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In this essay I will be looking at the character of Lady Macbeth and how she is presented in the play. Paying close attention to the text, I will trace her development from Act 1 to Act 5 of the play.
When we first see Lady Macbeth she is reading a letter that Macbeth has just sent her explaining that he has just met three witches that have promised him he would be ‘Thane of Cawdor and the King here after’.
We learn that Lady Macbeth’s relationship with her husband is a very close relationship and she is dear to him. He also uses a superlative that suggests they are close, he says, ‘my dearest partner of greatness’. Dearest implies that she is the ultimate that can be, partner implies equality which is unusual at hat time as women are not equal to men and greatness gets Lady Macbeth thinking.
From her immediate reaction to the letter we can tell she is firm and determined, ‘and shalt be’, se has already decided he will be king. We can also tell she is firm and blunt as she starts to talk in a very monosyllabic type of voice. There is a possible link with Lady Macbeth to the witches as she almost repeats their words, ‘Glamis thou art, and Cawdor and shalt be what thou promis’d’, which implies she may be evil.
We can tell that she thinks her husband is too kind and will not do everything he can to become king. She believes that she can persuade him in to doing what she wants him to do to become king. She is very confident in her ability, ‘That I may pour my spirits in thine ear’, she has lots to tell him and she also has to keep him on track. ‘Chastice’, she shows her confidence again, as she believes she can keep him on track and get him to do exactly what she wants. Lady Macbeth is intent about the plan of killing Duncan an is sure it will work and as she is a very confident and determined character she does not want to give up trying to persuade Macbeth.
By the way she calls on evil spirits it suggests she is willing to do anything to get where she wants but can’t do it without help of the spirits, which implies she may be scared. She is telling the spirits what to do, ‘take anything that is soft’ she is very commanding. ‘Fill, Stop, Come, Take’ she uses a lot of imperatives. ‘Unsex me’, take away my feminine qualities, ‘Gall’, she is going against a woman’s role. Even though she is a very masculine character she is still worried and cares if God sees her and being judged and going to hell, ‘Nor heaven peep through’.
When Lady Macbeth greets Macbeth she repeats again the witches words. ‘Great, greater’ she calls him by what he could be to make him feel important and proud which will make him go on with the plan of killing Duncan when she tells him about it. ‘And I feel now the future in an instant’, she is manipulating him constantly.
‘Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it’. This shows us that the character of Lady Macbeth is evil and also two-faced as she is telling Macbeth to look and act friendly and innocent but then when the others are not around or not looking bring out the evilness and kill Duncan. It is also a biblical reference to satin which connects her with evil; the story of Adam and Eve suggests their plan will end badly. This line mostly implies she is evil, an accomplished liar and we are not able to trust her.
At the end of the scene Macbeth is not sure what to say or think, ‘We will speak further’. But Lady Macbeth is still trying to persuade him and believes the plain will work. ‘O, never shall sun that morrow see’, Duncan will not wake tomorrow.
Lady Macbeth welcomes Duncan by telling him all is well and that she is well prepared for him. ‘This castle hath a pleasant air’. Lady Macbeth has convinced Duncan that all is well and she also convinced him that she is a nice lady by lying. We know she has convinced him as he says, ‘fair and noble hostess we are your guests tonight’.
We know Lady Macbeth is very persuasive but she also has masculine qualities like when she welcomes Duncan. She does it alone and it is usually a mans role. She also makes sure Macbeth is not around because she knows he will blow their cover and that she is better at convincing Duncan than him.
The Persuasion Scene
We can see that Lady Macbeth is the dominant partner as she can persuade Macbeth into going along with the murder even when he is quite definite that he doesn’t want to carry on. Lady Macbeth also uses a lot of different tactics to persuade him and change his mind. She bombards him with questions one after another, she pressurises him and she already knows the answer to the questions. Her speeches are long and detailed; they are also logical and consistent in her argument. She takes his imagery and turns it on him. Also her tone of voice is mocking and se uses insulting comparison when she compares him to the cat that won’t go in the water. She uses emotional blackmail, she is saying ‘if you love me you will do this for me’. She is very cunning and has a lot of courage.
Most people would have mixed feelings about Lady Macbeth and so do I. I think she is a very strong character. She is manipulative and persuasive and can get Macbeth, and probably most characters to do what she wants. If somebody is sure they do not want to do something Lady Macbeth would not give up. She would be strong and use all the persuasive techniques she can. She is very determined ‘I would have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums and dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done’. We can tell here that she is possibly loyal as she says if she had promise something se would do it, whatever it was she swore to do. But Lady Macbeth also has another side to her. ‘Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it’. This quotation implies that Lady Macbeth is two-faced and Macbeth may not be able to trust her.
The Murder Scene
Lady Macbeth feels nervous as se waits for Macbeth to get back from doing the deed, we can tell she does as she keeps hearing violent and frightful sounds, ‘owl that shrieked’, and she is also paranoid. She then has a drink that implies she is trying to steady her nerves and keep calm. ‘Do mock their charge with snores; I have drugged their posses’. She has to reassure herself that everything is going to plan. She is also stammering, she uses shorter, more disjointed sentences, ‘Hark! Peace’. There is a contrast between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, she puts on an act for him, she is strong for his sake as he is not so strong and has a guilty conscience. We know this because he is worried about doing the deed, he sees the vision of the dagger in front of him and later on says, ‘I’ll go no more’.
‘Had he no resembled my father as he slept, I had done it’. Lady Macbeth normally comes across as a brave and bold character but here she shows a possible sign of weakness, as she never actually offers to kill Duncan herself. Comparing Duncan to her father and claiming that a reason not to kill him implies that she either is weak or that even she has sensitive areas.
When Lady Macbeth says ‘My husband’ it is showing us that when something is hers it is hers to keep and she is also in control of whatever is hers in this case her husband. It shows she is strong and it is her husband and nobody else’s.
Macbeth becomes very weak once he has killed Duncan as he cannot believe he has done it and he now thinks he is going to be murdered himself so Lady Macbeth has to try and sort it out and get him to calm down. She does this by asking him questions and telling him what to do. ‘What do you mean? Who was it that thus cried?’ When she begins to ask the questions she becomes more fluent again and also stronger. ‘Why did you bring these daggers from the place?’ she also tried to control him and make him pull himself together by telling him what to do. She uses lots of imperatives, she is very commanding here. ‘They must, go carry and smear’ she then insults his courage and makes him seem childish and cowardly by saying, ‘tis the eye or childhood’ she is telling him not to be such a baby. She shows she has courage by telling Macbeth, ‘Give me the daggers’ and going to kill the guards herself and when she then gets back she tries to shame Macbeth because he wouldn’t finish the deed properly. She does this by saying, ‘My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white’.
Their relationship seems to be breaking down and she is no longer able to control or manipulate Macbeth as he says, ‘I’ll go no more’. She cannot get him to do what she wants anymore. Although she is unable to manipulate Macbeth now she is still stronger than him and it is very important that she still is because she commands Macbeth to go ‘get on your nightgown’ and she tells him to wash. Moments after he has done it the murder is discovered and everybody is awake, so if Lady Macbeth hadn’t been strong and made sure Macbeth washed and changed they would have got caught.
Even though Lady Macbeth is a little less powerful and less manipulative she is still good at acting and looking like the innocent flower. ‘What’s the business’ she acts as if she doesn’t know anything about the murder so that the others will not be suspicious of her and Macbeth. But then Macbeth discloses he has murdered the guards and this makes Macduff suspicious. Macbeth then tried to explain what happened but comes up with something over the top, put of the ordinary and they all stare at him in amazement. Lady Macbeth knows that this could make them all suspicious so she faints to draw attention away from Macbeth. Macduff tells them o help her so they do. This also proves that she is convincing tem all as they all think she has really fainted.
This is a turning point for both of them as Lady Macbeth has gone from being her very strong self to a very weak character. ‘Out!’ She still uses imperatives but with no power, her punctuation and speech has also changed, she is normally fluent but not now, she is now jumbled, confused, chaotic and she has also gone so mad she has gone back to child like as she says a childish rhyme, ‘The thane of Fife had a wife’. She is dissempowered, her questions lack power, she is scare of the dark, ‘has light by her continually’, always has light, can’t sleep without it and she also always washing her hands. All of these things show she has gone mad and is the opposite of what she used to be.
Also, they used to be so close to each other and Macbeth would tell is wife anything but now they do not even talk. Their relationship has been ruined because of the murder.
The Sleepwalking Scene
In this scene Lady Macbeth’s lady-in-waiting has called a doctor to come and see Lady Macbeth as she has become very ill and seems to have been driven mad. She is in a very bad state and this is because she feels guilty about murdering Duncan and cannot stop thinking about it.
We can tell she has been driven mad and is on the verge of suicide by some of the things she does, ‘she has light by her continually’ This shows she is scared of the dark and cannot sleep without light by her side. This is ironic because in the beginning of the play she asked the evil spirits to come and take anything that is soft and she also wanted darkness to shroud her deed because she was afraid of being judged by God.
Lady Macbeth is also constantly washing her hands, ‘how she rubs her hands’. She is washing off the blood and also trying to wash away the guilt. Her speech has changed from being long powerful speeches to short speeches with still a lot of imperatives but they lack any power. ‘Out dammed stop! Out, I say’. She has also started using childish rhymes and her questions too lack power. ‘The thane of Fife had a wife’ and ‘where is she now?’ She is also very confused so her words are jumbled and chaotic. She then talks to Macbeth even though he isn’t there. ‘Wash your hands, put on your nightgown’. Lady Macbeth is confused about the past and she gets their crimes mixed up when she says, ‘The thane of Fife had a wife’ she is talking about the murder of MacDuff’s family but then she starts talking bout the murder of Duncan and if her hands will ever be clean, ‘what will these hands never be clean?’ The way Lady Macbeth leaves the stage, ‘beckoning the air’ reminds us what she was and what she has become.
The doctors feelings about Lady Macbeth ate that she has done something dreadful and maybe she deserves her fate but he then says, ‘God, God forgive us all! Look after her’, so he wants her to be safe and better.
Lady Macbeth has changed from act 1 as at the start of the play she was a very bold, strong and aggressive character but also very cunning and clever and manipulative. Through the play she has proved this as she gets Macbeth to go along with the murder of Duncan, but then once they have done the terrible deed of killing their king she starts to think about it and worry, as she does not want to be judged by God. She is scared by what she has done and starts to become confused and has been driven mad because of everything that has happened. She washes her hands all the time and has to have light with her constantly. Lady Macbeth has changed from being a strong, powerful and clever character to being mad and her speech has changed from long manipulative speeches to jumbled and chaotic words which have no power so she has lost her ability of being able to persuade Macbeth all because she has been driven mad from the deed of killing her king, Duncan!
This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Macbeth section.
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