As part of my GCSE English “Macbeth” coursework, I had to analyse how Lady Macbeth persuaded Macbeth to murder Duncan, with a detailed reference to Act 1 Scenes 5, 6 and 7 and Act II scene 1. Also, I needed to consider the events and themes of the play so far, the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the nature of their relationship.
At the beginning of Act 1 scene 5, Lady Macbeth is alone on stage with a letter, a letter from Macbeth. The letter informs her of Macbeth’s meeting with the witches and their report that reflects there is more in them than mortal knowledge. Their greetings to him
“All hail, Macbeth! Hail to the thane of Glamis!
All hail, Macbeth! Hail to the thane of Cawdor!
All hail, Macbeth! That shall be king thereafter!”
show elements of truth in them by the occurrence of the second greeting. Macbeth cannot but hope and desire for the third promise to be fulfilled. Lady Macbeth is pleases and determined by Macbeth’s letter. She hasn’t the slightest doubt that Macbeth is the king that shall be, yet she fears his nature. She considers him to be too full of the “…milk of human kindness…” to catch the nearest way to success. She doesn’t doubt his ambition but considers it an ill that Macbeth aims high, would take every opportunity to achieve it and yet wants to be honest.
She even believes that Macbeth wants what, by no means belongs to him but would not play false.
It is these “defects” in the nature of Macbeth that makes Lady Macbeth strongly believe that she needs to work on him or probably give something of her courage to spur him on and unleash his desires to peruse his ambitions. Lady Macbeth presumes that Macbeth can only become king by the murder of King Duncan.
Women are the gentle, loving comrades of their authoritative, powerful men. The traditional nature of women would be of no help in the deed that was to be committed. Thus Lady Macbeth calls upon the spirits of darkness to conquer her natural womanliness and fill her instead with the worst of bitterness, wickedness and cruelty. She asks the powers of darkness to cover her thoughts and overpower her, so that their may be no remorse, no natural feeling of regret or conscientiousness.
“Come you spirits…..,unsex me….fill me…..dirtiest cruelty; make thick my blood, stop up th’access and passage to remorse….come to my woman’s breast…..milk for you….murdering ministers…..mischief…..Come, thick night…..dunnest smoke of hell……my keen knight see not the wound it makes…..”
The nature of the call, its powerful language and vocabulary has a very strong, dark, shilling effect on the reader. The suggestions of evil poison the reader.
The audience at these moments are reminded of the awful contrast this scene bears to the witches, the evil looking, crooked faces, thunder and lightening, struggle and darkness. Clearly indicating the play is a battle of the forces of good and evil.
Lady Macbeth says that Macbeth’s thoughts are too apparent on his face. She advises him to be double sided and two faced by deceiving the guests and hiding his real thoughts and to be the poisonous serpent that lies beneath the innocent flower. This is a clear indication of the evil nature of Lady Macbeth. She is no less ambitious than Macbeth and will take what she wants. She can be as good as her word.
“Bear welcome….innocent flower….serpent under’t”.
It shows her domineering character the control over the situation she has and also her excellence in convincing Macbeth.
Macbeth is most probably happy and pleased by his wife’s plan. All he responds is “we will speak further-.”
He seems ready to discuss the issue further with much detail and does not object to play along to be deceiving and evil to achieve his ambitions.
Duncan is very pleased to be at a brave warriors and loyal servant’s castle. He finds the air pleasant and sweet, ironically unlike the foggy and filthy air that surrounding the deeds of Lady Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth leads the way here teaching Macbeth how to be the innocent flower. She honours Duncan and comforts him with her manner and language. She assures him that all services he needs will be available and that if she knew in advance that he would be arriving the arrangements would have been better (so would the planning).
Lady Macbeth’s words to Duncan are false and she has no trouble hiding her real thoughts. Her ‘act’ shows us her strong evil nature.
Whenever Shakespeare uses soliloquy in his plays the audience is guaranteed that it is the truth and true feelings of the character. At the beginning of Act 1 scene 7 Macbeth puts forward many arguments for and against the murder of Duncan in his soliloquy.
Macbeth is uncertain whether to kill Duncan or not. He wrestles with his conscience. He understands that if the murder was done it better be done quickly and swiftly. He knows the assassination would be wrong and that he would end up paying the price (in this world or by going to hell). Although Macbeth is a man of strong character and of action this moral problem makes him hesitate.
Macbeth is the king’s kinsman his host and his subject who so far has remained loyal and presently is in double trust. He has earned further fame and praise and has been honoured lately. Macbeth’s conscience persuasively informs him that Duncan’s goodness and kindness is so great that his murder would create an outcry amongst the angels. The consequence of his murder would mean the depths of hell for Macbeth. Duncan is such a rightful king that the heavens would be outraged by his murder.
The only thing pushing Macbeth is his selfish ambition like a horseman who tries to vault to hastily on to his horse and ends up on the other side, Macbeth worries that his ambitions are greater than his ability to achieve it.
Macbeth informs Lady Macbeth that he ‘will proceed no further in this business’ Macbeth wants to enjoy the new honours and golden opinion he wears. Although Macbeth states his reason he does not admit to his lady about his conscience and unhappiness about the whole affair. Lady Macbeth uses three different ways to persuade Macbeth. Firstly, she uses blackmail. She asks him if he were drunk when he clothed himself in the hope to be king. She questions him, if he is only a man who talks and a coward, whom she could no longer look up to or love “….green and pale…such I account thy love….art thou afeard… in thine act and velour…. Coward in thine own esteem…..”
Secondly, on being asked to be quite she uses the weapon of shame. She makes him feel guilty. In a powerful speech she explains how both time and place were not appropriate and yet Macbeth was prepared to make it suitable and now when it’s the right time and right place he is failing to act upon it and to get what he really wants. She tells him that if she was the one who had sworn, before she broke her word, she would throw her own baby from suckling milk at her nipples and dash his brains out.
“………nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both.
They have made and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck and know
How tender`tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipples from his boneless gums
And dash the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this.”
As she had wished the forces of evil have drowned her from head to toe and she will not let such a golden opportunity just go by. She is forceful in her language and conjures up images of horror. Macbeth’s earlier decision to kill Duncan crumbles under a scornful attack of his wife. But he remains worried over the consequences of failure. Lady Macbeth reassures him by informing him of a fool proof plan. This was Lady Macbeth’s third method of convincing Macbeth.
“…We fail…and we’ll not fail…”
Macbeth admires Lady Macbeth for her determination and says that she should produce forth only male children that they may have all her courage and strength of character. It is at this point that we know that being blackmailed made to fell guilty and reassurance Macbeth stands persuaded. This is a total change of attitude from accumulating the possibilities against the murder of Duncan to ‘yeah! I’m raring to kill him, I can’t wait, let’s do it’.
“….I am settled and bend up
Each corporal agent to his terrible feat
Away, and mock the time with fairest show
False face must hide what the false heart don’t know….’
This scene tells us much about Macbeth and more so about Lady Macbeth’s evil character. Macbeth breaded the ambition to be king, and all he needed was a little persuasion. Lady Macbeth’s part in persuading Macbeth to kill the king has been crucial. Her ruthless determination caused Macbeth to overcome his doubts throw his new shirt of golden opinion, honour and bravery out of the window within minutes. Although Lady Macbeth may be a powerful brainwasher it is Macbeth who did not need much persuasion, exposing to the audience a different man, apart from the brave comrade in the battle field.
The witches, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are all responsible for the murder. The forces of darkness use the truth to win Macbeth to cause harm. The witches play the role of setting the evil act into motion. Their predictions play on the secret ambition of Macbeth leading him to do the terrible crimes that will affect all Scotland.
If the witches had never met him probably he would have continued as an admired subject. He is disturbed by the witches’ predictions but wants chance to take its course. Lady Macbeth’s persuasion played a crucial role and spurred him on. She took control of the reigns. Her fierce accusations, blackmailing and assurance convinced Macbeth to do the deed.
The witches predicted, the lady persuaded but can we say that if it wasn’t for them, the evil act would never have occurred to Macbeth? At the end of the day, we are a creation who have a consciousness, a basic sense of right or wrong which is instilled from birth, it is more than obvious throughout the play that Macbeth fully understands the out come of his actions and he can weigh up the arguments for and against the consequence of carrying out the murder.
As a knight, he can clearly see how a premeditated murder is unlike being killed in the battle field and also against the natural law.
He goes against his better judgement and lets his conscience give into his ambitions.
The burden of the blame is upon the culpable shoulders of Macbeth, who even at the very last moment could have prevented the evil.
Unfortunately, the strong hold of the blanket of evil would not allow the light of the heavenly stars to penetrate through in order to prevent this most evil, of mans’ sins.
In the end it is Macbeth who committed the murder; the blame is with none but him. Just for the reason that Lady Macbeth persuades him, and the witches unleash his ambitions they cannot bear the ultimate blame after all the devil only suggested and Adam took the bite!