Although sleep is normally characterized as innocent and peaceful, for some people sleep can be the worst part of their lives. Macbeth by William Shakespeare is about a soldier who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become king. This leads him to kill the current king and others to gain power. Eventually though, Macbeth becomes guilty about what he has done, leading to paranoia. In the play, Shakespeare uses sleep to represent innocence, and how guilt can ruin people’s purity.
Macbeth murders the king, Duncan, while he is peacefully sleeping in his bed. Almost immediately afterwards, however, Macbeth feels like he has ruined sleep, telling his wife, Lady Macbeth, “Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep,’ the innocent sleep” (2.2.34-35) Sleep, which is normally relaxing, has been ruined for Macbeth after he killed the king. Before, people could sleep peacefully, but now they have to sleep with the fear that they will be murdered. To Macbeth, he has destroyed the innocence of sleeping.
At the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as manipulative and heartless. However, later in the play, her fear of being caught leads to her insanity. She has doctors look after her, but even they cannot help, and the doctor tells Macbeth that she’s “Not so sick, my lord, as she is troubled with thick-coming fancies that keep her from her rest.” (5.3.36-39) Lady Macbeth’s sleep, that was once innocent, has been ruined because of her guilt.
Her sleep is also disturbed with sleepwalking and nightmares involving her reliving murdering the king and trying to cover it up. Her absence of sleep leads to insanity, and the doctors even see her trying to wash blood off of her hands that isn’t really there. Her insanity then eventually leads to her death.
Lady Macbeth is not the only person who loses sleep and goes insane. Macbeth feels as if he has to continue to kill to stay in power and to keep from caught. Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth “You lack the season of all natures, sleep,” (3.4.174) Even Lady Macbeth noticed that Macbeth is no longer the same and has lost his innocence. Guilt has made it difficult for him to sleep, and his loss of sleep has manipulated his thoughts and only makes him worse. Macbeth’s lack of sleep eventually also head to hallucinations.
“Still it cried ‘Sleep no more!’ to all of the house. ‘Glamis has murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdore shall sleep no more! Macbeth shall sleep no more!'” (2.2.42-45) Macbeth is really paranoid, and hallucinating voices telling him he murdered sleep and will never be able to sleep again. In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, guilt, paranoia and fear ruined the innocence of sleep for Lady Macbeth and Macbeth.
Their sleep deprivation lead to insanity, and as a result, their deaths. Shakespeare’s use of sleep to represent innocence helps the reader understand how guilt ruined the characters lives through lack of sleep and insanity. He teaches us that manipulating and hurting others for power can result in a deeper sleep, death.