons, the will to avenge the wrongful death of their beloved father. For their ‘good behaviour’ they were able to sleep unhindered. Innocence and purity in a Shakespearean play have rewards attached to them. A deep, restful, peaceful sleep is allowed if the characters are good, but if they are not, sleep is barred from them and held in front of them as a reminder of their wrong doings. Those who are perceived as good and ‘innocent’ are allowed sleep, those who are not, sleep not.