Despair one of the key emotions that drive both the plots of ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth’. Although the despair in Macbeth is represented by guilt and in ‘Hamlet’ it is by grief. Both emotions result in the tragic ends of characters such as Ophelia and Lady Macbeth. In ‘Macbeth’ Shakespeare repeatedly plays around with the word ‘sleep’ in ways that are both hidden and obvious. In doing this, he leads the audience to think of sleep as something that soothes the mind and is a release from stress. Macbeth talks of sleep as something precious, and peaceful that ‘knits up the ravelled sleeve of care’.
Shakespeare portrays sleep in this sentimental way to make his spectators aware of the value of sleep so that Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s inability to sleep becomes something of importance and intensifies the extremities of their emotions of guilt. As soon as the murder is committed Macbeth declares he heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more, Macbeth murders sleep’. This shows his realisation that due to his guilty conscience he will no longer be able to rest because his heinous crime will be something that will continue to disturb him. It is as if the punishment for his murder of Duncan is that his guilt will now ‘murder sleep’.
Act 3 scene 2 shows that sleep has indeed inflicted ‘terrible dreams’ upon him that ‘shake him nightly’ and sleep is no longer something that can bring him serenity. He loses something valuable that is often taken for granted because of his crime. On the other hand unlike Macbeth, Lady Macbeth does not audibly confront her guilt nonetheless in Act 5 we learn that it has affected her in the same way. The Gentlewoman tells the doctor that during her sleep she rises from her bed to write on a piece of paper and then returns to sleep.
The doctor says that it is ‘a great perturbation of nature’ to act as if awake when in fact a sleep. We discover that Lady Macbeth is unable to rest even in her sleep due to her guilty conscience and is likely to be the result of her suppressed guilt. Whilst in this dream like state she recites the timeline of events that have lead her to this point of despair such as ‘the thane of fife had a wife’ and ‘Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on’s grave’ which refer to the murder of Lady Macduff and Banquo.
This shows that she is not just having these ‘terrible dreams’ but her guilt has also caused her to relive them. The only point in which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth seem to sleep is when they decease at the end of the play. In the same way that Shakespeare portrays sleep in ‘Macbeth’, he portrays death in ‘Hamlet’ as being equally peaceful and in particular it is represented as being easy. In Hamlet’s first soliloquy we are allowed into the mind of Hamlet for the first time and he chooses this time to express his grief for his father.
He shows his desire that his ‘too too solid flesh would melt’. The verb melt is one that suggests a very passive action that does not require much effort. Hamlet does not want to physically take action but just wishes for his flesh to melt off his body and for him to die. Death is therefore portrayed in this scene as effortless and a release however due to God’s law ‘against self slaughter’ he is unable to commit suicide. The theme of death runs through most of Hamlet’s soliloquies and in Act 3 Scene 1 we can see Hamlet’s returning debate on death.
Hamlet starts of his second soliloquy with the use of an antithesis on ‘To be, or not to be’ where he expresses the opposite ideas of being or not being, living or dying. He indisputably is in despair and is genuinely considering whether it is ‘nobler in the mind to suffer’ or to just kill himself and escape his ‘sea of troubles’ no matter what lays beyond death. If the opportunity came up for him to submissively kill himself he would take it which could similarly explain the causes for Ophelia’s death.
Ophelia’s death initially seems to be suicide however Gertrude says that she ‘fell in the weeding brook’ and just neglected to save herself from sinking. Ophelia’s emotions of grief and despair were so strong that when she had her chance to ‘melt’ then she took it and what she had not the courage to do, had just been done for her. Just as sleep is a release of stress in ‘Macbeth’, death is a release of heartache in ‘Hamlet’. In Shakespearian times the threat of hell and eternal damnation was much more sharply felt than it is today.
In ‘Macbeth’, Macbeth is unable to connect with God after he murders King Duncan. This particular crime was seen as reprehensible because in these times the king was seen as God’s representative on earth. To kill the king was seen as killing one of God’s messengers. In act 2, scene 2 when Macbeth hears one of the guards cry ‘God bless us’ this distresses him and he is conscious-stricken when he struggles to say ‘amen’ in response to a prayer. Amen was a nice blessing to finish of a prayer however Macbeth’s powerlessness to say ‘Amen’ suggests he believes himself to be undeserving of this blessing.
Earlier on in the play, Lady Macbeth does pray however her prayers are directed towards the ‘spirits that assist murderous thoughts’. She prays that they will ‘unsex’ her and to deprive her of her femininity. She also prays that the spirits will provide her will a ‘blanket’ of darkness to hide her sin. Macbeth is full of imagery of light and darkness. The literal darkness Lady Macbeth calls for seems to correspond to the evil or ‘dark’ act she plans to commit. Lady Macbeth also asks that ‘heaven’ cannot ‘peep through the blanket of darkness’ to stop her from committing this sin.
This theme has a very strong link to religion in the play. She is afraid that the light will remind her of God which will stimulate her guilty emotions and her femininity will take over. In the bible, it states that those who have sinned are in the dark and are damned to eternal death. The use of the candle in this scene could also be showing Lady Macbeth’s desperate attempts to rid herself of the uncertainty of hell where she has been condemned. Hamlet registers many of the religious ideologies and spiritual anxieties of the 16the century.
Hamlet weaves together Christian attitudes toward murder, suicide and revenge. Hamlet is a play that dramatizes the spiritual uncertainty and religious confusion of sixteenth century Europe. Hamlet is so maddened with grief, to the point that he contemplates with suicide. His Christian values play a significant role in the tragic ending of the play. ‘Why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me ’These lines do not only exemplify Hamlet’s opinions of himself but also of the people that surround him.
Hamlet is aware of the corruption that surrounds him in Denmark and he can’t help but judge both society and himself by the way God would judge them. He doesn’t even think people should get marries because they will breed sinners. These lines mix Hamlet’s Christian values with his depression as he shows no sign of hope for moral recovery of mankind and refuses to God’s grace and forgiveness. The Christian values that seem to make up a large portion of his morals in the beginning of the play seem to be losing prominence at this point. This is a ign that Hamlet’s grief are outweighing his values and distorting his opinions and actions. A guilty conscience leads to many hallucination and visions in the play ‘Macbeth’. Hallucinations are recurring theme to remind the audience of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s accountability for the deaths throughout the play. In particular imagined blood comes to symbolize guilt. Blood is a theme that is current throughout the play, beginning with ‘bloody’ captain and ending with the bleeding head of Macbeth. Blood becomes not only a symbol for guilt but a symbol for death.
Just before Macbeth is about to kill Duncan he sees a bloody dagger with the ‘handle towards his hand’. The dagger anticipates the real dagger that Macbeth is about to soil into Duncan’s chest. The dagger points him in the direction of King Duncan’s chambers which represents the ruthless course Hamlet is to embark on if he follows it. Another point in the plot where blood is used to represent guilt is straight after the murder. Macbeth says that not even ‘Neptune’s ocean’ could ‘wash this blood clean’ from his hands.
However, Macbeth is not talking specifically about the blood he is rather talking about his guilt which has stained his soul. Lady Macbeth at the time is holding back her guilt and tries to reassure Hamlet that ‘a little water’ will clear them ‘of this deed’. However, later on her words come back to haunt her in act 5 scene 5 where she is washing her hands of an imaginary spot. She continues to makes the gestures of washing her hands as if this action can clean her of her deed. The blood, although imagined is so realistic to her that she can still ‘smell of blood’ and no perfume can ever get rid of the stench.