Fear and the “dagger of the mind”
“Art thou not, fatal vision, sensibleTo feeling as to sight? Or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creationProceeding from the heat-oppressed brain…”
Macbeth’s situation is that, just as the three weird sisters predicted, hisfondest wishes—his secret dreams of power—have all come true, butso have his darkest fears. Shakespeare’s preeminence as a dramatistrests in part on his ability to create vivid metaphors and images thatembody simple and powerful human emotions. We are going toanalyze the “banquet scene” to help understand how Shakespeare’slanguage dramatizes one such emotion: fear. The guiding question for this activity is:Why is Macbeth, whom we know to be brave and ruthless in battle, soafraid? How does Shakespeare dramatize Macbeth’s fear?1.Using your handout copy of Act 3, scene 4, pay particular attentionto the entrances and exits of the ghost. Can you tell, from hiswords, when and where Macbeth first sees the ghost? Make notesnext to passages in which Shakespeare uses imagery, metaphor,and simile to reveal aspects of Macbeth’s psychology.2.Do you think Macbeth actually sees a ghost or is the ghost ametaphor for something inside of him—like the ‘dagger of the mind’referred to above?3.How do you imagine Macbeth looking and behaving upon seeing theghost? What are his facial expressions and body language? Do youthink it makes a difference in his reaction to the ghost that we aretold that Macbeth is no coward?4.If you were to stage this scene, how might you set up thecharacters? Where would Macbeth be sitting? Would you show thatthere is actually a ghost? If you don’t show a ghost, where shouldMacbeth be looking? Where would the murderers stand when theyspeak with Macbeth? Where is Lady Macbeth in relation to herhusband?5.You will now perform a wordless version of Act 3, scene 4. The rulesare: NO props, and NO speaking. All the emotion and action must beconveyed through facial expressions, gestures, body language, andmovement. You WILL be performing this version for the class.6.After watching the wordless version of Act 3, scene 4, revisit theguiding question for this activity: Why is Macbeth, whom we knowto be brave and ruthless in battle, so afraid? How does Shakespearedramatize Macbeth’s fear?