What is the sleepwalking scene of Lady Macbeth? Dramatic Significance

Lady Macbeth is her husband’s accomplice in the crime of regicide. She incites him to murder the king in order to gain the crown. She brings her all willpower to bear upon her hesitating husband.

She wilfully suppresses her womanly nature in order to achieve her hesitating husband. She wilfully suppresses her womanly nature in order to achieve her aim. But soon after gaining the crown of Scotland, she realizes the futility of her ambition. Her bitter sense of disappointment finds a powerful expression in this word. 

“Naughty had all’s spent. 

Where our desire is got without content; 

‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy, 

“Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.” 

Very soon therefore her sins begin to recoil upon her. She is subjected to great mental and spiritual torture. Her powerful personality gradually disintegrates under the pressure of circumstances. Her deep spiritual anguish comes to the surface in the sleepwalking scene of the play.

The sleepwalking scene is one of the most awful tragic scenes in all literature. It has been created by the dramatist, no doubt on a grand scale and with a supreme artistic scene. The action and the words repeated by Lady Macbeth, in this scene are all reminiscent of her role in many of the previous scenes, of the play.

But more than this, they give expression to her inexpressible sense of oppression and spiritual anguish suffered over a long period in which she feels more and more at odds with her husband. They are an expression of her deep-seated and almost unconscious remorse.

Her broken and delirious speech in this scene is more pathetic and awe-inspiring than anything she had uttered while she had been in her senses. Her words if we mark them closely, reveal a great struggle to save her husband from a nervous breakdown and from exposing himself. In that unequal struggle Lady 

Macbeth is overwhelmed. She goes almost mad and comes to behave most strangely by walking and talking while she is all the time in most sound-sleep. There is an awful mingling of terror and pathos in this wonderful scene. 

The scene is terrible in its effect. It fills the audience with a sense of awe. The reason for this is quite obvious. The scene is a most unusual one. It displays a most unnatural act on the stage. Lady Macbeth behaves in this whole scene like a living automation worked by the agonies of remorse and her broken disconnected utterances have a terrible effect on the mind of the audience. 

The sleepwalking scene is a masterpiece of Shakespeare’s dramatic genius. It is a scene of redemption for Lady Macbeth without this scene, Lady Macbeth would have been justifiably treated as ‘the fourth witch’ or as a fiend-like Queen.

Her essential womanliness is brought out only in the scene of sleepwalking. She is now an object of pity. The scene discloses the tremendous mental and spiritual struggle, this strong-willed woman might have undergone before she completely breaks down- down under the weight of circumstances.

She is filled with unspeakable remorse for her share in the most unnatural act of murder of king Duncan. The horror of the murder scene seems to have haunted her day and night. Each and every detail of the scene goes to arouse heartfelt sympathy for the spiritual agony of Lady Macbeth. 

Dramatic Significance of sleepwalking

The three main features of Lady Macbeth’s delirium have been characterized as : 

  • (i) The mere reproduction of the horrible scene she has passed through;
  • (ii) The struggle to keep her husband from betraying himself; and
  • (iii) The uprising of her feminine nature against the foulness of the deed. 

Verify adds the fourth characteristic too and that is her fear of the ‘after death’ which is signified by her exclamation. Hell is murkey! The horror of the murder scene as well as her knowledge of the terrible cold-blooded murders of Banquo and of Macduff’s wife and children allow her no peace of mind.

She is constantly bitten by bitter remorse. All her acts of commission and omission seem to have violently recoiled upon her delicate and highly sensitive feminine heart. As a consequence, she is turned into an object of utmost pity.

We are one with the gentlewoman and the doctor attending upon the demented Lady Macbeth in their deep sympathy for her suffering. “You have known what you should not; I am sure of that. Heaven knows what she has known.” 

The scene also makes clear that Lady Macbeth has been completely estranged from her husband, who is now practically ‘wading’ rivers of blood. This was not what she had anticipated from him.

She has been left alone for a pretty long time by her criminal husband and she finds herself unable to bear this estrangement from Macbeth’s point of view, the scene is again a signal of his complete loneliness. He too is now left alone to suffer the consequence of his misdeeds. 

In the end, it may be remarked that the scene has provided us with one of the most beautiful quotations from Shakespeare: “All the sweet perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”