The audience first encounters the character of Lady Macbeth in act1, scene 5, while she is reading the letter sent to her by her husband, in the letter Macbeth describes the meeting with of the three witches, and them predicting the fact that he is going to be ‘Thane of Cawdor’, we can tell from the letter the closeness of relationship, Lady Macbeth and her husband have as he addresses Lady Macbeth as;
“my dearest partner of greatness”, that thou mightest not lose the dues of rejoicing”.
From then on in the play, she shows herself to be ambitious, and mentally strong. As soon as she reads the letter, she seems to decide that Macbeth will be the next Scottish King, and fulfil the witches’ prophecy, no matter the method. This proves that Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind Duncan’s murder. She realises that she must influence Macbeth against his better nature. It seems as though Lady Macbeth, can see her husband’s weak points, and can change him, to be whatever she wants him to be. Lady Macbeth makes an impression on Macbeth that is not all good, because even though Macbeth can be ambitious, he is not ruthless enough.
We can tell how determined Lady Macbeth is, by the way in which she says;
“And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round”
It is as though she is going to persuade Macbeth with her words, and uses her words as a charm. She is startled by this news, and so calls on the evil spirits to change her and lose her femininity.
“Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,” She is calling on the spirits, to give her murderous thoughts, and make herself have no sympathy for humanity at all, and make her have no human feelings, and wants to lose her femininity. Lady Macbeth is trying to rid her conscience, and empty her mind of remorse and pleads to be filled with ‘direst cruelty’. She needs to have power to help her through this time, it seems as though she probably would not be able to cope with the fact that she is trying to get her husband to commit a murder. When calling on the spirits she speaks her thoughts aloud, to the audience, this is known as a soliloquy, an example of this is at the start of her speech, beckoning the evil spirits to come forth she says;
“That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements”
Macbeth, then arrives home, when he does so, we find out how close Lady Macbeth and Macbeth actually are, she seems to be able to read him like an open book. She is already starting to try and change Macbeth by the way that she says;
“To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent
Flower, but be the serpent under’t”
Lady Macbeth, is trying to make her husband hide her feelings, she thinks that people can read him like a book, if they can do that, then it is likely that they will find out if Macbeth has killed Duncan, and she does not want that to happen. This also shows how in control Lady Macbeth “You shall put this nights great business into my dispatch”, Macbeth seems to have absolute confidence in her ability to plan the murder. Her awareness of his character is shown, in this paragraph. It also shows how deceiving and devious she can be. She is going to take control of the whole situation, and make sure that Macbeth carries out his deeds, but Macbeth seems undecided, he seems to hesitate, at the thought of killing the king he sharply explains “We will speak further”. But Lady Macbeth does not hesitated at all, she seem to be anxious to be the Queen, and states how
“To alter favour ever is to fear,
Leave the rest to me”, Even though the male usually takes the stronger approach to everything, in this relationship we can tell that Lady Macbeth is definitely the dominating person, and tells Macbeth exactly what to do, when he hesitates she tells him that he is weaker if he doesn’t proceed with her plans.
When King Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s home, Lady Macbeth has already thought up a plan, to get rid of him. Duncan seems to feel very at home in the Macbeth household at says “This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses”.
Which is quite ironic, because he is just about to get killed in a home, in which he feels so comfortable in. Another ironic part to this play, is when Banquo implies how
“The temple-haunting martlet, does approve,
By his lov’d mansionary, that the heaven’s breath
Smells wooingly here”.
Shakespeare shows us here how ironic this play actually is, and also brings imagery into play. Lady Macbeth treats Duncan as if she is the perfect hostess, and hides all of her feelings, much better than Macbeth; King Duncan brings into play the dramatic irony, throughout the play, when he calls Lady Macbeth “Our honour’d hostess”. Which shows how good, an actress Lady Macbeth can be, if she can cover up the fact that she is going to kill King Duncan, then she is surely able to cover up the fact that she has killed him, later on in the play. It is also quite ironic because she could be doing exactly as she had said in this scene;
“Look like th’ innocent flower, but be the sepent under’t”. Soon Macbeth starts to feel the guilt that Lady Macbeth has rid of, from herself. We know this, because Macbeth feels that he cannot go through with the murder and says:
“We will proceed no further in this business”, he seems to be overwhelmed with the fact that he was going to kill the king, and afraid of the consequences. Lady Macbeth who is very sly urges him to continue with the murder. The words that Lady Macbeth gives him are very persuasive. She accuses him of being a coward and makes him think he does not love her;
“Wouldst thou have that
which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live like a coward in thine own esteem”
Lady Macbeth knew her husband very well. She understood his strengths and weaknesses, better than her did, and this is why she realises she will need to persuade him to kill Duncan. You can see how Lady Macbeth exploits his weaknesses, with phrases such as; “Art thou a feared
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire?”
Her verbal attack, seems to disturb Macbeth, who then defends himself
“I dare do all that may become a man”, he is afraid that she is doubting his manhood, and tries to explain to Lady Macbeth, that he is still a man whether he kills king Duncan or not, she then uses this to her advantage, launching a second attack stating that nothing would make her break a pledge to him, she tries to appeal to his sensitive and sympathetic side, even the performance of a repulsive deed-killing of killing her infant.
We know this because in Act 1 -scene 7, line 54 Lady Macbeth explains how:
“I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me”
Lady Macbeth soon gets the reply, which she had been waiting for, which was
“If we should fail”-, this gives us the impression, that Lady Macbeth has one her title, she
has won her persuasive battle, and replies to Macbeth “We fail”, which shows us the confidence in this scheme, she is portraying the fact that it is going to be inevitable that they are to succeed. Again we find out how much of an actress Lady Macbeth is, by the way that she says that she is going to cover up the fact that they have murdered Duncan, by acting broken hearted, she states how: “Who dares receive it other,
As we shall make our griefs and clamour roar
Upon his death”
As Macbeth wavers, she quickly reveals her plan. Filled with admiration for her spirit he replies “Bring forth men children only”. Her only sign of pity is her confession that she would have killed Duncan had he not, as he slept, resembled her father. This is the first sign of weakness that we see when she suggests how
“Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t”
In act2, scene 2-Lady Macbeth has prepared for the murder and waits for Macbeth. In the beginning of Scene2, she has different moods.
“That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold” She sounds bold and courageous when she says that. The next line she says is
“What hath quench them hath given me fire, Hark! Peace”, a noise form outside startles her. She realises it is a bird shrieking. We then see Lady Macbeth’s first sign of nerves, as she realises what her consequences could lead to, when Macbeth hears noises, everything seems to be exaggerated, the sound of owls, and crickets seems to distract them, as they feel paranoid that they are being watched and are going to be found out.
“It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman, which gives the stern’st good night” she says as she is relieved.
Immediately after the murder, Lady Macbeth seems to feel no immediate guilt after the death, no remorse, just satisfaction that her husband is going to become king-that is, if she can keep him from making everyone suspect them. Whilst Macbeth is filled with guilt and horror at his actions, she shows her fortitude and her reason in calming him down, she utters these ironic words:
“These deeds must not be thought of’
After these ways, so it will make us mad”
Even after the horror of the deed, which shakes Macbeth’s soul, it is her strength, which brings him to his senses. There is then, a second reference to madness coming from Lady Macbeth saying
“You do unbend your noble strength to think
so brainsickly of things”
This is quite an ironic situation. Later she sees that Macbeth has brought back the daggers. Lady Macbeth takes the daggers and puts them back in Duncan’s room. She says
“Infirm of purpose, give me the daggers”. She seems to have no fear of the situation but there seems to be some sort of nervousness in her. Macbeth’s wife returns with blood stains all over hands. She points out that they both have bloodstained hands by saying,
“My hands are of your colour, but I shame, to wear a heart so white”. She makes Macbeth feel that they are both equally to blame for the murder of Duncan. Lady Macbeth is trying to straighten out Macbeth, although he is still quite fearful. She tries to make Macbeth feel reassured and that Macbeth can justify to what he has just done.
Lady Macbeth, once again brings irony into play, when she says;
“A little water, clears us of this deed”, its as though she is saying that she believes that if she washes the blood away, then the guilt will wash away along with the memories, and she thinks that she can wash away all of her problems.
This is the last that we see of Lady Macbeth until act2-scene3. In this scene Macduff is appalled by Duncan’s death, Lady Macbeth is told of Duncan’s death, but says
“What, in our house?” She seems puzzled but not at all shocked. After a while, Macbeth has killed the guards assumed of killing the king. Macbeth, then starts to tell of his feelings for what has happened, to the others. Macbeth seems to be over compensating for the fact that he has nothing to do with this, so he acts as though he feels sympathetic towards King Duncan. He says “who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make’s love known”
Lady Macbeth has now fainted, and is taken for treatment. She fainted to distract the attention away from Macbeth, so that people are more likely to notice her, rather than Macbeth, and also this shows how much of a good actress she is.
Then in Act 3, scene 2- Lady Macbeth deals with Macbeth’s mood of depression. Macbeth believes that they have only “Scorched the snake,
Not killed it “.
He cannot stop thinking about the murder, but Lady Macbeth urges him, to put his past behind him, she does not know that Macbeth has a plot to kill banquo.This shows us how their relationship is deteriorating, they started off in the beginning where, they would tell each other everything and the relationship was loving and caring. But now Macbeth is keeping secrets from Lady Macbeth, it is as though they no longer have trust in one another. This is where we first start to see their relationship start to crumble.
Banquo has now been murdered, because Macbeth suspects him of foul play, and they are having a formal banquet, Lady Macbeth and her husband are both concerned about making this banquet as impressive as possible. During the banquet, Macbeth is told of the death of Banquo. This banquet is plays an important part in the novel, it shows us that it is important for people to know their place, so that disorder can be avoided, but the chaos that follows is symbolic of the disorder of Macbeth’s rein. Macbeth is now fearing what is going to happen if anyone finds out about the death of Banquo, he seems to be in shock, and without Lady Macbeth he cannot seem to think straight, or stop himself from worrying about matters, which shows how much of an impact Lady Macbeth had on him, and how she supported him so much. Macbeth also hears of Fleance’s escape, and is more paranoid, Macbeth turns his attention to the banquet. Lady Macbeth tells her husband
“My royal lord, you do not give the cheer”. She is telling Macbeth to please his people as a good host should. While Macbeth is talking, he sees Banquo’s ghost in his seat. His reaction startles his guests so; Lady Macbeth once again makes excuses for her husband.
“Sit, worthy friends, my lord is often thus, and hath been from his youth”
are words that Lady Macbeth explains Macbeth’s actions. The ghost reappears again and Macbeth’s outburst causes his guests to wonder. Lady Macbeth then urges the guests to leave. She fears Macbeth will say too much. Lady Macbeth then tells everyone
” A kind good night to all”.
After the banquet, Lady Macbeth is very quiet, she seems tired, and drained, Macbeth says to his wife “I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er”.
Macbeth is admitting that he has had Banquo killed, and he has killed Duncan, and he is saying that there is no turning back. This is the last time that we see Lady Macbeth in control of herself or of events, she seems worn out, and instead of chastising Macbeth, she only comments that he lacks sleep, she says “You lack the season of all natures, sleep”.
This scene is like a turning point in the play, it is the last time we also see that Macbeth’s conscience is troubling him.
We haven’t seen Lady Macbeth since Act3 and it is now act5, and her mask is revealed, when she sleep walks, she reveals her anxiety and guilt. She reveals her hidden secrets to the gentlewoman, and she then called a doctor to find out why she was having these extraordinary sleep walking dreams. Lady Macbeth speaks, of references concerning Duncan. Lady Macbeth re-inacts the murder scene, she’s still loyal to Macbeth, and only in the banquet did she tell him off. She refers to her hand and says
“Out damned spot, out I say!”. She seems haunted by the guilt. The doctor tells the gentlewoman that she needs divine help, rather than a doctor, and to keep a close eye, on Lady Macbeth. Her madness increases, her guilt becoming overpowering. The words,
“what, will these hands ne’er be clean?” expresses this dreadful guilt. Her ramblings makes the doctor aware of what has happened she says
“I tell you again, Banquo’s buried, he cannot come out on’s grave”
When she commits suicide Macbeth hears her cry and states
“I have almost forgot the taste of fear
the time has been, my senses would have cool’d
To hear a night-shriek!”
This shows us how the roles of Lady Macbeth and her husband have reversed, Macbeth is no longer guilty, where as he was in the first place and Lady Macbeth was the strong one, that supported the relationship, and told Macbeth what to do, but the guilt soon caught up with her and drove her to insanity. Where as it had been Macbeth that had nearly been driven to insanity earlier on in the play, during the time when the death of Banquo occurred.
Macbeth, fought through the hard parts of the guilt that were over powering.
Throughout the play Lady Macbeth shows a front to all people, she is acting it is all just to cover up the fact of how decieveing and insecure she is. For example when she was playing the “Honour’d hostess”, she was deceiving the public, in order to be deceiving, and also when they had the banquet, Lady Macbeth made a cover for Macbeth, just so that nothing would happen to her lifestyle as being Queen. In the end we are shown that Macbeth is really the stronger person, mentally and physically.