THE HYSTERIA OF LADY MACBETH

THE HYSTERIA OF LADY MACBETH

by Isador Henry Coriat
     
 

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CHAPTER IV - THE PROBLEM OF LADY MACBETH

When we approach the problem of the somnambulism of Lady Macbeth, it must be remembered that the sleep-walking scene does not stand isolated and alone in the… See more details below

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Scanned, proofed and corrected from the original edition for your reading pleasure. (Worth every penny!)


***

An excerpt from:


CHAPTER IV - THE PROBLEM OF LADY MACBETH

When we approach the problem of the somnambulism of Lady Macbeth, it must be remembered that the sleep-walking scene does not stand isolated and alone in the tragedy, but that it is the definite and logical evolution of Lady Macbeth's previous emotional experiences and complexes. In other words, she is not a criminal type or an ambitious woman, but the victim of a pathological mental dissociation arising upon an unstable, day-dreaming basis, and is due to the emotional shocks of her past experiences. Lady Macbeth is a typical case of hysteria; her ambition is merely a sublimation of a repressed sexual impulse, the desire for a child based upon the memory of a child long since dead.

In fact, an analysis of the sleep-walking scene demonstrates that it is neither genuine sleep nor the prickings of a guilty conscience, but a clear case of pathological somnambulism, a genuine disintegration of the personality. As such, it offers as wonderful and as complex a problem as Hamlet—probably more so, for Lady Macbeth's disease is clearly defined and admits of easier clinical demonstration. An analysis of the repressed emotional complexes in Lady Macbeth must of necessity illuminate the motives of the entire tragedy, such as the mental disease of Macbeth, his hallucinations and the symbolism represented by the three weird sisters.

It is on the basis of this discussion that the new interpretation of Lady Macbeth rests. Therefore the investigation of the psychopathology of Lady Macbeth must be directed along several definite lines, namely:

1. A determination of her mental processes due to unconscious psychic factors.

2. A study of her various complexes.

3. A study of her emotional conflicts.

4. The various repressions and the phenomena occasioned by them.

5. The mechanism of the somnambulistic state.

Previous conceptions of the character of Lady Macbeth, have been marked by a looseness of analysis and complete misunderstanding of her mental condition. It seems strange that a more scientific interpretation should have been overlooked. Criminal, coward, obsessed by ambition, walking in her sleep because of remorse and above all interpreting the sleep-walking scene as genuine sleep with a superadded guilty conscience, are some of the errors in this direction. A few writers (Rosen, Laehr, Regis, Grasset, Janet) have recognized the hysterical nature of her mental disease, but without any effort at systematic analysis, the condition being referred to merely as a case of pathological somnambulism.

Coleridge, however, with an unsurpassed insight into all the Shakespearean characters about which he has written, says concerning Lady Macbeth: "Like all in Shakespeare, she is a class individualized: of high rank, left much alone, and feeding herself with daydreams of ambition. She mistakes the courage of fantasy for the power of bearing the consequence of the reality of guilt. Hers is the mock fortitude of a mind deluded by ambition; she shames her husband with a superhuman audacity of fancy which she cannot support, but sinks in the season of remorse and dies in suicidal agony." Although written many years ago, the Macbeth literature shows nothing equal to this summary, when the description is read anew in the light of recent psychopathological research.

One of the most scientific commentaries on the mental condition in the sleep-walking scene, is by Pfeil, who states as follows: "As regards the symptoms of somnambulism, the affection is a convulsive condition in which the muscular power is greatly increased. The sufferer sees as it were with the outstretched finger tips —for the most part this is the rule,—while the open, sightless eyes stare continually into vacancy. The movements are erratic and much more energetic than in the waking state: never slow, gliding or languid, as though drunk with sleep. It would be most correct, and for the audience, most realistic, should Lady Macbeth rush hastily across the stage with an impetuous run—neither gliding nor tottering, as was done by one of our celebrated actresses. In her right hand she carries a candle rather than a candelabra. The candle should be carried straight, not crooked; since, as is well known, a somnambulist walks in security along the edge of the roof and would assuredly carry a light straight. The left arm should be stretched out with fingers outspread as though feeling the way."

The four great tragedies of Shakespeare have sexual problems as their central motive. The father problem appears in Lear and Hamlet, the evolution of a jealousy complex in Othello and the theme of childlessness in Macbeth.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
2940012878144
Publisher:
OGB
Publication date:
05/31/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
0 MB

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