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The role of Lady Macbeth throughout the play

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  • Pages: 6
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  • Category: Play

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The character of Lady Macbeth is very unlike the Lady Macbeth of historical reality. First of all, her name was not Lady Macbeth; it was Queen Gruoch of Scotland. Secondly, Queen Gruoch had a legitimate claim to the throne, unlike Lady Macbeth who had to plot with Macbeth to murder Duncan just to get to the throne. Finally, Queen Gruoch was a well liked and respected queen whereas Lady Macbeth was a “fiend-like queen” created by Shakespeare to be considered tyrannical. She is hated and seen as evil as she plots to kill Duncan and becomes drunk with power later on in the play.

When we first meet Lady Macbeth, she has just received a letter from Macbeth who is writing from just after he has met the witches and told he will be king, and the letter carries details of Macbeth’s promotion to the Thaneship of Cawdor and also mentions his meeting with the witches. At this point, Lady Macbeth doesn’t seem fiend-like at all; in fact she seems like a caring wife because she seems to show support for her husband, and later on we feel some sympathy for her, as she begins to get left out of Macbeth’s plans. However, she murmurs that she knows Macbeth is ambitious, but fears he is too full of “th’ milk of human kindness” to go through the steps necessary in order to become king which tells us that she knows her husband well and seems to be ambitious for him.

Her relationship with Macbeth is a strong one and they have an equal relationship, something that was rare in those days as it was a male-dominated society. Macbeth calls her his “dearest partner in greatness”. We know Lady Macbeth loves her husband and she has plans for him, but she also knows his weaknesses, which is one of the pivotal factors in Duncan’s murder. One can argue that Lady Macbeth is “fiend-like” for putting her relationship with Macbeth in jeopardy and forcing him to do such morally wrong things in order to claim the kingship of Scotland. What is meant by the term “fiend-like” is because like the witches she appeals to Macbeth’s ambition and uses her knowledge of him to manipulate him. For example when she asks him if the hope that he ‘dressed himself’ in the night before was “drunk”–and then she goes on to question his love for her and his courage.

Following reading the letter, Lady Macbeth resolves to convince her husband to do whatever it takes in order to seize the crown. At this point, she calls upon

“You spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts! Unsex me here

And fill me from the crown to the toe top full

Of direst cruelty!”

Lady Macbeth doesn’t want to feel remorse for the actions she is about to undertake, and like the witches she is prepared to use evil. Does this make her fiend-like? Did she do this in advance because she knew that her womanly feelings wouldn’t allow her to do these treacherous deeds?

When we first meet the witches, they use the “fair is foul, and foul is fair” imagery. Later on in the play Lady Macbeth says “look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t”. This leads the audience to believe that Lady Macbeth has some sort of association with the witches, and therefore truly believe she is fiend-like. In fact, some people believe Lady Macbeth is the fourth witch, and is used to get inside Macbeth’s head.

Lady Macbeth conceives the entire plan to kill Duncan – which is “fiend-like” and not womanly – but Macbeth has a change of heart. This is when Lady Macbeth utilises Macbeth’s weaknesses that only she knows, and begins questioning Macbeth’s manhood, saying he would be a man when he’s done the deed, not before to the point where he feels he must commit the murder in order to prove himself. At this point she goes as far as to say that (talking about a nursing baby):

“I would, while it was smiling in my face

Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums

And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn

As you have done to this”.

This gruesome imagery shows us that the spirits must’ve taken every ounce of good that Lady Macbeth had left in her and turned her into a “fiend-like” being. This is the opposite of what one would expect of a wife and mother, and some people have compared Lady Macbeth to Lady Macduff, who is a loving mother and represents good in this play.

Lady Macbeth says she would’ve done the deed herself had Duncan not reminded her so as her father. This is the first bit of compassion and remorse we have seen in Lady Macbeth thus far in the play, which then makes the audience wonder if she is such a bad person after all? Surely, if she was fiend-like she would’ve committed the murder herself without thinking twice, instead of backing out? So maybe the witches have destroyed Lady Macbeth just as much as they have done Macbeth.

Macbeth murders Duncan and is crowned King of Scotland, but immediately begins regretting the steps he took in order to become King. Lady Macbeth also shares in the guilt (“my hands are of your colour”), but remains strong in front of Macbeth and anyone else she sees. Whether or not she is giving the illusion of being “fiend-like” or whether or not she is genuinely fiend-like is a mystery. However, when Macbeth plots Banquo’s murder, he doesn’t tell Lady Macbeth about it, and this slowly begins Macbeth’s phasing out of Lady Macbeth. He keeps her out of her plans and is almost trying to impress her, showing that he can carry out plans all by himself and still stays affectionate (“Be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck”).

Following Banquo’s murder, it becomes apparent that Macbeth needs Lady Macbeth less and less, and in fact Lady Macbeth isn’t seen again until the end of the play. When we see her then, she is a troubled soul and on the verge of insanity, far from the strong woman that we last saw. She begins trying to wash her hands of blood, and says “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”, referring to the spot of blood on her hands. Sleep is a major theme throughout Macbeth as it represents good and peace. So when Lady Macbeth at this time is unable to sleep, it symbolizes that she is neither good nor peaceful.

“The innocent sleep…

Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care.”

Nobody is calling Lady Macbeth “fiend-like” at this point, and some of the audience would even begin to pity her. A doctor is called in to help Lady Macbeth, but he states that because she does not have a physical illness, there is nothing he can do. The doctor says “More needs she the divine than the physical”.

The last thing we ever hear from Lady Macbeth is a message delivered to Macbeth that she is dead, under the assumption that she took her own life (“self and violent hands”). Suicide in Shakespeare’s time seems evil, that the person had lost to despair. So, because of this, we once again are made to feel pity for Lady Macbeth. We cannot say she was a fiend.

Lady Macbeth wasn’t a fiend, for she did have a conscience, and we know this because she didn’t actually murder Duncan and she did feel the repercussions of his death, right up until she took her own life at the end of the play. She was troubled and the witches certainly affected her life as much, if not more, as they did Macbeth’s. Personally I believe that Lady Macbeth had some good in her soul, which led to a lot of the despair she went through towards the end of the play. However, she still did carry out all the evil deeds, and encouraged Macbeth into doing the wrong things. Therefore we can say she was fiend-like.

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