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Assignment 3

Assignment 3

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Published by Chris Laliberte
Academic essays I have written for various university courses.
Academic essays I have written for various university courses.

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Published by: Chris Laliberte on Sep 30, 2011
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1Chris Laliberte 998650507Prof. H. SymeENG220YMarch 30
th
, 2011The River Styx Incarnadine
a discussion of justice, guilt, and restitution in Shakespeare's
Macbeth
One of the many themes of Shakespearean tragedy is its commentary on the nature of justice.The tragedy of 
Macbeth
is set in a world in which a cosmic order exists to ensure that justice is properly served. The purpose of this order is to keep the balance between the two forms of guilt:remorse, a punishment that inwardly tortures the guilty; and responsibility, for which one is served hisor her punishment via external means. I would argue that, using this higher order, and these two formsof guilt, the text suggests that a transgression must be accompanied by either remorse or responsibility;the consequences of at least one must affect the guilty party at any given time, and if one is removed, itis only to give way to the other. Also, in the same way that criminals are brought to justice, the playsuggests that the victim will be granted indemnification for the crimes committed against them.Macbeth's soliloquy in 1.7 sets the tone for the rest of the play, anticipating the consequences atthe end of the bloody path down which Cawdor and his Lady are about to embark. He knows that thereis always a price to be paid for such heinous acts - “even-handed justice / Commends the contents of our poisoned chalice / To our own lips” (1.7.10-12) – but believes that this cost can be avoided if theycan manage to pass the blame for their misdeeds. Though they are successful in this, the couple soon become aware that when murdering the innocent, one risks more than the mere gallows, as the play presents its audience with two forms of punishment: the murderers might avoid responsibility in theeyes of the law, but they cannot escape the condemnation of their own conscience.In the case of each of the murders, Macbeth and his Lady manage to avoid the blame for themurders, but cannot rid themselves of the guilt. According to Lady Macbeth's plot, the death of the kingis blamed on the two guards, speculation being that they were paid to do the deed, and the sons, having
 
2fled, are labeled as the prime suspects. (2.4.22ff.) The responsibility for Banquo's murder is avoided ina similar fashion, as “if't please you, Fleance killed [him], / For Fleance fled” (3.6.7-8). Thus, as the blame falls on others, Lady Macbeth does not face judgement for her hand in the crimes, and neither does Macbeth himself (at least, not yet). Instead, the two of them are punished with “brainsickly”thoughts.The power of guilt is mentioned several times around the time of Duncan's death, a warning of what psychological consequences await the usurpers. The night of the murder, Banquo agrees to followMacbeth on the condition that he will be able to “keep [his] bosom franchised and allegiance clear”(2.1.27-28), declaring the importance of a clear conscience. Once the deed is done, however, LadyMacbeth is quick to contradict this, as we see how Macbeth is immediately affected by the evil he has just committed. As he rambles about not being able to say 'Amen' and having murdered sleep, she tellshim that “These deeds must not be thought / After these ways. So, it will make us mad.” (2.2.33-34)While her intent is to have Macbeth collect himself, her words carry a greater meaning, acting as anomen for the madness - brought on by the weight of their crimes - which will plague them both.The play also deals with the notion of which carries more guilt: the hand that holds the knife, or the tongue that commands it to strike? Macbeth does not go into Duncan's room wholeheartedly – infact, his reluctance is clear from the first mention of the plot. It is only after a lengthy (if notemasculating) pep talk, as well as a thorough explanation of how nothing can go wrong, from the Ladythat Macbeth goes through with it. (1.7.31ff.) After a guilt-addled Macbeth claims that his bloodiedhands will “The multitudinous seas incarnadine”, (2.2.63) his wife tells him that “[her] hands are of [his] colour”. (2.2.64) By having the one who initiated the crime say that her hands are as bloody as theone who actually committed the murder, the play makes the point that neither one nor the other isresponsible for the crime – they are
equally
guilty.This serves as a template for how the text wishes the events of the third act to be perceived and
 
3understood by the audience. Macbeth now finds himself in the role of the instigator, convincing a pair of murderers that it was “[Banquo], in the times past, which held them / So under fortune” (3.1.80)through elaborate detail, in much the same way that the Lady had previously convinced him to killDuncan. Thus, after the deed is done and the ghost appears, when Macbeth tells it that “Thou canst notsay I did it. Never shake / Thy gory locks at me”, (3.4.53-54) we as the audience know that this is nottrue. If Lady Macbeth's hands are drenched in Duncan's blood, then so too are Macbeth's soaked in the blood of his friend Banquo.This brings us to the final consequences of this burden for both Macbeth and his wife. First, theLady. For the majority of the play, she appears to have remained unaffected by her and her husband'smisdeeds, but in 5.1 it becomes clear how severe a toll they have taken on her mind. Her maid and adoctor watch her sleepwalking: “Out, damned spot!” she cries; “What, will my hands never be clean?”(5.1.25, 31) The slaughter of Macduff's family is too much for her to bear. In the end, her suicide is theculmination of every foul deed she has been party to through her husband, a judgement laid upon her own person, for she can no longer live with herself knowing what they have done.Macbeth, on the other hand, is subjected to a different kind of justice. Where his lady seems tohave everything under control, Macbeth is a wreck for most of the play. The enormity of his crime hitshim almost immediately after he kills Duncan, as “[he is] afraid to think what [he has] done; / Look on'tagain [he'll] dare not.” (2.2.52-53) Already the guilt is affecting him, and it fails to improve after themen he hires are successful in killing Banquo, whose ghost is a literal representation of Macbeth'smisdeeds returning to haunt him. Until this point, it appears that Macbeth is on the same path of self-destruction on which the Lady finds herself a few scenes later, and that the unbearable guilt will be punishment enough for his crimes. However, he instead undergoes a sudden, radical change that setshim on a completely different course.Rather than accruing further torment with every crime he commits, Macbeth changes himself 

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