The role of Macbeth’s guilt

Subject: 📚 Literature
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 816
Topics: Macbeth, 📗 Book, 🧔 William Shakespeare
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The theme of guilt and human consciousness is a classic of philosophy and various reflections. In the classic play “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare, we see an example of what guilt can do to the human conscience. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth both experience this feeling through the murder of King Duncan. They both played major roles in the murder, even though Lady Macbeth was not the one who “physically” committed the crime. Guilt led to the downfall of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The analysis will cover Macbeth’s internal conflicts, Lady Macbeth’s drive to madness, and her suicide.

Theme of guilt in Macbeth

First, Macbeth’s inner feelings drive him to reckless actions due to guilt. Lady Macbeth felt confident in convincing Macbeth to kill Duncan in order to become king. She begins to distrust his bravery when he has doubts about killing King Duncan, who was his cousin. “When you durst do it,” she says, “then you were a man”. She manipulates this to make Macbeth feel like he’s not manly enough, and it works. After Macbeth kills Duncan, he begins to be overcome by doubts and anxiety, the character begins to feel an internal conflict with himself, he says “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine”.

He says this line when he sees his wife after killing Duncan. The character was referring to the blood on his hands after killing Duncan, and he expresses his feelings about remorse. Macbeth is overcome with guilt throughout the play, especially when he decides to kill his friend Banquo. As a result, Banquo’s ghost begins to visit him, and guilt fills his mind more and more. Finally, Macbeth kills Macduff’s family after the witches call him a “threat”. This fact shows his paranoia, he believes that now everyone in his path is a threat and must be eliminated in order for him to definitely become king. This is the climax of the play. If Macbeth had never raised a hand against Macduff’s family, he would have survived and not died at Macduff’s hands. Ironically, everything Macbeth did was for the status of king and a carefree life, but his own actions made his life miserable and full of guilt.

Secondly, Lady Macbeth could be a positive character like Macbeth in the beginning, but she faints when she hears about King Duncan’s murder, even though she was fully aware of it. This may have been due to the fact that she could feel embarrassment and nausea because the murder did happen. We don’t see the guilt that still consumes her until the end of the play, when her consciousness begins to sleepwalk and says: “Get out of this cursed place! Away, I say!” rubbing her hands together. She is aware of the “blood” on her hands for killing Duncan and that she is becoming paranoid and on the verge of insanity. This character has evolved from a woman who was willing to stoop to killing her own child to a woman who shows compassion and emotions. Ironically, Lady Macbeth is shown telling Macbeth not to let his conscience torment him, even though the same could happen to her. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were close to each other at the beginning of the play, but because of Macbeth’s pursuit of power, their relationship became much colder. The lack of warmth and understanding from her husband deepens her madness and is the cause of her downfall.

In the end, the fact that Lady Macbeth committed suicide was the last straw for her mental doubts. The guilt of killing King Duncan and everything that happened afterwards still consumed her completely. All the feelings and experiences locked up in her led to her desperate decision. It is said by Malcolm “Of this dead butcher and his fiendlike queen, Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands took her life”. This leads us to believe that the queen did commit suicide. Lady Macbeth’s suicide was the result of remorse and guilt for killing King Duncan. At the end, she lost her mind, thinking that the blood was still on her face and she couldn’t wash it off. At the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth was a strong woman, but no person can overcome guilt.


In conclusion, the guilt that Lady Macbeth and Macbeth had led to the downfall of both of them. Macbeth’s inner emotions and contradictions made him act emotionally, leading to his death. Lady Macbeth’s guilt drives her to sleepwalking and eventually to madness. Her sense of guilt became so significant and strong that she even decided to commit suicide. This shows that guilt is a dangerous feeling that leads anyone, even the strong in spirit, to destruction. The guilt never goes away because the inner voice in your head will always remind you of it.

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  1. Shakespeare, W. (1992). Macbeth. Wordsworth Editions.
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