Macbeth Essay ~ Guilt and Conscience "Macbeth", one of the great Shakespearean tragedies, is arguably Shakespeare's most profound and disturbing vision of the human conscience, guilt and their workings. This theme of the guilt and conscience is explored throughout the play as the result of the consequences of bad deeds which weigh heavily on the conscience as it was believed in the Elizabethan times that the repercussions of evil acts affected the whole universe. This theme of guilt, conscience and their workings is developed in the play through its principle characters, Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, as well as through the vivid use of imagery and the mood and atmosphere which is created through illusions in the play. Shakespeare uses the title character of Macbeth to effectively develop the theme of guilt and conscience.
This is shown evidently through the development of his character as Macbeth begins as a good, strong, valiant and loyal subject of the king but as the play progresses, his character weakens as his conscience is infested by the guilt of his evil deeds. The guilt and tortures of Macbeth's conscience manifests itself immediately after he murders King Duncan, the commencement of his evil acts. Upon Duncan's death, Macbeth is too deeply plagued by the guilt of this deed to utter the words "Amen" as he distressingly cries, "But wherefore could not I pronounce, Amen". Lady Macbeth, likewise, begins with a strong character but this strength crumbles as the play progresses due to the workings of her conscience. Despite the fact that she does not seem to be as outwardly affected by the murder of Duncan as Macbeth, Lady Macbeth nevertheless suffers the consequences of her guilt. As her conscience continues to replay her past evil deeds through many sleepless nights, she eventually becomes so eaten up by having to live with such a disturbed, guilty conscience, as her doctor observes, "what a sigh is there! the heart is sorely charged". that she commits suicide which is her only means of escaping such a troubled and scarred conscience.
In the end, it was the workings of Lady Macbeth's own guilty conscience which lead to her death. As well as through characters, Shakespeare has also used imagery to develop the theme of guilt and conscience. The image of blood is used most vividly in the play to symbolises guilt as it is blood which stains both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's hands following the murder of Duncan. Macbeth connects his hands with the evil deed of which he is guilty of and while he frantically tries to clean his hands of blood, he realises that he cannot ever wipe the guilt of the act from his conscience, "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?" . Similarly, Lady Macbeth also finds her hands stained with the guilt of her evil deeds long after they have been committed. Although initially, she easily dismisses her own guilt by claiming that, "A little water clears us of this deed: how easy is it then!" but eventually she, too, suffers from her guilty conscience as in her dreams, she tries to clean her hands in an attempt to wash murder from her conscience but she never manages to clear them of blood, "Here's the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand".
Like her husband, Lady Macbeth also uses an imagery of blood as a token of the everlasting guilt which plagues both their conscience. Another vivid imagery which is effectively used throughout the play to develop the theme of guilt and conscience is the reoccurring image of troubled sleep. The image of sleep or the inability of do so illustrates the workings of one's conscience in the play as Macbeth "murders sleep" immediately after he murders king Duncan which symbolises the immediate guilt he suffers from his evil deed. After this murder, his conscience ceaselessly invades his sleep as he observes, "Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse the curtain'd sleep". This troubled sleep and "wicked dreams" also tortures Lady Macbeth as she can no longer sleep in peace but replay's the events that are eating away at her conscience through sleepwalking. By this inability to sleep in peace, it directly indicates that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's conscience are not at peace but troubled and in turmoil like their dreams.
A further technique which the development of guilt and conscience is expressed in the play is through the mood and atmosphere which are created through the use of illusions. Conscience and the guilt which a character suffers from presents themselves in the seeing of ghosts and imaginary objects. Macbeth, who perceives an imaginary dagger prior to the killing of Duncan, view this "fatal vision" as a cause to kill the King and hence, create a nightmarish atmosphere of the guilt and distress which Macbeth will suffer at the hands of this ill deed. Macbeth's guilty conscience also manifests itself in the form of Banquo's ghost directly after the murder of Banquo. Since the ghost, who is accusing Macbeth of murder, is a creation of Macbeth's own imagination, the ghost symbolises his troubled conscience which threatens to reveal his guilt and which portrays "the very painting of your fear" as referred to by Lady Macbeth. These ghostly illusions justly create the dark, guilt-ridden mood of both the theme of conscience throughout the play.
As a result of the combination of character portrayals, use of illustrative imagery and illusions which create the mood of the play, a comprehensive exploration of guilt and conscience is developed throughout "Macbeth". This exploration of one of the most profound themes of human nature within the play shows that bad deeds and guilt do indeed weigh heavily on the conscience.