‘Macbeth’ is full of dramatic contrasts, show how Shakespeare has developed the character of Lady Macbeth in act 1 scene 5, and contrast it to her character in act 5 scene 1.
‘Macbeth’ is a play set in the Scottish highlands. The plot consists of Macbeth’s rise and fall of power. The play as a whole shows repeated evidence of dramatic contrast in the form of personality, and in the plot itself. Lady Macbeth plays a key role to add to this effect; she demonstrates an extreme contrast in her personality between and in Act 1 Scene 5, and Act 5 Scene 1.
In order for this contrast to be sufficiently dramatised, the setting of each scene is key. In Act 1 Scene 5, Lady Macbeth is in her own castle, which gives her a sense of security (psychologically, in the form of emotional belonging), as well as a feeling of power.
Emotionally, she is feeling in control, and we see evidence of her power in the way she plots to over throw the king. Another key area is the time of day. Its is a sunny, warm, homely day, and this gives us the impression of stability, as opposed to Act 5 Scene 1, where it is a dark, stormy night. Traditionally this setting portrays anxiety and insecurity, mainly because of the fear of the unknown, which is amplified by darkness.
The fact she is not in her own castle adds an additional element of the unknown. She is not familiar and secure in her surroundings, and the fact she was responsible (however indirect) for the murder of its previous occupant. Her personal feelings also the mood of the setting; she is far more anxious which adds to the contrast.
Lady Macbeth’s role in Act 1 Scene 5 is an integral part in the proceedings of the play, as she is responsible for encouraging the murder of Duncan and therefore the source of authority for Macbeth. It also shows the contrast between Macbeth’s character, i.e. his change in moral judgement, which is demonstrated between the scenes by his apparent lack of emotion in Act 5 Scene 1, which was not demonstrated in Act 1 Scene 5 .
This will in turn lead to an increase the dramatic contrast between the scenes. She is also the main focus during this time. She is portrayed as an evil, manipulative, a typically un-stereotypical image held within “beautiful” women. By Act 5 Scene 1, this role has reversed entirely; she is no longer the driving force behind Macbeth, but instead, another element for the evident change in Macbeth’s personality. Although Lady Macbeth is no longer necessary for the direct movement of the plot, the change in character adds an extra dimension to the audience’s perspective of the play, as well as adding to the dramatic contrast.
During Act 1 Scene 5, she is obviously a strong-willed character, who is plagued by evil thoughts, along with an invaluable skill for manipulation. She is confident, secure, and most importantly, in control. Moreover she seems to be overwhelmed by some evil, she states,
“Come you evil spirits that tend on mortal thoughts! Unsex me here.”
This gives clear evidence of her intensions, thoughts, and personality, as well as demonstrating how Shakespeare uses the manipulation of stereotypes to achieve this effect. By Act 5 Scene 1, we can observe a major change in the whole presentation of Lady Macbeth’s character. She is no emitting all her strength as a person. She is on the edge of a self-inflicted death. Her personality has also changed in terms of her control (of others as well as herself). This change has resulted in the main focus of the play shifting to Macbeth.
This change approaches as a surprise, but is yet anticipated. It is hard for an audience to imagine such a dominant character could become so psychotic, but audiences of both times frequently expect that tampering with “evil forces,” (however promising they seem at the time,) ultimately result in demise.
The language used in Act 1 Scene 5 plays a key role in the portrayal of Lady Macbeth’s character. She uses such language as,
“The raven himself is horse,” this refers to the historic image of death associated with the raven, i.e. she is stating her desire to kill Duncan. She also states,
“Come you spirits that tend on mortal thought, un-sex me here.”
This is obviously a bold statement from a woman of this time. Shakespeare is trying to shock the audience with this comment, making Lady Macbeth appear to be a soul-less character. By Act 5 Scene 1, this evil effect has switched to a disturbed temperament. She is beginning to show signs of madness when she states,
“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” This is referring to the blood she had on her hands after the murder of Duncan, and how she is now hallucinating the image. This is contrasted from when she says,
“A little water clears us of this deed.” This shows her absolute guilt, and how this differs from the absolute power she exerts in act 1, as well as reinforcing the ideal that evil catches up with people.
Shakespeare takes a lot of care in developing the mood and atmosphere in these two scenes. Firstly in Act 1 Scene 5, the setting gives a feeling of power, the clear day, the fact she is in her own castle amplifies this. Secondly, Lady Macbeth herself is very strong, and this is seen to be intimidating. This therefore adds to the strength. In Act 5 Scene 1, this effect has been reversed; it is set in the night, which traditionally has been associated with gloom. Her guilt is brought about by the characters in the scene, she is talking to herself which suggests that she has become insane from her own guilt, the doctor and gentle woman add to the overall insecurity of the situation.
At the period of this play, the audience’s reaction to Lady Macbeth would be one of hostility. The nature of her character, which is evil, goes against their entire system of belief and judgement. This was also not seen as appropriate behaviour for a woman at that time, and therefore will gain little sympathy from anyone. Today however, I feel her character will be looked upon more leniently, due to the openness of witchcraft and other practises in society, she will be looked on as a victim of psychological distress, as opposed to the cause of it. In addition, strong women are not only far more commonplace, a current audience would like them, therefore upon her death; the audience is likely to feel sympathetic towards her.
In conclusion, her contrasting character can basically be described as the true path of an evil mentality, she goes from strength and power, to absolute dispeare. Perhaps the only alternative is to be humble. In achieving this contrast, Shakespeare has clearly shown this throughout the play. As a whole, Lady Macbeth’s effect on the play is clearly demonstrated at the beginning, but perhaps this dwindles by the end. This aside, the play as a whole is well known as a great piece of literature, but I feel that I cannot appreciate this myself due to a limited knowledge of other 16th century play-writes.