Macbeth: Illness Motif

Jane Doe

Ms. Teacher

AP Language and Composition

5 January 2011
Macbeth: Illness Motif

Motif statement: Shakespeare utilizes the motif of illness to further emphasize how Macbeth’s need for power has led to the sickening downfall of Scotland. Illness represents the deterioration of Macbeth’s morals along with the decline of Scotland.

Quotations with explanations:

1. IV.iii.169-181

“A most miraculous work in this good king, / Which often since my here-remain in England / I have seen him do. How he solicits heaven / Himself best knows, but strangely visited people / All swoll’n and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye, / The mere despair of surgery, he cures, / Hanging a gold stamp about their necks, / Put on with holy prayers; and, ‘tis spoken, / To the succeeding royalty he leaves the healing benediction. With this strange virtue, / He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy, / And sundry blessings hang about his throne / That speak him full of grace.”

context: In England, as Malcolm and Macduff are speaking, the doctor enters and reports on the condition of a healed patient. When Macduff asks about the disease, Malcolm explains the healing powers of the English king.

explanation: This description of the good king of England stands in a stark contrast to descriptions of Macbeth. The king is depicted as the best of men, illustrated by his healing powers for the people of England. His “heavenly gift of prophecy” leaves his country in bliss and prosperity. However, Macbeth’s prophecy has led Scotland down a dark path that it cannot escape from until Macbeth is gone. “Sundry blessings” hang about the English throne, while curses hang about the Scottish.

2. V.iv.62-64

“If thou couldst, doctor, cast / The water of my land, find her disease, and purge it to a sound and pristine health.”

context: Just after Macbeth hears the news of the soldiers marching against him, the doctor gives a brief but dismal report of the condition of Macbeth’s wife....