Between Dream and Reality - Macbeth

Alessandra Canetta & lisa Koslowski

Sleeping Is For The Pures

In the tragedy “Macbeth”, a reoccurring theme is sleep. Throughout the play, sleeping assumes several meanings, besides the literal one.

Sleeping is basically interpreted as a moment of peace and tranquility. Indeed, characters afflicted by the guilt of their actions get unable to sleep.

When he’s about to kill Duncan, Macbeth is mainly worried that he won’t be able to sleep anymore because of his crime and the weight that this will have on his conscience.


Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more!

Macbeth does murder sleep”—the innocent sleep,

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,

The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

~Macbeth, Scene 2, Act 2


The quotation shows the evident contrast between Duncan, an honest and positive character, and the spoiled Macbeth. The king is destined to an eternal, peaceful sleep, far from the evil of the world.


But let the frame of things disjoint,
both the worlds suffer, ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep in the affliction of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly: better be with the dead, whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, Than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave;
After lifes fitful fever, he sleeps well.

~Macbeth, Scene 2, Act 3

Sleeping To Not Know

The theme of sleep also appears under the meaning of ignorance, unconsciousness of what is happening: the clearest example is given by the two men who wake up when Macbeth murders king Duncan.


There's one did laugh in's sleep, and one cried "Murder!"

That they did wake each other: I stood and heard them:

But they did say their prayers, and address'd them

Again to sleep.

~Macbeth, Scene 2, Act 2

A Price To Pay

In the course of the narration, sleeplessness turns into the price that Macbeth has to pay for his deed. Macbeth metaphorically killed the sleep and, therefore, he is the first who won’t be able to sleep anymore, as the following quotation shows.


Still it cried, “Sleep no more!” to all the house.

“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor

Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.”

~Macbeth, Scene 3, Act 1

Sleep Lies In The Prophecy

Macbeth’s preoccupation however is not baseless. Beside the fact the loss of sleep might have been a normal consequence of such a cruel action, the three witches already saw that Macbeth’s future would have been sleepless.


I will drain him dry as hay:

Sleep neither night nor day
hang upon his pent-house lid
he Shall live a man forbid.

~First Witch, Scene 3, Act 1

Fighting The Fear Of Death - Lady Macbeth

Another character that is dragged into a dramatic loss of sleep is Lady Macbeth. At the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth is a strong-willing merciless woman. She wants to reach her goals and nothing can stop her. On the contrary of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is not afraid of murdering Duncan, who represents just a mere obstacle on her way to the power. Indeed, to convince her husband, she claims that dead or asleep people can’t fight nor do anything: this is another dramatic contrast between death and sleep.


The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures.

~Lady Macbeth, Scene 2, Act 2

A Sleepwalker Struggling For Serenity

However, even the cold Lady Macbeth loses herself in the whirlpool of murders that occur afterwards. In her case, the inability to sleep is joined to dramatic psychological disorders; she becomes a sleepwalker, wandering across the hallways of the castle like a ghost and raving about all the murders she and her husband Macbeth committed.


To bed, to bed. There’s knocking at the gate.

Come, come, come, come. Give me your hand.

What’s to be done cannot undone – To bed, to bed, to bed!

~Lady Macbeth, Scene 1, Act 5

Without Any Choices

The climax of her growing foolishness will reach the top with her final suicide: Shakespeare associates this desperate action with the desire to find internal stability and peace back. Since death is seen as eternal sleep, and therefore peace, Lady Macbeth has no other choice but killing herself to forget the bloody, fearful world she’s living in.
The Sleep Psychology of Macbeth