Life's fitful fever
Macbeth:Macbeth Act 3, scene 2, 19–23
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. Duncan is in his grave;
After life's fitful fever he sleeps well.
Lady Macbeth unsuccessfully tries to convince her husband that "what's done, is done" [see p. 181]. Macbeth had foreseen that the murder of King Duncan and the seizure of his throne would not be the "be-all and the end-all" [see p. 5] of the matter, but that doesn't stave off the inevitable psychological consequences. Beleaguered by bloody hallucinations and guilt-induced fantasies, Macbeth has gotten no peace by satisfying his ambitions. He experiences life, rather, as a "fitful fever," that is, a fever that comes in fits, the heat of ambition alternating with deadly cold, turbulence broken by only transient calms. The dead, he concludes, are truly at peace; murderers and the rest of the living suffer only uncertainty and agitation, as if life were a disease.