What specific events in the play of Macbeth show an individual suffering from despair?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act V, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, secure in his castle at Dunsinane, Macbeth prepares for battle.  His servant enters and tells Macbeth of the multitudes of the English force that march toward the castle.  Macbeth berates the servant for his cowardice; however, his bravado conceals his inner despair.  In a declaration that the forthcoming attack will either give him the throne or kill him, there is evident in his speech the shadows of his increasing despair:

Seyton!--I am sick at heart.

When I behold--Seyton, I say!--This push

Will cheer me ever, or disseat me now.

I have lived long enough.  My way of life

Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf,

And that which should accompany of old age,

As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,

I must not look to have; but, in their stead,

Curses no loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath,

Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not. (5.3.21-31) 

This despair reaches a crescendo when Macbeth learns that his wife has died.  Like the melancholic Hamlet, Macbeth, in a brown study, reflects on the brevity of life and its existential absurdity:

Tomorrow and tomorroe, and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,...

And all our yeterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death....

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour uon the stage

And then is heard no more.  It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing. (5.5.19-30)

As though in defiance of this despair, Macbeth yet displays his courage and heads into battle; ever the admirable warrior, Macbeth declares bravely, "I will not yield."


Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The previous posts nailed it.  They got it right, simply put.  It's the ending soliloquy that gets the job done in terms of speaking or articulating a condition of despair.  It is almost perfect, and but for my own fears in using such a term, it might as well be so.  Shakespeare got the basic idea down that there are moments when appropriating the world in accordance to our own subjectivity can actually be unsatisfying.  Put in another way by Benjamin Constant in his novella, "Adolphe," a father speaks to his son:  "I cannot believe that with your spirit of independence you do exactly what you do not want to do."  This is where Macbeth is at that last speech in which he speaks of an existence that is fruitless, one that casts the most magnificent edifices of hopes and dreams, but does so on a firmament of sand with the tide ready to come in and wash away all yearning.  It is this basic idea of hopelessness and despair in its purest form that is revealed.  It stands as a stark contrast to the vision of Macbeth who schemed, vacillated, murdered, and alienated.  It is such a dire opposing vision of the individual who sought to do so much more, but in the end is resigned to personal failure and professional disgrace.  In such a moment, despair is an apt term.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the title character suffers from despair after he receives the news that his wife is dead in Act 5.5.17-29.

In his speech sometimes referred to as the "Tomorrow" speech, Macbeth shows despair and a feeling that all is meaningless.  One could say he slips into momentary nihilism. 

Existence is not what it should be, according to Macbeth in the speech:  his wife should have died at a better time.  She would have died sometime, but it shouldn't have been just then.  Tomorrows creep, or come slowly, and all "yesterdays" lead to is the grave.  Life is as fleeting as a shadow, and is like an actor who is famous for a short while, then disappears forever.  Life is a story told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but meaning nothing.

Macbeth, after hearing the news of his wife's death, sees life as meaningless.  He falls into despair.

Macbeth, of course, recovers quickly, as appropriate for a king and tragic protagonist:  moments later, after being told that Birnam Wood is, indeed, moving forward toward his castle, he declares:

Ring the alarum bell!  [Alarums.]  Blow, wind, come, wrack [run]!

At least we'll die with harness [armor] on our back.

shaketeach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the previous posts.  We definately see Macbeth in despair but I would say that we also see Lady Macbeth in despair in the sleepwalking scene.

This is a woman who believes that the blood on her hands from the killing of Duncan can be washed away with a little water.  She is also a strong woman who covers for Macbeth when he sees the dead Banqueo at the banquet and begins to act strangely in front of their guests.

The next time we see this women, she is consumed with her guilt.  She has been deserted by the spirits that tend on mortal thoughts and her woman's nature cannot handle her guilt.  She is certainly in despair as she relives those terrible moments that started the Macbeths down their path of destruction.  

Read the study guide:

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question