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“Murdered Sleep”

In the tragedy Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare during the English Renaissance, the tragic hero, Macbeth, constantly declines his level of morality until his fatality at the end of the play. Throughout the play, Macbeth is influenced by Lady Macbeth in addition to his tragic flaw, his ambition, leads him to his downfall. The classical tragedy is comprised of five acts, which follow a customary pattern: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. In the course of the play, the author uses sleep imagery to illustrate the characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Duncan. Since Shakespeare associates sleeplessness with malevolence and sleep with righteousness, then both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth must be malicious characters whereas Duncan must be a virtuous character.

Macbeth is portrayed as a tragic hero who possesses many tragic flaws. He is the chief character throughout the play and because he murders Duncan he is paralyzed with sleeplessness. Shakespeare uses sleep imagery to provide the reader with an image of pain. Sleep is invoked literally in that Macbeth kills Duncan while he is sleeping and smears blood on the sleeping attendants, but also figuratively as Macbeth’s guilty conscience will not allow him peaceful sleep: “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep. Glamis hath murdered sleep and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more (II.ii.54-57).” Macbeth’s trepidation was created by himself due to the predicament which he involved himself with and eventually it is this self-produced fear which eats Macbeth from the inside out. The result of this is that Macbeth cannot sleep because of the evil deed he has put upon himself. Macbeth’s vivid imagination and his constant worries also provoke him: ” wicked dreams abuse the curtained sleep (II.i.62-63).” This is evident in his terrible dreams which give the solid theme that Macbeth has indeed “murdered sleep”.

In addition to Macbeth, Lady Macbeth also is condemned to sleeplessness because of the slaying. Lady Macbeth abets Macbeth in killing Duncan and also spurs him to kill Duncan in the first place. Throughout the play, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as evil and even she can no longer contain her iniquitous deed in her any longer: ” As she is troubled with thick-coming fancies that keep her from her rest (V.iii.47-48).” Similar to Macbeth, the murder of Duncan also rapes Lady Macbeth from her sleep and causes her lack of sleep. At the end of the play, Lady Macbeth can no longer clutch herself together and commits suicide. Shakespeare utilizes sleep imagery in Lady Macbeth as well because at the end of the tragedy Lady Macbeth sleepwalks and reveals the murder of Duncan: ” Since his Majesty went into the field, I have seen her rise from bed throw her night gown upon her and again return to bed; yet all this while in a most fast sleep (V.i.4-9).” Furthermore, the experience of suffering and her tortuous actions from a horrid past, dominate her soul and cripples her sleep.

In sharp contrast to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Duncan is portrayed as one who is able to sleep well: ” Duncan is in his grave. After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well (III.ii.25-26).” This is ironical because although Duncan is murdered he rests serenely. Throughout the play, Duncan is depicted to be a righteous man because he has ruled well. Macbeth knows that Duncan was a virtuous ruler and in affect Macbeth struggles against his ambition to slay Duncan: ” Besides, this Duncan hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office that his virtues will plead like angels (I.vii.16-19).” In addition to Duncan’s honorable rule, he is a gracious king as well in that he rewards Banquo and Macbeth generously for their efforts in war. The welcome he extends further establish Duncan’s hospitality and generosity. These affirmative qualities that Duncan possesses help Duncan sleep well. Since Duncan knows that he has been a virtuous ruler he can sleep without any worries.

In summation, the tragedy Macbeth utilizes sleep imagery as a vital theme of the play. Shakespeare prohibits sleep for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth because of their dark deed and permits sleep for Duncan because he has ruled righteously. Throughout the play Shakespeare displays that malevolent deeds cannot be hidden from others as displayed by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s deterioration and sleeplessness. However if you have been just as Duncan is depicted in the tragedy, then you have nothing to agonize about and you can rest in serenity because you know that you have been an honorable person.


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