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Circumstantial Shakespeare$
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Lorna Hutson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199657100

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199657100.001.0001

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‘The Innocent Sleepe’

‘The Innocent Sleepe’

Motive in Macbeth

Chapter:
(p.142) 4. ‘The Innocent Sleepe’
Source:
Circumstantial Shakespeare
Author(s):

Lorna Hutson

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199657100.003.0005

Circumstantial arguments encourage us to imagine both an implied dramatic world and the inwardness of ‘character’. This chapter shows how, in Macbeth, this produces an apparent transcendence of ‘universal’ character and emotion over history and national politics. ‘Sleep’ is a circumstantial topic which, in Cicero’s Pro Roscio Amerino, neutralizes the guilt of proximity to murder and proves innocence. In Macbeth, the topic of sleep-as-innocence is displaced from its expected role as part of the rhetoric of forensic enquiry and becomes, rather, the expression of Macbeth’s tormented recognition of his deed’s dehumanizing effects. The combination of this displacement with the absence of any scene of public judicial enquiry into the King’s death helps to produce in our minds a very powerful image of Scotland as a people vexed and haunted by memories of violence and complicity, rather than as a politically viable state.

Keywords:   sleep, motive, Scotland, Macbeth, Cicero, forensic rhetoric

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