Today’s Diagnosis of Lady Macbeth Character Analysis Essay Example

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth exhibit signs of mental illnesses in the Shakespearean play, Macbeth, which today would be diagnosed as Schizophrenic behaviors falling under the category of a “psychotic disorder”. Schizophrenia is defined as a brain disorder that distorts the way a person, thinks, acts, expresses emotions, perceives reality, and relates to others. (“Schizophrenia,” [Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary]). The presence of special behaviors and symptoms of delusions, hallucinations, paranoia and disorganized speech and thinking are all identified, while reading the play, through the actions, thoughts, and behaviors reflected by both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth throughout the entirety of the play. Lady Macbeth, as displayed in this play of tragedy, used her persuasive, ambitious and powerful nature to convince and manipulate Macbeth into believing he could obtain power by the killing of the current King, leading Macbeth with a feeling of invincibility and pride. Both characters symptoms lead to abnormal actions which led both to their mental and physical demise.

Today, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth could also be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD) based on the symptoms of flashbacks, insomnia, and lack of empathy.  These symptoms are reflected by Lady Macbeth in several scenes of the play, as will be described later in this paper.  Macbeth reflects some of the symptoms of PTSD, due to the act of committing murders that caused him much guilt and grief, however, his symptoms today would probably be considered more with the symptoms leading to the diagnosis of schizophrenic behavior, as explained in paragraph 1, more so than PTSD.

What causes people to become schizophrenic? One possibility, in Macbeth and Lady Macbeths case is guilt.  Macbeth, in his trying to become king, kills people he knows and was once loyal to.  Macbeth did not want to kill Banquo, but believed he had to in order to become king.  Lady Macbeth also feels guilt from smearing blood on one of the drunken attendants to frame him, Lady Macbeth stated, “My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white.” (2.2.729-730) Macbeth and his wife were both being self-condemned by their own conscience which drove them crazy. Another possible cause of their schizophrenia could be both of their passion and ambition to gain power. By working so hard to make Macbeth king they became obsessed with it, controlling their thoughts and actions.

What causes people to suffer with PTSD? One possibility, in Macbeth and Lady Macbeths case is guilt associated with the trauma of witnessing or committing murder.  Both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth suffered from sleep walking, insomnia and flashbacks associated with the killings.  Lady Macbeth had flashbacks to the time she assisted in dispelling her husband’s guilt after he ordered the murder of Banquo as depicted in her statement, “Banquos is buried; he can not come out on’s grave.” (5.1.2185-2186) This scene indicates that while she is sleepwalking, lady Macbeth is flashing back to memories of deeds that still haunt her proving she has a guilty conscience.  Another possible cause of PTSD could be deceit which is reflected in Lady Macbeths action of emotional detachment giving the appearance that there is little to no display of empathy.  When Macbeth sees a ghost, Lady Macbeth maintains her composure while creating a lie about a childhood disease that Macbeth has in order to justify his behavior. (3.4.1339-1340) Macbeth notices his wife’s lack of emotional response to his struggle and finds it amazing as he is distressed. (3.4.1341-1355) Lady Macbeth does feel the symptoms associated with PTSD but does not show it making her appear apathetic and callous versus empathetic and kind.

Both illnesses experience a mind-altering incident, be it hallucinations or flashbacks, the difference is that a schizophrenic patient cannot differentiate between reality and imagination.  Macbeth states: Is this a dagger which I see before me, (The handle toward my hand? Come, let me hold thee. (he grabs at the air in front of him without touching anything) I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to feeling as to sight? or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?  I see thee yet, in form as palpable as this which now I draw.  (2.1.612-620) Macbeth very clearly was hallucinating and had no conception of reality.  Insomnia is a symptom that is prominent in PTSD but not in schizophrenia, but could mind altering hallucinations lead to lack of sleep and insomnia?  Insomnia is reflected when the doctor said, “She is troubled with thick coming fancies that keep her from her rest. (5.3.2291-2293) Lady Macbeth experienced this insomnia based of off witnessing a traumatic event, murder.  Insomnia is described as a continual problem falling and staying asleep.  This was caused for Lady Macbeth by constant flashbacks creating anxiety from an experience.

Today it is understood that most mental illnesses share some common symptoms, but there is a big difference between Schizophrenia and PTSD. Schizophrenia is a psychotic illness that could be genetically inherited, chronic and lifelong, it cannot be cured only controlled or diminished with antipsychotic medication and therapy.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can happen to any human being who is a victim or a witness to trauma in one’s life.  A person can develop a reactive response to the trauma producing unwanted anxiety, confusion, tension, paranoia or obsessive thinking. This disorder can be treated today with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) medications along with Psychotherapy medication reducing anxiety and depression which could help diminish and sometimes alleviate the symptoms.  This disorder can be treated and eventually cured, schizophrenia cannot. The most important element of proper diagnosing any mental illness today is to consider the origin of the condition.  

Today, mental illnesses are researched intensely to ensure a better understanding of cause and symptoms making them better diagnosed and enabling the appropriate treatment for the illness or disorder. Awareness of mental illnesses may not have been common in the past, but they are not a recent development.



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