The Downfall of the Macbeths: A Psychological Perspective

The Downfall of the Macbeths: A Psychological Perspective First impressions mean everything in today’s society. Lady Macbeth’s first impression is that she is ruthless, where as Macbeth appears loyal, making his wife appear as the initial antagonist. However, as Macbeth demonstrates, first impressions are often wrong. We fail to look deeper into the story where possible underlying mental disorders take place.

I believe that Lady Macbeth suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a mental disorder that is characterized by anxiety that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened, not only to this person but to others as well.

I believe that Macbeth suffers from paranoia schizophrenia, one of the most damaging of all mental disorders. It causes its victims to lose touch with reality. They begin to hear, see, or feel things that aren't really there and/or become convinced of things that simply aren't true.

Although we see two different sides of the Macbeth family, we cannot just assume that they caused each other’s downfalls; but because of their mental disorders, they devised their own demise.

Lady Macbeth shows several symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: hyper arousal, recurring nightmares, depression and avoidance. One definition of hyper arousal is having a difficult time falling or staying asleep. We can infer that Lady Macbeth is having difficulty sleeping when the gentlewoman is speaking to the doctor: “I have seen her rise from her bed, throw on her nightgown . . . yet all this while in a most fast sleep.” (Act V Scene 1) While sleep-walking Lady Macbeth not only re-experiences Duncan’s death - “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (Act V Scene 1) - but also the murders her husband commits - “No more o’ that, my lord, no more!” (Act V Scene 1)

Avoidance is the next symptom and it has been found that people with PTSD often try to avoid or “push away” their emotions about a traumatic experience and emotions in general. Lady Macbeth has avoided her guilt to the point it haunts her sleep - “Will these hands ne’re be clean?”( Act V Scene 1)

The last symptom Lady Macbeth shows is depression. Depression shows up most of the time with PTSD, it’s been found that among people with PTSD, approximately 48% also had current or past depression. The symptoms of PTSD can be so distressing and debilitating, they actually cause depression to develop. We can infer that Lady Macbeth suffers from depression when the doctor says, “Remove from her all means of annoyance and still keep eyes upon her.” (Act V Scene 1) However, the next time Lady Macbeth is mentioned, is her suicide. Just as she pushed Macbeth to murder the king, all she needed was a push to get her on the mentally unstable train.

However, with her disorder, she could have overcome it, instead of giving in. Since PTSD is an anxiety based disorder and during Macbeth’s time they did not have medication, she could have worked her way through her disorder by talking it out and helping herself (easier said than done). There are always people who give into their disorders and live by it, but not all have to. Lady Macbeth could have been one of the few to cure herself.

Macbeth shows several symptoms of paranoia schizophrenia: hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, violence and patronizing behavior. Hallucinations are sensory perceptions that have no basis in reality. Macbeths hallucinates more than once, the first time when he saw the dagger leading him to murder Duncan, “Is this a dagger which I see before me . . . art thou not, fatal vision, sensible,” (Act II Scene 1) and the second time when he saw the ghost of Banquo in his chair, “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake thy gory locks at me.” (Act III Scene 4)

Delusions are characterized as believing something that is not true like coworkers poisoning you. He becomes increasingly anxious about Banquo, “to be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo stick deep,” (Act III Scene 1) even though Banquo did suspect foul play he still trusted Macbeth and was then murdered. Macbeth also believed that Macduff had turned from him, “How say’st thou, that Macduff denies his person at our great bidding . . . I hear it by the way, but I will send: there’s not a one of them but in his house, I keep a servant fee’d.” (Act III Scene 4) In the end Macduff turns from Macbeth after his family is mercilessly slaughtered, however, in the beginning, he fled the country hoping to keep his family safe and secure.

Macbeth becomes increasingly violent when he, as mentioned earlier, murders Macduff’s family “seize upon Fife: give to th’ edge o’ th’ sword his wife, his babies, and all unfortunate souls that trace his line.” (Act IV Scene 1) In addition to his violence we notice his new found patronizing behavior when he speaks and murders a young siward, “thou wast born of woman. But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn. Brandished by a man that’s of a woman born.” (Act IV Scene 2)

His mental disorder lead him to become a merciless murderer just to keep his throne over Scotland. He was plagued by hallucinations that led him to do horrible things. Even his subjects were aware that he was ill. There is no cure for this disorder; except for the medications we have available now to suppress it. If the doctor who diagnosed his wife was aware of Macbeth he would have been locked up. Unlike Lady Macbeth’s disorder, there may not have been a way to overcome his disorder. However if he had waited to be crowned king naturally his own fate might not have been so dark. Therefore, patience really is a virtue.

If the Macbeths had not been so delusional and greedy and had let the witches predictions play out as they were supposed to, a lot of lives, as well as their sanity, would have been spared. If greed had not taken over, Macbeth may have been king, though it may have been years into the future, he would have been king never the less, no matter how long.

The cure for disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, in the days of Shakespeare, would be to see a priest and to cure yourself. If Lady Macbeth had enough determination not to give in to her mental illness she may have been able to save her marriage and her husband. Macbeth’s downfall was caused solely by unstable mental condition and wanting to keep his position in power which led to a full-blown case of paranoia schizophrenia. With first impressions, we must not assume that the wicked will remain so, people are always changing.

“Fair is foul and foul is fair.”(Act I Scene 1)

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