Sleepwalkers: Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth Photo

The concept of sleepwalking has fascinated the public imagination from its first documentation in the 19th century. The idea of a person who is active yet incoherent has become one of much debate. One topic that has been repeatedly brought up is the question of monstrosity in the difference between the normal and altered states. Throughout the course we often discuss the rise of monstrosity from normality. There are freaks that are inherently human but possess monstrous genetic disorders as well as birth defects that are results of natural human inconsistencies. Sleepwalkers fit in to this larger frame in that they too are slight but significant deviations of whatis natural. The concept of sleep as one of the most natural acts is unrivaled; movement and speech are also natural acts. However, the idea of sleepwalking deviates from these acceptable norms enough so that the gap is enough to separate normality from monstrosity. Sleepwalkers are incoherent yet mobile, interacting with their environment and often muttering subconscious thoughts. The ailing quite literally resemble the walking dead.

This monstrosity is consistent with the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. Lady Macbeth, sleepwalking, is guilt ridden by the blood on her hands and laments the deaths she has dealt. Here she deviates from her waking state characterized by ambition as well as repressed guilt, and expresses her most her inner demons as well as cowardice. There is also a noticeable gap between the language as well as the rhythm employed in her admissions of guilt compared to her speech throughout the rest of the text. Her monstrosity here lies in the division between her waking and somnambulistic selves in what can be seen as a monstrous deviation from her natural state. In light of what was discussed throughout the course, we have been equipped with the tools to identify the monstrosityin sleepwalking when many may simply regard it as a natural phenomenon. Monstrosity is not simply an obvious manifestation of the classical definition of the word, it also includes the divergence from normalcy as is exemplified by the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth. It is precisely the fact that this disorder exists as scientifically explicable yet ultimately unnatural that characterizes it as monstrous.

1. Bernstein, Jane A. “‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’: Lady Macbeth, Sleepwalking, and the Demonic in Verdi’s Scottish Opera.” Cambridge Opera Journal 14.1-2 (2002): 31. Print.

2.  Crisp, A. H., B. M. Matthews, M. Oakey, and M. Crutchfield. “Sleepwalking, Night Terrors, and Consciousness.” Bmj 300.6721 (1990): 360-62. Print.

This article appeared in the British Medical Journal as a study on the sleepwalking disorder. The scientific study sheds light on the various symptoms of sleepwalking, pointing out that the subject is often aware but indifferent about their surroundings, and suffer from subsequent amnesia the next morning. One of the aims of the article is to provide scientific background to various violent acts that were committed during sleepwalking. The scientific assessment of consciousness and awareness is crucial to assigning responsibility of these acts. The article is structured in the form of a scientific paper, with an introduction to the background of the disorder, the methodology of the study, results, and final discussion. The patients were ultimately identified as scoring highly on a scale intended to measure hysterical dissociation, with other personality measures remaining completely normal. This then suggests a correlation that will help identify true sleepwalkers. This particular text brings about the scientific viewpoint on somnambulism and an attempt to quantify such a disorder as to identify causes.

3. Katherine Rowe. “The Politics of Sleepwalking: American Lady Macbeths” Shakespeare Survey 57, Macbeth and its Afterlife (2004): 147-156.

4. Murison, Justine S. “The Tyranny of Sleep: Somnambulism, Moral Citizenship, and Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly.” Early American Literature 44.2 (2009): 243-70. Print.

5. Stewart, Geroge R., Jr. “A Note on the Sleep-Walking Scene.” Modern Language Notes 42, no. 4 (1927): 235-37.


2 responses to “Sleepwalkers: Lady Macbeth

  1. I love this connection between the walking dead and Lady Macbeth! While I have always seen her character as monstrous, I never thought of this connection between her character and the walking dead. Shakespeare emphasizes the unnatural aspect of her madness, and her deviation from the natural can definitely be deemed monstrous. The dichotomies that exist within the play and the impossibility of the audience’s ability to define what is truth and what is a result of madness turns the text even more monstrous. Lady Macbeth’s characterization as a walking manifestation of so many liminalities (including madness/truth, reality/illusion, femininity/ masculinity) really renders her the perfect human monster.

  2. I’m really interested in the idea of the unconscious or subconscious playing a role in the monstrosity of sleepwalking. I think what can terrify people so much about this state of mind is that we are unaware of what our subconscious will say and or do and if these are representative of our deeper desires. This can connect to Cohen thesis about the monster being a projection of the human self and society which is ultimately what makes it so fearful.

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