Essay: Sigmund Freud and Macbeth

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  • Sigmund Freud and Macbeth
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Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theory examines the manifestations, issues, reactions of a person’s subconscious. Freud believed that humans are guided by fears, desires or thoughts they are unaware of.

According to what Freud said, there are three major components of personality: id, ego and super ego. The id works to satisfy basic needs and desires and operates based on the pleasure principle. It includes the instinctive and primitive behaviors, that’s why it is the only component of personality that is present at birth. The ego is responsible for dealing with reality; it ensures that the impulses from the id are shown to the world in an acceptable manner, its main goal is also pleasure just as in the case of the id, but unlike the id, the ego filters the desire of pleasure through reality. ‘The ego is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse’ (Freud). The superego takes care of the moral standards, of the sense of right and wrong. It is divided in two: the ego ideal includes the rules for a good behavior learned from parents and society and the conscience which includes details about bad behaviors which are not approved by parents or society.

It is easy to apply the psychoanalytical theory on William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. For example, Lady Macbeth has a speech at a certain point, which reveals the id through a hidden desire of hers, which is the desire of becoming cruel and unnatural from a kind and feminine woman. ‘Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here/ […] Make thick my blood/ […] Come to my woman’s breast,/ And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers’( ‘Macbeth’, William Shakespeare, Act 1, Scene 5). The phrase ‘unsex me here’ reveals Lady Macbeth’s desire of becoming more like a witch because the witches from ‘Macbeth’ were not necessarily women. ‘Make thick my blood’ shows that she wants to stop being fertile, stop menstruating and stop functioning like a woman; ‘And take my milk for gall’ – she wants to be a mother who poisons.

In Macbeth’s case, the ego tried to maintain the reality during the scene when Macbeth met the witches. The significant line is ‘If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me’(Act 1, Scene 3). This means that the ego was trying to fight the pressing impulse given by the id, was trying to convince Macbeth that he doesn’t have to kill Duncan to become a king only because the witches told him so and that he has to let things happen by chance. Freud believed that all human beings are born with an innate desire of aggression, of harming others. This, of course, is related to the instinctive component of personality, the id. The idea of his can also be seen in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ in one of the main character’s lines ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me’ (‘Macbeth’, William Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 1)

The mentioned line is the starter for a fragment that shows exactly the idea explained by Freud. Some illustrative lines are also ‘Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible/ To feeling as to sight? Or art
thou but/ A dagger of the mind, a false creation/ Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?/ I see thee yet in a form as palpable/ As this which now I draw./ Thou marshall’st me the way
that I was going,/ And such an instrument I was to use’ (‘Macbeth’, William Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 1). This fragment represents Macbeth’s way of admitting his desire of killing Duncan. He
wants so badly to kill the king that he is not even sure if the dagger is a real one or if it is just the result of his imagination led by the powerful desire that he has.

The Oedipus Complex is a concept that refers to a child’s unconscious sexual desire for the opposite sex parent. The child sees the same sex parent as a threat and starts to have feelings of jealousy or anger towards him/her. Sigmund Freud talked about this concept and noticed that both boys and girls can have it. He used the term ‘Electra complex’ to refer to the Oedipus complex manifested in girls.

The three components of personality discussed by Freud are also involved in this complex. When it comes to Oedipus complex, the id and the ego have an important role. In a case where the son develops sexual attraction towards the mother and anger towards the father, the id will immediately want to eliminate the father while the ego will see that the father is stronger, more suitable for the mother and will temperate this unconscious craving.

Freud firstly mentioned the concept is his book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’. He named the complex after the main character in Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex’ who kills his father and marries his mother by accident. He was an orphan abandoned at birth so he never met his parents and the time he kills his father and marries his mother is the moment when he finds out their true identities.
Freud believed that the Oedipus complex plays an important part in the child’s psychosexual development. When the child identifies with the same sex parent, chances are he/she will have a mature sexual identity. There are two kinds of this complex: the positive one refers to a child’s unconscious sexual desire for the opposite sex parent and jealousy towards the same sex parent and the negative one which refers to a child’s unconscious sexual desire for the same sex parent and jealousy towards the opposite sex parent.
The concept is also found in literature. ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare contains an oedipal dilemma. The Oedipus complex is present when Macbeth commits regicide. The king is considered to be the father of all his subjects so, by killing Duncan, Macbeth killed the king and also his father.
To conclude this essay, I can say that literature is often illustrative in showing ideas of psychoanalytical world. ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare is a relevant work of art in supporting Sigmund Freud’s ideas about personality and also in exemplifying the Oedipus complex in an original manner.

-‘Macbeth’, William Shakespeare
-‘The interpretation of dreams’, Sigmund Freud
-‘Beyond the pleasure principle’, Sigmund Freud
-‘New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis’, Sigmund Freud

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