An Analysis of Lady Macbeth’s Character in “Macbeth”

In Scene 7 Lady Macbeth demonstrates persuasive power over her husband. She charms Macbeth, motivates him to fulfil his dreams ‘Which thou esteemst the ornament of life?’, but then taunts him ‘To be the same in thine own act and valour, As thou art in desire?’ and manipulates him using rhetorical questions. The line ‘And live a coward’ shows Lady Macbeth thinks Macbeth is gutless and compares Macbeth to a proverb ‘Like poor cat I’th’adage?’ implying Macbeth knows what he wants but is too weak to achieve it. She questions his masculinity ‘When you durst do it, then you were a man’ pointing out his pusillanimity. She educes his guilt ‘had you so sworn as you have done to this’ and emotionally blackmails him ‘What beast was’t then that you this enterprise to me’ she questions what could cause him to break his promise. Lady Macbeth takes control and unites herself with Macbeth. ‘

What cannot you and I perform’ she is positive and reassuring. Lady Macbeth demonstrates in this scene her ability to manipulate Macbeth. To an Elizabethan audience, Lady Macbeth would be a provocative character, because in Elizabethan times women were subservient to men with fewer rights, their role was a supportive one. It would have been controversial for a wife to dominate her husband. In this scene Lady Macbeth is aggressive and powerful. However in Act 5 Scene 1 Lady Macbeth’s character is undermined by paranoia caused by her actions. The scene involves Lady Macbeth sleepwalking and muttering to herself about her misgivings. t the bottom, with the King regarded just below God and angels. This meant Kings were believed to be God’s messengers and divinely chosen. Macbeth and his wife have disrupted the divine order by killing the divinely chosen king and thereby created chaos, for which they must be punished. Lady Macbeth has begun to be consumed by guilt and her weaknesses are revealed in her fear of dark. She ‘has light by her continually, ’tis her command’, she has ordered to always have light; light is a sign of warmth and safety. Lady Macbeth may be scared of the dark spirits she has called on, she feels protected in the belief that light banishes demons. She may also link night and dark to death and murder; it was during the night that Duncan was murdered.

Furthermore she is fearful of dreams and terrible thoughts she may have while sleeping when her subconscious can take over. Whilst sleepwalking Lady Macbeth is particularly anxious to remove a spot from her hands. She cries ‘Out, damned spot’, the spot may be seen as the mark of the devil, or damned because it is a spot of Duncan’s blood that has disrupted the divine order. She believes she has blood on her hands even though she didn’t physically kill Duncan. She is continually wringing her hands which could be interpreted as trying to ‘wash her hands’ of murder, or be connected to another metaphor,

Duncan’s blood is on her hands. She says ‘Yet who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him’ showing Duncan was full of life and had died an unnatural death. The doctor describes Lady Macbeth’s condition as a disease as it has changed her mentally and physically. As she relives the murders subsequent to Duncan she begins to realise that she may be trapped in guilt forever, ‘What, will these hands ne’er be clean?’. Her belief that nothing can wash away the blood is a pertinent example of the extent her personality has been reversed, as ironically directly after the murder she claimed that a little water clears us of this deed’. She is no longer a sure, strong character, but instead confused and disorientated, clearly heading towards disintegration. corde craft of the pladesire to see Mampact and she There is much contrast between Lady Macbeth’s lucid language in the first scene and her ramblings in Act 5 Scene 1.

Shakespeare uses language to reflect Lady Macbeth’s changing state of mind. Lady Macbeth’s speech often relates back to earlier scenes which connects her guilt and insanity with their causes, a technique that adds to the stage craft of the play and interests the audience. In the speech Lady Macbeth continually vacillates between guilt and a desire to see Macbeth. This again adds to the confusion and insanity surrounding her. The sentences are short for impact and she still uses rhetorical questions which link with her disjointed state of mind. Another device used is internal rhyme which makes the line ‘The Thane of Fife had a wife’ sound on the verge of madness. The way the speech is written demonstrates traits in Lady Macbeth that are completely different those at the beginning of the play. Before she was calm and in control, now she panics and lets the audience see her true emotions. Between Act 1 and Act 5 there are changes in Lady Macbeth, highlighted by stage craft in the two scenes. Whilst she is manipulative her scenes are set in her home where she feels secure.

When Lady Macbeth completely breaks down she is in Dunsinane Castle, an unfamiliar place that is not rightfully hers. There is also a difference in pace between the acts. The initial pace is slow and clear with nearly all events taking place on stage. Towards the end, events move rapidly with much of the story implicit, enhancing the chaos that has cursed Macbeth and his wife. It is the contrast between the scenes that adds most to the stage craft of the play stressing the effect murder has had on Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare uses ambiguity to let the audience contemplate explanations for events.

Ambiguity is seen in Act 2 Scene 3 when Lady Macbeth faints after seeing the two guards murdered; it is not clear whether her faint is feinted or real. The audience has to consider for themselves whether Lady Macbeth stages the faint to draw attention away from Macbeth or whether the shock of two more deaths became overwhelming. In Act 5 the audience is informed of Lady Macbeth’s death, and left to contemplate whether Lady Macbeth committed suicide through guilt and insanity or was killed. If the audience felt that Lady Macbeth was murdered, another question is raised as to whether it was revenge for or a mercy killing by the doctor. These questions invite the audience to become involved. Lady Macbeth’s breakdown happens suddenly, there is little evidence between Act 1 and Act 5 that Lady Macbeth’s mental state is deteriorating, apart from, perhaps, her fainting. Part of her deterioration is due to the breakdown of her marriage. Macbeth excludes her from any further plans he makes, ‘How now, my lord, why do you keep alone, Of sorriest fancies your companions making, Using those thoughts which should indeed have died With them they think on?

Lady Macbeth believes that he is spending more time with his demons than with her. Through the play their relationship weakens, when the news of Lady Macbeth’s death reaches Macbeth he barely acknowledges it ‘She should of died hereafter’, Macbeth’s wife is no longer the meaning in his life. The two were very close at the beginning of the play and their separation contributes to Lady Macbeth’s collapse. Lady Macbeth changes through the play from a formidable character, more ruthless than her husband, to one who is on the brink of insanity as the guilt of her deeds and the separation from her husband consume her. Shakespeare further enhances this dramatic change by altering Lady Macbeth’s language in Act 5. He captivates and includes the audience with his use of stage craft. By starting with such a controversial dominant female character, her downfall is all the more dramatic.

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