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Imagination Vs. Self-Conscience in Macbeth

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Aristotle's view on imagination is that it is "the process by which we say that an image is presented to us." Our word imagination is a direct derivative of 'imaginatio' which is the Latin equivalent to a modernly related word like fantasy. In Macbeth, we see the imagination from a conscious mind lead to unconscious and irrational thinking. In the beginning of the tragedy the reader portrays Macbeth as a brave hero who is thought as honorable by all; but as the tragedy unfolds we see Macbeth's imagination lead him down a road no man could ever escape. His inner-conscience during the premature stages of his greed and lust for power is what a considerate, honorable man should have been thinking. But after he overrules his own inner-conscious the reader can tell how Macbeth subconsciously becomes more accustomed to these fowl deeds. Three critiques that directly coincide with Macbeth's imagination in the tragedy are From Shakespearean Tragedy by A.C. Bradley, Source and Motive in Macbeth and Othello by Elmer Edgar Stoll, and General Macbeth by Mary McCarthy.

In A.C. Bradley's critique on Macbeth the reflection that imagination influenced Macbeth's thought process through the tragedy is considerably significant in how we perceive Macbeth as a person. While reading Macbeth, it often occurred to me that I consistently viewed Macbeth as a common mess-up, but after putting myself in his shoes and asking myself what I would have likely have done the same, differing in minor aspects. The main point of this is that once a person like Macbeth makes that first key mistake, it gets easier and easier to make those decisions as time moves on.

Imagination plays a major role in these decisions because if Macbeth had listened to his self-conscience instead of the images in his mind, he would have been safe. A.C. Bradley comments, "His imagination is thus the best of him, something usually deeper and higher than his conscious thoughts; and if he had obeyed it he would have been safe" (133). After analyzing the plot of the tragedy, we can distinctively determine that Macbeth's imagination led to his downfall. Throughout the tragedy Macbeth's actions became easier to make because of the decrease in his self-conscious and the increase in his imagination. In this inverse relationship between imagination and the self-conscience, the decisions Macbeth is making are not even being rationally thought through in his mind. His self conscience is so withered away that when he imagines something, like for example ordering the unnecessary massacre of Macduff's family, he immediately puts it into action.

"It is of the first importance to realize the strength, and also the limits, of Macbeth's imagination" (Bradley 133). In the tragedy of Macbeth, it is important to realize the strengths and limits to how far his imagination can take him. Bradley later comments:

He shows no sign of any unusual sensitiveness to the glory or beauty in the world or the soul; and it is partly for this reason that we have no inclination to love him, and that we regard him with more of awe than of pity. His imagination is excitable and intense, but narrow. That which stimulates it is, almost solely, that which thrills with sudden, startling, and often supernatural fear (133).

In the play, Macbeth's imagination often is derived from feelings of lust for power and not wanting to get caught for what he did. These feelings often inspire each other to increase. The more he attempts to gain power, the greater the fear is of getting caught. His imagination thrills with sudden fear because Macbeth knows what he is doing is wrong. But it also is excitable and intense which comes back to the self-conscience being overruled.

In Mary McCarthy's critique on the tragedy of Macbeth, she argues a different point on imagination and Macbeth's conscience. McCarthy briefly states, "The idea of Macbeth as a conscience-tormented man is a platitude as false as Macbeth himself. Macbeth has no conscience. His main concern throughout the play is that most selfish of all concerns: to get a good night's sleep" (161). In this quote McCarthy describes Macbeth of having no conscience at all. McCarthy later goes on to explain why the caution on sleep is perfectly conventional. This points to the virtue of having a good conscience is seen by Macbeth as in terms of bodily hygiene.

Another point McCarthy argues is superstition

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