Throughout the entirety of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the character of Lady Macbeth changes very dramatically. She is presented to the audience as power hungry and to an extent manipulative at the beginning to the play and by the end is almost unrecognisable by the audience due to the extensive change in her mental state. During her planning phase for the murdering of Duncan, Lady Macbeth’s authoritative behaviour towards Macbeth’s second thoughts of undergoing such an act would have been very alien to the Jacobean audience who would have been accustomed to the female of the house being inferior to the male as they were a highly patriarchal society. However, she was a woman who did not think twice about plotting to kill the King of Scotland. Once Macbeth had done the “dirty deed”, Lady Macbeth’s character, previously compelled as evil and controlling, begins to dismantle and her connection with both sanity and the “spirits” are broken. She become extremely scared, more insane than at the beginning of the play and towards the end, the audience are told she commits suicide. Different people who portrayed her character with different emotions had played the role and character of Lady Macbeth. She has been notably played as being insane, manipulative, devious or dictatorial.
While Lady Macbeth is conveyed with radical personal changes, her relationship at the start of the play with Macbeth is one with strong ties and mutual respect; this is exemplified through the letter that Lady Macbeth receives from Macbeth in which he referred to her as “My dearest partner in greatness”. This could be the audiences’ first interaction with Shakespeare’s confusing play that almost ‘manipulates’ the audience into thinking one thing and performing another; an example to show this are the attitudes of the Macbeth’s with Macbeth himself being a strong, good-willed soldier progressively turning into the monster that Lady Macbeth begins as and progressively becomes insane by the end, so-much-so she commits suicide. Lady Macbeth’s evil and devious character is first compelled to the audience during Act I, Scene V.
This scene opens with her reading a letter sent to her by her husband in which its contents are full of thoughts and accounts of the meeting he had earlier with the witches. She begins by explaining about how Macbeth now has a goal, (to remove Duncan and become king). Understandably, Lady Macbeth would like the contents of the letter to be consequential; there is no question about the fact that that she would be willing to help Macbeth undergo whatever it takes for this to happen. From this, Lady Macbeth comprehends the fact that for him to become King, Macbeth would have to kill the currently reigning King Duncan. During the beginning of this Scene, Lady Macbeth’s undertone is not being able to help her plan become within reach of Macbeth and to get him to agree and undertake the murder. Shakespeare uses a soliloquy here to emphasise and create more drama around her intent for the murder of Duncan. This also shows the reader that going ahead with killing Duncan is of great importance to her; it gives the audience a direct encounter with the character as if it is to them who she is talking and opening her emotions to.
While Lady Macbeth conceals these emotions from Macbeth, straight after the audience realise that she is worried that Macbeth will not be able to undergo the murder and as a result will not receive the ultimate objective; becoming King. Her worries are brought about around Macbeth’s kind and merciful nature with his lack of readiness to be underhanded and deceiving; something he is definitely not used to. Both the audience and Lady Macbeth herself know from this that Macbeth would only be able to complete the murder if the circumstances were that of fair for either side; he cares for Duncan and does not want to/have the will power to kill him under the current state of affairs. Again in soliloquy, Lady Macbeth says “Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear and chastise with the valour of my tongue all that impeeds from the golden round.
” From this the audience understand that Lady Macbeth wants the death of Duncan to be done quickly, so tells Macbeth to hurry home so that he would be able to carry it out. To further demonstrate Lady Macbeth’s willingness to kill Duncan, the fact that she says “I may pour my spirits in thine ear and chastise with the valour of my tongue” shows us that she is prepared to eliminate Macbeth’s “valour” and noble characters and pass on the evil and wicked temperaments given to her by the “spirits”. In addition, she immediately knows what to do and is already undergoing the plotting phase of King Duncan’s murder with the spirits. The audience immediately, through her theatrical portrayal, see that she is much stronger, more devious and more outgoing than her husband and she seems to be fully aware of this and knows that she will have to entice Macbeth into committing murder with becoming king as the result. During Act 1, Scene V, Lady Macbeth tells the ghostly spirits to “unsex me here”.
This shows us that she knows that Macbeth is not man enough to successfully carry through with the act so almost requests for the spirits to remove her femininity so that she would be able to carry out the murder herself; this further exemplifies Lady Macbeth’s seriousness towards Duncan’s murder. To enhance this point, later, in this Scene, Lady Macbeth mentions how “I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out.” This very graphic and unmotherly behaviour would have certainly startled the Jacobean audience of the time as we are able to understand that she finds giving her word about completing the “deed” to be more meaningful than feeding her child; she would rather murder the child than go back on the word she had given to Macbeth. This comparison between gender and power is very important to Lady Macbeth’s character as her husband implies that she is almost a masculine soul that is inhabiting a woman’s body, which seems to link perfectly with Lady Macbeth’s unusual masculinity and her ambition with violence. Through her example, Shakespeare implies that women are able to be as cruel as men, but due to social inequalities during that era, they were unable to pursue what they truly felt. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband perfectly by suspending his objections to not want to carry through with the “deed”; when Macbeth hesitates to the go through with original plan for the murder, she confronts and questions his manhood which at the beginning of the play, the audience is shown during his fierce and noble battle.
Furthermore, during Act I, Scene V, Lady Macbeth is again presented as a powerful and manipulative character. To begin with, “The raven” is conveyed as a harbinger of death. This exemplifies Lady Macbeth’s power-hungry character; the superstitious Jacobean audience would have seen the black bird as a physical representation of death which would add to the dark tension already present in the play. It would have also been used by Shakespeare to foreshadow the fatal events to follow. Lady Macbeth was alone with the audience expressing to the spirits how she wants them to “fill me from the crown to the top-full, Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood”.
The noun choice of “blood” here could connote the murderous intentions she has towards Duncan; it also shows how she wants the iniquity of the spirits to run in every vein of her body to ensure sh can be as ready as possible to assist Macbeth in the act. She also tells the spirits to “unsex” her, and swap her breast “milk for gall.” Lady Macbeth calls on this deadly poison and other evil characteristics to be brought about to cease her menstrual flow and exchange her breast milk for poison. By doing this she would remove all the physical features that make her a reproductive woman. From this, Lady Macbeth conveys to the audience that whilst being a fully functioning woman, people are unable to undergo evil and vile acts; something explored later in the play when the audience is told by her the cause to why she was unable to kill Duncan. This foreshadows what will happen in the later part of the play and by doing this, Shakespeare shows the audience how Lady Macbeth is desperate for Duncan to be killed as the ultimate aspirations of royalty are within reach for Macbeth and herself. Lady Macbeth’s use of forceful superlatives such as “direst” and the repetition of imperatives like “come” show her powerful strengths; the audience see this and a sense of fear is brought about. At the end of her soliloquy when Macbeth enters onto the stage, Shakespeare uses short sentences for them both to add tension to their already apprehensive behaviour to the situation.
When looking at the rhythmic pattern of this section, we can see that it is the same to that of Act II, Scene II when Macbeth killed Duncan. Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, to the Jacobean audience, would have been very shocking and dramatic. From the soliloquy the audience understand that she is very desperate for the spirits to change her from her weaker, feminine state into her more powerful and evil one. Although Lady Macbeth seems scary and evil to the audience, through her behaviour around Macbeth, she portrays herself to actually be a loving wife. Macbeth too feels bad after the “dirty deed” so Lady Macbeth stays with him instead of leaving as she cares for him and, as we find out later, she feels the same way. Once Macbeth had returned from killing Duncan, Lady Macbeth talks to him about how he should not feel guilt as “what has been done cannot be undone”. By saying that “These deeds must not be thought ..
. so it will make us mad”, she shows Macbeth that the more he thinks about what he had done, the more remorseful he feels, that the more thoughts he puts will only cause him to become angry at himself for what he had done. when Macbeth says that he thinks he has heard voices, she too becomes to feel uneasy and begins to overthink the situation. However, she hides her concerns and again becomes more powerful than Macbeth in that she takes control of the situation, trying once again to taunt him with implications that he is unmanly, unable to regulate his emotions and oversee what he had to go through to finally obtain the title of King.
Throughout the play, the audience is able to recognise that within their relationship, at any given time there is always a sense of dominance from either Macbeth or Lady Macbeth; one of them has control over the other. To exemplify this, during Act II, Scene II, even though they are both terribly nervous she stays the more controlled of the pair and is able to conceal her true feelings; again showing the audience that she is not entirely devious as she stays calm in order to make sure Macbeth is the same. To look at this from a different perspective, Lady Macbeth could be attempting to calm Macbeth down to prevent him from accidentally leaking and information which could potentially link them to the murder; this would again show her more cunning side to the audience. However, during Act I, Scene VII, she presents her manipulative behaviours towards him with a series of rhetorical questions putting Macbeth under pressure.
This quick succession of questions caused the already “green and pale” Macbeth to become more stressed about the situation. Here, as well as questioning his readiness to kill Duncan, she again questions his manly courage by saying that in her eyes “When you durst do it, then you were a man”. As well as already being an abnormal wife to Macbeth, from the perspective of the Jacobean audience, she would be expected to defer to her husband in important matters and help him overcome obstacles, yet she challenges him; something the audience would find very disturbing considering the wife in this era would simply do what is told by the husband. Continuing from the previous point made, Act II, Scene II, is in my opinion is the crux of the play in terms of Lady Macbeth’s character.
During this Act, Shakespeare expresses that while Lady Macbeth may have previously been conveyed as evil with no feelings for “remorse”, to some extent she is not what was once portrayed to the audience. This idea of weakness in Lady Macbeth, is first conveyed to the audience when she asks the spirits to “unsex me here”. From this we are able to understand that while she is expressing herself to be wicked, she herself understands that being a woman would implicate that she would be unable to become what she is required to be. The suffix “un-” shows us that while she believes that femininity is a show of weakness, she is also compelling the idea that men are relatively similar; Shakespeare, in this case, gives us the example of Macbeth in the beginning of the play. While the audience is told that Macbeth is a “noble” soldier, he too, at first, is unable to carry out the murder as it would ruin his once respected and benevolent qualities. Through this, Shakespeare imparts to the audience that while the patriarchy of the 17th century constricted women in their right to compel their true feelings, men also come under the same bracket when their valued reputations are at risk of being tarnished.
During Act III, Scene II, the relationship and quality of interaction between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is much different to when the audience had first met them; to the extent to where Lady Macbeth feels that it is required for her to ask permission to speak to her own husband, she tells a servant to “Say to the king, I would attend his leisure For a few words.” Considering the fact that Macbeth is on his way to the throne and this level of formality from his wife and subjects would be expected by both him and the audience, this sudden change could foreshadow the idea of their relationship becoming more detected and disconnected; something the audience would have found very unlikely to happen taking into consideration that they were very close at the beginning of the play. When Lady Macbeth says “Nought’s had, all’s spent, Where our desire is got without content” during her shorter soliloquy, she is presenting to the audience that undergoing this journey, they had gained nothing; and in fact everything that they had wished for had lost its sense of happiness and has resulted in her losing her very loving relationship with Macbeth with no hope of it returning.