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The Theme Of Paranoia In The Tell Tale Heart And The Tragedy Of Macbeth

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The literary archetypal theme of paranoia is used precisely and is strongly featured in “The tragedy of Macbeth”, written in 1606 by William Shakespeare. Such parallel themes are established in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Tell-Tale Heart”, written in 1843; corresponding to ‘Macbeth’ by incorporating similar ideas. In both instances, the psychological consequences of paranoia take over the protagonist with the inevitable drive to murder, which then goes on to fuel their paranoia after committing the murders. Within these themes and ideas are numerous aspects that will be analysed; including context, intended audiences and the use of literary techniques such as conventions and other stylistic features to explore intertextual connections.

Macbeth was initially intended for people during the 1600s, however, is still studied wildly for educational purposes in the modern era. Macbeth was originally written as a cautionary tale, inspired by the assassination of King James in 1605. The audience is a wide variety of individuals capable of understanding the Shakespearean language and are entertained by his complex works, primarily people in the Elizabethan era. Likewise, ‘Tell-Tale heart’ was written prominently for an older audience, though is read by many age groups. It is unsuitable for children due to the sensitivity of the topic and gruesome themes. Comparatively, both texts share an audience of individuals interested in English and literature.

Comparing two texts stylistically, it is important to understand the varying conventions within both texts. Macbeth was initially written as a play as opposed to a narrative as the audience serves the essential role of developing every aspect of theatrical performance. In contrast, Poe did not write a narrative to intrigue another, but to convey his feelings and thoughts. The point of view that Tell-tale heart is written in, is first person, as mentioned by the protagonist through the dialogue “-and I grew furious as I gazed upon it”. This allows the audience to maintain a bond with the narrator as well as feeling vulnerable to put themselves into the situation. Both texts use poetic conventions to influence the reader and persuade them to see the impacts of paranoia on oneself. Contradictorily, Macbeth was written in third person objective as the audience were the outside viewers of the story. In addition, both texts incorporated the use of dialogue engage the audience within conversations between characters. Dialogue present in both texts demonstrates how the driving force of guilt enhances paranoia, which is portrayed by both protagonists.

Shakespeare and Poe both use stylistic features to lure in the attention of the audience as well as explore the aspect of paranoia, however, symbolism was predominantly used. Comparatively, paranoia is depicted in both texts as protagonists experienced hallucinations which were a crucial part of the plot, signifying the impact of paranoia. This allowed the audience to sympathise with the characters which also potentially turned into repetition. Evident in both texts, the protagonists discovered their actions led to a state of turmoil, further leading to experiencing substantial amounts of paranoia. This was evident due to the protagonists’ mental states rapidly disintegrating, driving them to insanity. In Macbeth, symbolism was portrayed in the dagger sequence as Macbeth experienced paranoia from the moment he committed his first murder and started to visualise hallucinations.

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An example of this was the dagger that Macbeth sees just before he commits ‘the deed’ and murders King Duncan. This was, as described in the play, “-a dagger of the mind, a false creation…proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain”. This signifies that the floating dagger an example of symbolism implemented by Shakespeare to allow his audience to empathise with his feelings of paranoia.

Contrastingly, the symbols present in Tell-tale Heart was the allusion of the antagonist’s eye that drove his motive; as the narrator suggested in the second stanza, “I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this!”. The beating heart also symbolised the narrator’s drive for murder as it was something he heard in his own mind after completing ‘the deed’; the murder of the old man. He increasingly became paranoid, adding to his madness. These two mental paranoias shared amongst both texts symbolise how the protagonists struggle to move on from their wrongdoing due to the impacts of paranoia.

Both texts utilise a multitude of stylistic features, including foreshadowing, adding dramatic tension and building anticipation. Foreshadowing was evident in both texts to allow the audience to put themselves into the perspective and make them feel prepared for the upcoming events. In Macbeth this was incorporated when saying the dialogue “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep – the innocent sleep”. This dialogue foreshadows the guilt and paranoia which is experienced for the remainder of the play and alternatively the characters’ insomnia as symptoms of their conscience, further captivating the audience and creating suspense. Furthermore, the dialogue “Mad men know nothing… but you should have seen me”, in Tell-Tale Heart foreshadowed the protagonist’s eventual mental breakdown. The narrator’s unstable mental condition could therefore be examined by the audience.

To conclude, the language techniques and stylistic features in alignment with corresponding conventions successfully portray aspects of paranoia between both texts. Although the writing style that both authors held common, there were a number of similarities and differences amongst both texts. As Macbeth was written as a play, it was difficult for the him to be overly descriptive through the dialogues spoken by the character. Poe used his mode of storytelling creatively with use of literary techniques such as symbolism and foreshadowing to portray his message to the audience and to be thought enticing. Although, both protagonists had different reasons for committing murders, they both manifested guilt due human characteristics. The impacts of paranoia were explored amongst both texts; however, it was increasingly shown in Macbeth to progressively worsen. In Tell-tale heart, it was more towards the ending of the narrative. Conclusively, Macbeth utilised stylistic features and literary techniques to demonstrate the impacts of paranoia in more depth in comparison to Tell-tale Heart.

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The Theme Of Paranoia In The Tell Tale Heart And The Tragedy Of Macbeth. (2021, August 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from
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