Macbeth and the Theme of Guilt in Shakespeare's Play

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the main character and his wife both desire success. They took extreme risks to accomplish what they wanted. While their savage process to get the most power and become King and Queen is successful at first, it rapidly falls into pieces. Macbeth goes from being a noble general to a conscience-stricken and insane murderer. Feelings of regret curse and invade Macbeth's mind and overpower his desire to have all the power. This is proved through nightmares, ghosts, and paranoia, and lastly suicide.

Macbeth was originally a respected and brave soldier that was ready to die for his king. However, he fell victim to his desires.

At the beginning of the play, it is clear that Macbeth feels timid and guilt and even changed his mind about committing the deed until his wife questioned his masculinity. The first obvious outbreak of guilt is illustrated immediately after Duncan's murder when Macbeth breathlessly says, "One cried, 'God bless us!' and 'Amen,' the other,/ As they had seen me with these hangman's hands;/ Listening to their fear, I could not say, 'Amen,'/ when they did say 'God bless us'" (2.

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2.37-40). It is evident that Macbeth feels severe guilt and shock for his sin, which is why he is so haunted by his failure to pray. His hands are bloody, both literally and figuratively, stating that the stains will never go away. "What hands are here? Ha: they pluck out my eyes. / 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.

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" (2.2.62-65).

Macbeth feels so guilty that he thinks no amount of water will remove the stains and that the blood on his hands can turn a green ocean into a red bloody ocean. The blood creates an image of guilt. Macbeth's decisions all revolve around his guilty conscience. He shows feelings of guilt before and after every crime, he committed. Macbeth feels guilty after having thoughts of killing his best friend Banquo. After he kills Banquo he still feels guilty and ends up seeing Banquo's ghost at the feast sitting in his place. " The GHOST OF BANQUO enters and sits in MACBETH's place / Here had we now our country's honor roof'd, / Were the graced person of our Banquo present; / Who may I rather challenge for unkindness / Than pity for mischance! / His absence, sir, / Lays blame upon his promise. Please't your highness / To grace us with your royal company. / The table's full. / Here is a place reserved, sir. / Where? / Here, my good lord. What is't that moves your highness?" / which of you have done this?"(3.4.38-48). All the lords are confused because they can't see Banquo's ghost.

Macbeth however is haunted by Banquo's ghost and he can see Banquo on his seat. Macbeth thought someone planned it and starts being anxious and talking nonsense. If it wasn't for Lady Macbeth, Macbeth would've probably given himself away. Another time Macbeth feels guilt is when he says, "I'll go no more: I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on't again I dare not."(2.2.53-55). This shows that Macbeth regrets killing Duncan. He can't even think about what he's done without panicking and feeling uneasy returning the daggers would horrify him even more. This proves that he feels guilty over what he has done and that he can not go back in time no matter how much he wishes he could.

Macbeth knows that he could have waited for his turn to become king and the right decision keeps coming back to him and haunting him. Macbeth's feelings of guilt started even before he killed Duncan. Macbeth foreshadows Duncan's death and starts hallucinating He hallucinates and sees bloody daggers hanging in the air before him. Macbeth realizes the daggers are an illusion. He realizes that he was going crazy because he couldn't grasp the dagger. 'Is that a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see these still. Are thou not, fatal vision, sensible to his feeling as to sight? Or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation proceeding but from the heat-oppressed brain?' Macbeth is fighting against his mind. His mind knows killing Duncan is wrong and wouldn't end well but his desires take over.

In conclusion, Macbeth's guilt is shown through numerous images in the play. The theme of guilt is revealed through blood imagery and Macbeth's battle against his mind. Guilt has a big influence on people's lives, and it haunts Macbeth until death. Guilt is a feeling that stays forever. Guilt is a feeling of responsibility for a bad action that could've been avoided. Macbeth feels responsible for everything including his wife's suicide. Macbeth commits this sinful deed just to be happy and have the crown, but in the end, he is left with sorrow, pain, and guilt.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Macbeth and the Theme of Guilt in Shakespeare's Play. (2024, Feb 12). Retrieved from

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