Sleep, a natural process & its disruption as caused by the fracture of the moral order. Permanent loss of sleep is ironic. Sleep is no longer possible. Macbeth's hysterical announcement is prophetic: "Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more." In the end, they envy the very victims whom they have killed.
Act 2, Scene 1: 'Nature seems dead, & wicked dreams abuse / The curtain'd sleep'
Act 2, Scene 2: 'There's one did laugh in's sleep, & one cried 'Murder!'
Act 3, Scene 6: 'We may again / Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights'
Act 5, Scene 1: 'A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit of sleep & do the effects of watching'
Visions, representing the extensions of a guilty conscience.
Act 2, Scene 1: 'Art thou, fatal vision, sensible / To feeling as to sight?'
Act 3, Scene 4: 'Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery, hence!'
Act 5, Scene 1: 'Wash your hands; put on your nightgown; look not so pale! I tell you again, Banquo's buried'
Act 5, Scene 7: 'My wife & children's ghosts will haunt me still'
'Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
As Act 5 proceeds, Macbeth finds himself wifeless, friendless, & with his enemies' army bearing down on him. He is forced to reflect on what life ultimately means, & does so in one of Shakespeare's most famous soliloquies.
In this final soliloquy we uncover the ultimate tragedy of Macbeth. "It is the tragedy of the twilight and the setting-in of thick darkness upon a human soul" (Dowden 66). Macbeth's heinous acts throughout the play have resulted in his last, horrible conclusion about life: it is utterly meaningless. Our days on this earth serve no purpose other than to thrust us toward "dusty death." Life is a seemingly endless and depressing succession of bleak days creeping along at a "petty pace." Our time on this earth is so unsubstantial that it can only be compared to a shadow; so unreal that it can only be compared to a stage on which frets a pitiful actor. When the play is over his character disappears into nothingness, and has left nothing significant behind.
In these words is embodied a degree of combined bitterness and contempt which could only be wrung from a strong heart driven to the last extreme of desperation. The bitterness is that of a hopeless anguish which the victim feels has been drawn down by his own hand. To the natural grief for the loss of the wife whom he really loved, there is added, most probably, the stinging consciousness of his own selfish forgetfulness of her in the season when she needed him most sorely. The contempt is that of a man who has "supped full with horrors," and whom "the faint odour of blood has disgusted with all else." We behold in silence the unmistakable evidence of the inevitable but hidden workings by which justice will be satisfied.
Macbeth & Lady Macbeth are 'normal' in another sense of the term, for they are not insane. Initially, they are not maniacs. They become progressively less sane as they story unfolds. Their personalities initially splendid, disintegrate. Having tried to control others, they end by losing control of themselves. Magnificent at first, they become, in one case, a monster of iniquity, in the other, a pathetic victim of hallucinations who ends by killing herself.
Macbeth sees a bleeding dagger in the air; Lady Macbeth sees a resemblance of her father in Duncan; both start at the hoot of the owl, the cry of the wolf, the shout of a man--though apparently no one has shouted. Keyed up as they are, they lose nerve at the crucial moments: she at the point of delivering the fatal blow, he after it.
'Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
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?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going,
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' th' other senses,
Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing.
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one half-world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtained sleep. Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings, and withered murder,
Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives.
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.'
In the entire dagger soliloquy he is clearly suffering from the realisation of the horror of the 'bloody business' ahead. He sees fully & painfully the wickedness of the course he has chosen, but not until after the deed, when the knocking has commenced, do we realise how terrifyingly alive his conscience is: 'To know my deed, 't were best not know myself. / Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!' This is the wish of a 'good' man, still thinks & feels as a good man would.
Macbeth, after discussing the crime with Lady Macbeth, has decided to go through with the "terrible feat" (1.7.75). Now he sits alone, waiting for the bell which will summon him to murder Duncan, pondering his decision one final time. The focus of the soliloquy, the invisible dagger, is our first glimpse of Macbeth's powerful imagination - imagination that is largely responsible for his mental torment throughout the drama.
Although Macbeth knows that the dagger is an optical illusion, and suspects that it could be brought about by his potentially "heat-oppressed brain" (39), he nonetheless allows the phantom dagger, soon stained with imaginary "gouts of blood" (46), to affect him greatly. Enhancing the ominous and eerie atmosphere of the speech is the use of successive allusions to people and practices which conjure up images of satanic and earthly evil. Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft and a strong presence overall in Macbeth, is preparing her sacrificial victims, and Murder himself, summoned by his trusted watchman, the wolf, moves with the power and speed of evil king Tarquin towards his prey.
Macbeth is initially a splendid personality. His conduct in war is spectacular. He is "brave Macbeth", "Bellona's bridegroom". He is impervious to fear when merely natural foes confront him. For him there is no terror in the "rugged Russian bear, the arm'd rhinoceros or the Hyrcan tiger". Even at the end, with defeat inevitable, he is still the soldier who will fight "till from my bones my flesh be hacked". If his crimes are enormous, they are committed by a man who has the makings of greatness.
Macbeth, before his crime, is fearless of blood and could "doubly redouble" strokes upon the foe "as if to memorize another Golgotha"; after his crime, the sight of blood on his hands unnerves him, and the sight of Banquo's gory locks sends him into hysterics. The "sights" that overcome him "like a summer's cloud" become habitual, haunting him by day, torturing him at night, making him "eat his meal in fear".
In desperation, Macbeth seeks solace in blood. But it brings him no peace. He becomes perpetually restless, subject to fits and moods. One moment he puts on his armor, the next he pulls it off. One moment he bellows defiant orders; the next moment he whimpers in defeat.
One must acknowledge a greatness visible in the very distortion of feminine nature which in others is tender, yielding, dependent, but which in her is iron-willed, masterful, dominant.
The only obstacle she sees lies in the character of her husband. He is ambitious, but is unwilling to play false to attain the objects of his ambition. Yet she is so sure of her influence over him that she prays he may return speedily, in order that she may inspire him to action and drive out any scruples that may bar the way to his goal. When she hears of Duncan's approaching visit, she realizes instantly that Fate has delivered the king into her husband's hands, and invokes the powers of evil to strengthen her for the terrible deed that must be done at once. On Macbeth's arrival she takes the matter into her own hands; she does not argue or persuade, but with quiet determination assures him that Duncan will never leave their castle alive, and that she will arrange all the details. Macbeth is, as it were, stunned by her decision. He has, indeed, meditated the murder of his master; but he has by no means decided upon it, and he would like more time for consideration. His wife, however, cuts the scene short, bidding him show a friendly face to his royal guest and leave all the rest to her. From the abruptness with which the scene begins, we must fancy that Lady Macbeth has already read a part of the letter before she comes on the stage. Perhaps, when she came to the prophecy of the witches, she felt that she must be alone, and withdrew from the hall of the castle to the chamber in which the scene takes place.