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Shakespeare's Presentation Of Macbeth’s Doubt And Guilt

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In Shakespeare’s didactic play the themes of ‘doubt’ and ‘guilt’ play a central role in the presentation of the tragic hero: Macbeth. Macbeth has to make many decisions throughout the play that revolve around his guilty conscience.Whether it be him doubting himself about whether to kill Duncan or him feeling guilty and regretful after his act of regicide. However, Macbeth’s guilt at his actions ultimately leads him down the brutal path of murder and betrayal. By the end of the play, at Macbeth’s downfall we have come to see a demoralised Macbeth who has come to realise the consequences of his actions.

In this extract, Macbeth is contemplating the murder of Duncan and his inner turmoil is preventing him from being definite in his decision. An example of this is when Macbeth states “we but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague th’ inventor.. commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice to our own lips.” Here we see how Macbeth’s ‘vaulting ambition’ is becoming stronger but he is still able to suppress it which proves that Macbeth understands his thoughts are wrong.The verb ‘plagued’ connotes biblical imagery of punishment which foreshadows Macbeth’s punishment for his actions going against the divine right of kings. The use of the metaphor ‘poisoned chalice’ suggests Macbeth’s kingship will not be successful. This could further suggest that Macbeth recognises that his ambition to be king will not be successful which shows he is being rational. Furthermore, the adjective ‘bloody’ highlights a motif of blood which creates graphic and violent imagery. Macbeth understands that violence breeds violence and is hesitant to go forward with his plan as someone could murder him in retaliation.The audience can see that Macbeth is not completely certain in carrying out his plan, he is weighing up the possibilities. Shakespeare suggests that Macbeth still has a conscience and he needs encouragement in order to overcome his doubt.

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Following Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s act of regicide, Macbeth is overwrought with guilt and regrets the decisions he made. Guilt is established through the recurring motif of blood in the play, evidence of this can be seen in the use of hyperbolic description in act 2 scene 2, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?…my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine,making the green one red.” Macbeth’s relentless emotions have overcome him as he is struck with grief. The colour red is synonymous with death and bloodshed which juxtaposes the colour green which connotes nature,life and growth. Macbeth has so much blood on his hands that he is able to ‘make the green one red’, he is able to corrupt the purity of the ‘ocean’ with his sins. The blood is a metaphor for how Macbeth cannot escape the guilt of him murdering Duncan similar to how Macbeth cannot ‘wash this blood clean’ from his hand. The sin Macbeth has committed is so sacrilegious that even ‘all great Neptune’s ocean’ cannot cleanse him from the act of regicide. This foreshadows Macbeth’s speech later in the play as he comes to acknowledge that he is ‘in blood stepped so far that should I wade no more’. Macbeth’s macabre language emphasises how he is too late for salvation and is too far into the river of blood that he can’t come out. Shakespeare is warning the audience of the severity of committing regicide and going against the divine right of kings because of how it stains your soul.

By the end of the play we are able to see the downfall of Macbeth in which he feels nihilistic and regretful by his actions. Evidence of this can be seen when Macbeth rues “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow”. The metaphor of a ‘brief candle’ represents life and Macbeth is commenting on how fleeting and pointless it is. This is such a dramatic change from his behaviour at the beginning of the play, that the audience understands that he has completely lost all hope. Macbeth’s once burning ambition has dwindled and now he is left with regret and guilt at his actions. Furthermore, the repetition of ‘out’ reveals Macbeth’s desire for his own personal ‘candle’ to blow out as he is tired of existence. Macbeth’s reductive language signifies his despair at life and despondency at the situation. This also does indicate that Macbeth does not take responsibility for his actions as he portrays himself as the victim and to be ‘a poor player’. However, despite this Macbeth is determined to fight till ‘from my bones my flesh be hacked’. The morbid imagery forebodes Macbeth’s demise as he is later beheaded by Macduff. The importance of the divine right of kings is clear here, as Macbeth usurped his way as king by committing regicide which subsequently led to his gruesome death. Macduff inflicted retribution and restored the divine right of kings which Macbeth disrupted. The downfall of Macbeth helped Shakespeare convey his message to the audience of how guilt prompts people to take actions that lead to their downfall.Through this change in Macbeth, Shakespeare’s message may be that despite gaining everything he wanted Macbeth ultimately regretted his decisions which led to his death.

Shakespeare presents doubt and guilt as fatal flaws which lead to the downfall of people. Similar to most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Macbeth is presented as the tragic hero who succumbed to his fatal flaw and then shown regret. Macbeth’s hamartia is his vaulting ambition which begot his guilt and paranoia. Through this didactic play, Shakespeare is warning us on the dangers of guilt which stems from making reckless and impulsive decisions.

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Shakespeare’s Presentation Of Macbeth’s Doubt And Guilt. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from
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