Word Trace Assignment: “Sleep” in Act 3
1. Macbeth: “We have scorched the snake, not killed it. / She’ll close and be herself whilst our poor malice / Remains in danger of her former tooth. / But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds / suffer, / Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep / in the affliction of these terrible dreams / That shake us nightly.” (3.2. 15-22)
a. We have slain the snake but no killed it. She will become herself again and we will remain in danger of her fangs. But everything can fall apart, both heaven and earth (both the worlds) can suffer and here we will eat in fear and sleep with nightmares every night. Lady Macbeth asks the servant for Macbeth and they both express their despair and anxiety about anyone possibly being a threat to their throne.
b. Sleep is a crucial factor that haunts Macbeth. From this first quote, it is evident that the nightmares and lack of sleep Macbeth faces are worse to him than death itself. Sleep is deemed as the “fake death”, and it is interesting to witness Macbeth contemplating which one is worse.
2. Macbeth: “Duncan is in his grave. / After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.” (3.2. 125-26)
a. Duncan is in his grave. He is done with life’s struggles and sleeps well. Macbeth is still speaking to Lady Macbeth about justifying Duncan’s death.
b. In this context, sleep is justified as a blessing and a relief as opposed to the previous quotation where sleep was a haunting presence. It is important, however, to note that in this context, sleep is supposed to mean “death”.
3. Lady Macbeth: “You lack the season of all natures, sleep.” (3.4. 172)
a. You need sleep. Lady Macbeth is speaking to Macbeth after Macbeth reveals that he plans to see the witches in the morning.
b. Here, sleep is provided in the context of a necessity. It is a crucial factor for everyone to function. Previously, Macbeth had stated that sleep had been haunting him. It is important to note, however, that Macbeth is still being haunted even when he is awake (because of murdering Banquo). At this point, sleep may seem as the better alternative.
4. Macbeth: “Come, we’ll to sleep. My strange and self-abuse / Is the initiate fear that wants hard use. / We are yet but young in deed.” (3.4. 174-176)
a. Come on, let’s go to sleep. My delusions are only a result a fear that will go away with experience. We are still inexperienced in crime. Macbeth is telling Lady Macbeth that it is best that they go to sleep.
b. Again, sleep is seen as a relief from the day’s events. It may even be helpful in dealing with Macbeth’s delusions.
5. Lennox: “Who cannot want the thought how monstrous / It was for Malcolm and for Donalbain / To kill their gracioius father? Damned fact, / How it did grieve Macbeth! Did he not straight / In pious rage the two delinquents tear / That were the slaves of drink and thralls of sleep?” (3.6. 9-14)
a. Who cannot say how monstrous it was for Malcolm and Donalbain to kill their father? Horrible deed, and how it did sadden Macbeth! Wasn’t it proper for Macbeth to kill the drunk and asleep servants out of loyalty for the king? Lennox is discussing with a lord how strange things have been happening after Macbeth became king.
b. Sleep was an advantage for Macbeth when he murdered the servants. Had they been awake, it would have been much more difficult for Macbeth to justify murdering them as the servants would have put up a struggle. It is also seen once again how sleep can be an unfortunate presence (with regard to the servants).
6. Lord: “Thither Macduff / Is gone to pray the holy king upon his aid / To wake Northumberland and warlike Siward / That, by the help of these (with Him above / To ratify the work), we may again / Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights, / Free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives, / Do faithful homage, and receive free honors, / All which we pine for now.” (3.6. 33-41)
a. Macduff has gone there to ask for the aid of Northumberland and of Siward (and God) so they can put food on the tables again, bring back peace at night, remove chaos from the feasts and banquets, allow for proper homage to the king, and receive free honors, everything which we long for now. The lord is discussing with Lennox where Macduff has gone and both Lennox and the lord hope Malcolm and Macduff will come back to overthrow Macbeth.
b. The word “sleep” in this quotation shows again how much of a necessity it is for the people. The night is the time where people are experiencing the most distress and hope for the return of peaceful sleep.
General Conclusions for Act 3
The word “sleep” has a different connotation depending on each situation. Sleep has a perspective of duality: it is both positive and negative. Sleep serves as a relief from the “real” world but can also be a dreaded act that haunts someone. Ironically, the body needs sleep to function properly and lack of sleep can also create “hauntings,” or more commonly, hallucinations. Macbeth clearly needs sleep throughout this act but he has been avoiding sleep because of his nightmares. However, as he continues to avoid sleep he begins to have hallucinations, which can arguably be considered worse than sleep and nightmares itself. Macbeth clearly utilizes the word the most, which is understandable since sleep and the lack of is most pertinent to Macbeth than any other character.