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Shakespeare was, of course, not acquainted with the psychiatric terms "Disssociative Identity Disorder" or "Multiple Personality Disorder," commonly called "split personality," but he must have been familiar with its symptoms in the Elizabethan English population. Macbeth can be both a hero and a villain because he acquires more than one identity. He is the loyal Thane of Glamis, and he inherits the mantle of the treasonous Thane of Cawdor. As Cawdor he commits the murder of Duncan and schemes against Malcolm and Donalbain; and as Cawdor he orders the murders of Banquo and Fleance and later of Macduff’s wife and children. By inheriting Cawdor’s title, he has also inherited his wicked character. Significantly, Macbeth says at the end of Act 2, Scene 3:
To know my deed ‘twere best not know myself.
His trances, his depression, and hallucinations are all symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Like Dr. Jekyll in Robert Louis Stevenson’s story, Macbeth cannot cope with both identities. Becoming Thane of Cawdor leads directly to his becoming King of Scotland, and this is far more than Macbeth can handle. His misrule of his kingdom, which we only know of by report, sounds like the behavior of a lunatic king.
Macbeth has many heroic qualities as he is presented in the beginning of the play. However, as he is consumed by his quest for power and is under the agency of the witches, he commits villainous acts such as murder. In the end, he realizes his flaws and seems guilty, which adds another dimension to his dynamic character.
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