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Macbeth -Guilty on the grounds of Diminished Responsibility?I have always felt a great...

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted February 8, 2008 at 7:25 AM via web

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Macbeth -Guilty on the grounds of Diminished Responsibility?

I have always felt a great empathy/sympathy for those accused of violent crimes if there has been any suggestion of mental illness. Even today, I wonder if these people get the help they need, or even a fair hearing.

Therefore I am caught up in the issue over Macbeth's 'madness' and the theoretical notion of how he would appear in a court today. This hypothetical situation I find fascinating.

What would the jury, judge, prosecution, defense, relatives make of him?

What would the 'expert witness' from the psychiatry department cite in their report? Any particular conditions?

All opinions warmly received - what do you think?

 

 

Tagged with discussion, literature, macbeth

9 Answers | Add Yours

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 8, 2008 at 7:54 AM (Answer #2)

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But was Macbeth mentally unstable before he had Duncan murdered? I think not. It seems that his madness began as remorse over what he had done. It's like his guilty conscience drove him insane. The same goes for Lady Macbeth.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 8, 2008 at 8:12 AM (Answer #3)

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Macbeth knew what he was doing when he began his bloody trek to the throne.  Yes, he acted under duress, but he is the one who took up the dagger and plunged it into innocence in the dark of night.  Macbeth exercised his free will and he went crazy as a result of his guilt.

Lady Macbeth, perhaps, would be a better candidate for mental illness, although it is my belief that she also knew exactly what she was doing.  Neither of them understood the consequences of the matter...is this reason enough to declare them crazy?

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alexb2 | eNotes Employee

Posted February 8, 2008 at 10:45 AM (Answer #4)

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If we postulate that Macbeth survived his final battle, he would not be on trial at all-- he would be King. He would surely cast his enemies as terrorists, plotters, enemies of the people etc. A bloody march to the throne is the rule, not the exception. 

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 8, 2008 at 10:54 AM (Answer #5)

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If we postulate that Macbeth survived his final battle, he would not be on trial at all-- he would be King. He would surely cast his enemies as terrorists, plotters, enemies of the people etc. A bloody march to the throne is the rule, not the exception. 

You are so right. Think of just the English kings who won the throne through war: William I, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VII, Charles II. Have I left anyone out?

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jamie-wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted February 8, 2008 at 6:19 PM (Answer #6)

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If we postulate that Macbeth survived his final battle, he would not be on trial at all-- he would be King. He would surely cast his enemies as terrorists, plotters, enemies of the people etc. A bloody march to the throne is the rule, not the exception. 

You are so right. Think of just the English kings who won the throne through war: William I, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VII, Charles II. Have I left anyone out?

Bush the II? 

 

 

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted February 8, 2008 at 11:45 PM (Answer #7)

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If we postulate that Macbeth survived his final battle, he would not be on trial at all-- he would be King. He would surely cast his enemies as terrorists, plotters, enemies of the people etc. A bloody march to the throne is the rule, not the exception. 

You are so right. Think of just the English kings who won the throne through war: William I, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VII, Charles II. Have I left anyone out?

Bush the II? 

 

 

Don't forget Fleance! Suppose he comes back, having gathered toghether a posse of like-minded lords all out to investigate the dodgy circumstances of Macbeth's acquisition of the throne?

What would the Scottish courts have been like? Would England have 'answered the call' of the lords and intervened?

Now there's a whole new play! Anyway, back to psychiatry - I would like to bypass the 'hows' of getting him to court and concentrate only on his mental state - if he ever got that far.

For example - how is his 'breakdown' similar or different to that of King Lear?

Are there any predispositions or subtle hints of a vulnerable personality in Act 1?

I love the quote

"His mind's construction shows in his face"

 

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leagye | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted February 11, 2008 at 9:01 PM (Answer #8)

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There is no evidence prior to killing Duncan that Macbeth is suffering from any type of mental illness; therefore, that defense is out the window. I agree with the above notion that Macbeth's bloody march to the throne is the rule, not the exception, and therefore Macbeth, had he survived the final confrontation, would have become King Macbeth and ruled until someone else snuck up on him...I disagree that he and Lady Macbeth did not know the consequences of their actions. They most certainly did know the consequences, which is why she had a breakdown and he kept murdering to cover his tracks. Finally, had he been mentally ill from the beginning, couldn't it be argued that it the vascillation he exhibited in Act I/II wouldn't have occurred? If he was mentally ill whatsoever, he would have done the deed without needing to be coerced by Lady Mac.

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted February 16, 2008 at 12:04 AM (Answer #9)

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On this particular occasion, I am not looking for a defence - just a diagnosis.

Literature is subjective too - each reader has their own take and brings a different set of life experiences to it.

Some of the behaviors that Macbeth presents with seem familiar to me, even in Act 1 where he is talked 'about' before he talks himself.

Here, he is described as 'Disdaining fortune' (already displaying that drive to overide events and drive situations forward alone.)

I wonder if his need to continue the battle was  an act of bravery or just an irrational disregard for their present circumstances? If it was the latter, his behavior reminds me of Hitler, and several other more present-day dictators in the developing world. Not only do these people forgo reason themselves though, they seem to have the ability to carry others with them. We see a small example of this in Macbeth's abilty to persuade the murderers.

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maggie529 | Student , Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 11, 2008 at 2:21 PM (Answer #10)

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But was Macbeth mentally unstable before he had Duncan murdered? I think not. It seems that his madness began as remorse over what he had done. It's like his guilty conscience drove him insane. The same goes for Lady Macbeth.

macbeth did have somewhat of a psychotic break beforehe murdered duncan~ his whole speech about "is this a dagger i see before me?" was clearly a hallucination as far as i could tell.  i don't know for sure the proper diagnosis, since it is also clear from the speech that he realized the dagger wasn't real.

 it has also been argued that the witches (weird sisters) were a figment of macbeth's imagination. this however, if ind difficult to believe, since banquo saw them as well. (unless banquo's appearance was a figment of macbeth's imagination as well)

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