Portrayal of Lady Macbeth's Dissociative Identity Disorder

Categories: Macbeth

In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is a strong-willed character whose emotions dramatically change through the course of the play, and is the biggest influence in her husband’s plot to take the throne.

She is the wife of a brave soldier who courageously wins many battles for King Duncan. Macbeth wins the king’s favor and becomes one of his most eminent soldiers. Lady Macbeth is not satisfied with her husband’s title and is willing to do whatever it takes to take the throne.

As the play unravels, Lady Macbeth’s austere physiologic disorder unveils as her relentless pursuit of power deepens and her perpetual personality changes occurs. The consolidation of this disorder and her desire for power is the driving point of her relentless actions to take the throne.  If Lady Macbeth were alive today she would be diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Her condition is the outcome of a traumatic event, and she suffers from symptoms such as the change of character, mood swings, impulsiveness, feeling detached from herself, disturbance of self-consciousness, and the taking of her own life.

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To begin with, a person suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder comes to inhabit distinct personalities or alters, that exhibit their own habits, memories, ambitions, behavior, feelings, and perspectives. DID is usually a reaction to trauma and the different alters are used as a way to prevent bad memories. An alter takes over as a reaction to stress or anything that triggers the memory of the traumatic event.

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During a personality change, the host is unaware, and the alter takes over the host’s body and becomes in control of their actions and emotions.

The traumatic event that created Lady Macbeth’s DID was the loss of a child. We are informed that she had a child when she says “I have given suck, and know how tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me” (Shakespeare 1.7.54-55). After losing a child, Lady Macbeth fears being in another situation that she cannot control. This loss and desire for control is the driving point of her relentless and cruel acts to become queen.

Secondly, the most adequate way to portray Lady Macbeth’s DID is to reveal her course of actions and alter switches, because two of the main symptoms of the disorder are mood swings and changes of personality with different alters. Lady Macbeth’s desire for power is further explained when Maiese states that each alters can tie together to a single desire by stating, “The dynamic psyche is apt to turn its attention, slowly or abruptly, to one or the other of these conflicting feelings and desires.

However, it is not simply that the subject’s feelings and perspective change from one moment to the next. Instead, emotions endure in consciousness, so that particular feelings and desires remain in the background even when we are not attending to them (Koch 1987, 268). And in some cases, it may even appear that conflicting feelings and impulses are concurrently firing and perhaps “coming from different directions” (Maiese 229). With that said, Lady Macbeth’s leading drive for power ties together the actions of all of her distinct alters.

Throughout the tragedy, Lady Macbeth’s emotions change dramatically but they all link to her desire for control after a traumatic event. It is obvious that her emotions are not consistent, these different alters react differently to Lady Macbeth’s surroundings and they further reveal other symptoms of DID such as her mood swings, impulsiveness, feeling detached from herself, disturbance of self-consciousness, and the taking her own life.

First, Lady Macbeth’s impulsivity and ambition are big symptoms that indicate her severe DID. In Act, I, her first alter possessing ambition and impulsivity becomes present when the opportunity to take the throne was presented to Lady Macbeth. This alter took over which came with a consummate desire for the throne and her impetuous and blind ambition was revealed when she stated, “Than wishest should be undone. Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear, and chastise with the valor of my tongue All that impedes thee from the golden round, Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have thee crowned withal” (Shakespeare 1.5.23-28).

This alter took over to exchange tragic past memories of not being in control into the plan for the thought of being in complete control of a kingdom. Her impulsivity is also revealed when she automatically plans to murder the king, instead of being civil and content with her husband’s current high status when she sees the opportunity in Macbeth’s letter he sends her. At this point of the play, she did not think twice of plotting to murder the king and illuminating anything that got in her way. Another impulsive action was when she stated “I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this” (Shakespeare 1.7.56-57). Lady Macbeth is so consumed with her desire, she is willing to go to the extent of killing her own child without hesitation.

The careless alter is also revealed when Macbeth was doubting himself and she responds with “Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem's the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem, letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’ like the poor cat I’th’adage?” (Shakespeare 1.7.41-44) and “When you durst do it, then you were a man; and to be more than what you were, you would be so much more a man”(Shakespeare 1.7.49-51). With these responses, she is stating that if he does not carry his side of the plotted murder he is a coward and not a man. The ambitious and impulsive alter comes over also when she feels no remorse in the end of Act II, Scene II when she says, “My hands are the same color but I shame to wear a heart so white…A little water clears up the deed…Be not lost so poorly in your thoughts” (Shakespeare 2.2.67-68,70, 74-75). These impulsive and ambitious actions produced by this alter tie together to help diagnose Lady Macbeth with DID.

Also, the alter possessing anxiety is a major emotional change in Lady Macbeth. She first let her anxious alter take over when she got the letter from Macbeth. She immediately wanted to murder the king and was anxious about how and when it would happen. The anxious alter was also apparent after she and Macbeth came up with a plan because she continuously asked Macbeth if he carried out his side of his plan. Lady Macbeth was also anxious in Act II, Scene II when both she and Macbeth become frantic when they thought they were hearing knocking. They both lost their confidence and are now fretting over getting caught or a possible conflict in their plan. This alter takes over to cover up past memories of grief because she fears feeling the same way again, so she felt uneasy when their plan was not fully executed.

Furthermore, in Scene II of Act II, her emotions dramatically change when another alter possessing doubt takes control, causing her confidence to vanish. She addresses her doubt when she says “And ‘tis not done. Th’attmept and not the deed found us. Hark! I laid the daggers ready; he could not miss ‘em. Had he did not resemble my father as he slept, I had done”(Shakespeare 2.2.10-13). Lady Macbeth could not kill the king when her doubtful alter took over, leaving Macbeth to carry out the plan. This is a dramatic shift in emotions because she went from confidently talking about murdering the king without hesitation to a doubtful hesitation when she was supposed to carry her side of the plan. This shows how an alter change can completely change Lady Macbeth’s actions and thoughts. In Act I, she has no doubt that she will do whatever it takes to take the throne but when the time comes, a different alter is present so she does not feel the same ambition and instead is uncertain and doubtful.

Next, the comforting alter, takes over when she is trying to comfort Macbeth by saying “Consider it not so deeply” (Shakespeare 2.2.33) and “These deeds must not be thought after these ways” (Shakespeare 2.2.37-38). This is a big alter change because this behavior is the farthest from Lady Macbeth’s previous actions. She has not been comforting in any way because all she cares about is how she can get the throne while pushing aside other people’s emotions. The dramatic change and the presence of the comforting alter is tied back to her traumatic loss because she knows that if she does not help Macbeth’s mental state, her plan for power will fall through.

Additionally, the next alter that appears is the alter of feeling detached from herself. This alter takes over when Lady Macbeth wants to take matters in her own hands and wants to change her role as a woman by saying “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood...Shake my fell purpose…and take my milk for gall”(Shakespeare 1.5.39-46). This alter ties to her desire for control and power because she wants the throne so bad, she would change her own identity for her relentless ambition. She knows that the purpose of women is to nurture and give life, but her plan requires her taking a life and she is willing to go against her purpose without hesitation. This new alter pulls her way from herself and closer to her desire of power.

And then finally, her last alter of insanity and unsteadiness takes over in Act V. All of her cruel and ambitious actions and remorse piles up on her and it creates an unsteady physiological state. Rahman and Tajuddin further explain her change of altering by stating, “In her normal, waking state, repression and assumed bravery are marked. In the sleeping or somnambulistic state, the repression gives way to free expression and her innate cowardice becomes dominant. In her waking condition, she shows no fear of blood, but shrinks from it when in a state of somnambulism” (Rahman and Tajuddin 138).

She came across as a completely different person when she was sleepwalking and washing the “blood” off of her hands in this scene by stating “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One, two, why, then, tis’ time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (Shakespeare 5.1.20-34) and “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…What’s done cannot be undone” (Shakespeare 5.1.53-55, 58-59). The 2010 film version of the play directed by Rupert Goold, further portrays Lady Macbeth’s Insanity with her pale and frantic appearance along with her absurd stammer and shaky hands. (Goold)

In Act V, Malcom proclaims that Lady Macbeth killed herself by stating “Of this dead butcher, and his fiend-like queen—who, as’tis thought, by self and violent hands took off her life” (Shakespeare 5.8.69-71). In a study monitoring the behavior of DID patients to see if there is a direct link between DID and self-harm and suicidal attempts, Towson University concluded with the statement, “As predicted, we found that patients with DID or DDNOS who suffer from more severe depression also tended to self-harm and attempt suicide more often” (Engelberg and Brand 121). With this being said, it is common for DID patients to take their own life like Lady Macbeth did. Her last alter was an unsteady and unsatisfied alter that drove her to the point killing herself.

In Conclusion, Lady Macbeth was not consistent with her emotions which is directly connected to the shifting of control from different alters. There is no doubt that Lady Macbeth suffers from the Dissociative Identity Disorder because of her rigorous course of personality change. Lady Macbeth’s condition was remarkably severe with the effect of different alters taking control of Lady Macbeth’s body and them driving her to the point of insanity and also to the point of killing herself.

Works Cited

  1. Engelberg, Jeremy C., and Bethany L. Brand. 'The Effect of Depression on Self-Harm and Treatment Outcome in Patients With Severe Dissociative Disorders.' Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, vol. 17, no. 3, 2012, pp. 115-124, AVL. web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=7&sid=90e0e1b4-1be5-4641-8d2b-59ce577fac53%40pdc-v-sessmgr02. Accessed 1 Jan. 2019.
  2. Macbeth. Directed by Rupert Good, Perf. Patrick Stewart, Kate Fleewood. 2010. PBS, 2010.
  3. Maiese, Michelle. 'Dissociative Identity Disorder, Ambivalence, and Responsibility.' European Journal of Philosophy, vol. 25, no. 3, 2016, pp. 764-784.
  4. Rahman, Muhammad S., and Mohammad Tajuddin. '‘Unnatural Deeds do Breed Unnatural Troubles’1: A Study of Lady Macbeth’s Cruelty.' Journal of Education and Practice, vol. 6, no. 12, pp. 128-139, AVL. files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1080666.pdf.
  5. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth: Authoritative Text, Sources and Contexts, Criticism. Edited by Robert S. Miola, W. W. Norton, 2004.
Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Portrayal of Lady Macbeth's Dissociative Identity Disorder. (2021, Dec 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/portrayal-of-lady-macbeth-s-dissociative-identity-disorder-essay

Portrayal of Lady Macbeth's Dissociative Identity Disorder essay
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