The play is full ofpestilence and set in Scotland during the eleventh century. In Macbeth,sleeplessness is an important motif that permeates the dramatic structure. Shakespeare uses this fatigue to substantiate the guilt of Macbeth, to representsubconscious insanity, and to show a foreshadowing of bad things to come. Themotif serves to dramatize the true overview of how the characters are handlingthe various tragedies that occur. Initially, the motif of sleeplessness is usedas a model of foreshadowing. For example, in Act II, scene i, Banquo finds ithard to sleep the night Macbeth is supposed to kill King Duncan.
This isevidence that evil things will occur throughout the play. Furthermore, in ActII, scene ii, while Macbeth was killing Duncan, Malcolm and Donalbain arose intheir sleep. One laughed and the other “cried murder. ” This is theirsleeplessness foreshadowing because Duncan was dead, even though the brothersdid not know it yet.
Shakespeares use of the sleeplessness motif asforeshadowing allows the reader to get a concept of what evil will come in thefuture. Not only does Shakespeare use sleeplessness for foreshadowing he alsouses it as a mode of guilt. For example, in Act II, scene ii, Macbeth thinks hehears a voice say, “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep!” This isMacbeth imagining voices, telling him not to sleep because he is feeling immoraland liable for Duncans murder. Next, Macbeth is afraid to sleep peacefullybecause he knows that Duncan is “in restless ecstasy”(Act III, scene ii).
Apparently, Macbeth is aware of his wrongdoing and feels culpable that he isking and alive, but only at the sacrifice of Duncan. By using guilt to showsleeplessness, Shakespeare shows that a corrupt crime can only leave the mindunsure and unable to rest. The most significant aspect of this motif, however,is how it is used to demonstrate the insanity of Macbeth and his wife. Forinstance, in Act II, scene iv, Macbeth is at dinner with Lennox, Ross, and otherlords. He sees ghosts and is apparently insane. This proves that all the sleepin the world could never clear Macbeth of his crime, he is already destroyed.
Inaddition, Lady Macbeth sleep walks and hallucinates a spot of blood on her handsin Act V, scene i. This proves that she has gone crazy as well. She cannot sleepbecause she is trying to remove the spot, which represents guilt. The strong useof insanity as a moving force in the play causes the reader to understand thatMacbeth and Lady Macbeth cannot rid themselves of their evil deeds. The playdemonstrates that the subconscious can allow evil things to occur.
Thesleeplessness motif is significant because it shows how the characters in theplay deal with their stresses. The eerie use of sleeplessness added to the guiltof the characters, the foreshadowing of evil supplied a dark sensation, and theirony of insanity showed that the characters souls could not handle thecalamitous situations. Macbeth could not sleep because he was too guilt-ridden,which eventually drove him to the breaking point. Macbeths fate, foretold bythe witches, finally caught up to him and after his frighteningly sleeplessnights, he was now engrossed by the eternal sleep called death.