Literature Essay 8 – Macbeth

Prompt: “Was Lady Macbeth correct? ‘What’s done is done.'”


The story of Macbeth tells of a brave and honest nobleman who is given a prophecy by three witches. They tell Macbeth that he shall be king, and tell his companion Banquo that he will bring about the next line of kings. Macbeth sends a letter of this news to his wife, and both their minds quickly begin to drift towards treason. Macbeth arrives home, and Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to take action and do away with the current ruler. Macbeth is hesitant at first, but with his wife’s persuasion he gives in and kills the king. He frames the guards, who are executed, then takes his spot on the throne.

Now murder for political power was extremely common in Scotland at the time. Many kings would be murdered by their siblings or cousins, or anyone else who was in line for the throne. So rulers would live their life in a haze of paranoia, constantly checking over their shoulder to make sure their family wasn’t planning their assassination. Macbeth begins to experience this paranoia, and when the Thane of Fife Macduff doesn’t show up to his inauguration Macbeth gets suspicious. Because of this suspicion (and the lingering envy Macbeth feels towards Macduff’s ability to spawn offspring), Macbeth sends an assassin to murder Macduff’s wife and children. Macbeth is also worried about the second half of the prophecy coming true, which says Banquo’s children will inherent the throne. So he murders Banquo, and also tries but fails to kill Banquo’s son.

After all this murder Macbeth understandably is feeling pretty guilty, and this is where his wife’s mantra “Whats done is done” first appears in the play. Now on first glance this may seem like an obviously true statement. Actions that have been preformed cannot be undone, we cant go back in time and change things. But in context with the play this statement only acts as an excuse for sin. Its what Lady Macbeth uses to convince her husband: “‘Nah you shouldn’t feel guilty for murder. Stabbed and old man, an old friend and a few hardly associated kids? Psssh, why should you care? Your political power is flourishing! Keep it up! Take a chill pill conscience.” (Not an actual quote from the play).

But not surprisingly Macbeth’s conscience did not take a chill pill. In fact both Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s consciences were about as far from chill as they could be. Lady Macbeth begins sleep walking, talking, and unconsciously going over the murders in her mind. She rubs her hands together in her sleep, as if she is washing them. Then she complains that no matter how hard she tries she cant seem to wash the blood from her hands. She sleep writes letters about the murders, and talks with herself about how terrible and yet necessary the murders were. Throughout these sleep walking scenes she continuously uses the phrase “What’s done cannot be undone.” Her lady in waiting calls the doctor to take a look at her, and the doctor says that she suffers not from disease but from sin. He says that the only medicine that can help her troubled mind is the redemption of God and his forgiveness of her transgressions. After this Macduff takes stage, carrying in his arms Macbeth’s disembodied head. Macduff is now seen as a hero who saved Scotland from a tyrant, and Macbeth dies a false king who murdered and manipulated his way to the top.

In conclusion, ambition, hunger for power, and sin are the backbone of this play. Lady Macbeth’s mantra of “What’s done is done” is the fog the main characters use to cover up their sins. But we can see that this fog is much thinner than the characters want to admit, and they spend their last days filled with anxiety and guilt. Macbeth was once a brave and honest nobleman, but the promise of kingship turned him into a greedy and ruthless barbarian. Macbeth’s last words before his untimely death were as stated: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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