Chapter 17 Macbeth

Macbeth is a tragic play written by William shakespeare. The scene portrays Lady Macbeth who is mentally ill. All you need to know and learn about this chapter is given below.

Meet the Author

  • William Shakespeare known as the ‘bard of England’.
  • Born: April 1564
  • Place of Birth: Stratford-upon-Avon, United kingdom
  • Died: 23rd April 1616
  • Wife: Anee Hathaway
  • Major Books: 'Hamlet' and 'The Tempest'
  • Best known for: William Shakespeare is known for modelling the English that is in use today. He is not just a playwright but also a poet. His works have been converted into 80 different languages.

Historical Background to the Play

Macbeth (1606) was written during the Elizabethan era. It is a dramatization of Scottish history. Shakespeare was a celebrated writer since he wrote for the average man and woman.

Macbeth is a play that is based on greed, ambition, wealth and power. The play opens with three witches telling Macbeth, the Scottish general and Thane of Glamis, about the fortune that is awaiting him. They prophesied that he would become the king of Scotland. Macbeth was a very ambitious person and so was his evil wife.

King Duncan was the ruler of Scotland at that point. Due to Macbeth’s greed for power and wealth he murders King Duncan with the help of his wife. To cover up this murder he also kills Banquo the Thane of Scotland.

However both Macbeth and his wife are restless because of their guilt. The scene provided in Chapter 17 is where Lady Macbeth is seen to be mentally unstable due to her guilt.

The Tragedy of Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth

Summary of the Act


Doctor - He comes to examine Lady Macbeth as she was reported to be walking in her sleep.

Gentlewoman - The maid who helps Lady Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth- She is drowned in guilt and is hallucinating.


The scene is set in the castle. It opens with the doctor and the gentlewoman having a conversation about the condition of Lady Macbeth.

Gentlewoman informs the doctor that she has been walking in her sleep during the night for the past two days.

The gentlewoman has seen Lady Macbeth rise from her bed there in her nightgown. She then unlocks her closets and takes a paper, folds them and writes upon it. Afterwards she seals them and returns to bed. She is doing all this in her sleep.

Listening to this observation doctor concludes that there is something that is disturbing Lady Macbeth causing her to do this while she is asleep. The Doctor goes on to ask the maid what else Lady Macbeth does while asleep. However, the gentlewoman is afraid to disclose the details of Lady Macbeth’s conversation to herself. Soon Gentlewoman goes on to confess the fact that Lady Macbeth rubs her hands while talking to herself.

Then Lady Macbeth enters the stage. She walks in by claiming that there was a spot on her hands. Then she goes on to ask and enquire about the wife of the Thane of Fife (Banquo). She is worried about what had happened to that lady. Suddenly, she goes on to say that her hands will never be clean again.Then she makes the most famous dialogue from her soliloquy in the entire play,

Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!

This single line explains how severely Lady Macbeth was affected by her actions. She realises that none of the perfumes from the entire Arabia could clean her little hands that were stained with the royal blood.

The doctor and gentlewoman are overhearing the entire conversation that Lady Macbeth is having to herself. Doctor then explains that she is in a sad and disturb state. The gentlewoman expresses the weight of her own consciousness that is bringing her down as she now knows the inner secrets of Lady Macbeth.

Doctor finally states that her condition is beyond his experience and knowledge. Hence he is not in any position to save her. He also adds that some people who have undergone similar circumstances later died in their own bed.

While they are having this conversation they hear the rest of her speech. Lady Macbeth goes on to say that what is already done can never be undone. She is hallucinating in her sleep. She even hears knocking at the gate.

Lady Macbeth:

To bed to bed! There is knocking at the gate: come come come come give me your hand. What's done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed!

Now the doctor goes on to explain his understanding of the situation. He goes to convey that unnatural deeds will bring unnatural troubles. Everything around the ones who commit mistakes will turn out to be their enemies. Even their deaf pillows will give away their dark secrets. A power greater than a doctor is required to cure Lady Macbeth’s condition.

Foul whisp’rings are abroad: Unnatural deeds
Do breed unnatural troubles: infested minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets:
More needs she the divine than the physician

The doctor leaves the castle astonished at his findings that he cannot utter outside. The gentlewoman wishes him good night.

Throughout this act the doctor and the maid are being witness to Lady Macbeth’s mental breakdown. The play is teaching the viewers/readers about the consequences of greed over power and wealth. Macbeth and his wife had to trade off their inner peace to attain power and wealth.

A Castle in Scotland
A Castle in Scotland

Bonus Info


Soliloquy is a monologue a character has with themselves when they are alone or unaware of anyone hearing them. Through a soliloquy one reveals their inner feelings and thoughts.

In this act the dialogue of Lady Macbeth is called a soliloquy. She is speaking to herself and revealing her inner thoughts and tribulations. She is unaware about the fact that others were listening to it.

Movie Buff

Macbeth was the favorite text for directors across the ages. There are a lot of adaptations of the play. The one that has claimed most recognition is the screenplay directed by Justin Kurzel that was released in 2015.

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Macbeth Questions and Answers

Below are a few questions that you can look out for your examinations and class tests. Stand out with perfectly written answers with help of Aneetta Class.

Her illness is a result of her guilt. Doctor mentions this through the phrase ‘sorely charg’d’.

Lady Macbeth is an evil woman who promted her husband to murder people. In the given scene Lady Macbeth is going through a mental illness. She had conspired and killed the King and Thane of Scotland. The guilt of her crimes is bringing a mental breakdown in her leading to hallucinations. She is sure of not attaining mercy for her deeds. Her consciousness is not letting her gain peace of mind.

This is because she is sure that none knows about the deeds committed.