How does Shakespeare represent Macbeth’s degenerating state of mind in his play Macbeth?

“All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” The play Macbeth written by the celebrated William Shakespeare manifests in the idea of the degeneration of the character Macbeth’s state of mind. The degeneration or insanity displayed by Macbeth is a constant theme throughout the play Macbeth and truly displays how the ambitious intentions of one may lead to a fractured state of mind. Three witches take to the stage as the play begins and later develop prophecies regarding Macbeth’s future, Macbeth’s ambition feeds off the prophecies of which then as later discovered his state of mind is then diminished. William Shakespeare conveys this idea though the use of many features throughout his play. He uses a constant use of metaphors to demonstrate Macbeth’s unhealthy mind as well as the use of a weak foot being a disruption in the Iambic pentameter. He also expresses his ideas through the use of apparitions seen by only Macbeth himself to convey a disturbance in Macbeth’s state of mind.

William Shakespeare uses visions seen by the characters in his play Macbeth to convey the idea of ambition taking over Macbeth’s mind and through that his mind encountering the feelings of being overthrown by complex guilt and evil. The Character Macbeth becomes filled with this feeling when we starts to face the internal conflict of whether or not he should meet the witches prophecy and kill king Duncan in order to become king of Scotland. Of which would fulfill the ideas of ambition and evil taken over his mind. In Act 2 Scene 1 Macbeth is confronted with a vision of dagger he begins to speak to this hallucination unsure whether it is a tangible object or just a vision of his mind  “Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?” During this soliloquy spoken by Macbeth he is explaining that he now sees a dagger draped with blood floating before him, he is convinced that this is signifying that he must satisfy his wife’s command to kill King Duncan. This idea of apparitions seen by Macbeth to impose the idea of the degeneration of his state of mind continues throughout the play when he is hosting a banquet in celebration of his new reign of Scotland. prior to the banquet he had to ordered two murders to kill Banquo and his son Fleance because of an urge to ensure security for himself. During the banquet Macbeth begins to see a haunting vision of the ghost of Banquo he shouts “Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee. Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold. Thou hast no speculation in those eyes Which thou dost glare with!” Macbeth has been frightened by the ghost of his late murder victim. He explains to Banquo’s ghost that he must leave the dinner as he is no longer a living or real and just a figure of guilt in Macbeth’s subconscious, portraying his fragile mind that has been destroyed by ambition. 

Shakespeare uses many features to convey The character Macbeth’s state of mind in his play Macbeth. Another great feature Shakespeare uses in many of his plays and poems are metaphors. In Act 5 scene 3, Macbeth becomes trusting in the prophecies and apparitions he has seen and decides to disregard  the reports of an invasion, as he has been assured security and invincibility. As the army becomes closer Macbeth escapes the scene and begins to announce his doubts concerning his undefeatable tyranny as an ambitious king. Macbeth steps aside and explains “My way of life Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf,” Shakespeare is illustrating the idea of Macbeth’s life falling apart and coming to an end. He is expressing this by referring to Macbeth’s life as becoming “sere” and ” the yellow leaf” meaning his life has become dried and lifeless just like a fallen autumn leaf. Through this use of metaphor Shakespeare illustrates that Macbeth’s life has become overthrown by the evil of ambition forcing his mind to encounter a sense of degeneration. He is explaining that due to this his life has become unlivable and worthless and has now come to a point where his life is nothing but a deceased leaf on cold autumn dirt.

Another way Shakespeare communicates the degeneration of Macbeth state of mind in his play Macbeth is a feature that Shakespeare not only uses in his play Macbeth but in many other plays such as his most famous play Romeo and Juliet, is his use of the iambic pentameter. Iambic pentameter a rhythm of which Shakespeare uses in many of his plays mostly to show prominent status of the characters in his play. Iambic pentameter is when each line in the play consists of five “iamb’s”, an Iamb consists of one short or distressed syllable followed by a long or stressed syllable. During the play Macbeth begins to feel a state of guilt or a sense of is mind being overtaken by ambition, because of this Macbeth begins to become mentally and emotionally unstable. In Act 5 Scene 5 after discovering that his wife Lady Macbeth as experienced an untimely death, Macbeth says “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day To the last syllable of recorded time”. Macbeth of whom is a character with great status throughout the play, Shows us that Macbeth is experiencing some sort of mental disturbance. This is shown to us when he says “to the last syllable of recorded time” as it ends with what is called a “weak foot”. A weak foot is a disruption in the iambic rhythm, it occurs when the rhythm is incomplete. In this case it has occured as the last iamb is unfinished and ends in a short syllable. It displays that Macbeth’s state of mind is deteriorating as he can’t even be complete in his way of speech, which once again outlines Shakespeare idea of the degeneration of Macbeth’s state of mind.

“Double, double toil and trouble, Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” The idea of Macbeth’s degenerating state of mind ripples through the play, from scene to scene and act to act, this idea is reverberated to express how ambitious acts of evil intent are developed into a fractured and unstable state of mind for the character Macbeth. Throughout the play William Shakespeare admirably incorporates this idea by simply adding a disturbance in the status determining Iambic pentameter. As well as the appearance of apparitions seen by his character to enforce the idea of his character becoming delirious because of his previous actions and finally he also frequently uses a selection of metaphors of which discuss Macbeth’s insanity by relating his life and his world to things that encounter despair. Macbeth teaches his audience that ambitious ways with evil intent may not result in positive outcomes but in a state of mind fractured by guilt and corrupt by evil to conclude in a degeneration of the mind. 


By Cece Gardner

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. This essay is a clear response to the task. You’re using a clear structure and your ideas are relevant and well supported with evidence.

    Your main focus, once you’ve completed the over-all structure, is to build into the piece some more nuanced language effects of your own. It’s not a persuasive piece, however you do still want to use your skill as a writer to convey your ideas with as much fluency as possible. I encourage you to look at the exemplar in the task outline to see how that writer used metaphor to underline and illuminate (both metaphors) the points they wanted to make.

    The way you express your ideas is the main focus of this assessment.

  2. I was away on tuesday the 5th of july, as i was at the the play in the drama room 🙂

  3. Achievement Achievement with Merit Achievement with Excellence
    Develop and structure ideas in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas convincingly in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control in formal writing.

    Develop and structure ideas effectively in formal writing.

    Use language features appropriate to audience and purpose with control to command attention in formal writing.


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