Analyse Act 1 Scene 5 of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”
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Macbeth is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare. Act 1 Scene 5 shows Lady Macbeth reading a letter by her husband Macbeth after his encounter with a group of witches, who prophesize that Macbeth will one day be king after Duncan. The play is set during the Jacobean Era, and during this time women were seen as married men’s property and subordinate. Macbeth calls Lady Macbeth his “dearest partner of greatness”. This tells us that unlike other people, Macbeth sees and treats his wife as an equal. She must be a strong woman to earn this respect. After Lady Macbeth has finished reading the letter, she believes Macbeth is “too full o’th milk of human kindness”. This meaning that she believes her husband to be too nice and not ambitious; Macbeth will need persuading to seize the opportunity to kill Duncan and become king. Lady Macbeth can achieve this by pouring her “spirits” into his ear – this is a metaphor for influencing Macbeth and making him take the crown, the word ‘spirits’ has bad connotations and reminds us of the group of witches talked about in the letter earlier – suggesting that Lady Macbeth will possess Macbeth’s conscience as a witch would do.
Lady Macbeth uses the words “my battlements” which suggest her status and power, she believes highly in her plan and ability to take the castle. She then invokes “spirits” to “insex her” – this tells us she doesn’t like the characteristics which make her a woman. She would like to remove them, leaving her with “direst cruelly”, giving her the strength to plan and commit murder and become cruel like men. Lady Macbeth’s says “Come to my woman’s breasts, and take my milk for gall” – this is a shocking perversion of maternal care and the foul thought she is having also strengthens her desire to become queen.
She even wants her crime to be hidden from “heaven” itself, which suggests that she understands how sinful it would be to kill a King; Jacobean people viewed the king as Gods representation on Earth and his death would be a disruption in the great chain of being in which Kings came after God and the Angels. Macbeth walks into the room and Lady Macbeth thinks that he has the same murderous thought as her and uses impetrations, ordering him to “beguile the time” (to be deceitful). She tells Macbeth to “look like th’innocent flower”, but be “the serpent under it” – meaning something pleasant and innocent to look at, hiding his true dark feelings. The ‘serpent’ has connotations of evil, cunning and danger. Next Lady Macbeth orders her husband to let her plan the murder, “shall put this night’s great business into dispatch” – never actually referring to the wicked crime itself in case they are overheard.
In Act 1 Scene 6, we see Lady Macbeth greeting Duncan, Duncan mistakenly believes the castle is a “pleasant seat”. The audience would be horrified by Lady Macbeth’s deceptive behaviour as we know she is a “serpent” and Duncan’s innocent acceptance of her hospitality. Macbeth starts to second guess the idea of killing Duncan; he doesn’t want to do it because he believes in natural justice – if he does a bad deed such a murdering the king, then something bad will happen to him. Duncan has also been nothing but a good king to Macbeth; he should be loyal towards him and protect him. In Shakespeare’s time, people valued good monarchs because you couldn’t change them and if they were evil then it was bad for everyone. Macbeth then decides to leave, possibly because of guilt. He says, “We will proceed no further in this business”, in a dominant tone to Lady Macbeth to show that he is in control. In return to this, Lady Macbeth begins to use emotional blackmail – comparing Macbeth’s past declaration of love to drunken promises which he regrets the next day.
Lady Macbeth questions her husband’s courage, which would have been highly insulting to a warrior such as Macbeth; she then continues to question Macbeth’s masculinity by claiming “when you durst do it, then you were a man” – she is trying to manipulate and control him into proving himself by killing Duncan. Lady Macbeth then says “I have given suck…” – she is trying to say that if she had made a promise to Macbeth, even if it was to kill her own baby she would have kept it. Macbeth responds by asking “if we should fail?” which suggests to us that he is becoming convinced by Lady Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth reassures Macbeth, and tells him of what they are going to do, “what cannot you and I perform upon th’unguarded Duncan”. The verb ‘perform’ has very sinister and vague connotations; it suggests that Lady Macbeth is enjoying the thought of killing her king. Macbeth compliments Lady Macbeth by saying she could only give birth to a male child – this is a metaphor of how courageous and evil she has become. Lady Macbeth reassures him by describing how they will “roar” with grief, when they are told of Duncan’s death. The ‘verb’ roar suggests passionate, unrestrained grief. During this conversation, the audience would be disgusted by her hypocrisy and deceitfulness.
Macbeth describes himself as “settled” – meaning his conscience is calmed and he is determined to kill Duncan. The scene finishes with Macbeth using an imperative instructing Lady Macbeth to “mock the time with the fairest show: false face must hide what the false heart doth know”. He is telling Lady Macbeth to look calm, but to be deceitful in her heart, repeating the instructions she gave him in scene 5; this shows how much Macbeth’s ideas have been changed.