In Macbeth, guilt is an important theme because it softens Macbeth’s ambition and callousness. His brutality is balanced by his guilt – a quality that enables the audience to identify with Macbeth throughout the play despite his tyranny.
Macbeth’s guilt prevents him from fully enjoying his ill gotten gains. At the start of the play he is described as a hero and this quality is still present even in his darkest moments. Shakespeare suggests this idea by engendering Macbeth with a strong sense of guilt.
For example, Macbeth is visited by the ghost of Banquo, who he murdered to protect his secret. The apparition embodies Macbeth’s guilt and therefore causes Macbeth to nearly reveal the truth about King Duncan’s murder.
However, Macbeth’s guilt is not enough to discourage him from murder. This perhaps indicates a lack of morality – Macbeth’s key character failing.
Lady Macbeth’s Guilt
Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind her husband’s actions. In fact, Macbeth’s strong sense of guilt suggests that he would not have realized his ambitions without Lady Macbeth there to encourage him.
Unlike Macbeth’s conscious guilt, Lady Macbeth’s guilt is subconsciously expressed through her dreams. By presenting her guilt in this way Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that we are unable to escape guilt for wrongdoing.
By the end of the play Lady Macbeth’s guilt becomes untenable and she eventually kills herself. Evidently, the intensity of her guilt and shame was stronger than anything she consciously conveyed.