The play Macbeth highlights William Shakespeare’s own opinions on correlations between committing unethical deeds and the manipulation of a person’s psychology. While modern psychological research did not appear until the late 1800s it is evident that with the help of his son-in-law John Hall (a man who introduced one of the first psychological concepts of hypochondriac melancholy), Shakespeare was able to use many psychological abnormalities to highlight that partaking in evil changes the mind.
But this little knowledge has left plenty of room for ambiguity in Macbeth and has resulted in many modern debates to arise over differing interpretations of the play.
One interpretation details Shakespeare wished to show to his audience that mental illness will form within them if they commit a particularly sinful act. While Shakespeare did not know the official diagnosis of mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bi-polar Robert Munro states within his Lady Macbeth: A Psychological Sketch that ‘which a knowledge of psychology which was far in advance of his time… e always speaks of the abnormal conditions of the mind with marvellous accuracy’.
In Act 5 a doctor comments on Lady Macbeth’s sleep walking saying ‘unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles; infected minds/ To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets’. This comment upon her case of what the responders of the time knew as Severe Somnambulism is the pinnacle of Shakespeare’s claim that guilt from an unethical deed will result in an ill mind.
The darkened stage and inclusion of a taper as a prop in Lady Macbeths’ hands helps to illustrate for the responders the issue of her mind falling into symbolic darkness as she struggles to cope with the guilt caused by her deeds. Also personification of deaf pillows is used by Shakespeare to show that her unusual habits of sleepwalking places Lady Macbeth in an isolated situation as she cannot tell anyone the cause of her troubles.
Munro also states ‘As to somnambulism, the most incredible views were held [by Elizabethans]… it was regarded as a prophetic… state in which the subjects were believed to be under the influence of angles or demons’. This contextual evidence provides insight into how Shakespeare would have terrified his responders through the inclusion of a disease in which they feared; developing within Lady Macbeth as a result of her deeds.
Hence Macbeth is often said to demonstrate that individuals will inevitably succumb to the maladies of the mind if they commit acts frowned upon by society and God. Another psychological correlation with unethical deeds is not one that is a result of them but in fact is the cause of them. Some interpret the play as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth being motivated to murder by a monomania-desire for children. Munro states ‘it was clearly the intention of Shakespeare to represent them… n the attitude of one suffering from the effects of an ever-increasing monomania’ This is first seen in Act 1 before the murder occurs, Lady Macbeth says ‘I have given suck and know/ How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me’ before she says ‘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’. This juxtaposition of love and hatred towards an innocent symbol such as a child highlights a deep conflict of emotion occurring within her and provides reasons that she may not have had success with raising a healthy child.
Lexical choice of the word tender still highlights her desire for a child which raises a thought within responders that attempting to become king and queen is their effort to become symbolic parents for a nation. Then throughout the play murder follows Macbeth wherever he becomes jealous for the fertility of others such as Macduff’s children and the chance that Banquo’s children will become successive kings. Freud effectively sums up the famous quote by Macduff ‘He has no children! ’ in Act 4 when his family is murdered as ‘Only because he himself is childless could he murder my children’.
Once again this recurring imagery throughout the play continues when in Act 4 Shakespeare uses the character of a bloody child to confront Macbeth which can be interpreted by responders as the child of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who is assumed to have died of still birth or unnatural causes. Uses of these props and characters which reiterate the theme of family and children throughout the play create a strong motif which the Elizabethan audience could relate to as family values were significantly important.
Hence Shakespeare uses this growing obsessive frustration at the inability to have a family within Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as a the motivation for their multiple acts of the unethical deed of murder. Therefore Shakespeare shows correlations in Macbeth between changing psychological patterns in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and unethical deeds such as murder through cause and effect. Cause being a monomania frustration causing more unethical deeds to be committed. The effect being the development of mental illness which can cause somnambulism within an individual as a result of committing a crime.