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The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

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20/02/2003 Prashanthini.S The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth Macbeth is a classical tragedy, which plots the fall and death of a once great man. In part, Macbeth's decline results from flaws within his own character. But he is also subject to a host of supernatural phenomena which seems to limit the scope of his independence: the Witches' prophecies, the air-drawn daggers, unnatural dreams, terrifying omens, cannibal horses, day-time darkness, storms and hidden stars. The human element, however, is provided by the relationship between Macbeth and his lady. They are bound by the strength of their love, and their understanding of and support for each other, but their attempt to achieve a mutual ambition destroys them and without each other they fall into despair and die. The withering of this relationship reflects the gradual disintegration of the social and political world in Scotland and of the kingdom's relationship with its new king, as well as the disintegration of Macbeth as an individual. By tracing the meetings between the couple, therefore, we gain a greater insight into the meanings of the play and into the workings of the tormented heart and mind, for the protagonists live the greater part of their lives through their imaginations. It is in the mind, perhaps above all, that their tragedies are enacted and thus, as these disintegrate, their deaths become inevitable. From the moment of receiving Macbeth's letter until Duncan's murder, Lady Macbeth is ruled by her imagination, aware of the present but living in the future: Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be What thou art promised. (Act 1, Scene 5:14-15) She is already planning how to overcome the humane sides of Macbeth's nature by pouring her spirits into his ear. In her terrifyingly, unnatural prayer - 'Come, you spirits. . . ' (Act 1, Scene 5:38-52) - she imagines the actual wounds she would make were she to carry out the murder herself: That my keen knife see not the wound it makes (Act 1, Scene 5:51) ...read more.


What hands are here! Ha - they pluck out mine eyes! (Act 2, Scene 2:58-59) and Lady Macbeth leads him off. But she is only composed because she has not yet had time to think on what she has seen and it is she who voices a real subconscious fear: These deeds must not be thought After these ways; so, it will make us mad (Act 2, Scene 2:33-34) And her 'A little water clears us of this deed' (line 67) comes in hindsight as an ironic rejoinder to Macbeth's: Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? (Act 2, Scene 2:60-61) For all the images of this Act - hands, blood, time, hell, darkness, courage, fear, power, the father - ultimately crowd into her imagination and do indeed contrive her madness. After the brief Porter scene, Macbeth re-enters both composed and entirely in command. His wife appears calm but she utters only a few words. She stands silent whilst her husband explains the killing of the grooms and puts on all the semblance of affronted loyalty. We cannot tell whether her swoon is real or feigned but just as her being the first character to enter alone hinted at her future isolation from humanity and society, so her swooning isolates her now from her husband's thought and action because she is removed from the scene, leaving him to act alone. When they are next seem together, Macbeth is king. He addresses no word to her as he plans the next murder and she is dismissed with the lords without a word to herself: 'We will keep ourself till supper-time alone' (Act 3, Scene 1:44). It is part of their personal tragedy that neither Macbeth not Lady Macbeth foresaw the results of evil on themselves or the state. They failed to realize that one murder would lead inevitably to others and to suffering and degradation, for their victims, the state, and ultimately themselves: To be thus is nothing; But to be safely thus! ...read more.


Though he leaps into action again as a Messenger arrives, rushing off to die a hero, from this moment, he begins 'to be aweary of the sun' (line 49) and is only looking to the end. Obviously, the couple's crimes are unforgivable: from the start they have upset the natural order, creating a world which shattered the images that surrounded Duncan - 'loved', 'wooingly', 'procreant cradle', 'breed and haunt', 'temple-haunting' (Act 1, Scene 6) - crimes 'against the use of nature', invoking 'murdering ministers' who 'wait on nature's mischief'. Nevertheless, Macbeth wanted to restore order and heal his 'sickly weal'. His murder of Banquo was an attempt to make his state perfect, the banquet an attempt to reimpose an order where society could be in harmony with nature, bound by love and friendship, ordered by law and duty. Indeed, his Lords do call, 'Our duties and the pledge!' (Act 3, Scene 4:92), but the unnatural Ghost enters as Macbeth toasts, 'love and health to all!' (line 86) and is seen as soon as the Lords speak. For there is no retreat either from evil or from the consequential psychological disturbances, disturbances which mirror those in the state. Exploring the Macbeths' relationship clarifies the upheaval in the kingdom, its relationship with the king, the causes of Macbeth's fall and disintegration, and allows us insight into the effects of conscience and remorse on the human mind; but it also lets us recognize the personal tragedy of the Macbeths, and their deaths come as a welcome escape, both for them and us, from unendurable self-knowledge. The English king can heal, magically, with his own hands; here, the Doctor says, 'This disease is beyond my practice' (Act 5, Scene 1:55). He cannot cure it; they cannot live with it. This is why, when Malcolm dismisses them at the end of the play as simply 'this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen', we cannot help but feel, having suffered with them, that as a summary, this is totally inadequate. 1 ...read more.

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