Macbeth Mental Illness

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In the play, Macbeth, Macbeth himself wanted nothing more than power. He was so obsessed with power that he would go as far as committing murder to make sure that no one would get in the way of him and his throne. Throughout the play, Macbeth showed many symptoms of various mental health disorders. This proved that Macbeth committed these murders and acted irrationally because of the disorders he suffered from. This essay will go into detail about the specific symptoms Macbeth displayed as well as the corresponding disorders Macbeth suffers from during the play. This essay will also discuss how characters such as Lady Macbeth worsened his illnesses. Lastly, this essay will cover how Macbeth’s disorders affected his actions and fate. In Macbeth, William Shakespeare uses Macbeth’s character to represent how ambition and desire for power can underminingly create someone’s downfall.

Throughout the play, Macbeth showed several signs of mental illnesses. One of the main mental disorders that Macbeth struggled with was Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD, is a disorder that occurs after someone has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. The start of Macbeth’s PTSD began in Act 1, Scene 2, where Macbeth kills a traitor while he is at war. This proved that Macbeth was very courageous, but also that he shows several signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to Arieh Shalev, “Higher rates of PTSD have been documented among socially disadvantaged persons, younger persons, women, military personnel, police officers, firefighters, and first responders to disasters and mass trauma” (2462). Considering that Macbeth actively serves in the army means that it is very likely that Macbeth does suffer from PTSD. In the play Macbeth, Macbeth states, “Methought I heard a voice cry, sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep-the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, the death of each say’s life, sore labor’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast” (No Fear Macbeth. 2.1. 35-40). Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is associated with PTSD. Meaning patients with PTSD also struggle with Insomnia and vice versa. After Macbeth murdered King Duncan in Act 2, he started having trouble falling and staying asleep. Macbeth had a horrific image in his head from when he murdered King Duncan. This caused Macbeth to relieve the murder over and over again, which led to insomnia. These are only two of the many examples of how Macbeth struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder throughout the play. This disorder played a large part in Macbeth’s mental deterioration in the play as well.

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Another disorder that Macbeth struggles with tremendously throughout the play is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. “Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by chronic and persistent worry” (Stein et al. 2059). Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a constant worry to the point where working, socializing, studying, etc. becomes challenging. To be diagnosed with this disorder, you have to have excessive worry for at least six months. The onset age for this disorder is around thirty-one, which is early adulthood. Macbeth struggles the most with Generalized Anxiety Disorder after he has Banquo killed. Macbeth states, “Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep in the affliction of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly. Better be with the dead, whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy” (No Fear Macbeth. 3.2. 20-25). This quote shows Macbeth’s worry that someone is going to find out about the murders he has committed. Macbeth worried so much about what would happen if someone did find out that he barely slept anymore and wasn’t as social. Macbeth also started to feel guilty about what he had done because of all of the worry and stress he was experiencing. Generalized Anxiety Disorder affected Macbeth’s daily life immensely and caused him to live in a constant state of worry.

The last disorder that Macbeth struggled within the play is Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a very serious mental disorder that affects the brain and causes people to perceive reality in an uncommon way. Schizophrenia can also cause people to hallucinate as well as cause them to not think rationally which can affect daily functioning. Macbeth struggles with Schizophrenia before he kills King Duncan. Macbeth says, “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee” (No Fear Macbeth. 2.1. 33-35). Macbeth also states that the dagger is leading him into the room where King Duncan was sleeping. Macbeth realized that the dagger was not real, and he was merely hallucinating. Another example of Schizophrenia in the play is when Macbeth hallucinates about seeing the ghost of Banquo. Macbeth states to the Ghost, “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake thy gory locks at me.” (No Fear Macbeth. 3.4. 53-54). This quote proves that Macbeth was hallucinating about seeing Banquo’s Ghost. After hallucinating about the Ghost of Banquo, Macbeth immediately begins to feel guilty about the murders he has committed. These two examples prove that Macbeth hallucinated very regularly and that the hallucinations were a symptom of Schizophrenia. This disorder had a great impact on Macbeth, his emotions, and his actions.

Throughout the play Macbeth, there were several characters who had a big impact on Macbeth and his mental deterioration. One of them being his wife, Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth also struggled with several different mental illnesses, most of them being the same as Macbeth’s. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband, Macbeth, throughout the entire play. Lady Macbeth states, “What beast wasn't, then, that made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it, then you were a man; and to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man. Nor time nor place did then adhere, and yet you would make both. They have made themselves, and that their fitness now does unmake you” (No Fear Macbeth. 1.7. 47-55). Whenever Macbeth was having second thoughts about murdering King Duncan, Lady Macbeth belittled him into thinking that he no choice but to murder him or else he was not a real man. The witches also played a big role in the mental deterioration of Macbeth. The witches had a substantial impact on the way Macbeth made his decisions. The third witch states, “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter” (No Fear Macbeth. 1.3. 51)! The witches told Macbeth his prophecies which made him want to act. After Macbeth killed King Duncan and fulfilled the prophecy, he lost his sanity. These two characters may have had the biggest impact on Macbeth and his mental deterioration, but they were not the only ones.

Macbeth’s mental illnesses as well as the characters throughout the play had a significant role when it came to how Macbeth made his decisions and how the decisions affected his fate. Schizophrenia caused Macbeth to make very irrational decions and to hallucinate which brought about even more stress. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Insomnia Macbeth's tremendous anxiety which led to Macbeth having trouble to fall and stay asleep. Generalized Anxiety Disorder also resulted in Macbeth worrying constantly about everything he had done and if anyone was going to find out about it. These mental illnesses and the characters in the play caused Macbeth to act illogically which is essentially what caused Macbeth’s downfall and death. In Macbeth, William Shakespeare uses Macbeth’s character to represent how ambition and desire for power can underminingly create someone’s downfall.

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Macbeth Mental Illness. (2021, July 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from
“Macbeth Mental Illness.” Edubirdie, 20 Jul. 2021,
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