Act 5, Scene 1: Lady Macbeth sleepwalks

Lady Macbeth is plagued by feelings of guilt

Act 5, Scene 1 is set at night in the Macbeths’ castle. A doctor and a gentlewoman (a lady-in-waiting to the Queen) observe Lady Macbeth sleepwalking. 

In this scene, we meet a very different Lady Macbeth compared to the determined and remorseless woman we saw earlier in the play. Now she appears restless and distressed. It is clear that Lady Macbeth is haunted by the many murders she and her husband have orchestrated. This is shown in several ways. 

First, the gentlewoman says that Lady Macbeth has been sleepwalking for a while: “Since his majesty went into the field, I have seen her rise from her bed.” (5.1.3-4). Lady Macbeth’s inability to remain in her bed shows that she is deeply troubled. The fact that her husband is not with her underlines how they have drifted apart, each haunted by their own conscience.

Second, the gentlewoman reveals that Lady Macbeth “has light by her continually; ‘tis her command” (5.1.20-21). It appears that the Queen has grown afraid of the dark, probably because it reminds her of how she and Macbeth killed King Duncan while he slept. 

Third, the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth is constantly trying to wash her hands clean: “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” (5.1.31). She...

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