Shakespeare is a writer known for his use of metaphor. A variety of metaphors are used to express key themes in his play Macbeth. However I would argue that the metaphor of sickness and healing is one of the most prevalent metaphors that is present in this play. Shakespeare was so focused on the idea of sickness and medicine that is his only play to feature two doctors. Shakespeare addresses sickness and healing not only through the characters of his play, the sickness of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the healing of Edward the Confessor but also through countries as a whole, the sickness of Scotland versus the healing power of England.
The main focus on sickness and health is in the later part of the play, where it is extensively used. Macbeth can be seen to represent the disease which is plaguing Scotland, his tyrannical behaviour is having an effect on the whole country. As Malcolm refers to Scotland in Act IV, he says ‘It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash Is added to her wounds,’ Shakespeare cleverly uses the idea of war and battle that has been used throughout this play but now uses it to represent Scotland as a country. The audience imagine a bloody soldier who is being stabbed, quite a violent image. This represents the violence that Scotland is experiencing. Shakespeare presents a strong case of the diseasing tyrant, Macbeth versus the doctor, Edward the confessor.
It is through Shakespeare’s metaphor of sickness and disease that not only does he manage to support his plot but he also complements the king of the time. The Kings of this time had a belief in a ‘divine right to rule’, the idea that the royal family are ordained by God. Some members of the royal family even claimed that they had healing powers, as can be seen in Macbeth. Shakespeare says that ‘such sanctity hath heaven given his hand’, referring to the king and his powers. This image of Edward the Confessor which Shakespeare portrays, one of being a holy king who can heal his subjects, would come across to a contemporary audience as an indirect tribute to James himself. Shakespeare also refers to the kings as being ‘full of grace’ and having the ‘miraculous’ ‘healing’ powers of ‘benediction’, all which can be seen to be further complements to the king. The doctor speaks of the King of Scotland who can cure the ‘evil’ (this is not only a plague like disease but also Macbeth).
Ironically at the beginning of the play Lady Macbeth, in a soliloquy of her own, points out that Macbeth’s only “illness” (at that point) is his lack of ambition. Despite the fact that he covets the throne dearly, he does not want to usurp Duncan. Her disease, affecting his mind thus eventually ruins the whole of Scotland and both of these two characters lives, as they become more corrupt. The characters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth are shown to disintegrate as the play continues, in other words becoming more diseased. For example, by Act 2, scene 1, Macbeths “heat oppressed mind” sees apparitions of the violent dagger which is to be used on Duncan. Lennox describes the earth as ‘feverous’, after the murder takes place. Not only does this comment show that the natural world (macrocosm) also reflect what is happening in the moral world (microcosm). It is also this murder which can be argued as the starting point of Scotland’s downfall under the rule of Macbeth as king. After the murder of Duncan Lady Macbeth tries to convince her husband that “what’s done, is done.’ However Macbeth had realised that this murder would not be the ‘be-all and the end-all’, evil was going to continue. By satisfying his ambitions Macbeth has corrupted himself. He experiences life now as a ‘fitful fever’, he is constantly ill. Only the dead are truly at peace; the living always have a disease.