In Shakespeare?s Macbeth, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both show signs of what would today be diagnosed as symptoms of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is defined as “a psychotic disorder characterized by loss of contact with the environment, by noticeable deterioration in the level of functioning in everyday life, and by disintegration of personality expressed as disorder of feeling, thought, and conduct.” There are three major symptoms of the disorder; not being able to distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality, incoherent conversations, and withdrawal physically and emotionally. The most common and most well known symptom of schizophrenia is when people cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not. Schizophrenics often suffer from delusions and hallucinations. A delusion is a false belief or idea and a hallucination is seeing, hearing, or sensing something that is not really there. Some people diagnosed with the illness may speak with disjointed conversations. They often utter vague statements that are strung together in an incoherent way. Lastly, some schizophrenics withdraw emotionally, for example, their outlook on life is deadened and they show little or no warmth, and also physically, such as their movements become jerky and robot-like.
What causes people to become schizophrenic? One possibility, in Macbeth and his wife?s case is guilt. Macbeth, in trying to become king, kills some people he knew very well and was loyal to at one time. He really did not want to have to Banquo, but he felt he had to so that he could become king. He said to his wife, “We will proceed no further in this business: He hath honored me of late.” (I.7.31-32) Lady Macbeth feels guilty, too. For example, after she smeared the King?s blood on one of the drunken attendants to frame him, she says, “My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white.” (II.2.63-64) Their conscience could be condemning them so loudly that it drove them crazy, literally. Or, another cause of their schizophrenia could be their passion. They strove so hard to make Macbeth king that they became totally obsessed with it. It became all they thought about and their whole being revolved around it. When Lady Macbeth finds that Macbeth has been prophesized to be king, she does not believe he is capable of fulfilling the prophecy alone. So, she says to herself, ” Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear, and chastise with the valor of my tongue which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have thee crowned withal.” (I.5.23-28) Macbeth becomes so passionate about becoming the king that he killed anyone who could possibly take the throne away from him, even the king, Duncan. “I have done the deed.” he said to his wife after killing him. (II.2.14)
Macbeth shows several symptoms of schizophrenia. These symptoms are techniques that Shakespeare uses to create the idea that Macbeth has a mental illness. Macbeth?s main symptom is detachment from reality. While contemplating killing Banquo to secure his fate, Macbeth begins to see an imaginary dagger in front of him. He asks, “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?” (II.2.35-39) Then after Banquo is dead, Macbeth believes he sees his ghost during a dinner with the country?s nobility. Macbeth says, “The table?s full.” (III.4.46) Lennox points to the seat where Macbeth sees Banqo?s ghost sitting and tells him that it is empty. Puzzled, Macbeth asks, “Where?” (III.4.48) He really thought that Banquo?s ghost was sitting in that seat. When Macbeth went to visit the witches, he had three more hallucinations. The first was an armed head that warned him to “Beware MacDuff.” (IV.1.71) The second was a bloody child that said “Macbeth!” (IV.1.77) three times and the third was a crowned child with a tree in his hand that said, “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” (IV.1.92-94)
Lady Macbeth also displays many signs of schizophrenia in Macbeth. Because of all the murdering that she has been involved in, at night time, Lady Macbeth has hallucinations that her hands are covered in blood and that she cannot remove the smell of blood from her hands either. “What, will these hands ne?er be clean?” she asks desperately. (V.1.38) Later she adds, “Here?s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” (V.1.43) Lady Macbeth also rambles on in an incoherent way, which is common among schizophrenics. She says, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One: two: why, then ?tis time to do?t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our pow?r to accompt? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (V.1.31-35)
Apparitions, eternally bloody hands, and ghosts all sound like key elements to a nightmarish dream. Imagine not being able to tell if these things were real or just a figment of your imagination and you?ll know the position that Macbeth and lady Macbeth were in. In Shakespeare?s Macbeth, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both show signs of what would today be diagnosed as symptoms of schizophrenia. They became detached from reality and spoke in crazy incoherent sentence fragments. Though they were not able to identify Macbeth and his wife?s mental illness during Shakespeare?s time, now after many years of research, it seems very probable that the two characters were most likely schizophrenics.