Macbeth Guilt Quotes & Analysis

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  • 0:02 Regicide in Macbeth
  • 0:35 Act 2, Scene 2: Paranoia
  • 1:29 Act 5, Scene 1: The…
  • 2:17 Act 3, Scene 3: Banquo's Ghost
  • 3:25 Act 5, Scene 3: The Doctor
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

In Shakespeare's 'Macbeth,' the characters must grapple with the guilt they have for their actions. They express this guilt through a number of quotations, which you'll learn about in this lesson.

Regicide In Macbeth

Have you ever intentionally done something bad, knowing you could get away with it? Did you expect to feel guilty afterwards? Just because you can do something, should you?

William Shakespeare's Macbeth is partially a play about how guilt comes to the surface when someone has done something that they know is wrong. With the support of his wife, Lord Macbeth carries out a regicide, or murder of a royal figure, against King Duncan. In the many scenes that follow, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth continually think about the murder and try to process their guilt for having committed it.

Act 2, Scene 2: Paranoia

Immediately after killing King Duncan, Macbeth's senses are heightened, and he is paranoid about being caught, which is why he jumps at every noise: How is't with me, when every noise appals me? Looking at his bloody hands, Macbeth wishes that he could take away the eyes that witnessed his crime. Duncan's blood is symbolic of Macbeth's guilt; Macbeth uses a metaphor, or indirect comparison, to compare his guilt for killing Duncan to blood on his hands.

Macbeth believes that there is not enough water in the ocean to clean that blood from his hands:

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

He feels that, like staining green waters red with blood, he will never get rid of the guilt from his murderous act.

Act 5, Scene 1: The Lady Sleepwalks

In this scene, Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and seems to be washing her hands, saying, Out, damned spot! Out, I say! Her guilt is coming to the surface as she sleeps and dreams. In this state, she attempts to clean Duncan's invisible blood off of her hands.

Lady Macbeth knows that both she and her husband have the power and position to get away with the murder saying,

What need we
Fear who knows it, when none can call our power to

but neither expected the guilt and psychological results they are experiencing as a result of the murder.

Again we see blood used as a symbol for guilt. When Lady Macbeth says she is shocked that the old man, Duncan, had so much blood in him, she means that she is surprised that she would feel so guilty for having been supportive of murder.

Act 3, Scene 4: Banquo's Ghost

The three witches predicted that the sons of Banquo would also be king. In order to prevent this, Macbeth kills his friend and former ally. This extra load of guilt causes Macbeth to see Banquo's ghost at a feast. After being driven to panic, Macbeth reflects upon how the consequences of murder have changed. He believes that killing someone used to be easy:

The time has been
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end.

In other words, it used to be that one killed his enemy quickly and then moved on. But now Macbeth believes that even if you ensure that your victim is completely physically dead, he won't be gone, but instead comes back to haunt you:

But now they rise again
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns
And push us from our stools.

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