1 Chris Laliberte 998650507 Prof. H.

Syme ENG220Y March 30th, 2011 The 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 his or her punishment via external means. I would argue that, using this higher order, and these two forms of 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, it is only to give way to the other. Also, in the same way that criminals are brought to justice, the play suggests 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 at the end of the bloody path down which Cawdor and his Lady are about to embark. He knows that there is 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 they can 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 the eyes 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 the murders, but cannot rid themselves of the guilt. According to Lady Macbeth's plot, the death of the king is blamed on the two guards, speculation being that they were paid to do the deed, and the sons, having

2 fled, are labeled as the prime suspects. (2.4.22ff.) The responsibility for Banquo's murder is avoided in a 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 follow Macbeth 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, Lady Macbeth 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 tells him 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 an omen 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 – in fact, his reluctance is clear from the first mention of the plot. It is only after a lengthy (if not emasculating) pep talk, as well as a thorough explanation of how nothing can go wrong, from the Lady that Macbeth goes through with it. (1.7.31ff.) After a guilt-addled Macbeth claims that his bloodied hands 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 the one who actually committed the murder, the play makes the point that neither one nor the other is responsible 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

3 understood 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 kill Duncan. Thus, after the deed is done and the ghost appears, when Macbeth tells it that “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake / Thy gory locks at me”, (3.4.53-54) we as the audience know that this is not true. 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, the Lady. For the majority of the play, she appears to have remained unaffected by her and her husband's misdeeds, but in 5.1 it becomes clear how severe a toll they have taken on her mind. Her maid and a doctor 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 the culmination 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 to have everything under control, Macbeth is a wreck for most of the play. The enormity of his crime hits him almost immediately after he kills Duncan, as “[he is] afraid to think what [he has] done; / Look on't again [he'll] dare not.” (2.2.52-53) Already the guilt is affecting him, and it fails to improve after the men he hires are successful in killing Banquo, whose ghost is a literal representation of Macbeth's misdeeds returning to haunt him. Until this point, it appears that Macbeth is on the same path of selfdestruction 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 sets him on a completely different course. Rather than accruing further torment with every crime he commits, Macbeth changes himself

4 such that he no longer feels remorse for his actions. As he is commanding that Macduff's castle be sacked and all his family murdered, he says that “[he is] in blood / Stepped in so far that, should [he] wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er.” (3.4.142-144) This is a monumental statement, and a turning point for both Macbeth and for the play, as he has just rejected everything the text has upheld so far in terms of the inevitability of remorse as a punishment for cruelty, instead claiming that he has done so much evil that it is easier to give his nature fully over to villainy, and that he will feel guilt no longer. Since he is no longer allowing himself to be tormented by remorse, the universe must now exact punishment from an external source. In the remaining scenes of the play, Macbeth holds true to his word, as not once does he express remorse at having ordered the ransack of Macduff's home. The closest he gets is to tell Macduff to go away, as Macbeth's “soul is too much charged / with blood of [Macduff's] already”. (5.8.5-6) Not only is the dismissive way in which this is said evidence that Macbeth truly feels no remorse, it is also the first and only time in the play that he openly admits to anyone other than his wife that he is responsible for a crime. As soon as this happens – as soon as he abandons remorse, and claims responsibility – he is no longer punishing himself, and so is swiftly and justly dealt with at the hands of Macduff. Of course, the idea of an inherent sense of justice in the cosmos cannot be discussed without at least brief mention of what befalls the victims. In every case, the universe in one way or another compensates them for what they have suffered. Macbeth himself admits that the dead are better off than the living, for while he must “sleep / In the affliction of these terrible dreams / That shake [him] nightly”, those he has murdered “[are] in [their] graves. After life's fitful fever [they] sleep well.” (3.2.21-22, 25-26) The dead may rest easy, for nothing can harm or torment them, where Macbeth the usurper must lie awake at night in fear of retaliation for his deeds. Thus, the text's claim is that the dead are rewarded with peace, while the murderers are haunted by the dead.

5 The living victims – the king's sons, Fleance, and Macduff – are also granted their just deserts. Though he never returns after his father's murder, it is implied from the various predictions of the weird sisters that Banquo “shalt get kings, though [he] be none” (1.3.68) that Fleance grows up either to be or to father royal lineage. Malcolm, too, is rewarded in this way, as he ascends to his father's throne once Macbeth is defeated. (5.8.54ff.) Macduff is given a different sort of reward, as in the last scene he is at last brought “front to front” with his enemy, and given the honour of defeating the tyrant in battle, avenging his family and saving Scotland – something only one “not of woman born” could accomplish. Thus, both living and dead, having been wronged by a man, are in the end given just restitution. Macbeth and his Lady suffer a great deal for their crimes, plagued by two kinds of guilt and subjected to two forms of judgement by a cosmic system which exists to keep the balance between the two, and ensure that due justice is served, punishing those who do not punish themselves and offering restitution to those who have unjustly suffered. It would be possible to surmise, based on this argument, that the play supports the idea of an inherently benevolent nature of man, and to be unnatural is to suffer severe consequences.

6 Works Cited Shakespeare, William, and Nicholas Brooke. The tragedy of Macbeth. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1990. Print.

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