Macbeth Guilty Conscience Essays

What is guilt and is it shown in the play Macbeth? Who demonstrates this guilt, and why is it being displayed? Guilt is a feeling that haunts the conscience for a while. Usually this feeling comes when one has committed an offence, crime, violation or wrong act. It is the feeling of responsibility for this poor action that has been committed. In this play, there are many themes, but guilt is one of the most significant one. It teaches crucial lessons to the readers, with everlasting morals. In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, the theme of guilt is established through Lady Macbeth, blood imagery and Macbeth’s internal conflict.

Lady Macbeth is a strong-willed character who will do anything to have her way. Her desire for Macbeth to become King is even greater than that of Macbeth. Throughout the play, Macbeth is forced to commit unforgivable sins to achieve the position of King. Lady Macbeth shows her guilt towards the deaths of Duncan, Banquo, Lady Macduff and her family. Lady Macbeth’s guilty conscience is displayed near the end of the story when she is sleepwalking. She discusses her feelings, but mainly she reiterates her guilt. “The thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? What, will these hands ne’er be clean? No more o’that, my lord, no more o’that. You mar all with this starting.”(V. i. 38-40). This demonstrates how Lady Macbeth is feeling guilty about Lady Macduff’s murder and how Macbeth has ruined everything with his nervousness. Lady Macbeth also shows another form of guilt when she says “Wash your hands put on your nightgown. Look not so pale. I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on’s grave.”(V. i. 54-56). This confirms how Lady Macbeth is constantly thinking about the deaths that she was part of, and how the feeling of guilt is taking over her life. Lady Macbeth shows her guilt throughout this whole scene. She writes a letter, but the reader does not know what the letter says. It is possible she is writing about her guilty feelings, or writing an apology letter. Although the letters content is unknown, Lady Macbeth does end her life as a result of her guilty conscience.

Blood represents guilt as it is a significant image pattern in the play. Blood also represents murder, which results in guilt of the characters in Macbeth. Duncan and Macbeth are loyal friends to each other, but once Macbeth finds out that he needs to kill his loyal kinsmen his feelings change. He is hesitant to commit this crime, but as a result of Lady Macbeth’s persistence he ends up murdering Duncan. Macbeth makes the choice to kill Duncan. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine making the green one red.” (II. ii. 63-66). This illustrates that Macbeth is feeling guilt towards the death of Duncan. He is asking if the ocean will wash his hands clean, but instead he will stain the water red, from the blood on his hands. The blood shows an image of guilt, the guilt is on his hands, and how Macbeth wants it to go away. Another form of blood is represented when Lady Macbeth says, “Here’s the smell of the blood, still, all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”(V. i. 44-45). This shows that Lady Macbeth’s hands still have traces of blood on them and even the best perfumes will not rid her of the smell. This blood is from the killings she has taken part in, and it shows that the guilt can not be easily rid of, but will stick with her for a long time. Finally, blood is also shown through the murders that were committed. The murders formed a feeling of guilt, which is connected to why blood is an image of guilt through the deaths, but this may only be shown in Macbeth’s point of view.

Guilt is displayed a number of times through the internal conflict of Macbeth. Macbeth has to make many decisions throughout the play that revolve around his guilty conscience. Macbeth’s conflict in the beginning of the play is whether or not he should kill his kinsmen. He shows a guilty feeling before and after the crime is committed. He is guilty before when he is deciding to kill his best friend, and he is guilty after because he went and killed his best friend, and as a result, he is guilty of committing this crime. Another form of internal conflict is when Macbeth says, “I’ll go no more: I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on’t again I dare not.”(II. ii. 53-55). This shows that after killing Duncan, Macbeth regrets his decision. He is saying that he can not go back and that he is afraid to think about what he has done. This proves that he feels guilty over what he has done and that he can not go back in time. However, if he could, he would not have killed Duncan. He was faced with a conflict that he had to resolve, but he realized that he did not make the right decision. It also shows that in the play, Macbeth is not able to say “Amen”. Only because he can not agree with what people have to say, because he regrets his actions, and feels guilty for what he has done.

In conclusion guilt is displayed through various representations in the play. The theme of guilt is expressed by Lady Macbeth, through blood imagery and Macbeth’s internal conflict. Guilt is a major factor in people’s lives, and will continue to haunt the characters of Macbeth for a long time. Guilt can be a result of many things, as it is a feeling that remains forever. Usually this feeling occurs when an offence, crime, violation or wrong act is committed. It is the feeling of responsibility for this poor action that has been committed. Macbeth commits this poor action just to be happy, but in the end, he was only left with much remorse.


Macbeth is a fascinating play which explores many themes.


One of Shakespeare's reasons for writing the play was to illustrate the terrible consequences of murdering a king. The play was first performed in 1605, the year of the Gunpowder Plot, and this theme would be very politically acceptable to an audience composed of members of James I's court. Shakespeare shows the murderers of a king tormented by their own guilt and driven to their doom.

The idea of guilt first appears in Act 1 Scene 3, when Banquo shows his surprise at Macbeth's reaction to the witches' promises: The word 'start', meaning to jump with shock, is always associated with a guilty reaction. Later, Macbeth's guilt takes visual form when he hallucinates that a blood-covered dagger is leading him to murder Duncan.

In the murder scene, we again see Macbeth tormented by guilt. Shakespeare has the murder happen offstage so that he can focus on Macbeth's tormented mental state. Macbeth is terrified by his own sense of sin, as he could not say 'Amen' when he heard someone praying. He imagines his guilty conscience will never let him sleep peacefully again: . References to sleeplessness recur later in the play, as when Lady Macbeth says, . Even when he does sleep he will be tormented by his guilt in the .

One of most striking images in the play equates guilt with the idea of blood-stained hands. Macbeth refers to his own hands as , which would be covered in blood from disembowelling victims of execution. When Lady Macbeth urges him to wash the blood off, he realises the impossibility of washing away his guilt. His crime is so wicked that the blood will .

During the murder scene, Lady Macbeth reassures him: . The audience will realise the irony of this during her sleepwalking scene later in the play, when she obsessively washes imaginary blood from her hands.

After arranging Banquo's murder, Macbeth is tortured by guilt even more. Again this takes visual form, as he imagines the ghost of Banquo returned to accuse him: !

In Act 5, we see Lady Macbeth destroyed by the strain as her guilt becomes revealed for all to see. The metaphor of a guilty conscience being represented by the image of sleeplessness is shown in her sleepwalking. She is also seen constantly washing her hands, as her guilt has made the stains seem indelible to her: . Her rambling words reveal her complicity in Macbeth's crimes: Her reassurance to Macbeth in Act 3 is twisted into a despairing admission of guilt: .

When he meets his nemesis, Macduff, Macbeth finally faces his guilt. Believing in the witches' prophecy that , he warns Macduff to stay away from him, admitting , a reference to the brutal killing of Macduff's wife and children. When Macduff reveals he was , Macbeth knows he is about to pay for his crimes.

The nature of the ideal king

Shakespeare's patron, King James, had written a book on this topic, Basilikon Doron, and so this theme was also of great contemporary interest.

The first example is Duncan, who is a good man but not a perfect king. Macbeth pays tribute to his personal qualities when he considers in his soliloquy that Duncan has done nothing to deserve his fate: However, as a king, Duncan has the fatal flaw of being over trusting and gullible. After being taken in by the traitorous Thane of Cawdor, he transfers the title to Macbeth who will prove even more treacherous. Similarly, when Duncan comes to Macbeth's castle he misjudges the atmosphere and sees it as a place where the air smells .

Banquo would clearly have made a good king, and Macbeth is jealous of his , acknowledging his courage and wisdom. Shakespeare was aware his own monarch, James Stuart, claimed descent from Banquo, and this is a flattering tribute.

By contrast, Macbeth is unfit to be a king. He is dishonest and unscrupulous, happy to blame others for Duncan's murder. He is even responsible for the killing of Macduff's wife and children. Macbeth becomes the worst sort of king, a tyrant, whose cruelty drains the life blood from his country: He is contrasted with the king of England, the saintly and Christ-like Edward, who is described as treating his subjects with : . This religious imagery contrasts with the demonic imagery used to describe Macbeth: .

Duncan's son Malcolm is depicted as the perfect king. In his testing of Macduff, he lists the , such as justice, verity, temperance, mercy, lowliness etc., showing his awareness of how a king should be. He has his father's noble character but without Duncan's fatal flaw of gullibility. He tells Macduff that he is aware Macbeth has tried to entice him back to Scotland to his death, and shrewdly tests Macduff for signs of being a dishonest flatterer. A metaphor describes Malcolm's healing role: he will be for his country. He restores order to Scotland after the disruption caused by Macbeth.

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