The sleep walking scene is probably one of the most significant scenes in the play Macbeth. Filled with ironical statements on the part of Lady Macbeth. This scene shows the stark contrast we observe between the Lady Macbeth we are introduced to early in the play and the character that we observe in her in this scene. The scene marks the downfall of this ‘fiend like queen’ and depicts the disintegration of her former character. The scene takes place in Lady Macbeth’s apartments. A doctor and Lady Macbeth’s gentle woman have been watching Lady Macbeth for the past two nights but the doctor could observe no truth in what the gentle woman had reported to him. The gentle woman informs the doctor that the last time Lady Macbeth walked in sleep was when Macbeth had gone to the battlefield. She reported that Lady Macbeth would rise from her bed, put on her night gown, unlock her closet, take forth a paper, fold it, write on it, read it, seal it and would then return back to bed- all in deep sleep. The Doctor said that it is an unnatural perturbance to receive at once-both the benefits of sleep and yet perform the acts of watching (being awake).
The gentlewoman’s loyalty is seen in the fact that she refuses to report what Lady Macbeth had said in her sleep behind her back. Lady Macbeth enters the room in her guise (appearance) of sleep. Her eyes were open but her senses were shut. She held a taper in her hand and it was her order that there would be a candle continually by her side. It is highly ironic that the very same woman who called the thick night to pall itself into the ‘dunnest smoke of hell’ so that the eye could not see the wound that the hand makes. Neither could heaven peep from the blanket of darkness to stop the deed from being performed by crying out ‘Hold, hold’, now demands light beside her at all times. Lady Macbeth is rubbing her hands and the gentlewoman informs the doctor that it was a regular occurrence for her to act like she was washing them. She had once seen Lady Macbeth says ‘out damned spot! Out I say.’ She seems to be having a conversation with Macbeth in her sleep telling him that they had no one to fear as no one could call their power into account. She says that it is a shame for a soldier like him to be afraid. However, even she did not think that King Duncan would have so much blood in him.
This is the second ironical part of this scene because Lady Macbeth who herself had told Macbeth ‘a little water cleans us of this deed’ cannot seem to get the spot off her hand. Thus, in deep sleep Lady Macbeth unknowingly reveals the first murder they had performed. She then proceeds to reveal the second –that of Macduff’s family. She says ‘the thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now.’ Lady Macbeth feels that their hands will never be clean. The doctor, who is writing down all that Lady Macbeth is saying says that she is sighing because she has an overburdened heart. The gentlewoman tells him that she herself would not have had such a heart if she had the dignity of the body of Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is still re assuring Macbeth (in her sleep) that he must wash his hands, put on his night gown and not look so afraid. Banquo was in his grave and could not come out again. Thus, Lady Macbeth spells the third and final murder they had performed. She can hear knocking- which is probably the knocking that was heard the night King Duncan was killed. She says that what has already been performed cannot be undone and she proceeds directly to her bed.
The doctor is shocked at Lady Macbeth’s revelations. He says that she does not need a physician but she needs a priest instead. ‘Those with troubled mind spill out their secrets to their pillow in their sleep.’ He tells the gentlewoman to keep away from her all ‘means of annoyance’- any means of harming herself and to keep watching her. Lady Macbeth’s disclosed secrets had shocked his mind and his ears and he now had several thoughts in his head but he could not dare to speak them aloud. The gentlewoman wishes him good night and the scene comes to an end. Thus, this extremely vital, irony filled scene at this crucial stage in the play marks the downfall in the hope, courage, ambition, confidence and determination of the wicked queen Lady Macbeth. We see the very same woman who was earlier ready to ‘pluck her nipple from her babe’s mouth and dash its brain out’ if she had sworn to do so, is now showing signs of fear, cowardliness and guilt. Her conversations with her husband (in the state of drowsiness) represent her own insecurities, repentance and fear regarding the dreadful deeds that they had performed. Thus the sleep walking scene, through irony and contradiction succeds in portraying the disturbed and disintegrated state of mind that the ambitious queen Lady Macbeth now finds herself trapped in.