Referring to one of the foremost exponents of ‘weird’ literature Howard Phillips Lovecraft, definite emotions of pain and pleasure were associated to phenomena whose cause and effect could be discerned by men but those beyond his power of comprehension were marvellously interpreted as supernatural ploys thus, sowing the seeds of awe among a race possessing limited experience. The process of dreaming aided in constructing the notion of an unreal or spiritual world towards which man’s natural response was fear and hence, man’s hereditary essence became saturated with superstitions.
Though the territory of the unknown has diminished in the present times, a physiological fixation in our nervous tissues makes the inherent associations, clinging around objects and processes once mysterious (but now explainable), become operative even when the conscious mind has been purged of all wonder. The appearance of the three Weird sisters at the inception of Shakespeare’s timeless play, Macbeth, excites a sense of awe coupled with a subtle dread due to contact with unknown spheres and forces and their re-appearance in the third scene after the King’s order establishes the influence of ‘supernatural soliciting’.
The role of imagination is indispensible since, the deadly outcomes stemmed from imaginings of a sensitive mind and even the exposure of the crime happens due to the hallucination of the criminal which provides the turning point of the play. While Holinshed’s Macbeth was merely a brave warrior turned cruel murderer, Shakespeare’s Macbeth has an overtly fertile imagination which plays dual roles; when kindled with hope, it impels him to stifle the voice of his conscience for engaging in a heinous crime and also, increases the anguish of guilt when plagued with fear. Aristotle’s tragic hero has the crowning virtue” or magnanimity (derived from the Greek word, megalospuchia) as a consequence of which, he knows no pettiness or restrictions and fearlessly pursues his passions. That Macbeth effectively slips into the role of an Aristotelian tragic hero becomes predictable early in the play in Act I, Scene 3 from his reaction to the prediction of the Weird Sisters which immediately gives rise to a “horrid image” which while, unsettling him propels him to play and replay the prophecies in his mind till he starts to believe in their future possibility and is driven towards their attainment.
Contradictorily, Banquo is guided by reason and though the third witch predicts “Thou shalt get kings”, he prevents himself from taking any drastic step – “Oftentimes to win us to our harm, / The instruments of darkness tell us truths.... ” The disparity in personality of the different characters is ruled by the varied degrees of imaginativeness which originate from the varying proportions of humours in each person. According to the Greek scientists Hipp ocrates and Galen, a person’s character was influenced by a blending of four fluids or ‘humours’-black bile, phlegm, yellow bile and blood which ruled the body.
Later, the Elizabethans applied this ideology in medical treatment and associated each humour with one of the four temperaments-melancholic (excess of black bile), phlegmatic (surplus of phlegm), choleric (predominance of yellow bile) and sanguine (superfluity of blood). Unbalance in proportion of any one of the humours perturbs psychological poise, aggravates the inherent hamartia or tragic flaw in the character while making the mind more sensitive to the impressions of visions and hallucinations.
Anderson describes choleric individuals as “easily provoked, given to treachery, vehement in action; fierce in assailing but inconstant in sustaining assault; inclined to envy, pride, prodigality, and wrath. ” In Act 1, Scene 5, Lady Macbeth is faced simultaneously with two revelations- a letter from Macbeth disclosing the witches’ prophecy of kingship and the news of King Duncan’s arrival conveyed by a messenger following which she delivers her famous soliloquy where she calls upon the familiar spirits to change her temperament to choleric. Choler could be intrinsic, or the effects of astrology, diet or even time of the day.
With her desires that “no compunctious visitings of nature” thwart her purpose, she unwittingly implies the cessation of her periodic menstrual flow and the “murth’ring ministers” are called upon to replace the nutritive fluid in her breasts with “gall” or choler. According to Malleus Maleficarum, the Devil’s power is greatest where human sexuality is concerned and “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable”, hence, the Weird Sisters who have been unsexed themselves and are known to sport beards defeminises Lady Macbeth, turning her thus, into the fourth witch.
Since, she feels that her husband is too full of the “milk of human kindness” and in spite of being ambitious, he lacks the choleric illness necessary to drive him to his purpose, she embraces biological and subsequently, psychological unsexing in order to impart to her husband by persuasion the choleric drive the supernatural spirits have bestowed on her and thus the tangible world of action and the surreal world becomes interlinked.
Annihilating Macbeth’s qualms regarding the murder of the sanguine Duncan by provoking in his mind fantastic images of kingship, she relieves him of his melancholy temperament. While choler keeps the body vitalized, corrupt choler results in evil passions and dreadful dreams which accounts for Macbeth’s murder of reason and consequent inability to distinguish between the real and the illusory before Duncan’s murder.
The illusionary significance of the dagger (floating before Macbeth) is that it is “air-drawn” consigns it to the dominion of the witches ("they made themselves air"; "they vanished/into the air"; "infected be the air whereon they ride"). Again, Macbeth’s auditory hallucinations preceding the commitment of the murder which involves the continual knocking on the gate (or his own conscience) in the porter scene and the ominous whispering “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep... coupled with the spectre of Banquo (visible solely to Macbeth) implies that conscientious nagging is still alive and he has still not been able to gain command over corrupting choler. However, after a few consequent murders, Macbeth attains immunity to fear (the quality of a seasoned warrior) and a stoic control while Lady Macbeth, who had chided him for his weakness earlier, degenerates. By perversion of humours, she succumbs to insanity whose symptoms include sleepwalking. Michel Foucault notes in “Madness and Civilization” that madness in literature and art appears around the late 1400s.
While it was sometimes used in the theatre as a device for entertaining the audiences, madness, often conflated with foolery, had “still other powers: the punishment it inflicts multiplies by nature insofar as, by punishing itself, it unveils the truth. ” This is certainly the case in Shakespeare, whose fools, madmen, and madwomen all “[remind] each man of his truth. ”Left to their imaginings, the insane might revert to more vivid mental pictures, as when Lady Macbeth in her somnambulism, reproaches her husband “Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and afeard? and instructs him, “Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so pale! ”Music intensifies imagination and in Orson Well’s sleepwalking scene, Lady Macbeth’s voice moves from its usual low tones to a high-pitched sing-song, impersonating that of the witches as they cast their spells, again uncannily bridging the chasm of the supernatural and the real. . Macbeth’s ascending choleric ambition incites his oedipal hubris and he, with the same anxiety which impelled Oedipus to know the Oracle of Delphi, seeks knowledge of the security of his ill-acquired kingship.
The three apparitions which the Witches summon before Macbeth comprising “an armed head”, “a bloody child” and “child crowned with a tree in his hand” accompanied with the foretelling –“none of woman born shall harm Macbeth “or “Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him” and lastly, the show of a line of eight kings with Banquo at the end, unsettles Macbeth. On his quest to know more, the Witches perform a mad dance and disappear engulfing him in a greater perplexity of the fleeting panoramas and deceiving predictions.
Macbeth’s dilemma concerning whether to trust the apparitions or not echoes the eternal debate regarding whether illusions can be treated as banes or boons. While Biblical injunctions state that the dreams or visions which promise truth in actuality are like wind and shadow, “deceptorium” and “vanuum”, Gregory believes in the usefulness of certain dreams. Again, Aristotelian works reinforced the growing tendency to associate dreams with psychological and somatic processes, dismissing the divine or supernatural origin of dreams, confining them to the mundane realm.
In 13th and 14th centuries, writers continued to argue that dreams come from varied sources- internal and external, divine, mundane and demonic, and the dream remained strongly associated with the intermediate psychic realm of imagination, bridging body and mind, the physical and the abstract. The conclusion was reached that dreams of psychosomatic, diabolic and divine nature were possible and the psychologist Jean de la Rochelle emphasized the dream’s duplicity according to which if he dream arose due to the operation of the spiritual essence that is devil, it is called illusion. Similarly, if the dream was triggered by a good spiritual substance, it was known as a revelation. In Macbeth’s case, it is conceived then that the illusions outnumbered the revelations leading him gradually to his downfall-his “bad angel” fires his “good one out”. Macbeth’s vision and hallucinations have influenced myriads of later literary works including Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, the fifth book in the series by Rowling.
Not only does the notion of disclosure of the prophecy by Professor Trelawney claiming that neither could live while the other survived reverberates the theme of the Witches’ prophecies central to the play, throughout the book, Harry continues to have perturbing dreams. Through Harry’s psychic connection with Voldemort, he has the premonition in which he sees himself transfigured into a snake about to attack Arthur Weasley, his friend Ron’s father which propels him to raise an alarm thus saving a life.
While this vision, though inadvertent, acts as a boon, later, partially due to Harry’s failure at Occlumency( the art of compartmentalizing one’s emotions and thoughts), Voldemort takes the role of the evil Witches, invading his mind and creating the illusion of his godfather, Sirius Black’s imminent danger. Harry’s belief in the hallucination in this case, ushers further peril, resulting in the loss of Black’s life.
Even in the genre of graphic novels, the first dialogue of the protagonist Vendetta in Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta”, is borrowed from Macbeth, ““The multiplying villainies of nature do swarm upon him” and proceeds to explore the common theme of hallucinations. For reshaping Evey’s character and to purge her of the weaknesses preventing her from becoming ruthless albeit for a greater cause (and consequently, V’s rightful partner and successor in the commitment of murders), the anarchist Vendetta whose role is similar to that of Lady Macbeth’s makes her go through a hoax ordeal when she starts believing what she is made to see.
Again, Eric Finch, the head of The Nose — the regular police force, travels to the abandoned site of Larkhill, where he takes LSD and the introduction of hallucinogens to artificially induce visions propagates the idea how the notion of hallucination has developed in literary history. Finch’s hallucinations show him his past life, where he was the lover of a black woman who was sent to the concentration camps for her race. His delusions also make him act as a prisoner of Larkhill who is soon freed, like V, giving him an intuitive understanding of himself. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow” proves the illusory movement of time-backward or forward, for Macbeth, who is caught in the sameness of any day. Tomorrow merges with today and acts as if it is today rendering a reverie-like appearance to the play- “All that we see or seem/ Is but a dream within a dream... ”(Poe) Though the debate regarding the beneficence or derogatory effect of hallucinations and visions remains unresolved, the importance of life being negated as a “poor player”, the titanic significance of dreams, induced from traceable and untraceable sources, gains the limelight.
Lovecraft’s theory of cosmicism stating that human life, interest, emotions have no validity or significance in the cosmos-at-large is at par with Shakespeare’s nihilistic observation through Macbeth, “Life is but a walking shadow…. ” Macbeth’s humaneness has already undergone irreversible plunder, driven by the overwhelming impression of the Witches’ prophecies, so that he is incapable of feeling much sorrow at the news of his loyal partner’s death, he has lived in, through and for his fantastic imaginings. “Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon. ”- “Beyond the Walls of Sleep”, H. P. Lovecraft (2196 words) Works Cited: Arnold, Aerol: “The Recapitulation Dream in Richard III and Macbeth. ” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. (Winter, 1955), pp. 51-62, JSTOR Bella, Tenijoy La: “A Strange Infirmity”: Lady Macbeth’s Amenorrhea. Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 381-386, JSTOR Crawford, A. W. : “The Apparitions in Macbeth. ” Modern Language Notes, Vol. 39, No. 6 (Jun. , 1924), pp. 345-350, JSTOR Fahey, Caitlin Jeanne: “Altogether governed by humours: The Four Temperaments in Shakespeare” Favila, Marina: “Mortal Thoughts and Magical Thinking in Macbeth. ” Modern Philology, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Aug. , 2001), pp. 1-25, JSTOR Foucault, Michael: Madness and Civilization Grossvogel, David I. : “When the Stain Won’t Wash: Polanski’s Macbeth. ” Diacritics, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Summer, 1972), pp. 46-51 JSTOR Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, James: The Malleus Maleficarum Kruger, Steven F. : Dreaming in the Middle Ages Leonard, Kendra Preston: Shakespeare, Madness and Music Lovecraft, H. P. : Supernatural Horror in Literature - - - H. P. Lovecraft goes to the Movies
Moore, Alan and Lloyd, David: V for Vendetta Moschovakis, Nick: Macbeth New Critical Essays Parker, Barbara L. : “The Great Illusion. ” The Sewanee Review, Vol. 78, No. 3 (Summer, 1970), pp. 476-487, JSTOR Paul, Henry N: “Macbeth’s Imagination”- Bloom’s Macbeth through the Ages Poe, Edgar Allan: Benerice - - - : A Dream within a Dream Rowling, J. K. : Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix Wain, John: Macbeth, a Casebook Welles, Orson dir. , Macbeth, Republic Pictures, 1948. Film.