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This > short contribution may be called 
a study in applied abnormal psychology 
and its object is to lay bare the fundamen- 
tal mental mechanisms in one of the most 
prominent and interesting of artistic lit- 
erary creations. It notably differs from 
the usual conceptions of Lady Macbeth, 
since it does not interpret her behavior or 
motives either as criminal or as obsessed 
by ambition. If the tragedy be read 
anew in the light of modern psychopath- 
ology, the interpretation herein given will 
be found the only adequate one, namely, 

&;;; j ; /, 'THE HYSTERIA 

that Lady Macbeth is an accurate exam- 
ple of hysteria. 

In speaking of Shakespeare as a dra- 
matic artist, Taine, one of the most philo- 
sophical and penetrating of literary crit- 
ics, says: "Lofty words, eulogies, are all 
used in vain; he needs no praise, but 
comprehension merely; and he can only 
be comprehended by the aid of science. 
As the complicated revolutions of the 
heavenly bodies become intelligible only 
by the use of a superior calculus, as the 
delicate transformations of vegetation 
and life need for their explanation the in- 
tervention of the most difficult chem- 
ical formulas, so the great works of art 
can be interpreted only by the most ad- 
vanced psychological systems." Now it 
so happens that modern psychopathology 
is precisely one of those advanced psy- 
chological systems which is to-day inter- 
preting literature anew. It is the ana- 


lytic work of this individual psychology, 
that is not only transforming the sub- 
ject of psychoneuroses in medicine, but 
is likewise illuminating literature and art. 
While its methods are highly technical, 
yet its results have been far reaching in 
penetrating the hidden recesses of abnor- 
mal mental states and the motives for the 
varied activities of the creative imagina- 

It is only within the last few years that 
psychoanalysis has forged to the front as 
an important branch of medical and psy- 
chological science, and it is to Profes- 
sor Sigmund Freud of Vienna that we 
are indebted for the greatest advances in 
these directions. The psychology of 
Freud and his school has not only revolu- 
tionized certain aspects of medical sci- 
ence, such as the study of hysteria and 
other psychoneuroses, but has penetrated 
into different fields of human knowledge 


and analyzed and interpreted them. The 
psychology of childhood, the interpreta- 
tions of artistic creations in literature and 
painting, the analysis of myths and folk 
lore, and of wit and humor, have all been 
transfused with a new meaning through 
these unique psychological theories. The 
results have been valuable and stimulat- 
ing and have unraveled the mental mech- 
anisms through which poet and painter 
work and by which mythology and folk 
lore have evolved their symbolism. It 
has been shown, for instance, that in cer- 
tain psychoneuroses, and in the creation 
of wit, dreams, poetry, painting, two men- 
tal mechanisms are uniformly at work, 
namely, either an imaginary wish fulfill- 
ment or a tendency in that direction and 
a repression of painful experiences and 
memories into the unconscious. 

Freud's activities and the fundamental 
principles of his psychology have spread 


in several directions and a brief account 
of his theories is necessary for a compre- 
hension of the mental disease of Lady 
Macbeth. In the first place, it has been 
demonstrated that there is a rigid deter- 
minism in the mental world and that 
psychophysical processes are the absolute 
result of a certain chain of causation, 
either conscious or unconscious. That is 
to say, mental processes are not arbitrary, 
accidental or due to chance, but are 
closely related to one another. This is 
as true of dreams or of slips of the tongue 
in everyday life as in the more complex 
manifestations of hysteria. A certain 
mental state or idea does not arise in a 
haphazard fashion out of the conscious 
or the unconscious, but is predetermined 
by certain experiences or groups of ideas. 
In the same way that physical events pos- 
sess an unchangeable sequence of cause 
and effect, so psychical events conform 


to an identical mechanism. There is no 
more room for chance in the mental world 
than in the physical world. It is this 
theory of determinism, so rigorous and 
inflexible, which has been responsible for 
the development of the technical methods 
in the exploration of the conscious and 
unconscious mental life, known as psycho- 

Mental states are never at rest, but are 
active and dynamic, and unceasingly 
grouping and ungrouping themselves, 
excepting perhaps in the deepest sleep 
and in anaesthesia. This grouping of 
mental states and ideas has also its ana- 
logue in the biological world, for an iden- 
tical mechanism takes place in all the 
activities of the individual cell or collec- 
tion of cells. Every mental process or 
experience and every external stimulus 
leaves its traces or marks upon the nerv- 
ous system. Of the exact nature of this 


trace nothing is known. The fact that 
such traces do occur, however, explains 
all the phenomena of memory, particu- 
larly the storing up or conservation of 
experiences and their later voluntary or 
involuntary revival or reproduction. 
We are, however, not completely aware 
of all these active mental processes. 
Some of these only appear in dreams, oth- 
ers can be revived only through various 
artificial devices, such as hypnosis. For 
those mental states which exist in an active 
but latent form in consciousness, but of 
which we are not aware, the term subcon- 
scious or unconscious is applied. 

It is these subconscious mental proc- 
esses, together with certain other mental 
mechanisms, which are of particular value 
in the interpretation of the mental state 
of the subject of this study. These ad- 
ditional mechanisms are repression, men- 


tal or intrapsychical conflicts and mental 

When a painful experience occurs, the 
natural tendency of the personality is to 
strive to banish it and thus put it out of 
action. The experience although ban- 
ished is not really dead or rendered com- 
pletely quiescent, but remains active al- 
though latent, and may suddenly appear 
in consciousness or in the actions of the 
subject under certain conditions, such as 
in absentmindedness, sleep or dreams. 
When it again becomes manifest under 
these circumstances, it reappears either as 
a literal rehearsal of the original experi- 
ence or in a disguised or symbolized form. 
The technical method which enables one 
to trace the transformed and symbolized 
experiences back to their original content 
is known as psychoanalysis. In any 
event, the subconscious or unconscious ex- 
perience, does not lose its activity or vivid- 


ness, but retains all the intensity of the 
original experience. This mental mech- 
anism of voluntary banishment is known 
as repression. Its effect is to prevent 
any experience or group of experiences, 
technically known as a "complex," from 
entering consciousness. It is this repres- 
sion which is responsible for many psy- 
choneurotic disturbances, particularly 
hysteria. Thus hysteria is essentially an 
inadequate biological reaction, rather than 
a mere functional disorder. 

A "complex" therefore, may be defined 
as a system of ideas possessing a certain 
emotional tone or value. In the psychi- 
cal sphere, complexes have an action re- 
sembling that of energy in the physical 
sphere. A complex may remain latent 
or inactive for a long time, and may only 
become active when stimulated in a cer- 
tain manner. This stimulation of the 
complex occurs when one or more of its 


ideas or elements is aroused to activity, 
either by some external event or through 
some association arising in consciousness 
itself. If the complex is unconscious or 
subconscious as the result of disease or of 
training or education in certain directions, 
the individual may be absolutely unaware 
of the fact that his thoughts and actions 
are caused and predetermined by these 
unconscious complexes. We all are the 
victims of our complexes and our re- 
ligious or political or moral views of life, 
which we think are the result of free will 
and an incontrovertible logic, are in a 
large part determined by the educational 
complexes stored up during the earlier 
years of our lives. If two or more an- 
tagonistic complexes are present in the 
mind and act simultaneously, they pro- 
duce what is known as a mental conflict. 
An emotional tension thereby takes place 
and may produce those various types of 


mental distress or anxiety which are so 
familiar in everyday life or in some cases, 
may even lead to the development of 
hysteria or an anxiety neurosis. Under 
certain conditions also, when a complex 
leads to a mental conflict and is avoided 
by repression because of its unpleasant 
emotional tone, this avoidance or repres- 
sion may produce hysteria and the re- 
pressed complex may find its outlet in 
various ways, such as hysterical paralysis 
or aphonia or some other clinical manifes- 
tation of the disorder. When the resist- 
ance or inhibition to the complex is 
weakened, such as in sleep, the complexes 
may reappear and manifest themselves in 
various ways, for example in dreams or 

Sometimes the complex may show it- 
self in a literal manner, but in most dis- 
eases, particularly in hysteria and also in 
dreams, it becomes distorted and symbol- 


ized and the genuine, underlying complex 
can only be determined through a psycho- 
analysis. Thus a complex appearing in 
dreams or in pathological symptoms, may 
be symbolized, condensed or displaced, or 
it may reveal itself in a form diametrically 
opposite from the genuine complex, for 
instance, Lady Macbeth's apparent brav- 
ery which in reality is an unconscious 

Fixed ideas or complexes occurring 
during the waking state may bring on 
attacks of sleep and when they occur dur- 
ing sleep, they may produce somnambu- 
lism. In whatever form the complex be- 
comes manifest during somnambulism, 
its revival becomes exceedingly vivid. 
We speak of this increased intensity of 
images in somnambulism as hypermnesia. 
This increased strength of images is only 
apparent, however, as the subject has no 
memory; for the somnambulistic attack 


on resuming the normal state. An amne- 
sia has taken place, due to a dissociation 
or splitting off of the complex. The 
memories involved in the period covered 
by the amnesia may however be revived 
through certain appropriate psycholog- 
ical methods. 

After the repression of an experience, 
it may remain active and cannot merge 
into consciousness without meeting resist- 
ance, at least in the waking life. This 
resistance, therefore, is a mental mechan- 
ism diametrically opposed to the sup- 
pressed complex and to this resistance has 
been given the name of "censor." 

This censor is continually active, par- 
ticularly when exerting its force against 
a painful complex. Under certain con- 
ditions however, the censor either parti- 
ally or completely loses its force and be- 
comes relaxed. This relaxation or in- 
hibition of the censor is particularly liable 


to take place in dreams or in sleep. 
Dreams are the result of antecedent ex- 
periences or complexes and may appear 
either in a literal or in a distorted or sym- 
bolized form. Thus dreams furnish a 
very valuable and convenient means of 
exploring the repressed experiences of 
mental life and through their analysis it 
is possible to uncover the unconscious 
complexes which the subject is either un- 
willing to reveal or is actually prevented 
from doing so through the activity of the 
censor. The same mechanism takes 
place in sleep-walking or somnambulism, 
for here again, as will be later demon- 
stated, somnambulism is not synonymous 
with unconsciousness, but arises out of 
sleep ; it may terminate in sleep again and 
is essentially the reaction of the mind to 
a suppressed painful experience or group 
of experiences. Sometimes the resist- 
ance offered by the censor or complex is 


so great that it produces a dissociation or 
splitting of consciousness, as will be 
clearly demonstrated in the cases to be 
later cited in detail, in the course of this 
essay. The same mechanism of relax- 
ation of the censor has also been found 
in certain cases of multiple personality, 
for instance in Dr. Morton Prince's 
case, the appearance of the irrepressible 
"Sally" during the sleep of Miss Beau- 
. champ. 

Thus in repression, two opposing men- 
tal mechanisms are at work viz.: the 
process which causes the repression of the 
complex and the antagonistic action of 
the censor in attempting to prevent this 
repressed complex from entering con- 
sciousness. Consequently a mental or 
intrapsychical conflict arises and this con- 
flict leads to partial or complete dissocia- 
tion of consciousness, dependent upon 
whether or not the mental conflict is mild 


or intense in its nature. Sometimes again 
during the waking condition, the censor is 
only partially successful in preventing the 
complexes from entering consciousness, 
and the mind of the subject becomes tor- 
tured by one or a group of abnormal ideas, 
termed fixed ideas or obsessions. 


While Freud has penetrated deepest 
into the mechanism of psychical repres- 
sions, it is to the new psychology of the 
French school that we are indebted for 
the clearest analyses of the various types 
of the mental dissociation of somnambu- 
lism or sleep-walking. It has been re- 
peatedly demonstrated that the resistance 
offered by the memory of a harrowing 
emotional experience may sometimes be 
so great that it produces a dissociation or 


splitting of consciousness. It is in the 
psychological analyses of these mental 
dissociations that the new psychology has 
been pre-eminent, particularly concern- 
ing the part played by the emotions in 
the production of these abnormal mental 

For instance, it can be shown that 
somnambulism is one of the most marked 
forms of this splitting of consciousness, 
and that it is most liable to occur in the 
disease hysteria, which is in itself a form 
of mental dissociation. Somnambulism 
may assume various types, either the or- 
dinary form of ' sleep-walking or it may 
develop to such a high degree that the 
subjects may wander about in strange 
places for hours or days and lose the 
memory of their real personality. Then 
some chance occurrence takes place and 
they suddenly resume their normal per- 
sonality, apparently without any memory 


for the lost period. Technically this gap 
in the memory is known as amnesia. 
The amnesia is not genuine, however, for 
the memories are not actually lost, but 
they are merely subconscious or dissoci- 
ated and may, as I have repeatedly 
demonstrated, be completely and perma- 
nently restored through appropriate psy- 
chological methods. 

It is with the first or shorter type of 
somnambulism with which we are partic- 
ularly concerned. As a rule it is caused 
by one or more emotional experiences, 
and is termed monoideic somnambulism. 

Monoideic somnambulism may there- 
fore be defined as a psychical state con- 
sisting of a detachment of a small group 
of ideas from the greater stream of con- 
sciousness, this system of ideas becoming 
for the time being dominant. With the 
return to normal consciousness this dis- 
sociated system is forgotten and an am- 


nesia results. These subconscious fixed 
ideas may cause various pathological men- 
tal states, such as symbolic dreams, hal- 
lucinatory phenomena, peculiar attacks 
and crises, the various types of somnam- 
bulism, automatic writing, crystal visions, 
etc. In the somnambulistic crises, there 
is a rehearsal of all the emotional experi- 
ences which originally caused the mental 
dissociation. This rehearsal is a literal 
one, all words, gestures, sounds, scenes, 
being faithfully reproduced and acted 
out in a most dramatic manner. Nothing 
in psychopathology is so startling and 
sensational as a somnambulistic crisis. 
The condition usually arises in sleep and 
may terminate in sleep or awakening. 
Each crisis exactly resembles the preced- 
ing one. In any case, the somnambulism 
itself is not genuine sleep but a form of 
mental dissociation which is produced 
during sleep. The most prominent phe- 


nomenon of this somnambulistic state is 
the amnesia or loss of memory for the 
attack, after the subject has awakened 
from it. A given somnambulistic state 
in the same subject always develops in an 
identical manner, and although the re- 
hearsal of the emotional experience which 
produced the somnambulism is a literal 
one, yet often it is markedly exaggerated. 
Hallucinations of the various senses 
often take place and the subject speaks 
to imaginary persons, hears imaginary 
voices, does imaginary acts, as if the 
voices, persons, actions, were real and 
actually present. Even hallucinations 
of the sense of smell, as in Lady Mac- 
beth's sleep-walking scene ("Here's the 
smell of blood still") may arise. When 
the somnambulism is ended and the sub- 
ject returns to normal consciousness, the 
former mental attitude and relation to 
surroundings is assumed, as if nothing 


had occurred. The name and age of the 
subject are then clearly remembered, he 
resumes his normal characteristics and 
personality and the memory is to all in- 
tents and purposes absolutely unimpaired. 
But if careful inquiry be made, a gap will 
be found in the memory and this gap is 
the period occupied by the somnambulis- 
tic attack. As Janet very clearly ex- 
presses it: "There are two chief psycho- 
logical characteristics that come out in 
somnambulism. During the crisis itself, 
two opposite characteristics manifest 
themselves: first, a huge unfolding of all 
the phenomena connected with a certain 
delirium ; second, an absence of every sen- 
sation and every memory that is con- 
nected with that delirium. After the 
crisis, during the state that appears as 
normal, two other characteristics appear, 
opposite to all appearance; the return to 
consciousness of sensations and normal 


memory and the entire forgetfulness of 
all that is connected with the somnambu- 
lism. The ideas which trouble the mind 
present themselves in an exaggerated and 
often dramatic manner during states of 
abnormal consciousness. These types of 
crises have been called somnambulism." 

Therefore the chief psychological char- 
acteristic of somnambulism may be thus 
briefly summarized. 

1. In the somnambulistic state, the 
images are clearly represented and the 
subject seems to see and hear everything. 

2. There is a marked regularity of 
development. In each somnambulistic 
state the subject repeats the same words 
and makes the same gestures as in the 
original emotional experience which was 
responsible for the cause of the somnam- 
bulistic state. 

3. In spite of all the natural acts of 
the subject and the avoidance of obsta- 


cles, yet the subject does not seem to per- 
ceive or at least to notice the objects or 
persons round about. He is apparently 
oblivious to surroundings. This phase 
is very clearly expressed in the conversa- 
tion between the doctor and the gentle- 
woman, as they observe the sleep-walking 
of Lady Macbeth. 

Doctor. You see, her eyes are open. 
Gent. Aye, but their sense is shut (V. 1). 

4. When the attack is over, there is a 
return to the normal personality, but the 
attack has left a gap in consciousness. 



The value of the analytic method lies 
in the fact that by it, one is able to dis- 
cover suppressed material and thus 
establish a definite psychological connec- 


tion between symptoms and repressed 
experiences, a real continuity in the psy- 
chic series. The entire psj r chical com- 
plex may thus be reconstructed through 
the data furnished by psychoanalysis, 
and all the apparently heterogeneous 
symptoms thus assume a certain law and 

The first contribution in which the psy- 
choanalytic method was directed to liter- 
ature was Freud's analysis of W. 
Jensen's symbolic novel, "Gradiva." 
Here he applied his theory of dreams to 
a definite fantastic literary creation and 
pointed out that every psychoanalytic 
method was a search for repressed men- 
tal processes. It was later shown from 
the standpoint of comparative mythol- 
ogy, that the laws of the formation of 
myths and fairy tales were identical with 
the laws by which dreams were produced, 
for instance, in the story of CEdipus and 


in the conflict between Uranus and the 
Titans. The myth is a representation of 
the infantile mental life of man. The 
dream is the myth of the individual and 
like the myth, it is symbolic. 

More recently Freud has published a 
psychoanalytic study of the childhood 
memories of Leonardo da Vinci, with 
particular reference to the symbolism of 
Leonardo's famous portrait of Mona 
Lisa. The attempt is certainly a bold 
one and with the few meager facts of 
Leonardo's childhood at hand, Freud has 
succeeded in clothing his study with a rea- 
sonable degree of plausibility. Recent 
Freudian literature has busied itself in 
those directions. We can only briefly 
mention such a study as Graf's analysis 
of Wagner's "Flying Dutchman," in 
which, similar to the theme in Leonardo, 
it was shown that some of Wagner's 
greatest work sprang from his childhood 


experiences and fancies. The main mo- 
tive in all these studies is the tracing out 
of artistic creations to conflicts or repres- 
sions of various complexes, principally 
sexual, which have become transformed 
or sublimated into higher artistic crea- 
tions, or even to the various symbolic ex- 
pressions which are found in myths and 
folk lore. 

One of the more interesting of recent 
attempts in this direction and in fact the 
first application of the psychoanalytic 
method to Shakespeare is the study of 
Hamlet by Ernest Jones. Whatever 
one may think of the multitude of theories 
as explanatory of Hamlet's mental state 
and his course of action, it must be said 
that here is the first clear and adequate 
scientific attempt to apply the principles 
of psychoanalysis to the ever-baffling 
Hamlet-problem. The mental condition 


of Hamlet is here analyzed on the basis 
of Freud's well-known theories of mental 
repression which were summarized ear- 
lier in the course of this essay and concerns 
the development of the attitude of son to 
parent which plays so conspicuous a part 
in the GEdipus Legend, particularly in 
Sophocles' tragedy. The relation of the 
mental status of Hamlet to the QEdipus 
problem had been pointed out some years 
previously by Freud in his study of 
dreams (Traumdeutung) and it is here 
further elaborated by Jones. Modern 
criticism of Hamlet has shown that the 
great difficulty in the way of the consum- 
mation of his scheme and purpose of re- 
venge lay in an internal resistance and 
mental conflicts and not in any external 
obstacles or circumstances. The expla- 
nation given through psychoanalysis dem- 
onstrates the real nature of the resistance, 


namely, that the inhibition lay in the fact 
that the repressed love for his mother was 
more powerful than his hostilities. 



When we approach the problem of 
the somnambulism of Lady Macbeth, it 
must be remembered that the sleep-walk- 
ing 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 experi- 
ences 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 un- 
stable, day-dreaming basis, and is due to 
the emotional shocks of her past experi- 
ences. Lady Macbeth is a typical case 
of hysteria ; her ambition is merely a subli- 


mation 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-walk- 
ing scene demonstrates that it is neither 
genuine sleep nor the prickings of a 
guilty conscience, but a clear case of path- 
ological somnambulism, a genuine disinte- 
gration 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 de- 
fined and admits of easier clinical demon- 
stration. 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 fac- 

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 somnambu- 
listic state. 

Previous conceptions of the character 
of Lady Macbeth, have been marked by 
a looseness of analysis and complete mis- 
understanding of her mental condition. 
It seems strange that a more scientific 
interpretation should have been over- 
looked. 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 na- 
ture of her mental disease, but without 
any effort at systematic analysis, the con- 
dition being referred to merely as a case 
of pathological somnambulism. 

Coleridge, however, with an unsur- 
passed insight into all the Shakespearean 
characters about which he has written, 
says concerning Lady Macbeth: "Like all 
in Shakespeare, she is a class individual- 
ized: 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 de- 
luded by ambition; she shames her hus- 
band 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-walk- 
ing scene, is by Pfeil, who states as fol- 
lows: "As regards the symptoms of som- 
nambulism, the aff ection 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 er- 
ratic and much more energetic than in the 
waking state: never slow, gliding or lan- 
guid, as though drunk with sleep. It 
would be most correct, and for the audi- 


ence, most realistic, should Lady Mac- 
beth rush hastily across the stage with an 
impetuous run neither gliding nor tot- 
tering, as was done by one of our cele- 
brated 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 som- 
nambulist 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 out- 
spread as though feeling the way." 

The four great tragedies of Shakes- 
peare have sexual problems as their cen- 
tral motive. The father problem ap- 
pears in Lear and Hamlet, the evolution 
of a jealousy complex in Othello and the 
theme of childlessness in Macbeth. 

The character of Lady Macbeth has 
been compared to one of the most striking 
figures in Greek tragedy namely, Cly- 


temnestra, in the Agamemnon of ^Eschy- 
lus. This comparison, it appears to 
us, is based upon rather superficial re- 
semblances. Clytemnestra is essentially 
and fundamentally criminal, deceitful, 
voluptuous, coldly calculating in her 
motives and shows none of the symptoms 
which make Lady Macbeth the irrespon- 
sible victim of a definite psychoneu- 
rosis. Lady Macbeth reacts only as her 
unconscious complexes make her react, 
Clytemnestra is the willing slave of 
her conscious will; one is a flawless and 
consistent type of hysterical dissociation, 
the other, the incarnation of criminal 
tendencies. Clytemnestra indeed at- 
tempted to justify her behavior on the 
basis of her husband's infidelity, but this 
was merely an excuse for her voluptuous- 

In fact, it seems doubtful if the Greek 
theater could have conceived of an hys- 


terical dissociation of the type of Lady 
Macbeth. It appears that the ancient 
Greeks were markedly free from hys- 
teria, although the disease was well known 
to the Greek physicians, who had a 
vague conception of it as a form of erotic 
symbolism. Many of the conditions of 
furor depicted on the Greek stage were 
probably epilepsy and not hysteria, as 
even the excellent descriptions of Hip- 
pocrates, did not clearly distinguish be- 
tween the two diseases. Hysteria is the 
result of unconscious conflicts of com- 
plexes, but the Greek stage, by reason of 
its unique function as a kind of national 
catharsis provided an outlet for these re- 
pressed conflicts and therefore served as 
a protector of the national mental health. 
It was for this reason that Aristotle de- 
fined the function of tragedy as an aes- 
thetic or emotional catharsis. Tragedy, 
therefore, among the ancient Greeks, was 


of such a peculiar nature that it provided 
a channel into which their surplus or re- 
pressed emotions might^ easily flow. The 
Greek drama arose out of folk festivals 
dedicated to Dionysus and possessed 
a more or less sexual or erotic character. 
It is well known that sexual repressions 
are the greatest of all repressions and are 
preeminent in producing hysteria. 



The first building up and hint of the 
murder complex is found in Macbeth's 
mind, before, with a kind of psychic con- 
tagion, he transmits it to his wife by 
means of the letter which engenders her 
famous first soliloquy. After King 
Duncan has invested him with the title of 
Thane of Cawdor, in an "aside," the com- 


plex breaks through for the first time. 

"Glamis and Thane of Cawdor: 
The greatest is behind" (I. 3). 

The words of the weird sister have thus 
already begun their unconscious incuba- 
tion and maturation, 

"All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter" 
(I. 3), 

and he has already begun to 

"Yield to that suggestion 

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair 

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs" (I. 3). 

The "suggestion" in Macbeth has be- 
come an obsession and it is this obsession 
which furnishes the keynote to the evolu- 
tion of the mental disease of Lady Mac- 
beth, finally dominating and overgrowing 
her entire personality. 

The weird sisters are myths, but like 
all myths they must be interpreted not lit- 
erally, but as symbols, as instigators 


of a fixed idea of ambition which they 
plant in Macbeth's mind, and which acts 
like an hypnotic suggestion. Macbeth 
was thus affected by the witches' prophe- 
cies, partly because the promise in these 
prophecies acted as a compensation or 
substitution for his childlessness, and 
partly because they harmonized with the 
already formed unconscious wish to be 
King. Banquo, however, issued from the 
interview unscathed, there was no com- 
pensation needed in him, for he was 
neither childless nor wished to be King. 
This, I take it, is the true interpretation, 
while the usual one, which states that 
Macbeth is criminal by nature while 
Banquo is not, appears to be utterly 
erroneous. Macbeth was completely 
dazed, almost hypnotized, by the words 
of the witches, as is shown by the fact that 
in speaking to them, Banquo refers to 
Macbeth as 


"My noble partner 

You greet with present grace and great prediction 
Of noble having and of royal hope, 
That he seems rapt withal" (I. 3). 

Since he was in this semihypnotic condi- 
tion, the prophecies of the witches acted 
like a powerful suggestion, which later 
became elaborated and acted upon be- 
cause they completely harmonized with 
his unconscious wishes. 

Lady Macbeth first appears in the fifth 
scene of the first act, reading her hus- 
band's letter, which briefly described his 
meeting with the three weird sisters. 
Therefore, any ideas which might enter 
into the mind of Lady Macbeth, were due 
to hints contained in the letter betraying 
her husband's wishes, and were elaborated 
in a soliloquy which revealed the very rap- 
ture of ambition. This first soliloquy is 
remarkable, it is her first daydream of 
ambition, so strong and dominating, that 


she believes she possesses what she really 
does not possess namely, bravery. It is 
this imaginary wish fulfillment to be 
queen which later causes the hysterical 
dissociation. As can be demonstrated 
later in the sleep-walking episode, this 
daydream of bravery was merely assumed, 
a mask for the realization of the sudden 
uprush of her ambition. The genuine 
underlying cowardice was suppressed. 

But the suppressed complex of ambi- 
tion has become dominating and will now 
stop at nothing to accomplish its ends. 
At first consciously prodded on, it soon 
becomes automatic, beyond her control, 
she becomes dominated by the fixed idea 
which causes her disease and which la- 
ter is responsible for the somnambu- 
lism. When the messenger arrives with 
the news that "the King comes here to- 
night," the suppressed complex of the de- 
sire to be queen and the means to be 


employed to accomplish the desire, breaks 
through for the first time. Like slips 
of the tongue in everyday life, which 
modern psychopathology have shown are 
not accidental, but are predetermined by 
antecedent complexes, so the immediate 
answer is not the usual one of welcome, 
but one tinged and distorted by her 
dreams of ambition and the first vague 
glimmering of homicide. Here the dis- 
turbing thought is caused or conditioned 
by the repressed complex and she replies 

"Thou'rt mad to say it." 

Then she suddenly feels that she has 
disclosed herself and her innermost 
thoughts and in order to disarm suspicion, 
the remainder of the reply becomes com- 

The modern theory of the bursting of 
suppressed complexes into speech, indi- 
cates a sudden removal of the censorship 


and an uprushing of the subconscious 
ideas. This alternate play of free speech 
and of repression forms one of the 
most characteristic features of Lady 
Macbeth's mental disorder. In the pres- 
ence of the messenger, after the reveal- 
ing of the complex, a compromise with 
the unconscious takes place, she again 
becomes the calm Lady Macbeth and 
attempts to assume an indifferent atti- 
tude by pretending that it is lack of prep- 
aration for the sudden visit of the King 
which led to this emotional outburst. 

"Is not thy master with him? who, were't so, 
Would have informed for preparation" (I. 5). 

When the messenger leaves, the sup- 
pressed complex again breaks forth into 
a daydream of ambition, of a burning 
desire and wish to be queen. She imag- 
ines, but immediately represses it, at least 
so far as can be determined by her words, 


that the opportune moment has arrived 
and the King will walk into the trap she 
has prepared for him. In order to brace 
herself for the ordeal and for the rapidly 
forming plans of the "taking off" of 
Duncan, she again deceives herself into 
thinking that she possesses bravery for 
a deed which is clearly present in the 
background of her mind. This, I take it, 
is the most logical interpretation of the 
remainder of that remarkable soliloquy 
which follows: 

"The raven himself is hoarse 
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan 
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits 
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, 
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full 
Of direst cruelty ! make thick my blood, 
Stop up the access and the passage to remorse, 
That no compunctious visitings of nature 
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep pace between 
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts, 
And take my milk for gall, you murdering min- 
Wherein your sightless substances 


You wait on nature's mischief ! Come, thick night, 
'And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, 
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, 
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, 
To cry 'Hold, hold!'" (I. 5.) 

Then, in the first appearance of Mac- 
beth before his wife, the conversation 
clearly reveals the working of Lady 
Macbeth's mind. It is only in her wak- 
ing condition that she is master of the 
situation, influences her husband, and 
maintains herself in a logical relation to 
her surroundings. This is not spontane- 
ous, however, but is the effect of a 
suppression brought about through a co- 
lossal effort of the will. In the somnam- 
bulistic personality, she loses this mastery, 
becomes a coward and the subject of a 
depression which finally terminates in sui- 

It can be shown that for years, even be- 
fore the witches' prophecies, Macbeth had 
the latent, unconscious wish to be King. 


This welcome but forbidden wish was 
suppressed and the witches' prophecies 
merely transposed it from the uncon- 
scious to the conscious, in other words, it 
became projected outwards. There the 
transposed wish became converted in 
Macbeth to elemental fear. Why, then, 
was such a coward as Macbeth attracted 
to a woman like Lady Macbeth? Not 
because she was masculine, for any mas- 
culine traits which she may have man- 
ifested were merely superficial and as- 
sumed and not fundamental. In fact, 
she was distinctly feminine; it was neces- 
sary that she be so, in order to have at- 
tracted a man like Macbeth. Macbeth, 
with his inclination to murderous deeds 
and his unconscious but unrealized wishes, 
was attracted to Lady Macbeth because 
she was capable of fanning these tenden- 
cies, tendencies clamoring for expression 
and struggling for outward projection 


until finally they became fixed in an un- 
controllable impulse. In fact, the trans- 
fer of the emotions is the most common 
psychic occurrence of the drama. Lady 
Macbeth was impelled to the murder 
through her suppressed impulses. The 
desire to be queen hid these impulses 
in the same manner that the political 
and patriotic ambitions of Charlotte Cor- 
day and Joan of Arc were merely masks 
for their suppressed, unconscious activ- 

This transfer takes place through the 
unconscious and hidden meanings rather 
than through conscious deeds or words. 
When this unconscious motive breaks 
through, we have tragedy, or, as Wittels 
expresses it, "the cause of all tragedy is 
the breaking into consciousness of the 
illogical and unethical subconscious self. 55 
In the Shakespearean drama this transfer 
is seen in the relations of Othello to Des- 


demona, of Lear to Cordelia and of 
Hamlet to his mother. 

This mechanism furnishes the key to 
Macbeth. Let us see how Shakespeare 
accomplished this, not that Shakespeare 
was a scientist and intended a scientific 
demonstration, but rather to show how his 
creative faculty unconsciously and in- 
tuitively depicted a struggle and a mental 
mechanism which may have escaped his 
conscious understanding. This transfer 
is shown in the following dialogue: 

Lady M. Geat Glamis! worthy Cawdor! 

Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter ! 
Thy letters have transported me beyond 
This ignorant present, and I feel now 
The future in the instant. 

Macb. My dearest love, 

Duncan comes here to-night. 

Lady M. And when goes hence? 

Macb. To-morrow, as he purposes. 

Lady M. O, never 

Shall sun that morrow see ! 
Your face, my thane, is as a book where men 
May read strange matters. To beguile the time, 


Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye, 
Your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent 


But be the serpent under 't. He that's coming 
Must be provided for : and you shall put 
This night's great business into my dispatch; 
Which shall to all our nights and days to come 
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom. 

Macb. We will speak further. 

Lady M. Only look up clear; 

To alter favor ever is to fear: 
Leave all the rest ta me. 

Macb. Will it not be received, 

When we have mark'd with blood those sleepy two 
Of his own chamber, and used their very daggers, 
That they have done't? 

These final words of Macbeth with which 
he sums up the conversation represent a 
compromise with his wishes and an apol- 
ogy for his fear. 

Lady Macbeth is next brought face to 
face with the King and in response to his 
greetings, there follows a reply, which 
is the very quintessence of hypocrisy, and 
which may be interpreted as a substitu- 


tion or a compensation for the gradually 
dominating but repressed complex. 

"All our service 

In every point twice done, and then done double, 
Were poor and single business to contend 
Against those honors deep and broad wherewith 
Your majesty loads our house: for those of old, 
And the late dignities heap'd up to them, 
We rest your hermits (I. 6). 

Then, when the time for the great deed 
approaches, and Macbeth wavers, she 
goads him on and in the words 

"I have given suck, and know 
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: 
I would, while it was smiling in my face, 
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums, 
And. dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you 
Have done to this" (I. 7). 

Here is an example of a substitution, or 
what is termed in modern psychopathol- 
ogy as a sublimation or transformation 
of a sexual complex into ambition, a 
mechanism which is frequently found 


in hysteria. The theme of childlessness 
is here revealed for the first time. In 
fact, so complete does the transformation 
sometimes become, that the hysterics fail 
to recognize the sexual thoughts underly- 
ing their symptoms and they can be re- 
vealed only through the technical devices 
of psychoanalysis. In both Lady Mac- 
beth and Macbeth, the sexual energy is 
transformed in the former it leads to an 
ambition complex, in the latter to crimi- 
nality. In this remarkable dialogue be- 
tween Lady Macbeth and her husband, 
we see how constant reiteration gradually 
fixes the complex into consciousness, an 
identical mechanism found in one of the 
scenes between lago and his dupe Roder- 
igo in the constant reiteration of "Put 
money in thy purse." 

As the final moment approaches for the 
murder, the so-called courage which 
Lady Macbeth had deluded herself 


that she possessed, has not remained in the 
"sticking place," but she weakens per- 
ceptibly and is compelled to have recourse 
to alcohol in order to make her brave. 
She is not brave naturally, but is a coward 
at heart, as is particularly shown in the 
lines : 

"That which hath made them drunk hath made me 

What hath quench'd them hath given me fire." 

This cowardice is again later seen in the 
words uttered after the first cry of Mac- 
beth heard from the King's chamber 
when she becomes afraid that perhaps the 
possets have not been sufficiently drugged 
and the grooms or perhaps the King him- 
self has awakened. The words uttered 
are an artful excuse, a substitution for 
her cowardice, and not, as one critic has 
stated, because some fancied resemblance 
to her father had arisen to stay her up- 
lifted arm and thus worked on her con- 


science. Here the motive is far deeper 
a symptomatic, unconscious substitution 
for her cowardice and not due to any 
prickings of conscience in the relation of 
child to parent. Thus the words 

"I laid their daggers ready; 
He could not miss 'em. Had he not resembled 
My father as he slept, I had done't" (II. 2). 

acquire a new significance in the light of 
modern psychopathology. 

But as Macbeth reenters, in that sub- 
lime, laconic whispering between him and 
Lady Macbeth, the latter's agitation and 
fear momentarily break forth even with 
the use of alcohol, but is just as quickly 
subdued and repressed. It is this re- 
pression of Lady Macbeth's cowardice as 
well as her repression of the knowledge 
of the murderers of Duncan, Banquo and 
the wife and children of Macduff , which 
'is responsible for the gradual develop- 


meni of the mental dissociation which 
culminates in the somnambulism. 

But after the deed is done, there arises 
the first premonition of the impending 
mental dissociation and suicide. So ter- 
rible has become her fear and horror, the 
repression has become so intense, that she 
shrinks from the guilty secret, and here 
enters the first element of the mechanism 
which leads to the hysterical dissociation. 
She chooses repression and not free ex- 
pression, thus erroneously feeling that 
the former will neutralize the emotional 
shock. Thus her warning to Macbeth 

"These deeds must not be thought 
After these ways ; so, it will make us mad," 

shows an attitude which is characteristic 
of an impending mental disintegration. 
Later in the scene, her words: 

"The sleeping and the dead 
Are but as pictures/' 


indicate the beginning of a dissociation 
of the personality, in an attempt to cut 
off or repress the thoughts of the tragedy 
from the rest of her experience. 

That Shakespeare was fully aware 
that repression of the emotions was not 
only painful but dangerous, is shown in 
the words of Malcolm to Macduff , after 
the latter has been informed of the mur- 
der of his wife and children. 

"What, man ! ne'er pull your hat upon your brows ; 
Give sorrow words : the grief that does not speak 
Whispers the o'er fraught heart, and bids it break/' 

After the murder, Macbeth becomes 
for the time being, clearly hallucinated, 
the suppressed complexes and the fear 
having become converted into sensory 
phenomena. Thus the disturbing mecha- 
nism at the basis of these hallucinations 
was in Macbeth's subconscious mental 
life, namely, the autogenetic influence of 
his own thoughts. The words "Sleep no 


more," with their monotonous reiteration, 
were not due to chance, but were the re- 
sult of a disturbing and directing sub- 
conscious mechanism, arising from ante- 
cedent complexes. The same mechanism 
was at work earlier in the hallucination 
of the dagger and later in the appearance 
of the ghost of Banquo. It is remark- 
able, too, how fragmentary the hallucina- 
tions were, mere phrases here and there, a 
condition found in all .mental diseases 
where auditory hallucinations are pres- 

The knocking at the gate furnishes a 
distinct emotional contrast to the terror 
of this scene and is a bursting of reality 
upon the unreality of things which Lady 
Macbeth feels creeping upon her. The 
silence and the whispering, the hallucina- 
tory phenomena which Macbeth relates 
to his wife, the tenseness of Lady Mac- 
beth, these all are suddenly broken into 


by the stern realism of the knocking. It 
is easy to conceive, under these circum- 
stances, how this knocking could act as a 
psychic traumatism upon the tense emo- 
tions of Lady Macbeth, how it trans- 
formed her assumed bravery into terror- 
izing fear and how these elements alone, 
if necessary, could act as efficient causes 
for the development of the hysterical dis- 
turbance. The repression of the secret 
of the murder, the imaginary wish to be 
the mother to a line of Kings, here coin- 
cides in consciousness with terror and ex- 
citement. The repressed emotions have 
thus been injured and out of this injured 
repression, the hysteria arose. 

Thus two complexes were already at 
work in the consciousness of Lady Mac- 
beth and it is these complexes or rather 
the repression of these complexes which 
led to the mental dissociation. The 
ambition complex is based upon day- 


dreams of ambition, not so much for her- 
self as for her husband. It is a substi- 
tute for her childlessness or rather for the 
children which she has lost and it may be 
termed a sublimated sexual complex. 
Freud has a very significant passage con- 
cerning this point. He states, "Shake- 
speare early lost a son by the name of 
Hamnet. As in Hamlet there was 
treated the relation of the son to the 
father, so in Macbeth there is treated the 
theme of childlessness. Thus we can 
search out the meaning of the deep emo- 
tions in the mind of the creative poets." 

Two prominent Shakespearean critics 
(Ulrici and Brandes) also point out the 
childlessness of Lady Macbeth and its 
effect upon the evolution of her abnormal 
mental state. This is seen in several 
significant passages one of Lady Mac- 
beth's soliloquies and Macduif s speech 


"He has no children." 

The second great repression is the mur- 
der complex, the outgrowth of the first 
and it is this which is equally potent in 
leading to the mental disintegration. 

However, Lady Macbeth was ignorant 
of the fact that Macbeth had murdered 
the grooms at the same time he murdered 
Duncan, because when she returned from 
her intention of smearing "the sleepy 
grooms with blood," she still believed 
them to be merely in a drunken sleep, so 

"That death and nature do contend about them, 
Whether they live or die" (II. 2). 

Therefore, when Macbeth later an- 
nounced before the sons of Duncan that 
he had killed the grooms for their mur- 
der of the King, the emotional shock of 
this sudden news was so painful, that 
Lady Macbeth actually fainted. The 


fainting at this juncture has given rise to 
considerable controversy, some critics 
consider the fainting to be genuine, while 
others interpret it as feigned. I believe, 
however, that the swoon was real, it 
marked the first objective symptom of 
the hysterical dissociation. It is a genu- 
ine hysterical attack, due to overpower- 
ing emotions and terror. It is neither 
pretense nor a mere revulsion of feeling. 
Macbeth was unconcerned at the fainting 
because he was far more dominated at the 
time by a feeling that he must not betray 
himself by either word or action. This 
unconcern of Macbeth about his wife's 
condition, is, therefore, no proof that he 
believed the fainting attack to be feigned. 
The fact that she fainted at Macbeth's 
description of the murder with its bloody 
accompaniments, while she did not faint 
when she saw the dead King himself 
(even if he did "resemble" her father) 


and then wiped the bloody daggers upon 
the faces of the apparently sleeping 
grooms, is explained by two facts. The 
effect of the alcohol, which formerly sus- 
tained her, had entirely worn off and sec- 
ondly, she was completely overwhelmed at 
the sudden revelation that her husband 
had murdered the grooms in addition to 
the King. 

In the third act, the words of the mut- 
tering soliloquy 

' 'Tis safer to be that which we destroy 
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy/' 

marks the preparation for the sleep- 
walking scene and for her later suicide. 

The preparations for Banquo's murder 
have been completed and both husband 
and wife are in a state of terror and men- 
tal anguish. Even in sleep the repressed 
complexes continue to break through in 
dreams, perhaps literal, perhaps sym- 


"Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep 
In the affliction of these terrible dreams 
That shake us nightly: better be with the dead, 
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, 
Than on the torture of the mind to lie 
In restless ecstasy" (III. 2). 

These words show that Lady Macbeth 
likewise suffered from terrible dreams, 
and that both related these dreams to each 
other. Now it is well known that during 
the waking state, complexes may be kept 
repressed by a constant censorship of con- 
sciousness. In sleep, this censorship be- 
comes relaxed and the repressed expe- 
riences appear either as literal or sym- 
bolic dreams. Thus dreams are not 
chance phantasmagoria of thought dis- 
turbing sleep, but are really the logical 
result of stored-up but repressed expe- 
riences. Dreams are likewise markedly 
individualized and conform to the usual 
mental make-up of the subject. While 
this mechanism may take place in every- 


day life, yet it is particularly liable to 
occur in hysteria. In Lady Macbeth, an 
identical mechanism was at work the 
reappearance of repressed complexes in 
her dreams, thereby disturbing sleep 
and later leading to somnambulistic at- 

Macbeth evidently has some solicitude 
for his wife's condition, for he does not 
tell her of the details of the plot against 

This is seen in the dialogue: 

Macbeth. O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear 


Thou know'st that Banquo, and his Fleance, lives. 
Lady M. But in them nature's copy's not eterne. 
Macbeth. There's comfort yet; they are assail- 

Then be thou jocund: ere the bat hath flown 
His cloister'd flight ; ere to black Hecate's summons 
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums 
Hath rung night's yawning peal, there shall be 

A deed of dreadful note. 

Lady M. What's to be done? 


Macbeth. Be innocent of the knowledge, dear- 
est chuck, 
Till thou applaud the deed (III. 2). 

In the third act at the banquet scene, 
Macbeth has become more definitely hal- 
lucinated. Earlier in the play he had 
some suspicion that perhaps the vision of 
the dagger was unreal, 

"A dagger of the mind, a false creation, 
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain." 

In this case, the vision of the dagger 
was a symbolized subconscious idea, which 
on account of its intensity had become 
transformed into a genuine visual halluci- 

In the banquet scene, however, insight 
into the imaginary character of the false 
perception has definitely disappeared and 
the ghost of Banquo, unlike the ghost of 
Hamlet's father, is seen by no one except 
Macbeth, thus definitely stamping the 
phenomenon as a genuine hallucination. 


Taine has vividly described this scene as 
follows referring it to its proper patho- 
logical category "With muscles twitch- 
ing, dilated eyes, his mouth half open 
with deadly terror, he sees it shake its 
bloody head, and cries with that hoarse 
voice, which is only to be heard in mani- 
acs' cells. His body trembling like that 
of an epileptic, his teeth clenched, foam- 
ing at the mouth, he sinks to the ground, 
his limbs writhe, shaken with convulsive 
quiverings, whilst a dull sob swells his 
panting breast and dies in his swollen 
throat." Macbeth is strongly predis- 
posed to epilepsy and like Othello, under 
emotional strain, he has a genuine epilep- 
tic convulsion. This explains one phase 
of Macbeth's criminality he is a crim- 
inal partly because he is an epileptic, and 
partly because the wish to be King is act- 
ing like an hypnotic suggestion. 

Now what was Lady Macbeth's atti- 


tude towards this terrible episode and 
what change did it develop in her 
already the victim of a rapidly develop- 
ing hysteria. She is ignorant of the mur- 
der of Banquo, yet perhaps she half 
suspects that her husband has committed 
another crime. She cannot betray him 
and so again the repression appears and 
therefore at the banquet she excuses his 
sudden attack of mental alienation, in the 

"Sit, worthy friends: my Lord is often thus, 
And hath been from his youth: pray you, keep seat; 
The fit is momentary; upon a thought 
He will again be well" (III. 4). 

That the entire banquet experience has 
been repressed in the unconscious, is 
shown by its reappearance during the later 
somnambulism, where the genuine and not 
the false mental state becomes mani- 

"Fie, my Lord, fie ! 
A soldier and afeard?" 


In the sleep-walking scene, Shake- 
speare reached the summit of his art in 
creating an abnormal mental state. 
While some of the episodes in Hamlet 
may have caused more discussion and a 
greater literature, yet much of Hamlet 
is problematical, while in Lady Macbeth, 
there can be but one interpretation of this 
scene, namely, a case of hysterical som- 
nambulism, and conforming to all the 
known laws of the psychological phe- 
nomena of somnambulistic mental states. 
The entire scene furnishes a splendid 
illustration of Shakespeare's remarkable 
insight into mental mechanisms, particu- 
larly into abnormal states of conscious- 

This somnambulistic scene is prede- 
termined by the existing, suppressed 
complexes. It is a subconscious autom- 
atism. Lady Macbeth during this scene 
is not in a state of unconsciousness 


or even sleep, for in fact her conscious- 
ness is very active, but she is rather in a 
condition of special consciousness. In 
such a mental condition very complicated 
but natural acts may be performed. 

These somnambulistic phenomena, on 
account of the close linking of the asso- 
ciation of ideas are machine-like and 
automatic in their repetition. As the 
mental state in which they occur excludes 
any voluntary action of the will, when 
once started they inevitably follow the 
same order. Now this is precisely what 
occurred to Lady Macbeth. As an 
analysis of the mental mechanism of her 
particular somnambulistic state will dis- 
tinctly show, the entire episode closely 
corresponds to the form of the condition 
termed monoideic somnambulism. 

I must fully agree with Coleridge that 
Lady Macbeth is essentially of the day- 
dreaming type. It is interesting to note 


that in all carefully analyzed cases of 
hysteria, this daydreaming will be found 
to be a prominent characteristic. The 
daydreams were partly those of ambition 
and partly sexual both were imaginary 
wish fulfillments to be queen and to have 
a son as a compensation for her childless- 
ness and thus have some one inherit the 

*&' < 
throne, since the witches hailed Macbeth *f? 

as father to a line of Kings. These day- 
dreams of Lady Macbeth furnish the key 
to the later night dreams and the som- 
nambulism. Daydreams may express 
themselves in various hysterical symp- 
toms and attacks, such as somnambulism, 
sudden losses of consciousness and am- 
nesia, all of which are found in Lady 
Macbeth. This is particularly liable to 
occur when the daydreams and complexes 
are intentionally forgotten and merge 
into the unconscious by repression, a men- 
tal mechanism which is a prominent char- 


acteristic of Lady Macbeth. It is this 
mental mechanism of repression whicK 
finally developed into the somnambulism. 

The sleep-walking scene is not men- 
tioned in Holinshed and it must therefore 
be looked upon as an original effort 
of Shakespeare's creative imagination. 
Lady Macbeth had none of the usual 
phenomena of sleep, but she did show 
with a startling degree of accuracy all the 
symptoms of hysterical somnambulism. 
Somnambulism is not sleep, but a special 
mental state arising out of sleep through 
a definite mechanism. The sleep-walk- 
ing scene is a perfectly logical outcome 
of the previous mental state. From the 
very mechanism of this mental state, such 
a development was inevitable. She is 
not the victim of a blind fate or destiny 
or punished by a moral law, but affected 
by a mental disease. 

It is evident from the first words 


uttered by the Doctor in the sleep-walk- 
ing scene, that Lady Macbeth had had 
several previous somnambulistic attacks. 
That we are dealing with a genuine som- 
nambulism is shown by the description of 
the eyes being open and not shut. Now 
several complexes or groups of sup- 
pressed ideas of an emotional nature 
enter into this scene and are responsible 
for it. The acting out of these com- 
plexes themselves are based upon 
reminiscences of her past repressed ex- 

The first complex relates to the murder 
of Duncan as demonstrated in the con- 
tinual washing of the hands, an act not 
seen earlier and here clearly brought out 
in the sleep-walking scene. This auto- 
matic act is a reminiscence of her earlier 
remark after the murder of Duncan, 
"A little water clears us of this deed." 

The second complex refers to the mur- 


der of Banquo, clearly shown in the 
words, "I tell you yet again, Banquo's 
buried; he cannot come out of his grave," 
thus demonstrating that she is no longer 
ignorant of this particular crime of her 

The third complex entering into the 
sleep-walking scene distinctly refers to the 
murder of Macduff 's wife and children 
-"The Thane of Fife had a wife, where 
is she now?" Various other fragmentary 
reminiscences enter into this scene, such 
as Macbeth's terror at the banquet in the 
words, "You mar all with this starting," 
the striking of the clock before the mur- 
der of King Duncan, and the reading of 
the first letter from Macbeth announcing 
the witches' prophecy. Thus a vivid and 
condensed panorama of all her crimes 
passes before her. Like all reported 
cases of hysterical somnambulism, the 
episode is made up, not of one, but of all 


the abnormal fixed ideas and repressed 
complexes of the subject. The smell 
and sight of blood which she experiences, 
is one of those cases in which hallucina- 
tions developed out of subconscious fixed 
ideas which had acquired a certain in- 
tensity, as in Macbeth's hallucination of 
the dagger. Since blood was the domi- 
nating note of the tragedy, it was evi- 
dence of Shakespeare's remarkable in- 
sight that the dominating hallucination 
of this scene should refer to blood. The 
analysis of this particular scene also dis- 
closes other important mental mecha- 

There is a form of nervous disease 
known as a compulsion neurosis in which 
the subject has an almost continuous im- 
pulsion to either wash the hands or to re- 
peat other actions almost indefinitely. 
As a rule, this compulsion appears mean- 
ingless and even foolish to the outside 


observer and it is only by an analysis of 
the condition, that we can understand its 
nature and true significance. The com- 
pulsion may arise from the idea that the 
hands are soiled or contaminated or there 
may be a genuine phobia of infection or 
contamination. As an example, I had 
the opportunity to observe the case of a 
young girl who would wash her hands a 
number of times during the day. She 
could give no explanation for this impul- 
sion. A psychoanalysis, however, dis- 
closed the fact that the washing of the 
hands was due to ideas of religious abso- 
lution from certain imaginary sins and 
arose as an act of defense against imag- 
inary contamination. Now a similar 
group of symptoms is found in Lady 
Macbeth. In the sleep-walking scene the 
following dialogue occurs 

Doctor. What is it she does now? Look, how 
she rubs her hands. 


Gentlewoman. It is an accustomed action with 
her, to seem thus washing her hands : I have known 
her continue in this a quarter of an hour. 

Then later in the scene, Lady Macbeth 
speaks as follows, disclosing the complex 
which leads to this apparently meaning- 
less action. "What, will these hands 
ne'er be clean? . . . Here's the smell of 
the blood still: All the perfumes of 
Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." 
Here the symptom develops through 
Lady Macbeth transferring an unpleas- 
ant group of memories or complexes, 
which have a strong personal and emo- 
tional significance, to an indifferent act 
or symptom. The act of washing the 
hands is a compromise for self-reproach 
and repressed experiences. The mecha- 
nism here is the same as in the compul- 
sion neuroses, a proof of Shakespeare's 
remarkable insight into the workings of 
the human mind. When the doctor later 


states, "This disease is beyond my prac- 
tise," he expressed the attitude of the 
medical profession towards these psycho- 
neurotic symptoms until the advent of 
modern psychopathology. 

In the words, "Out damned spot Out 
I say," the mechanism is that of an un- 
conscious and automatic outburst. It is 
very doubtful if Lady Macbeth would 
have used these words if she were in her 
normal, waking condition. Thus the dif- 
ference between the personality of Lady 
Macbeth in her somnambulistic and in the 
normal mental state, is a proof of the 
wide gap existing between these two types 
of consciousness. 

Lady Macbeth may therefore be 
looked upon as possessing two personali- 
ties, which appear and disappear accord- 
ing to the oscillations of her mental level. 
In her normal, waking state, repression 
and an assumed bravery are marked. In 


the sleeping or somnambulistic state, the 
repression gives way to free expression 
and her innate cowardice becomes domi- 
nant. In her waking condition, she 
shows no fear of blood, but shrinks from 
it when in a state of somnambulism. 
Her counsel to her husband while awake 
is that of an emotionless cruelty, while in 
somnambulism she shows pity and re- 
morse. If one could believe in the 
womanliness of Lady Macbeth, then her 
sleeping personality must be interpreted 
as the true one, because removed from 
the inhibition and the censorship of vol- 
untary repression. 

Thus Shakespeare, with most remark- 
able insight, has made the sleep-walking 
scene exactly conform to all the charac- 
teristics of a pathological somnambulism 
that is the subject sees and hears 
everything, there is a regularity of de- 
velopment, as the subject repeats the 


same words and gestures as in the orig- 
inal experience and finally, on a return to 
the normal personality after the attack is 
over, there is no memory for the attack, 
in other words, amnesia has taken place. 
Lady Macbeth's actions during the sleep- 
walking scene are very complicated, show 
a clear memory of her past repressed ex- 
periences, in fact, they are an exact re- 
production and rehearsal of these expe- 
riences. Finally, she shows an amount 
of reasoning and association which would 
be impossible during the annihilation of 
consciousness during sleep and which only 
could have taken place when conscious- 
ness was very active. 

Thus somnambulism is not sleep, but 
an abnormal mental state, distinct from 
the ordinary mental state of the subject. 
Somnambulism may be defined as a men- 
tal state in which the subject possesses 
particular memories and does particular 


acts, but of which there is no memory on 
return to the normal state of conscious- 
ness. The amnesia of somnambulism is 
of the same nature as all hysterical am- 
nesias, the subject is incapable of at- 
taching to his normal personality the 
memories of the somnambulistic attack. 

Modern psychopathology has reported 
a number of cases whose symptoms 
strongly resemble the sleep-walking of 
Lady Macbeth. 

Several cases of this type have come 
under personal observation. One was a 
young girl who developed hysteria after 
the emotional shock of her mother's sud- 
den death of which she was an unwilling 
spectator. Another case of hysteria de- 
veloped after the fright of a midnight 
conflagration on a cold winter's night. 
In both these cases, somnambulistic epi- 
sodes took place in the course of the dis- 


ease and each patient in the somnam- 
bulism acted to the smallest detail the 
emotional episode which originally caused 
the hysterical dissociation. On awaken- 
ing, neither patient had any memory for 
the actions of the somnambulism in fact 
there was a complete amnesia. 

Janet has reported several such cases. 
In one of them, a young woman who had 
been attacked by burglars reproduced 
the entire attack in somnambulism, but 
without any memory for the attack on 

In another case, hysteria developed in 
a young woman who was attacked by 
lions while near the cage of the animals. 
She later developed a curious somnam- 
bulistic delirium, in which she imitated 
the actions of the lions in everv respect, 
even attempting to devour photographs 
of children. There was complete am- 
nesia for each somnambulistic crisis, 


which could not be recollected except in 

I had the opportunity of studying a 
similar case of hysteria, of which a por- 
tion of the clinical history may be quoted 
from a previous publication. 

"Miss F. for a number of years had 
suffered at various intervals from pecu- 
liar attacks consisting of headache, palpi- 
tation of the heart, and twitching of both 
arms, particularly the left arm. Each 
attack was of several months' duration. 
In the intervals between the attacks 
she was perfectly well. Sometimes the 
twitching was so severe that the patient 
was compelled to go to bed for a week at 
a time, and on one of these occasions, she 
was in a stuporous condition for two days. 
The attacks are said to have followed an 
emotional experience when the patient 
was eight years of age, a fright at seeing 
her cousin disguised in white to resemble 


a ghost. While the patient had heard of 
this experience in general, she has never 
been able to recall it in detail. 

Miss F. was very easily hypnotized, 
with amnesia (loss of memory) on 
awakening from the hypnotic state. In 
this artificial condition, she was able to 
recall vividly all the details of the emo- 
tional experience, but on being awakened, 
she agair\ became amnesic for this experi- 
ence. While hypnotized and asked to re- 
late the ^iost experience, she gives the 
account asl follows in laconic sentences 
and in a v(W dramatic manner. "Seem 
to see it all row. He makes a noise. He 
comes near he. It is dark. All I can 
see is the wHte and I scream. He tells 
me it is he am not to cry. I was taken 
to the bed. Itton't remember from that 
until the doctVr came." In the same 
hypnotic state s\e also gave some further 
details of her ^perience, in which she 


struggled, bit, and was finally rendered 
unconscious through the use of chloro- 
form. The emotional shock occurred 
when the patient was only eight years of 
age, and we hope to show that the disso- 
ciating effect of this emotion was directly 
responsible for the mental and physical 
aspects of her hysterical condition. 
While relating these experiences in hyp- 
nosis, the emotional reaction was quite 
dramatic. She sighed, shivered, grated 
and gnashed the teeth, the whole body 
trembled, the left arm twitcled, and the 
facial muscles became distorted into an 
aspect of agony and fear. Occasionally 
she would scream "Ghost," "white," "that 
smell." In other words while hypno- 
tized, the patient lived ove' again the har- 
rowing experiences of years previous. 
On being awakened fron hypnosis even 
in the midst of the state of fear, all ab- 
normal symptoms woild cease at once 


(except the twitching of the left arm). 
The patient had no recollection of either 
the peculiar phenomena during hypnosis 
or of her narration of the experiences." 
It will be noticed that in many ways, this 
rehearsal of the original emotional ex- 
perience in hypnosis, which is really an 
artificial somnambulism, strongly re- 
sembled the hysterical somnambulism of 
Lady Macbeth. 

One of the most remarkable cases of 
somnambulism reported, is a case of 
Irene, given in detail by Janet. This 
case also bears a close resemblance to the 
phenomena displayed by Lady Macbeth. 
Irene was a young girl, twenty years of 
age, who, as the result of emotions 
caused by the death of her mother, for 
two years presented a severe hysterical 
state, characterized essentially by crises 
of somnambulism with hallucinations and 
a complete loss of memory for each 


somnambulistic attack. The condition 
is described by Janet as follows 

"We come back to the common story of 
a young girl twenty years old, called 
Irene, whom despair, caused by her 
mother's death has made ill. We must 
remember that this woman's death has 
been very moving and dramatic. The 
poor woman, who had reached the last 
stage of consumption, had lived alone with 
her daughter in a poor garret. Death 
came slowly, with suffocation, blood 
vomiting, and all its frightful proces- 
sion of symptoms. The girl struggled 
hopelessly against the impossible. She 
watched her mother during sixty nights, 
working at her sewing machine to earn a 
few pennies necessary to sustain their 
lives. After the mother's death she tried 
to revive the corpse, to call the breath 
back again; then as she put the limbs up- 
right, the body fell to the floor, and it 


took infinite exertion to lift it again into 
bed. You may picture to yourself all 
that frightful scene. Sometime after 
the funeral, curious and impressive symp- 
toms began. It was one of the most 
splendid cases of somnambulism I ever 

"The crises last for hours, and they 
show a splendid dramatic performance, 
for no actress could rehearse those lugu- 
brious scenes with such perfection. The 
young girl has the singular habit of acting 
again all the events that took place at her 
mother's death, without forgetting the 
least detail. Sometimes she only speaks, 
relating all that happened with great 
volubility, putting questions and answers 
in turn, or asking questions only, and 
seeming to listen for the answer; some- 
times she only sees the sight, looking with 
frightened face and staring on the vari- 
ous scenes, and according to what she 


sees. At other times, she combines all 
hallucinations, words, acts, and seems to 
play a very singular drama. When, in 
her drama, death has taken place, she car- 
ries on the same idea, and makes every- 
thing ready for her own suicide. She 
discusses it aloud, seems to speak with 
her mother, to receive advice from her; 
she fancies she will try to be run over by 
a locomotive. That detail is also a recol- 
lection of a real event of her life. She 
fancies she is on the way, and stretches 
herself out on the floor of the room, wait- 
ing for death, with mingled dread and 
impatience. She poses, and wears on her 
face expressions really worthy of ad- 
miration, which remain fixed during sev- 
eral minutes. The train arrives before 
her staring eyes,, she utters a terrible 
shriek, and falls back motionless, as if 
she were dead. She soon gets up and be- 
gins acting over again one of the preced- 


ing scenes. In fact, one of the charac- 
teristics of these somnambulisms is that 
they repeat themselves indefinitely. 
Not only the different attacks are al- 
ways exactly alike, repeating the same 
movements, expression and words, but in 
the course of the same attack when it has 
lasted for a certain time, the same scene 
may be repeated again exactly in the same 
way five or ten times. At last, the agita- 
tion seems to wear out, the dream grows 
less clear, and gradually or suddenly ac- 
cording to the cases, the patient comes 
back to her normal consciousness, takes up 
her ordinary business quite undisturbed 
by what has happened." 

After the sleeping-walking episode 
comes the last scene of all the final pic- 
ture of the catastrophe the only possible 
solution of Lady Macbeth's mental dis- 
ease namely her suicide. We are left 
completely in the dark as to the method of 


suicide here both drama and chronicle 
are silent. The impulsion to suicide has 
occasionally followed an hysterical som- 
nambulistic delirium and likewise has 
occurred in the course of the attack. 

Lady Macbeth's mental disease has 
thus been followed through all the phases 
of its evolution, from the birth of the first 
complex in her mind to her final dissolu- 
tion and suicide. The fundamental 
mechanism of the disorder was a repres- 
sion of certain emotional experiences 
leading to a mental dissociation and the 
reappearance of these experiences in som- 
nambulism. During the course of this 
essay it has been necessary to discuss two 
other phases of the tragedy, so closely 
are they bound up with Lady Macbeth's 
mental disorder namely, the criminality 
and epilepsy of Macbeth and the weird 
sisters as symbolizing a suggestion of 
crime and ambition. 


The relentless fate of Greek tragedy, 
of Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, Rosmers- 
holm, also dominates the tragedy of Mac- 
beth. In Lady Macbeth there is a con- 
stant battle between free will and deter- 
mination. Determinism is triumphant, 
because Lady Macbeth cannot emanci- 
pate herself from the suppressed com- 
plexes which inevitably led to her mental 
disorder. She thinks she chooses her ac- 
tions whereas in reality they are chosen 
for her by the unconscious complexes. 
Macbeth is likewise the victim of the same 
mental mechanism. 

This ethical relentlessness of the trag- 
edy is due to the hysteria of Lady Mac- 
beth, with its strong, deterministic fac- 
tors. Because Lady Macbeth in her som- 
nambulistic state was different from 
Lady Macbeth in her waking condition, 
she suffered from a disintegration or a 
dissociation of the personality. In fact, 


it has been particularly pointed out by 
Morton Prince that all hysteria is a men- 
tal dissociation. Lady Macbeth's per- 
sonality was doubled, normal and abnor- 
mal, alternating, but at the same time 
co-conscious. The dissociation resulted 
from repressed, unconscious motives and 
conflicts, due, not to a sudden emotional 
shock, but to a series of repressed com- 

Thus in the tragedy of Macbeth we 
move in a kind of symbolized world. 
The Macbeth legend is a symbol and it 
conceals within itself the theme of child- 
lessness in the same manner that a dream 
may symbolize underlying strong, per- 
sonal motives and interests. This is the 
reality behind the symbolism. Macbeth 
is primitive, myth-like and it is now well 
recognized that the formation of myths 
and legends has the same mechanism as 
the formation of dreams. In Macbeth as 


in dreams, we move in a world of super- 
natural activities witches and ghosts, 
exaggerated and heroic deeds, even at 
times emotionless murders a mechan- 
ism identical with dreaming. The 
witches are primitive myth creations, sex- 
less, yet old women, emotionless yet ex- 
citing to ambition, motiveless, yet fur- 
nishing the main motive of the tragedy. 
They are thoroughly Shakespearean and 
in them we see how the creative imagina- 
tion of the poet is related to the primitive 
myth maker. They wield their power 
over Macbeth (and secondarily over 
Lady Macbeth) because they stimulate 
his half-formed unconscious and repressed 
wish to be King. The witches are thus 
the instigators of the entire tragedy and 
of the unconscious wishes of the chief 
characters. They set its machinery in 
motion in the same way that a dream may 
be instigated by the events of the day. 


Thus their meaning becomes clear in the 
light of psycho-analysis. They are erotic 
symbols, representing, although sexless, 
the emblems of the generative power in 
nature. In the "hell broth" are con- 
densed heterogeneous materials in which 
even on superficial analysis one can dis- 
cern the sexual significance. If it be 
asked, why this particular symbolism? it 
is because they bring to maturity Mac- 
beth's "embryo wishes and half formed 
thoughts." When Macbeth shrinks, it 
is not from the horrors involved in their 
prophecies, but from his own imaginary 
wish fulfillment and mental conflicts. 
The shrinking is overcome, however, by 
their constant harping and the uncon- 
scious wish becomes an obsession. This 
is the mental mechanism of Macbeth, 
which, by a kind of mental contagion he 
transfers to his wife and which finally 
develops in her, into a typical case of 


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