How does Shakespeare present lady Macbeth?
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Macbeth involves 3 witches who make prophecies for Macbeth about taking the throne. Ambition and desire drive Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to kill King Duncan. Later Banquo is killed due to Macbeths greed for the throne and jealousy of it being taken away and Lady Macbeth appears to go mad and die. Macbeth is then defeated. These themes of murder, ambition, greed and desire appear throughout the play among others. These themes are factors towards the portrayal of Lady Macbeth and contribute to changes that take place in her character and also how the audience responds to this.
I will explore how Shakespeare uses these themes among other things to present Lady Macbeths character and how she changes throughout the play to the audience.
Lady Macbeths character does not, initially conform to the typical role of women, especially in the 17th century when women werent even allowed to act on stage. However perhaps a more modern audience may see her character differently due to increasing equality and the role of women in the 21st century. I will be exploring how roles in society affect the audiences response as well.
The audiences initial impressions of Lady Macbeth are from her first entrance where she is reading a letter from Macbeth. This he thought good to deliver to her who is his dearest partner of greatness. The fact that Macbeth writes her a letter informing her of his business with the witches gives the audience an initial impression that Lady Macbeth plays an important role in their relationship, for him to feel that he must automatically tell her the news suggesting that she has power over him and that she has the right to know. Even Macbeth before this point does not mention Lady Macbeth when she appears with the letter. This is similar to how the 3 witches just appear and vanish in mist, indicating that perhaps Shakespeare was trying to initially portray Lady Macbeth as similar to a witch.
This is also seen in her dominating and ambitious character, which is also seen in her introduction when she says I may pour my spirits in thine ear, and chastice with the valour of my tongue suggesting that she wants to dictate and tell him how to handle the situation. This attitude from a woman at this point would have seemed very strange and wouldnt have conformed to the typical role of women who were seen as inferior. Therefore this suggests that Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth in this way to indicate strange and not normal qualities, which an audience in the 17th century would have seen as witch-like. However Lady Macbeth is never referred to by her first name, only by Macbeths name indicating some influence from society at the point that the play was written.
Lady Macbeth goes on, after reading the letter to evaluate and analyse her husbands strengths and weakness for becoming king. This alone indicates that she feels she has some sort of higher position to have the right to analyse her husband, who, at this point would have been seen as superior to her. She says, Thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition indicating that she feels he would be a good king due to his ambitious nature. However she also says that does fear thy nature which is to full oth milk of human kindness. Shes saying that he is too soft to be king suggesting that she feels human kindness is a weakness. The fact that she uses milk and human kindness to describe his weakness, again portrays her as quite abnormal and perhaps inhuman because of her use of normal human activity as a weakness.
When it is announced that King Duncan is to stay at Macbeths castle, Lady Macbeths response reveals further traits of her character to the audience. As soon as the attendant is gone, Lady Macbeth states that the raven himself is a hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements. The imagery of a raven indicates death for Duncan, especially when she says that it croaks his fatal entrance. It is almost as if as soon as it is announced that Duncan is to stay with them, she conjures up this plan therefore indicating that she has quite a cunning and crafty character and perhaps likes the idea of secrecy, seen when she waits for the attendant to go before revealing her true desires. Lady Macbeth then says, Come you spirits and asks them to unsex her there and fill her from head to toe, top full of direst cruelty. unsex me here suggests that she wants her female characteristics to be taken away to follow through in killing king Duncan, indicating that she sees female characteristics as too soft and as a weakness especially when it comes to killing someone. These statements also refer back to the beginning of scene 5 when she is analysing Macbeth and says that he is too full oth milk of human kindness (which also indicates that she feels human kindness is a weakness).
Lady Macbeth uses imagery in this part of her dialogue of natural female productions and makes these also seem a weakness by saying, come to my womans breasts and take my milk for gall. This indicates further that she does not want any motherly characteristics as she sees them as a weakness to be a murderous character. She then asks that her keen knife see not the wound it makes implying that she wants no remorse or guilt therefore suggesting that perhaps she feels that her character is trapped inside a womans body which is viewed as not only inferior but innocent, sweet and soft which it seems she does not want. The fact that throughout the whole of Lady Macbeths speech her she makes commandments to the spirits implies that she is chanting a spell of some kind. This is suggested due to the fact that she is not talking to any other character and says come, you spirits as if she is communicating with something supernatural and inhuman. Lady Macbeth also tells Macbeth to leave all the rest to me indicating that she is taking control of the situation, which also does not conform to the stereotypical woman of the 17th century.
The imagery used of taking her milk for gall, making her blood thick and the dunnest smoke of hell would have been seen as very disturbing to a 17th century. This is due to female stereotypes at that point who would have been seen as motherly natural and quite weak which it seems that Lady Macbeth realises due to the overturning of all of these ideas to become a cunning and murderous character. This would have seemed as abnormal for a woman to be using such cruel imagery and wanting to be unfemale and murderous in this way due to their stereo typical position which was seen as less intelligent and therefore given no excuse to act in this way due to being seen as not cunning enough to overturn ideas like that.
A modern audience however, might not see this imagery as disturbing as a 17th century audience would. Although people would generally see the imagery of thick blood etc quite disturbing, the idea of a woman commanding to be unsexed and to have her milk for gall would not seem so bad. This is due to the recent acceptance of equality of intelligence and the fact that woman can be cunning, bitter and murderous too. Also it is not uncommon for females to want to become male or to be involved in witchcraft as different religions are now becoming more widely accepted. This modern attitude could be seen in the recent version of the play directed by Edward Hall. Lady Macbeth, played by Samantha Bond was not surrounded by evil sounds and images that would link with the stereotypical image of a witchlike person when she said this speech. She was portrayed as a woman in a bedroom worried about her husbands prophecies and talking aloud. As a part of the audience, I was not disturbed and shocked by Lady Macbeths speech to unsex her. This indicates the differences between the attitudes of the two audiences.
At the beginning of scene 7 Macbeth is reluctant to kill king Duncan and trys to convince himself not to. In this particular speech he uses language linked with the Christian religion with heavenly images of pleads, like angels and heavens cherubin, horsed upon the sightless couriers of the air. This language portrays the victim (Duncan) as innocent and a god like figure. It refers to the point that at this point in time god apparently appointed the king. This indicates that Macbeth is making himself feel enormous guilt by referring to Duncan as a god like, heavenly figure by using this language. Macbeth also says that he should be against his murder, not bear the knife himself. Indicating that he is having serious second thoughts and realises that he should be his kinsmen and subject and feels bad about having the king in his home in double trust as he expresses. Shakespeare has Macbeths character come in from the same door as the servants do when he first enters the scene. This is perhaps Shakespeare trying to portray Macbeth as at a similar level as servants at this point due to the king being in the house, which adds to the atmosphere of Macbeths guilt of plotting to kill such a high figure in society.
Although Macbeth says that they will proceed no further in this business Lady Macbeth controls the argument and persuades him to follow it through. She ridicules him by asking if the hope was drunk wherein you dressed yourself She asks rhetorical questions in which she indirectly calls him a coward in thine own self esteem. This technique by which she uses ridicule and sarcasm is used to try and damage Macbeths self-esteem so that he will perhaps try to prove her wrong and kill Duncan. It suggests that Lady Macbeth must have a lot of power in the relationship to feel comfortable to insult and try to manipulate him in this way.
However Macbeth responds to this by saying that he dare do all that may become a man, suggesting that he does too have power in the relationship to withstand her insults as if they are meaningless. Lady Macbeths second tactic is to uses violent images of a baby that she would have dashed the brains out while it was smiling in her face. This suggests that she is saying that if it were her place to kill Duncan she would do it. She uses these images of killing her own child to show perhaps just how courageous she is. It also contrasts the idea of females at this point who would typically, not have the strength to do this due to stereotypical love for children. Therefore this portrays Macbeth as weak for having doubts.
It seems in this scene Macbeths speeches are much shorter than Lady Macbeths who has many lines whereas Macbeth as on average one or two, indicating the power that Lady Macbeth has in this argument. After Lady Macbeth says that when you durst do it, then you were a man shows again that she is trying to shatter his self-esteem to perhaps make him angry and want to prove her wrong. By Lady Macbeth saying this, indicates that she knows exactly how to persuade and manipulate her husband, perhaps as if she knows the workings of a man. This suggests again that she is not a stereotypical female character who has only female characteristics and not knows of how to anger the other sex, which, to an audience in the 17th century would seem disturbing. Also to try and shatter her husbands self-esteem whom she is meant to love, portrays her as cruel and unkind perhaps to any audience. This scene also almost finalises any ideas of Lady Macbeth being cruel and unlike the stereotypical kind female.
Before the murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth seems to be quite content and willing to kill the king. She says that which hath made them drunk, hath made me bold indicating that she has been drinking and feels confident in her decisions. She is accepting the fact quite willingly that the time is coming soon to kill the king, suggested when she hears an owl and calls it the fatal bellman. She compares herself with the other characters at this point and says, What hath quenched them hath given me fire. This comparison suggests that she feels superior to the other characters (due to her description of drink giving her a better thing than the other characters) at this point and therefore perhaps ready for a challenge due to her increased confidence.
However when Macbeth enters the room she is startled and jumpy seen when. she says Alack, I am afraid they have awaked, indicating that she is afraid of what she is about to be involved in, indicating some normal human emotions. Also she indicates that she does have feelings such as guilt and pity seen when she states that had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had donet. This suggests that she does fear her actions and is not as bold and heartless as she is portrayed initially. However it could also be viewed as another persuasive approach to getting Macbeth to kill the king, as she will now defiantly not kill him due to his resemblance to her father. So it becomes an inevitable challenge for Macbeth.
This more human side to Lady Macbeth seems to disappear after Macbeth returns after doing the deed and says that it is a sorry sight. She tells him that this is a foolish thought indicating that she again feels no remorse and thinks that it is foolish to feel sorry. Lady Macbeth insists that Macbeth should consider it not so deeply and that a little water will clear us of this deed, This again implies that she feels no guilt, therefore no normal human feelings and sees it as an average challenge, especially when she then says how easy it is then! However perhaps the reason that she acts so rationally is to help her husband overcome his emotional guilt, meaning that she is still showing average human emotions through acting in this way to support Macbeth due to her love for him.
After the murder of King Duncan, both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth experience different feelings towards their actions. Macbeth suffers enormous guilt seen when he says, This is a sorry sight and describes his hands as hangmans hands indicating that he regrets his actions. He then proceeds to show madness and hear voices cry sleep no more, Macbeth doth murder sleep and Macbeth shall sleep no more indicating that he is so afraid of his actions and feels such extreme guilt that he is beginning to grow paranoid and hear voices telling him of his wrong doing indicating that it is infact him that is telling himself that he has done wrong. On the other hand Lady Macbeth seems to think rationally and does not seem so effected by guilt indicated when she says things without all remedy should be without regard suggesting that she is again feeling no remorse over the death of Duncan.
However I feel that she is perhaps hiding her guilt so that she can support Macbeth. When she says, you must leave this it seems that she is concerned about the guilt that Macbeth is suffering. It is almost like a command which indicates that she is trying to lead him out of the guilt but Macbeth is described to be Lost in thought implying that he has lost it and perhaps therefore she is loosing power over him. This is suggested in the fact that compared with the former argument to Duncans death; Lady Macbeths lines are less than Macbeths, indicating that he has more power in the relationship. She also asks him whats to be done whereas before it was Macbeth that asked her questions about what to do.
.When Macbeth sees Banquos ghost at the banquet, it is Lady Macbeth who tries to rectify the situation. After Macbeth shouts, Which of you has done this Lady Macbeth rises, indicating that she is worried and anxious about what he may say next and is getting ready to try and rectify what he will do. She tells him that he looks but on a stool and asks, Are you a man This is similar to what she said to Macbeth when he had changed his decision to murder Duncan in an earlier scene, indicating that she trying to make him stop acting in this way by using ridiculing techniques that had worked previously. Lady Macbeth explains that Macbeth is often thus and asks the guests to regard him not. The fact that she is explaining Macbeths actions for him, suggests that he cannot rectify his own problems for himself, indicating that she is again like a parent/authority figure, implying power.
However Macbeth does not seem to be affected by Lady Macbeths requests and comments and says, Why what care I showing that he doesnt consider what she says and is not listening. The fact that he is firstly, seeing an unseen ghost (indicating madness and loss of mind) means that Lady Macbeth looses power over him as he slips inside himself more and more. This was highlighted in Edward Halls Macbeth, where Macbeth, at this point, no longer stands so close to Lady Macbeth as he had before. He pushes away from her indicating that he does not need her for support and she becomes almost useless to him. Also when Lady Macbeth talks to him, he does not focus on her speech as he had before. He looks away or to the floor portraying confusion and therefore indicates that what she is saying has no effect on him anymore suggesting lose of power over him.
Lady Macbeths growing insecurities and anxiety shows weakness in her character also implying that she is loosing power and seems to fall back into the inferior role of a stereo- typical wife of that time. This is indicated after the guests have left. Macbeth states that he is a man again suggesting (due to a man being the superior position at this point) that he taking the superior and powerful role, as if he had lost it before. Which perhaps was the point in which the audience saw Lady Macbeth trying to manipulate and persuade Macbeth. It is also seen that Lady Macbeth addresses him as sir unlike previously implying an unequal relationship due to the fact that sir is normally a name that would be used for an authority figure.
In act 5, Lady Macbeth does not introduce herself as she had before. This is done by a doctor and a Gwoman who talk of her actions that the gwoman cannot report after her whilst in a most fast sleep. Due to the fact that Lady Macbeth is not introducing herself and cannot speak properly portrays her as person that cannot talk for herself, suggesting inferiority. It also implys the change in her character compared to the beginning of the play,. When Lady Macbeth enters she says, will these hands neer be cleaned implying being clean of the blood of Duncan etc which contrasts with her previous comment to Macbeth at the time of the killing of Duncan when she says a little water will clean us of this deed. It seems that Lady Macbeth has lost her matter of fact, no remorse characteristics and feels guilt that she had told Macbeth earlier to be rid of.
The Gwoman says that Lady Macbeths eye senses are shut ,she is sleep walking. This portrays her as having lack of control over her actions. She continues her conversations with Macbeth saying wash your handsI tell you again, Banquos buried: he cannot come out ons grave Indicating that she is still trying to reassure him. However due to the fact that she is talking to herself, it perhaps reflects how her comments and speeches to Macbeth were taken, as if even when she was talking to Macbeth he wasnt listening so it was like she was talking to herself. In Edward Halls Macbeth Lady Macbeth at this point is seen on the floor and for most of the scene she stays there, therefore suggesting her position as a character as inferior to everyone else.
This madness that Lady Macbeth acquires suggests that she has been driven to it through regret and guilt indicating more human characteristics to the audience. Also the fact that Lady Macbeth is still reassuring Macbeth and telling him to go to bed even in a sleeping state, indicates that she cares for him tremendously and lets the audience see a more kind and again human side to Lady Macbeth.
The doctor states that Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles suggesting that he feels that she has some inhuman characteristics which were highlighted earlier in the play. When he goes on to say that more needs she the divine that a physician indicating perhaps that her actions are of the supernatural to these people. Perhaps Shakespeare is highlighting that it was seen as abnormal for a woman of that time to act madly or manipulative, so he implies that Lady Macbeth who acquires all of these characteristics is similar to something abnormal. Incidentally, three witches are involved in the play, so it is very easy for an audience to compare Lady Macbeth to them. The actions of Lady Macbeth in this scene are similar to those of Macbeth in the Banquet scene. Both seem to see things that the other characters cannot. The fact that it is quite obvious that their actions are similar and Lady Macbeths are labelled /implied as abnormal indicates that perhaps in some way Shakespeare was trying to highlight the way that woman were treated in the 1600s.
When Macbeth finds out that the queen. Is dead, he says that the time for such word would be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow indicating that he never wanted to hear of his wife dying. He says that it is a tale told by an idiot..Signifying nothing, indicating that he feels that although Lady Macbeth is dead he will carry on as it signifies nothing suggesting that he is still full of ambition and palls in resolution. He seems to still strive for power and glory, as both he and Lady Macbeth had wanted before.
In conclusion Shakespeare portrayal of Lady Macbeth does change throughout the play. Which is highlighted in the way that at the beginning, Lady Macbeth introduces herself and uses several persuasive techniques to try and force her husband, who is the king and should have a lot of power to take murderous actions for power. Later on Lady Macbeth is seen to go mad and loose control, telling of her murderous deeds, which she had sworn to secrecy before and therefore contrasts with her previous self who was seen as under control. However I feel that although her actions could have seen as cruel and even inhuman to a 17th century audience, her intentions were to help her husband seen in act 5 where, although she has gone mad and is in a sleep, she still talks of Macbeth and tries to help and support him.
By using three witches and making it so that the audience will feel to compare Lady Macbeth to them due to her actions, Shakespeare was perhaps trying to highlight the position of women in the 1600s.
A 17th century audience would have seen Lady Macbeth differently from a modern one. I dont feel that a 17th century audience would feel have as good a reaction as a modern audience to her character due to the female stereotype whereas nowadays, a woman in power and an equal relationship is not seen very abnormal and inhuman as it would have in the 1600s.
As part of a modern audience to Macbeth, we do feel sympathy for Lady Macbeth due to the fact that as part of an audience I could see a variety of different reasons for her actions, and they were not abnormal and inhuman. This is due to the wider acceptance of female equality in modern England. Whereas I feel an earlier audience, may have not felt sympathy for Lady Macbeth due to the fact that they could not see any other reason for her actions apart from unnatural, inhuman cruel characteristics due to the idea of stereotypical women.