Macbeth Murder A “ravell’d sleave” is a tangled skein of thread or yarn. Macbeth uses it as a metaphor for the kind of frustration we experience when we have so many problems that we can’t see the end to any of them. In such a case, we often say that we want to “sleep on it” in order to get everything straight. Macbeth also compares sleep to a soothing bath after a day of hard work, and to the main course of a feast. To Macbeth, sleep is not only a necessity of life, but something that makes life worth living, and he feels that when he murdered his King in his sleep, he murdered sleep itself.
[Scene Summary] According to Macbeth’s Porter–who is still a buzzy from a night of partying–sleep is one of the side effects of drink, which causes “nose-painting, sleep, and urine” (2.3.28-29). The Porter also equates sleep with impossible dreams. He says that drink makes a man horny but unable to do anything about it, so that he can only dream of having sex: Drink “equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him. (2.3.35-36). Later in the same scene, after Macduff has discovered the bloody body of King Duncan, he calls upon Banquo and the King’s sons to awake, to “Shake off this downy sleep, death’s counterfeit, / And look on death itself!” (2.3.76-77).
Macduff means that although sleep and death may look similar, real sleep is “downy” and comforting, while real death is a horror. When Macduff rings an alarm bell, Lady Macbeth enters, asking “What’s the business, / That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley / The sleepers of the house?” (2.3.81-83). Her words should remind us that most of the people on stage look as if they have just been awakened from deep sleep. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth certainly appear in their nightclothes, because they want everyone to think they’ve been sleeping. In addition, the rest of those who are sleeping in Macbeth’s castle — Banquo, Malcolm, Donalbain, and Ross — must appear in their nightclothes, too.
This is clearly implied when Banquo proposes that they hold a meeting, “when we have our naked frailties hid, / That suffer in exposure” (2.3.126-127). Macbeth has indeed murdered sleep.