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The sleepwalking Lady Macbeth

The sleepwalking Lady Macbeth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Undoing is a defense mechanism proposed by Sigmund and Anna Freud in which an unpleasant thought or action is blotted out from consciousness.

Undoing differs from – or could be seen as a subtype of – repression because negativity is repressed through obsessive ritual activity.

Lady Macbeth‘s repeated hand washing “Out, damned spot!” after the murder of King Duncan in Act V of Macbeth could be taken as a loose literary example of undoing.

It’s loose because she still talks about blood, death and hell during her late-night washing ritual. In short, she goes a little off base in an attempt to deal with her guilt and anxiety.

Recent psychological studies suggest that undoing can be brought about by replacing negativity with positive emotions.¹


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The sleepwalking Lady Macbeth

Image via Wikipedia

Macbeth is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1603 and 1607.

Perhaps one of the most enduring lines from drama comes from the opening of Macbeth, where three witches, the ‘weird sisters,’ call out:

Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air.

It almost sounds like the three witches at the opening of Shakespeare’s tragedy are describing the less admirable aspects of the 21st century–both socially and environmentally.

In a nutshell, the play goes as follows:

Urged by his wife, Macbeth kills King Duncan in Act V to become the new king of Scotland.

Shortly after, Lady Macbeth falls into a kind of madness. Her sleepwalking and attempts to wash the bloodstains – “Out damned spot!” – from her hands exemplify what later might be designated as obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Lady Macbeth suicides from overweening guilt. Macbeth, himself, leads an apparently charmed existence. He cannot be killed by one born of a woman. But he’s finally beheaded by Macduff who was “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb.

Just before his death, Macbeth’s name is described as “a hotter name than any is in hell.”

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