During this period of history the role of a woman was supposed to be a passive one. They were to create a gentle and supportive role for their husband. It was expected of them to have a calm and tranquil home. Lady Macbeth is completely different to woman of this time. She was assertive and took control. She was also a very manipulative woman who appeared to be a very lovely woman to everyone around. She became very ambitious, almost too ambitious for herself. There was also the idea of “Divine Right of Kings”. This idea evolved in Europe during the Middle Ages. The theory claimed that Kings were answerable only to God and it was therefore sinful for their subjects to resist them. By planning to kill the king, Lady Macbeth was committing and act of murder and treason, as well a crime against God’s appointed leader
In Act 1 Scene 5 it is our very first meeting with Lady Macbeth who enters reading a letter, regarding the three witches’ prophecies. Shakespeare establishes her character through a soliloquy (dramatic method where the actor speaks as if to himself or herself. It is introspective and reveals the inner motives to the audience.) Our first impressions are that she is very ambitious and a good judge of character (she knows Macbeth is ambitious but he is too noble to kill the King)
“It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
What thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily”
She is also aware of her powers of influence over Macbeth. When a messenger tells Lady Macbeth that the King is staying the night she is very shocked and startled. Lady Macbeth calls on evil spirits (in a soliloquy) to make her ruthless so that she can carry out the murder of Duncan
“Come you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty, make thick my blood”
Lady Macbeth also uses the imagery of a “hoarse raven that croaks the final entrance of Duncan” during this soliloquy. A croaking raven is a bird of ill-omen and this signals her intentions. During this soliloquy Lady Macbeth uses a lot of words related and linked with witchcraft. The language she uses is also very similar. She begins to speak to the devil so that “no pity will run through her veins and to make sure that she won’t be able to feel any compassion so no feelings can stop her from carrying out her deed”. She also calls on “murd’ring ministers” to help her in the “thick night”. Macbeth enters and tells her all the good news as he sees her as an equal. Lady Macbeth urges her husband to hide his feelings and leave everything to her. Lady Macbeth assumes her role of leader and takes control of the situation, “leave all the rest to me”.
In Act 1 Scene 7 Macbeth gives four reasons as to why he does not want to kill King Duncan, “we will proceed no further in this business”. This is his own independent decision and Lady Macbeth has not helped him make this decision. When Lady Macbeth hears of this she is very scornful of her husband. She accuses him of cowardice and a lack of love for her. She uses her power of Macbeth and manipulates him as well. She knows that Macbeth is a warrior and that he needs to uphold his pride and live up to his name (Proverb of “the cat wanted fish, but would not wet her paws”)
“that their fitness now Does unmake you”
She tries to convince Macbeth into killing the King by asking him if he actually loves her. If he doesn’t kill the King then he doesn’t love her. She also tries to make Macbeth feel guilty by saying she would kill her own child if she had promised (although he only considered it, a technique of deception used by Lady Macbeth used) to kill the King and then changed her mind. This is a very brutal and descriptive method used by Lady Macbeth; it shows again that she lacks compassion.
“And dashed the brains out, had I sworn as you
Have done to this”
Lady Macbeth’s final insult is to ask her husband if “the hope was drunk” (image of Macbeth waking up the next morning). She wants to know if he woke up hung-over, sick and green in colour. She wants to know if he regretted it in the morning. She taunts and mocks him. Macbeth then begins to quaver “if we should fail”. Lady Macbeth then explains her plan in full detail of how they are going to “drug the guards” and then blame them the next morning. Macbeth is both impressed by his wife’s plan and also by her attitude. His admiration is quite clear; the murder is going to go ahead. He wants to only “bring forth men-children only”.
In Act 2 Scene 2 Lady Macbeth is alone on stage. Here we find a different side to her when she is away from her husband. It is a much weaker side to her because she has been drinking. She is now very nervous about the murder and is trying to build up some bold courage. At this point Lady Macbeth is much more agitated. She is very jumpy and is startled by sudden noises. Every noise she hears she screams “hark”. Lady Macbeth isn’t as full of courage and as confident as she was in front of her husband. She realises that if they are caught they are going to be in a lot of trouble. As Macbeth returns, he is distracted and is obsessed with thoughts of damnation. Lady Macbeth admits that if
“he had not resembled
My father as he slept. I had done’t”
Lady Macbeth then assumes control of the situation again. She notices that her husband has returned with the bloody daggers and refuses to takes them back.
“Go carry them, and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood”
As she is taking them back there is a knock at the castle door. When she returns with blood stained hands there is still knocking at the door. They hurry to clean their dirty hands and put on their nightclothes. Lady Macbeth is adamant that “a little water clears us of this deed”. This is in huge contrast to her husband, who questions it,
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine”
He believes that their hand will never be cleaned free of the blood while the wife thinks a small bucket of water will rid them of their sins. Macbeth believed that he was unable to say “Amen” after the killing. He is unable to determine why this is happening. At the end of the scene Macbeth regrets killing Duncan. He now wishes he was still alive.
“Wake Duncan with thy knocking, I would thou
In conclusion I do believe that Lady Macbeth is the murderer of the King. She knew she had lots of influence over Macbeth and she knew she would be able to force him into killing the King. Although Lady Macbeth did not strike the final, fatal blow, she had planned everything up to it. Shakespeare believed that a woman, being not as masculine as a man, cannot kill directly. The women of the play manipulate Macbeth into doing their bidding. Lady Macbeth drives Macbeth to kill King Duncan. On the surface it would appear that Macbeth was responsible for the murder since he committed the crime, but when more is read into it, it becomes clear that Lady Macbeth was more responsible. The price she has to pay for her crime is insomnia.
Lady Macbeth eventually becomes racked mentally with guilt from the crimes she has committed. In a famous scene, she sleepwalks and tries to wash imaginary bloodstains off her hands. This shows the constant disease of guilt. It is brought on by the way in which Duncan is killed, in his sleep. Lady Macbeth is unable to go to sleep, and if she does, she experiences terrifying dreams. She tries to cope with the pressures by denying reality and to rely on her strength of will, but in the end the awful truth forces itself out through her unconscious, and even her will to live fails. Later Lady Macbeth’s condition worsens eventually leading to her sleepwalking. Just before the battle outside of Dunsinane, Lady Macbeth commits suicide.