Methought I Heard A Voice Cry

What does Macbeth mean when he says "Macbeth does murder sleep"?

It is a sign of his guilt when Macbeth thinks he heard a voice say, "Macbeth does murder sleep." Sleep is a notable theme in Macbeth, especially because Macbeth kills King Duncan while he is asleep. This scene shows Macbeth distressed about murdering an innocent man while he was vulnerable. Moreover, Macbeth has taken advantage of what is supposed to be a peaceful state, and for the rest of the play sleep will represent a state of danger not so unrelated to death.

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Macbeth believes he heard a voice crying:

Me thought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!Macbeth doth Murder sleep”—the innocent sleep,Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care,The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,(50)Chief nourisher in life's feast— - See more at:

What this imaginary voice is suggesting by "Macbeth doth murder sleep" is that Macbeth's crime is especially heinous because he killed a man while his victim was sound asleep. Since the murdered man was totally defenseless, he will serve as an example to everyone--and especially to Macbeth himself--that sleeping is not safe. It should be a state of peace, comfort and security, but Macbeth's example has made it a state of extreme danger. The voice continues:

Still it cried, “Sleep no more!” to all the house;“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore CawdorShall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.”( - See more at:

Macbeth has seen how vulnerable a king can be when he is sound asleep, and now he proposes to become the king himself. He is accepting the danger that goes with the position. Therefore he will be afraid to go to sleep and will suffer from insomnia for the rest of his life. This lack of sleep will drive him half insane and cause him to behave more and more erratically and tyrannically. He can't sleep and he can't trust anybody. It wouldn't help him any to be guarded by attendants while he tried to go to sleep. Duncan had two grooms supposedly guarding him, but they were useless. 

Macbeth realizes he is setting a bad example that others might follow. Earlier he says to himself:

But in these casesWe still have judgement here, that we but teachBloody instructions, which being taught returnTo plague the inventor. This even-handed justice(10)Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chaliceTo our own lips. - See more at:

If a good king like Duncan can't safely close his eyes and go to sleep, then how could a murderer and usurper expect to do so?

Macbeth appears to be developing a split personality even at this early stage, just after he has committed the murder. In saying that Glamis has murdered sleep and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more, the voice is suggesting that one half of Macbeth represented by Glamis feels shame, guilt, and pity, while the other half represented by his new identity as Thane of Cawdor will be punished with lifelong insomnia for making Glamis do the deed. When Macbeth inherited the title of Cawdor, he must have inherited the treacherous nature exhibited by the former thane who was executed on Duncan's orders.

Macbeth is mainly suffering from guilt. Guilt, we are told by psychologists, is based on fear of exposure and punishment. It is very hard to go to sleep when we are frightened--although that is a time when we would very much like to be able to fall asleep. 

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What message is Shakespeare trying to convey in Macbeth when he writes that "Macbeth murders sleep"?

The paraphrased quote is taken from a line Macbeth utters shortly after the murder of Duncan; he hallucinates a voice saying "Sleep no more! Macbeth does murdered sleep." There are several meanings compounded in this statement.

First, this is a reflection on the condition of the murder itself; Duncan, the king, was sleeping when Macbeth killed him. "Murdering sleep" might be a metaphorical way of saying that Macbeth murders innocence itself. More directly, it's a way of saying that Macbeth has changed the meaning of sleep; it is no longer a safe and restful thing to do, but an invitation for getting yourself killed. Finally, in simpler terms, it's saying that no one is going to be getting any true rest anymore, because everyone's going to be watching their backs to see if they're the next to be murdered. Killing Duncan in his sleep was actually the worst thing that Macbeth could have done if he had wanted to avoid generating suspicions and mistrust.

Socially, this is a reflection on Macbeth's heavy consciousness, which takes an enormous toll on him throughout the rest of the play. Shakespeare repeatedly drives home how taxing Macbeth's crimes are on his conscience, and how much further he has to plunge himself into corruption in order to stave off his guilt while simultaneously holding onto power. It's also a way of saying that the murder of one man influences everyone; by changing the "rules" of society, and robbing everyone of the refuge that sleep should represent, Macbeth has caused a sort of moral degradation in Scotland that goes beyond his act. Besides taking Duncan's life, he has also sinned against humanity by turning this society's suspicions upon itself.

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What message is Shakespeare trying to convey in Macbeth when he writes that "Macbeth murders sleep"?

After Macbeth kills Duncan, he thinks he hears someone say, “Sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep.” He goes on to describe sleep in more detail:

… the innocent sleep,Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,Chief nourisher in life's feast--

Macbeth has just stabbed his king, friend, and guest. He describes sleep as a beautiful repose for the troubled, temporarily relieving one’s physical and mental anguish. Murdering sleep involves destroying that peace. Macbeth fears that this act will cause him a permanent restlessness and anxiety. Not only is he tormented by his crime, both he and Lady Macbeth have difficulty sleeping. Lady Macbeth walks and confesses in her sleep, and Macbeth envies the resting dead. Duncan’s murder also interrupts the kingdom’s recently regained serenity. Once again, Scotland is plunged into chaos and violence.

Macbeth murdered Duncan in his sleep, and death, which is comparable to sleep, becomes more palatable to the agitated Macbeth than the life that he has created for himself. He lives in paranoia, guilt, and blood until his death.

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