Saturday, 18 April 2015

Lady Macbeth and the Sleep-Walking Scene

Q. Comment on the sleep-walking Scene in Macbeth and discuss how it focuses on the character of Lady Macbeth.
Ans. Though the plot of Macbeth is dominated by Macbeth, the importance of Lady Macbeth in the gradual transformation in plot construction cannot be put aside. Except, Macbeth she is the most acclaimed character in this play. She shares her husband’s lust for power. Her fierce goading leads Macbeth to commit regicide and seize the throne.
                                                

           Realising the horrible consequence of his misdeeds, Macbeth divulges his anguish in his soliloquy in Act-v, Sc-v, and makes a tragic appeal to the audience. But Lady Macbeth finds a concentrated expression for her agony and claims sympathy from the audience in only one scene, that is Act-v, Sc-I.  This is the so called sleep walking scene where we find a Lady Macbeth faint with the trembling flame of a candle, completely different from the graceful queen who with her firmness and strength at once controls the guest and her frightened husband in a royal banquet in Act-III, Sc-IV. In this scene her total mental break down suggests her inability to handle the evil which she deliberately invoked to choose.
        Before sleep-walking scene we lastly see Lady Macbeth in the Banquet scene where her boldness does not give any hint of her impending breakdown. She loves her husband deeply and wants to assist him and appease his mental unease. But since the murder of Duncan Lady Macbeth becomes increasingly unimportant to her husband as begins to go emotional collapse that constitutes the main plot. Due to the increasing detachment from him and all the ghastliness and unnaturalness of her crime, she loses her balance of her mind.  Her progressive weakness of mind is expressed in her utterance: “Nought’s had all spent/ Where our desire is not without content” (Act-III, Sc-II). Her desolation sinks inward and from this state of nervous exhaustion and lonely brooding, sleep-walking is a possible and natural happening.
            The sickness of Lady Macbeth is vividly suggested by her perpetual longing for light as she is afraid of darkness which is associated with hell: “Out damned spot...Hell is murky”. But it was she invoked the dark night: “Come thick night/ And pall thee with the dunnest smoke of hell” (I, IV). But now “she has light by her continually”. At the moment of murder she encouraged Macbeth saying, “A little water clears us of this deed”. But now the smell of blood haunts her mind. She says, “All perfumes of Arabia will sweeten this little hand”. She said defiantly, “What’s done is done.” But now she regrets, “What’s done cannot be undone”. The sharp contrast between her previous and later speeches brings to the fore the dramatic irony of the play.
          The incoherent language in which Lady Macbeth speaks is also suggestive of her “great perturbation in nature”. Though her speeches are incoherent, there is a rational connection in the sequence of her thought and ides. But the grandiose iambic pentameter of her courtyard speeches has been contracted into a spasmodic series stark interjection, most of them being monosyllabic: “Yet who have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him”. Her allusion to Lady Macduff seems reduced to the miniature scale of a nursery rhyme (The thane of Fife /Had a wife), but it culminates in the universal lamentation of “ubi est”: “Where is she now?” Verse is the language of emotion under control, but her emotion is jumble and memory is chaotic. So she appropriately speaks in prose. A. C. Bradley has rightly remarked that Lady Macbeth is “the only one of the Shakespeare’s tragic characters who on last appearance is denied the dignity of verse.”
  The traditional explanation of Lady Macbeth’s bold beginning and a remorseful pathetic end is that she has an originally, naturally, gentle and womanly nature and therefore collapses from the strain violating that nature. But psychoanalytical study has rejected this explanation and tends to diagnose her malady as a manifestation of hysteria which compels her to re-enact the pattern of her behaviour that she deliberately tried to repress. Sigmund Freud regarded this sleep-walker and her sleepless mate as the two parts of a single split personality. “Together they exhaust the possibilities of reaction to the crime, like two disunited parts of single psychical individuality, and it may be that they are both copied from a single prototype.”

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