Imagine your life, but different. Imagine you had everything you have now, but a little more. Imagine that the little more hindered you in every way. Imagine you couldn't function any more because of this little more. Imagine that this little more was a crippling mental disease. One in five adults suffer from a mental disease. One in twenty-five adults suffer from a mental disease so badly that it affects their day-to-day life. The book Macbeth by William Shakespeare has it all—murder, sleepwalking, witches, kings, Scotland!—but it has no mention of any mental diseases. Why, you might ask, since Shakespeare just loved tragedy? The reason for this is simply that the concept of mental diseases didn't exist back then. The same symptoms we use now can apply to the book Macbeth, though, but people in Shakespeare's time said these people were possessed by a demon, or just plain lazy. Using knowledge of mental diseases and reading into the behavior in Macbeth, you can prove that characters in the book might've had some certain mental disorders.
One of the diseases that can cause a cripple an adult's daily life forever is called schizophrenia. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality. They will hear and see things that aren't there, they will have delusions that they are being watched, or spied on and they can be less enthusiastic, in general. People with this disease will also speak to themselves. Scientists aren't sure of the exact cause of schizophrenia, but they has noted that there are lower rates of three hormones; dopamine and serotonin, both of which makes you happy, and glutamate, which controls your memory. The last symptom of schizophrenia is having a reduced feeling of pleasure in everyday life. It is for these reasons that I make the argument that Macbeth has schizophrenia.
In Macbeth, our title character shows several of the previously mentioned symptoms. He sees things that aren't there, like in Act Three, Scene Four, when he sees Banquo's ghost in front of everyone and shouts to it, "Never shake/ Thy gory locks at me" (Mowat, 103) in front of everybody there. All the other guests at Macbeth's dinner don't see Banquo's ghost and think something is wrong with their king. In Act Two, Scene One, before Macbeth kills Duncan he also sees a dagger, covered in blood, floating in the air. This dagger is obviously an hallucination because daggers don't just appear floating in the air. He also thinks Banquo is out for him and will kill him to gain the kingship. In the aforementioned dagger speech, Macbeth not only hallucinates a floating dagger, but he also talks to himself for a pretty long time, which is one of the symptoms of schizophrenia. He has lower rates of both dopamine and serotonin, shown in places where he's depressed. For instance, when he finds out his wife died, he doesn't really care. All he says is "She should have died hereafter." (Mowat, 177). He realizes that death is inevitable and he doesn't care. Even earlier on in the book he says to his wife "Better be with the dead" (Mowat, 93). He tells his wife that he'd rather be dead, which definitely shows that he is not happy. When someone isn't happy, they probably don't enjoy life very much, which checks off another symptom. While Macbeth has most of the symptoms of schizophrenia, there are some symptoms he doesn't have. He doesn't seem to have lower rates of glutamate, because he is constantly reminded of the murders he did, even though he would probably like to forget them. Even though Macbeth doesn't show every single symptom, he shows enough of the symptoms for someone to confidently say that he has schizophrenia. Even though it's proved that Macbeth probably had schizophrenia, a second disease he might have had is called PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has four categories of symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The first category is re-experiencing symptoms and you must have either flashbacks, bad dreams or frightening thoughts for at least a month in order to have the disease. This category of symptoms disrupt the daily life and make it harder to do everything you usually did before. The second category is avoidance symptoms that, like the re-experiencing symptoms, you must have one of for at least a month. These include avoiding places that are a reminder of the event, or avoiding thought or feelings of the event. Avoiding this may cause someone to completely change their daily routine. Unlike with the first two categories of symptoms, with the second to last category, of arousal and reactivity symptoms, you must have two of the following for at least a month: being easily startled, feeling tense, having angry outbursts or having difficulty sleeping. These are usually constant and not triggered by something. In the last category, of cognition and mood symptoms, you must also have two of them for at least a month. The symptoms are trouble remembering parts of the event, feelings of guilt, loss of interest or negative thoughts about the world or oneselves. If these symptoms happen, but go away, it's called Acute Stress Disorder, or ASD, but if the symptoms linger for than a month and greatly hinder your life, it is PTSD. There is proof in the book of Macbeth that Macbeth has PTSD, going along with these four categories of symptoms.
The main and titular character of the book, Macbeth, first shows a sign of one of the above symptoms right after he kills Duncan. He wonders, "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood/ Clean from my hand?" (Mowat, 59). He feels guilty almost immediately and feels like he'll never be clean of his crime. This is a symptom of the fourth category, cognition and mood symptoms, feeling guilt. It's unclear how much time is between acts and scenes in the play, but fifty pages later, Act Three, Scene Four, Macbeth states "I am in blood/ Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o'er." He says this after he sees Banquo's ghost, which reminds him of the crimes he had done and makes him feel even more guilty. The second symptom he has from the fourth category is having negative thoughts about the world. When his wife dies, he doesn't seem to care; he just says that she would've died eventually anyway because death is inevitable. The next symptom Macbeth shows is from the first category of re-experiencing symptoms. He has frightening thoughts that Banquo will kill him and although we don't know how long he had these thoughts and whether they were constant, he must've thought about it enough to be driven to kill Banquo. The next symptom is from the third category of arousal and reactivity symptoms. He has an angry outburst at Banquo's ghost in front of everyone at his dinner party. Right after this outburst, he sits back down and pushes down his feelings, which is a symptom from the second category of avoidance symptoms. "I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing/ To those that know me. Come, love and health to all./ Then I'll sit down. —Give me some wine. Fill full" (Mowat, 105). He's obviously shook after seeing Banquo's ghost but he sits down and puts on a happy face and drinks his feelings away. He also suppresses his feelings later on, when he says "The mind I sway by and the heart I bear/ Shall never sag with doubt nor shake with fear" (Mowat, 169). Macbeth is completely set on not letting himself be scared and he's pushing down any feelings that make him feel doubtful. Even though Macbeth has many of the symptoms of PTSD, it is unlikely that he actually has the disorder, as we don't know how long he has had the symptoms. It is more likely he has Acute Stress Disorder instead. Another disease Macbeth might have would be bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is when a person has two main moods, mania and depression, and switches between the two. A person with bipolar disorder will have an up and a down. Their up is called mania. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, symptoms of mania include feeling very happy, being energized, feeling jumpy, talking a lot, doing risky things, lack of sleep, being aggressive, hallucinations, delusions of self-importance and being irritated. On the other hand, their down is called depression. According to the same organization, they will feel sad, hopeless, irritable, guilty, tired, indecisive, pessimistic and they will go through social withdrawal. Each mood can last for "days, weeks or even months," according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. These symptoms in someone will usually point to them having bipolar disorder, like, for instance, in Macbeth.
Macbeth will talk for a long time, to no one else in particular. He talks for a whole page to no one when he says his dagger speech, he talks for a shorter time, but still for a while, after he finds out his wife dies and there are different points throughout the play where Macbeth talks for around ten sentences, saying what he could have said in one. This is a symptom of the mania part of bipolar disorder. Another thing Macbeth does that fits in with mania is his aura of self importance. Macbeth gets promotion after promotion, which definitely would boost his ego. Like mentioned earlier in the essay, Macbeth has different hallucinations, like a floating dagger covered in blood and Banquo's ghost sitting in his chair. On the other hand, Macbeth also has symptoms of depression. He feels guilty when he feels Duncan, asking "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?" and he also feels the guilt when he kills Banquo, shoving away Banquo's ghost and his own feelings of guilt. He is also very pessimistic, when he shows that he doesn't care about life anymore. "Better be with the dead" (Mowat, 93) he notes to his wife. Later, after his wife died, all he says about that is "She should have died hereafter" (Mowat, 177). Macbeth doesn't really care that she's dead, because she would've died eventually anyway. Macbeth changes his mood between the two which is proof of him probably having bipolar disorder. Even though Macbeth might have had different mental diseases, he is not the only character in Macbeth that might have possibly had a mental health problem. Lady Macbeth, for instance, might've.
Depression is, simply, someone feeling sad and down all the time. There are more symptoms than just feeling sad, though. Someone with depression will feel guilty about anything, they will have trouble sleeping, they will have appetite changes, their body will ache, they will be irritable or they will have thoughts of suicide. Not everyone with depression will have all the symptoms. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, if someone has some of these symptoms persistently, they most likely have depression.
In The Tragedy of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth urges Macbeth to kill King Duncan but after he kills him, she feels guilty. In Act Five, Scene One, a doctor observes Lady Macbeth sleepwalking. Lady Macbeth's gentlewoman tells the doctor that Lady Macbeth has sleepwalked before. The doctor calls her sleepwalking her "slumb'ry agitation", as in her sleep was disturbed by her sleepwalking. Trouble sleeping is one of the above symptoms. Another symptom of depression Lady Macbeth shows is guilt about killing Duncan indirectly. "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" she says in her bout of sleepwalking in Act Five, Scene One. The third symptom she shows is thoughts of suicide. In Malcolm's final soliloquy, he mentions Lady Macbeth and says: "Who, as 'tis thought, by self and violent hands,/ Took off her life." Actually committing suicide is a pretty solid proof of suicidal thoughts. Even though Lady Macbeth doesn't show any of the other symptoms, there is still a strong argument that she had depression because not every person with depression shows every symptom, according to the National Institute of Mental Health,.
Even though it isn't stated outright, it is evident that Lady Macbeth has depression. If William Shakespeare was alive nowadays and rewrote Macbeth he might have canonically included mental diseases, not just in Macbeth, but possibly in all his other plays. Those diseases with the same symptoms existed back in Shakespeare's day, but they weren't classified or diagnosed, just read off as something else, or not looked at all. In conclusion, mental health can affect anyone and everyone, even if they're fictional.
Mowat, Barbara and Werstine Paul. Macbeth by William Shakespeare: An Updated Edition. Simon and Schuster: New York. 2013.
"Schizophrenia." National Institute of Mental Health. . . Accessed May, 2017.
"Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder." National Institute of Mental Health. . . Accessed May, 2017.
"Depression." National Institute of Mental Health. . . Accessed May, 2017.
"Signs and Symptoms of Mood Disorders." Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. .org. Accessed May 2017.