The tragedy of Macbeth is known for shakespeare’s intuitive insight into the working of the human mind. Two grand figures are explored in this timeless tragedy, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare has drawn Lady Macbeth as a loyal though misguided and misguiding wife who for the fulfillment of her husband’s desire prayed to be nerved by unnatural access to ferocity but ultimately suffers a crash of finer spirit due to nemesis.
The Sleepwalking scene opens in the ante room in the Dunsiane where a gentlewoman is seen in a conversation with a doctor of physic discussing the unnaturalness of the disease of Lady Macbeth. She seems to be walking in her sleep and ‘in the slumbery agitation, performing various acts of wakefulness’, which as per the doctor is ‘a great perturbation in nature’.
Lady Macbeth’s sonambulism is perhaps the outcome of her revolting conscience. Once an apparently strong woman who had called upon ‘thick night’ to hide her deeds has now ordered for a taper by her side constantly; for she needs to dispel the darkness of fear as well as the darkness of hell. Therefore, ‘She has light by her continuously;’ is her command’ even when she would be asleep. Moreover, in this state of sleepy wakefulness she would rub her hands constantly. The gentlewomen claims that she had known her ‘continue in this a quarter of an hour’. Obviously, Lady Macbeth seems to be recoiling from the revolting effort and the physical horrors of the scenes of that night in the sleepwalking scene.
Lady Macbeth says, ‘Out damned spot! Out, I say ! – One, two; do’t — hell is murky ! - fie, my lord, fie ! a soldier, and afeard ?’. Such disjointed and incoherent mutterings project the pathetic and traumatic state that she is in. “Her psychological (problems) disorders corrode her pshycle.
Hence, three main reasons of Lady Macbeth’s delirium in the Sleepwalking Scene can be characterized as the more reproduction of the scenes that she has passed through; the struggle to keep her husband from betraying himself; and the uprising of her feminine nature against the foulness of the deed. Furthermore, we may add to this her fear of after death, ‘“Hell is murky’ and her realization of absolute moral deterioration of Macbeth for she has heard that ‘The thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now’.
The sleepwalking scene is highly dramatic in its revelation of those very crimes which she had sought to suppress. She unknowingly revels not only the murder of Duncan but also that of Banquo. How ironic is it that once she claimed, ‘A little water clears us of this deed’ and now she continually washes her hands, a futile attempt to divest herself of the oppressive guilt and painfully acknowledges, ’all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand’. The doctor true to the practice of his age admits, ‘This disease is beyond my practice’ and says, ‘She needs the divine more than the physician.’ The statement of doctor carries high dramatic irony and acts as a subtle reminder of the power of king Edward, the confessor to heal diseases beyond the scope of science . To conclude, nemesis seems to have overtaken her.
The Sleepwalking scene is only scene in prose except the doctor’s concluding lines which act as choric commentary and brings the scene to effective conclusion. The doctor even forsees that she would try to bring her life to an end for he instructs to ‘remove from her means of all annoyance’.
By the end of the Sleepwalking Scene, we no longer consider Lady Macbeth to be an awful instigator. The scene projects her feminine nature and wins our sympathy over her piteous state. We are made to believe that she had been suppressing her true nature and her suffering forces us to suspend our judgement over her crimes. Her concluding words remind us of Macduff’s knocking and that Macbeth cannot sleep in bed and she cannot find true rest in her sleep. To conclude, we can only repeat with the doctor ‘God, God forgive us all’.