Blindness Has Consequences
Tragedy often occurs when a character in a play, such as Macbeth by William Shakespeare, is unable to perceive their true nature or the true nature of those around them. This lack of perception often leads to death. A quote from the play illustrates this concept: “I think not of them: Yet when we can entreat an hour to serve, We would spend it in some words upon that business If you would grant me the time.” (Act II, I, 25-28) Macbeth’s statement serves as a clear example of blindness.
Macbeth, like the other characters in this play, is unaware of his own character. This is evident in his contradictory statement where he dismisses any interest in the supernatural, yet plans to discuss the weird sisters with Banquo later. Macbeth fails to recognize his increasing fascination with the witches’ prophecies, which ultimately leads to his downfall. Similarly, other characters in the play suffer losses because they assume that others think and behave as they do. Duncan, Lady Macbeth, and Macduff are examples of characters who also display this blindness.
In the book Macbeth, Duncan’s blindness is evident in his trusting nature. He wholeheartedly believed that Macbeth’s true character was reflected in his outward actions. By slaughtering Macdonwell and single-handedly stopping the rebellion, Macbeth demonstrated loyalty and honor, causing Duncan to reconsider his initial choice of Thane and bestow the title upon Macbeth.
The passage from the play states, “No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive / Our bosom interest: go, pronounce his death/ And with his former title greet Macbeth. ” (Act I, ii, 73-75) These lines represent Duncan’s profound trust in Macbeth’s loyalty. Duncan lacks any reason to suspect Macbeth of disloyalty because Macbeth has not done anything to harm him. This demonstrates Duncan’s unawareness of Macbeth’s true character, as well as his ignorance of the ambitions and secret thoughts brewing in Macbeth’s mind.
Duncan’s misplaced trust in Macbeth is evident multiple times. However, only the reader understands that Macbeth’s increasing power, acquired through gaining the king’s trust, will lead to Duncan’s tragic demise. Duncan places an overwhelming amount of trust in a man about whom he knows very little. While he recognizes Macbeth as honorable, Duncan remains unaware of his ambitions to gradually ascend the social hierarchy.
Duncan creates a situation that will lead to trouble for himself. He accomplishes this by granting Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor and making plans to stay overnight at Macbeth’s castle. In the play, it states, “From hence to Inverness, / And bind us further to you.” (Act I, iv, 48-49) These lines reveal Duncan’s intention to spend the night at Macbeth’s place. Although Macbeth desires to become king, Duncan is unaware of his ambition.
Duncan’s lack of awareness ultimately led to his fatal demise by unknowingly trusting Macbeth and promoting him after the murder of the former Thane. Duncan’s inability to see Macbeth’s true intentions proved fatal, resulting in his untimely death. Similarly, Lady Macbeth also exhibits blindness in failing to see the truth about Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth is oblivious to her own conscience, firmly believing that she carries no guilt and can engage in any wicked deed without hesitation. This theme is consistently portrayed throughout the play. She perceives herself as fearless, possessing the capability to execute all necessary actions for Duncan’s murder without hesitation. Nonetheless, when presented with the chance, she retreats due to the discomforting resemblance between Duncan and her sleeping father. In an effort to reassure Macbeth, she guarantees him that as long as he conceals his fear, everything will proceed smoothly.
Lady Macbeth is not aware of her strong conscience. In the play, she confidently declares, “Only look up clear; / To alter favour ever is to fear: / Leave all the rest to me.” This statement highlights her self-assurance. She suggests that Macbeth merely needs to appear presentable and manipulate others, while she takes charge of planning the murder. Later on, Lady Macbeth becomes overwhelmed with guilt for Duncan’s murder and eventually succumbs to illness due to the weight of her remorse.
Lady Macbeth has trained herself to seem invincible, resembling an impenetrable iron wall, convinced that nothing can touch her. However, in reality, this barrier is nonexistent and her conscience remains powerful, although it selectively disappears. Furthermore, aside from being unaware of her own guilt and conscience, Lady Macbeth fails to recognize the consequences that come with committing heinous acts. She genuinely believes that as long as one can avoid detection, murder can be carried out without facing any repercussions.
She believes she can selectively forget things and that any wrongdoings will be erased from her mind, allowing everything to be fine the next day. In the play, it states, “My hands are the same color as yours, but I am ashamed to have a heart so deceitful. I hear someone knocking at the door: let’s go to our room. A little bit of water will absolve us of this guilt. It’s so simple! Has he left you all alone? Listen, there’s more knocking. Put on your nightgown in case we need to pretend we were asleep. Don’t get lost in your troubled thoughts.” (Act II, ii, 81-91)
The following passage highlights Lady Macbeth’s belief that guilt can be easily eradicated by cleaning away bloodstains. She claims that by washing the blood, she is also cleansing herself of guilt. However, as the play progresses, it becomes apparent that guilt cannot be simply washed away and instead lingers indefinitely. Lady Macbeth constantly harbors memories of this incident, which eventually causes her mental instability. During her illness, she unconsciously reveals her secrets, ultimately leading to her suicide due to the overwhelming guilt she experiences.
Tragic forms of blindness were displayed by Lady Macbeth, Duncan, and Macduff in the play. While both Lady Macbeth and Duncan’s blindnesses are well-known, Macduff also showed a fatal form of it. However, unlike the other characters, it was easier to identify Macduff’s blindness. He remained unaware of Macbeth’s true nature and held onto the belief that his own honor would be reflected in him. Regrettably, he was proven wrong. In an effort to save himself, Macduff left his family behind and sought refuge with Malcolm. His plan involved gathering an army and leading a rebellion against Macbeth.
Macduff believed that leaving his wife and children behind was not a big deal because he trusted that Macbeth, who wanted him dead, would not harm his family out of honor. However, Lady Macduff knew better. The play states, “To leave his wife, to leave his babes, His mansion and his titles, in a place For whence himself does fly? He loves us not; He wants the natural touch: for the poor wren, The most diminutive of bird, will fight, Her young ones in her nest, against the owl. All is fear and nothing is the love; As little is the wisdom, where the flight.”
These lines (Act IV, ii, 8-15) highlight Macduff’s disregard for the threats that Lady Macduff perceives. Lady Macduff uses a metaphor, comparing a small, useless bird defending its young against an owl, to emphasize that even a man who may be considered useless would protect his family in such a situation. She emphasizes the importance of not leaving one’s “nest” unguarded when it needs the most protection. Lady Macduff discusses this because her family is now vulnerable and exposed to Macbeth’s anger, and Macduff shows no concern for their safety.
Despite Macduff becoming aware of the brutal massacre of his family, he remains oblivious to Macbeth’s involvement. He mistakenly blames himself for the loss of his loved ones. Macduff’s desire for vengeance intensifies as he believes that Macbeth would never comprehend the anguish he now endures, lacking the experience of having children. He is overwhelmed with disbelief that he allowed his mansion to be unprotected and that divine intervention did not come to his family’s aid. These circumstances demonstrate Macduff’s excessive trust in Macbeth’s integrity and his unwavering faith in divine protection for his family during such a calamity.
The play contains the quote, “I shall do so; But I must also feel it as a man: I cannot but remember such things were That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on, And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff, They were all struck for thee! naught that I am, Not for their own demerits, but for mine, Fell slaughter on their own souls: heaven rests them now. (Act IV, iii, 258-265)” This line, spoken by Macbeth to Duncan and Ross, demonstrates the extent of his self-blame for the killing of his family.
It demonstrates that he underestimated Macbeth because he didn’t believe Macbeth would be so dishonorable as to kill his own family for undeserved punishment. Malcolm advises Macduff to use this anger towards Macbeth as motivation to prepare for the rebellion against him. Malcolm supports Macduff’s desire to harm Macbeth and seek revenge for underestimating the harm that Macbeth is capable of causing. Just as Macbeth’s actions cause harm, lacking knowledge about a character or oneself also leads to significant damage.
The tragedy in Macbeth was caused by characters who lacked awareness of a specific trait. Their lack of understanding ultimately resulted in the loss of their own lives or the lives of those close to them. Despite varying levels of unawareness, the most glaring examples were Duncan’s inability to see Macbeth’s true nature, Lady Macbeth’s blindness towards her guilt, and Macduff’s underestimation of Macbeth’s character.