Shakespeare uses his characterisation of Lady Macbeth to provide a key focus for the audience, as they interpret his presentation of a debate about the nature of good and evil. The audience has to decide about what they think of her actions. As throughout the course of the play, Lady Macbeth is portrayed differently. Shakespeare presents her in such a way that the audience’s response considering her persona may vary at different times. Shakespeare presents her at the beginning as a cunning woman who devises a plot to kill the king. However, towards the end Lady Macbeth is shown as insane and eventually dies as a result, possibly because of her guilty conscience of killing the king. Therefore after witnessing the vulnerable side to Lady Macbeth’s character. The audience’s response will vary. However, this will depend on the type of audience, as a modern day audience will be more malleable towards her nature and will not consider it unnatural for a woman to be like her.
Whereas a Shakespearean audience may be unable to comprehend her tactics as efficiently, or they might consider her to be bewitched due to popular belief in witches at the time. Shakespeare abruptly introduces Lady Macbeth to the audience in Act One- Scene Five. Lady Macbeth enters reading the letter that her husband sent to her. The audience are already aware of Macbeth’s encounter with the witches, therefore when he discloses this information in his letter to his wife, the audience anticipate her reaction. “Glamis though art, and Cawdor, and shalt be, what thou art promised.” From this reaction it is indicated to the audience that Lady Macbeth is very ambitious for Macbeth. It is evident that she is determining his future by saying “… and shalt be, what thou art promised” She has no doubt that her husband is going to succeed, and from this reaction the audience become aware of her strong will-power and ambition.
Macbeth, however seems to have a lot of respect for his wife. His relationship with her is shown from the beginning as a strong bond and he admires her greatly, ” My dearest partner of greatness.” Greeting his wife like that shows that after receiving the honour and greatness of becoming a Thane, he still regards his wife an equal to him. This would have been unusual for a man at this time. Lady Macbeths comment about her husband’s character greatly contrasts with the captains to give the audience an analytical perspective. The Captain praises Macbeth for his bravery and courage. “For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name), disdaining fortune with his brandishing steel, which smoked with bloody execution.” The captain praises Macbeth’s bravery to the extent that Macbeth is almost portrayed as a fearsome killer.
Macbeth is referred to as ‘Brave Macbeth’ in comparison to his wife’s comments; this portrays Macbeth as a courageous person. As in comparison Lady Macbeth comments on Macbeth’s character as being too kind, “Yet I do fear thy nature, it is too full o’th’milk of human kindness.” By saying this Lady Macbeth perceives her husband as being kind hearted. Milk is a pure and healthy substance; by associating his character with it she is implying that he is innocent and incapable of conjuring scheming plans in his head like her. Shakespeare uses these contrasting views to emphasise his rational thoughtful side and therefore to illustrate how powerful Lady Macbeth’s persuasion techniques are. Lady Macbeth further reveals her true inner desires, by revealing her more devious, cunning and criminal side, “…unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty.” Lady Macbeth upon hearing the arrival of Duncan requests to be ‘unsexed’.
The purpose of this request is to remove her womanly, loving and feminine nature and replace it with that of a man. Where she can carry out her devious and treacherous plans without bearing guilt. The reason for her wishing to be unsexed is because in those times woman were expected to be dainty creatures who were meant to be loving and caring. The audience at this point may greatly resent her because after using her techniques to beguile Macbeth, she requires herself to be removed of her sex. Her identity. Therefore the audience at this point begin to perceive her as witchlike. The audiences viewpoint is further strengthened when she says, “The raven himself is hoarse”, by saying this Lady Macbeth is implying that someone is going to die soon, as ravens at the time were thought to foretell death. Her perception of the raven being hoarse implies that the raven has cried so much for this death that it is now hoarse. The use of the raven and fortune telling is a very witchlike gesture.
Therefore by saying this, the audience start to perceive her powers as witchlike and evil. Macbeth is at first strongly opposed to the idea of killing a good king who has given him a high status and also been good to everyone else. As Macbeth says, “He hath honoured me of late, and I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people …” he believes that he shouldn’t do wrong to a man who has been good to him. His conscience prohibits him from doing this. When considering the matter by himself, before he confronts his wife he realises that this doing will result in his own loss. “This even-handed justice Commends th’ingredients of our poisoned chalice to our own lips.” By saying that the bad deeds will result in his own death ‘…our poisoned chalice to our own lips.’ Shakespeare uses dramatic irony he shows Macbeth’s future condition and the audience become aware eventually that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth die.
Lady Macbeth however, uses conniving techniques to lure him into the plot of killing Duncan; she does this by emotionally blackmailing him. By saying, “art thou afeard/ to be the same in thine own act and valour/ as thou art in desire?” She taunts him, by accusing him of being scared. This would be the biggest taunt for a man and a brave fighter. By using words like ‘valour’ Lady Macbeth effectively manages to do this. She then criticises his manhood, “When you durst do it then you were a man/ and to be more then what you were, you would/ be so much more the man.” Again, Lady Macbeth uses emotional blackmail and taunts his masculinity. Which, at the time must have been the biggest offence of all. Since pride meant a lot to men especially to men of high status, such as Macbeth. After repetitive taunting and teasing Macbeth finally succumbs and admits to doing it. “If we should fail?” He is now considering doing it. At the end of the scene he says, “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”
When finally Macbeth consents to doing it, the audience perceive Lady Macbeth as a witch, because she persuades a man who was strongly against her ideas, but by twisting her words and using manipulative implications, she makes herself look more witchlike in the eyes of the audience. At the beginning of the scene Lady Macbeth appears to be bold and challenging, she invigorates her ambition and intention to kill King Duncan. Lady Macbeth enters after making the guards drunk, this is shown to the audience by her speech, “That which hath made them drunk, hath made me bold, what hath quenched them hath given me fire.” Lady Macbeth ignites her passion to complete this task by referring to the drunken men, who as she says ‘hath made me bold’ and their quenched thirst ‘…hath given me fire.”
Therefore, Lady Macbeth’s unwavering intention may have provoked the audience to think that she is a witch. By the ‘Valour’ of her tongue she triggers Macbeth to carry out this task abruptly. Within a scene this task is accomplished, therefore the audience comprehend Lady Macbeth as a witch due to her incredibly powerful thoughts. Although Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as a witch, he does for a while reveal to the audience that her emotions aren’t completely drowned in evil, “Had he not resembled/ My father as he slept, I had done’t.” By referring to Duncan as her ‘father’ Shakespeare might want the audience to realise that she isn’t completely evil. The audience’s response at this point may begin to change. Although Shakespeare prevents the audience from fully comprehending Lady Macbeths character, as Macbeth walks in abruptly with his hands covered in blood. Upon seeing this, the audience might completely reverse their reaction towards Lady Macbeth and realise that she was the main cause to the atrocity. At first, Macbeth continuously repents upon his doing.
He is unable to comprehend what he has just done and Lady Macbeth tries to prevent him from pondering over what he has just done, “A foolish thought to say a sorry sight…Consider it not so deeply.” Lady Macbeth is aware that her husband has committed a crime, but she doesn’t want him to be upset pondering over it. Therefore, Shakespeare shows Lady Macbeth as a loving wife, so that the audience witness a vulnerable side to her character. As it is possible that Lady Macbeths immense love for her husband may have made her commit the crime in the first place. The audience’s reaction towards her may begin to change after witnessing this scene. When Macbeth sees the ghost then Lady Macbeth taunts his masculinity.
Quite in the same way as she did earlier on in the play when she incited him to kill Duncan by mocking his masculinity. In this part she questions his masculinity, “Are you a man?” By doing this she once again makes an attempt to attack his pride by questioning his masculinity, which in those days was a greater offence. Lady Macbeth becomes more anxious about her husbands behaviour as he fears at the sight of Banquo’s ghost, yet when the guests leave she manages to remain composed despite her growing fears, “You have displaced the mirth, broke the good meeting/ with most admired disorder.” From this the audience are beginning to see a change in the ambitious Lady Macbeth, because she is now slightly worried about the consequences of the Murder committed earlier on and the effect its going to have on her and her husband. Once Banquo’s ghost leaves Macbeth regains his stature and says, “I am a man again.” By saying this Macbeth probably means that he has recovered his sense of guilt, he is aware of his wrong doings and recalling what he did wrong has made him a man again.
Therefore, at this point in the play the audience are more likely to be convinced that she is a witch. Her last scenes sharply contrast with her first ones. The once powerful determined woman is reduced to a mad, confused and guilt-ridden person. In this scene Lady Macbeths character changes completely. Shakespeare portrays her, as a more human like figure whom upon realising the mistake, is guilty. Lady Macbeths mind may have been clouded with love for her husband or greed for power. Whatever the reason Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as a human character with no immoral or supernatural powers, by making her guilt apparent Shakespeare is suggesting to the audience that whether male or female. Guilt is the consequence of a murderous act; the human conscience cannot suppress these feelings of guilt forever.
They are bound to be unleashed into irrepressible guilt. “What will these hands ne’er be cleaned?” Earlier in the play the audience may recall that Lady Macbeth told her husband to wash his hands and she also washed hers. Although, now the audience are probably convinced that Lady Macbeth suffers from false illusions. Which proves, that she is mentally ill. The doctor by saying, “Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles…More needs she the divine than a physician.” By saying this the doctor is telling the audience that by doing bad deeds bring bad consequences. Therefore a moral for the audience upon which the whole play is based on. The audience might react to this moral by becoming more conscientious. Also, when the doctor mentions, “…More needs she the divine than a physician.”
He indicates to the audience the power of God and that none can help Lady Macbeth except God alone. At the beginning, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as an ambitious and powerful woman. She has the power to change her husband’s opinion, a man whom others regard as a swift and deadly soldier. By regarding her as an equal the audience may perceive their marriage to be unnatural as she is able to convince him with her talks within a small amount of time. By her intention to kill Duncan the audience perceive her as witchlike.
However, later on in the play as Lady Macbeth becomes guilty of her doings and eventually dies as a result of it, the audience are then aware of her true human conscience, and so by their ability to reflect their guilt in Lady Macbeth’s character they eventually pity her. For it may be that she carried out all these acts for her husband, it may be because she was so deeply in love with him that she was blinded by her actions. Therefore, the audience’s response will vary depending on the type of audience, as a modern audience wouldn’t find it unusual for a woman to incite or be regarded as an equal to a man, therefore they will be more likely to be able to feel sympathy for her. Whereas, a Shakespearean audience would find it very difficult to perceive, which is why a Shakespearean audience may find it hard to be sympathetic towards her in the end and instead might feel that she gets what she deserves.