“Every Noise Appals Me”: Macbeth’s Plagued Ear
Keywords : early modern medicine, sounds/voices, hearing faculty, passions, Galen, Paracelsus, melancholy, Shakespeare, Macbeth
This paper will examine the destructive effects of sound/voice on Macbeth
by taking the standpoint of Macbeth-as-listener, that is, of his receptive ears.
I will explore how Macbeth degenerates into a pathological subject by looking
at early modern physiological theories, especially with a Galenic medicinal
standpoint, about the human ear/hearing and its impact on the brain.
More precisely, I will analyze Macbeth’s various physical, spiritual, and moral
transformations in terms of the interchange between his internal passions
and the external sounds. In Macbeth, then, Shakespeare shows us the fearful
result of those unsettled passions made possible by the protagonist’s desiring
ears, once they have surrendered to the world’s tempting voices and words.
On the other hand, unable to unburden himself of his fear and grief generated
from his acts of murder, Macbeth is suffocated by the heavy “black bile”
of the melancholy humor. In this play, evil is conceptualized as a disease, a
disease of excessiveness that thickens the blood inside the body and blocks
its healthy flow, and gives rise to a monstrous exaggeration, misinterpretation,
distortion (as in hallucinations) of what lies outside of us. Thus, what
Shakespeare is concerned with in Macbeth is not so much with rebellion and
murder as it is the Renaissance concept of the self ’s need to maintain a corporeal
equilibrium that balance of the inner passions.