Sleepwalking Scene in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth

Sleepwalking Scene in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth

Sleepwalking Scene in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth : Analyze the Sleepwalking Scene in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth and bring out its dramatic significance. The importance of Sleepwalking Scene in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth OR Lady Macbeth’s sleep walking: Dramatic significance

Sleepwalking Scene in Shakespeare‘s Macbeth

The Sleep Walking Scene in Macbeth 

The Sleepwalking Scene (ACT: V, SC: I) is a famous scene from William Shakespeare‘s “Macbeth” tragedy. The scene creates a lot of irony in the play. Immediately after Duncan’s murder, Macbeth feared that he would never sleep peacefully again because he had killed the king while he was sleeping. He heard a voice that cried out,”Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor / Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more”. We then see, ironically, how it is Lady Macbeth who cannot sleep peacefully.

Her sleep is disturbed by guilt, though she originally chided Macbeth for thinking “so brainsickly of things . She laughed at him and insulted him for his guilt and remorse at the time, but ironically, now she is the one who can no longer bear the guilt and remorse. Further, after the murder, she said to Macbeth, “A little water clears us of this deed. / How easy is it, then!” However, in the sleepwalking scene, she claims that “All / the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little / hand,” and she thinks that she can still smell the odor of Duncan’s blood.

The sleep-walking scene, with which Act-V of Macbeth opens, makes a time-gap of several weeks since the fourth Act ends. This scene is perhaps Shakespeare’s own invention, as is the presumed suicide of Lady Macbeth, of which Holinshed says nothing. This is the first we see of Lady Macbeth since the night of the coronation banquet when, significantly, her last words to her husband were “you lack the season of all nature—sleep”. This scene is a sufficient suggestion of all that is happened in the interval, that deadly force with which the Lady’s deed has recoiled on her womanly nature.

The scene opens in an ante-room of Dunsinane castle where a doctor-assisted by Lady Macbeth’s lady-in-waiting is watching if she really walks in her sleep. The doctor who has so long vainly tried to get a clue of the lady’s strange behaviour is being helped out by the gentle woman, who believes that Macbeth’s absence in the family has worsened his lady’s mental derangement.

Midway in their conversation enters Lady Macbeth sleepwalking with taper, suggesting readily how darkness which she had invoked earlier is now her terror. As the watchers look on the horror, the lady, in between their passing remarks and comments, reveals the knight of Duncan, Lady Macduff, and Banquo’s murder. Rubbing her hands, she frantically wipe the imaginary blood of them. She realizes with a shudder that she can ever bury her dreadful criminal past. All this while, her mind violently swings between past and present and she reveals in dialogues hitherto secret, drawing from the doctor, his cryptic comments: “Go to you have known what you should not”. And by the time she makes her exit to bed, the doctor seems to have completed his findings, that “unnatural deeds / Do free unnatural troubles” and confesses his inability to treat her case: “More needs her the divine man than the physician”.

Lady Macbeth finds her will helpless and must allow her mind to receive moral retribution. The unnatural darkness associated with the crime explains her fear of darkness now and what Prof. Curry calls the ‘unnatural somnambulism. She is fast asleep when she walks; she too has murdered sleep. The sleep-walking scene is Shakespeare’s superb invention of restoring in his own masterly fashion. Shakespeare is almost unique in using the olfactory sense as a means of impressing the imagination with terror the sleep-waling scene finding only a single parallel in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon’ where the captive prophetess Cassandra wrapt in trance, scents the smell of blood breathing from Agamemnon’s palace, as foreshadowing his murder.

Thus the sleepwalking scene is highly dramatic in its revelation of those very crimes which Lady Macbeth had sought to suppress. How ironic is it that once she claimed, “A little water clears us of this deed” and now she continually washes her.

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