Schizophrenics appear in our everyday life, yet many do not realize that they actually are there. Sometimes it is difficult to match a person to a disorder due to the various symptoms and traits that they may express. Yet, Macbeth shows a definite link to paranoid schizophrenia, vividly displaying symptoms such as hallucinations, delusion (paranoia), and apathy. Schizophrenia is described as “a mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of thought processes and of emotional responsiveness” (Wikipedia).
Hallucinations involve putting one under the impression that things are completely real while awake, but instead have been created by the mind. Macbeth experiences multiple hallucinations, including a floating dagger, a ghost, and possibly witches. In the beginning of the story, Macbeth and his friend Banquo claim that they spoke to three “witches” who told them of their great futures. From there, an idea forms in Macbeth’s head: he was invincible. Although Banquo also viewed the three strange women, Macbeth and Banquo never discuss the invincibility Macbeth has now been aware of.
Therefore, Macbeth could have hallucinated some of the strange women’s dialogue to his favor, believing it was completely valid. This leads one to the thought of emerging schizophrenia. Macbeth was in the correct age group for paranoid schizophrenia to take full control of a male’s body. Also, since he experiences multiple hallucinations and his once loyal personality turns violent, the diagnosis of schizophrenia becomes more and more prominent. Although many argue that Macbeth did not have schizophrenia and was just obsessed with power, the many hallucinations that he experienced help to counter that argument.
Hallucinations are not extremely common (besides dreams) and often only occur with medical issues or drug use. When Macbeth is talked into killing Duncan, he hallucinates a floating dagger above him(Shakespeare, II. i. ), which almost taunts him. By hallucinating a violent object such as this, Macbeth proves to struggle with reality. Although Macbeth tells himself that it was “a dagger of the mind”, hallucinations experienced later in time become more and more realistic to him. This is shown when he believes Banquo’s ghost is present at a table.
When Macbeth is asked to be seated, he replies “The table’s full. ”(Shakespeare, III. iv. ). All the witnesses of Macbeth’s hallucination suspect him to be ill, for they did not see a full table in front of them. Since Macbeth’s hallucinations become more and more realistic to him, it is apparent for one to believe that paranoid schizophrenia is present. Heavily influenced by anxiety and/or fear, paranoid thoughts include beliefs that a individual is being threatened in some sort of way. Macbeth experiences paranoia towards Banquo further in the story, after meeting the three strange women (witches).
Macbeth felt threatened by Banquo’s fortune of becoming king, and his loyalty to the current king. Due to this strong feeling of anxiety and fear, Macbeth ends up killing Banquo, giving into his paranoia. Delusions, or paranoia, can often “result in aggression or violence if you believe you must act in self-defense against those who want to harm you”(Mayo Clinic). The murder of Banquo by Macbeth produces no direct reasoning, only leaving another symptom of paranoid schizophrenia. Paranoia shows gradually, as this source says: The main symptom is permanent delusion.
It should be kept in mind that there is delusion in schizophrenia also but in that case it is not permanent or organized. In paranoia the symptoms of delusion appear gradually, and the patient is sentimental, suspicious, irritable, introverted, depressed, obstinate, jealous, selfish, unsocial and bitter. (Depression Guide) The jealous, unsocial, and delusional “new” Macbeth helps the audience see the sudden change from the loyal, brave warrior to the raging, paranoid tyrant. Since Macbeth becomes a self-centered, power-hungry king; paranoia and delusion become more pronounced.
The way Macbeth begins to treat his peers displays his changed morals and new sense of being threatened often. For example, when he finds out Lady Macbeth has died, he makes a speech basically about how worthless life is. This once loyal, brave, loving individual turned sour when this symptom became a characteristic for Macbeth. Those suffering from paranoid schizophrenia also bear with the symptom of apathy. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship begins to deteriorate, causing bitter quarrels and rude confrontation.
One could argue that this sudden change of relationship could be due to guilt, when paranoid schizophrenia could erupt just as suddenly. Symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and apathy usually appear during the ages of 16 and 30. Schizophrenics can appear completely normal up until this age range. Though these individuals have had paranoid schizophrenia their entire life, the disabling brain disorder only begins to show at later stages in life. Since Macbeth was in this age range, it is certainly plausible that schizophrenia began to take control over during the story.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth begin to show issues with their marriage, due to many factors. Lady Macbeth had been distancing herself from Macbeth by unsexing herself to become more powerful. This distancing displayed by Lady Macbeth could have triggered the schizophrenic symptoms, along with the heavy guilt burdening Macbeth. When Lady Macbeth angrily asks “Are you a man? ” to Macbeth (Shakespeare, III. iv. ), it helps Macbeth begin to realize how deep the distance between their relationship actually is. Apathy, an absence of emotion or enthusiasm, soon becomes a great part of Macbeth.
Macbeth’s lack of emotional enthusiasm towards his marriage sends a red flag out to the audience. Although much of their marriage was not recorded in the story, the reader can pick up upon the many instances where apathy is shown by Macbeth. For instance, when Macbeth is told that Lady Macbeth has died he declares that life is worthless, and just “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury” (Shakespeare, V. v. ). Since Macbeth did not display any grief for his lost wife, the audience becomes aware of how distanced their relationship actually was.
If Macbeth did not have any apathy at all, he would be more intact to his emotions at this time of grief, rather than stating that life is pointless. Macbeth displays symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia including hallucinations, delusion (paranoia), and apathy, and therefore is schizophrenic. Macbeth significantly shows these symptoms in a vivid manner, helping the audience understand some reasoning behind his tactics. By understanding what paranoid schizophrenia is, and Macbeth’s story, many are able to realize the common ground shared by both.
Although there is no successful way to prove if Macbeth did indeed have the disorder or not, since he is a fictional character in this play, it can certainly be stated that if Macbeth was displaying these symptoms today, one could diagnose him with paranoid schizophrenia with little hesitation. In a broader view, many characters in stories and plays could be interpreted to psychological disorders and unlock a certain “mystery” that the author may have, or may have not meant to leave for their audience to solve.
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