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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Macbeth Analysis

For my Literature class this semester, I was required to write a paper about Macbeth, in which I took a scene and wrote a close reading and an analysis of that scene.  Having received an "A" on this paper, I want to share an excerpt of my paper.

Close Reading of Macbeth, the infamous "damned spot" monologue. Act 5.1.19-45
In this scene, Lady Macbeth is imagining blood on her hands that will not wash off.  She begins to walk into a room holding a candle and speaking to herself.  Somewhere nearby, a doctor and a gentlewoman are watching her as she rants about the stains on her hands (“Look, how she rubs her hands.”) (Lines 19-21).  The gentlewoman remarks that Lady Macbeth has been partaking in this activity often, and for long periods of time, and has been sleepwalking all the while.  She seemingly believes her hands are covered in blood and laments that they will never be clean (“Out, damned spot! Out, out I say!”) (Line 25).  She then tries to console herself, saying that she and her husband cannot be found guilty anyway, but her guilt seems to be mounting as she adds, “Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.” (Line 25) She is rubbing her hands, trying to free herself from the guilt consuming her (“What, will these hands ne'er be clean?”) (Line 31).  The feeling of Duncan’s blood on her hands clouds her minds.  The guilt follows her in her senses as well – she visualizes the blood, feels it, and even scents it, believing that not even the greatest of perfumes can erase the smell.  “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” (Line 35).   This realization that her crimes cannot be washed away coincides with one line from the Bible, “your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.” (King James Bible, Isaiah 59 2.3) The doctor remarks that there is nothing he can do for her: “This disease is beyond my practice.” (Line 40) This shows the apparent uncontrollable aspect of her mental breakdown, and that nothing can repair the damage done not only to her, but to her husband and the people who have died.  Lady Macbeth says that what’s done is done, and then exits with the words “To bed, to bed!” (Line 45).  The doctor watching declares there is nothing he can do for her (“This disease is beyond my practice”) (Line 40), showing that Lady Macbeth’s ailment is perhaps supernatural and there is nothing that can be done to help it.  He also adds, “I have known those which have walked in their sleep who have died holily in their beds,” which is foreshadowing of Lady Macbeth’s death following is passage.  Reassuring herself that “what’s done cannot be undone” is an attempt to wash her hands clean of the murder, to relieve the guilt from herself.  This washing of hands parallels the Bible story of Christ’s passion, in which Pilate washes his hands of Christ’s blood and says he has nothing more to do with His death (“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, … he took water and washed his hands …, saying ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.’”)(King James Bible, Matthew 27.24)  This passage is reflected earlier when Lady Macbeth says to her husband, “Retire we to our chamber. A little water clears us of this deed. How easy is it, then!” (2.2.67).   This scene brings to the very front of the reader’s mind the play’s theme of guilt and motif of blood.