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To What Extent is Lady Macbeth Responsible for the Downfall of Macbeth?

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Introduction

To What Extent was Lady Macbeth Responsible for the Downfall of Macbeth? In Macbeth, Shakespeare explores diverse levels of humanity. The play begins on a supernatural plane with the witches' prophecy. We are then introduced to the noblemen Macbeth and Banquo, and to a world of royalty and politics. Finally we meet Lady Macbeth, the loyal wife in waiting at home. Shakespeare brings the play down from a supernatural and spiritual level, to the normal and simple way of family life and most importantly, the interactions between a man and his wife. The witches' prophecy that Macbeth will one day be King certainly ignites the plot, but it is his marital relationship that drives the play forward and leads to his ultimate demise. To what extent then, is Lady Macbeth responsible for the downfall of Macbeth? In answering this question we must consider various elements of the play and different attributes of the characters. What type of woman is Lady Macbeth? How much power does she command over her husband? What kind of a man is he, Macbeth, to allow his wife to dictate to him his actions? Is it really the case that she does have complete reign over the household, or are we treating Lady Macbeth unfairly by labelling her the villain of the play? ...read more.

Middle

Her demonic strength overcomes Macbeth's own, when he is unable to return the daggers she scorns "tis the eye of childhood/ that fears a painted devil" (II.ii.57). She finishes the job herself, "My hands are of your colour" (II.ii.67), and reassures her husband "A little water clears us of this deed" (II.ii.70). However, unbeknownst to both man and wife, these words will return to haunt her. Despite these bold actions, after the reality of the gruesome deeds sinks in we begin to witness a very different Lady Macbeth. From Act V onwards we witness how Lady Macbeth has begun to recoil from her once cold and emotionless capacity for cruelty. In spite of having claimed to shame "to wear a heart so white" (II.ii.68), after the literal blood staining of her hands she becomes obsessed with cleanliness, she is always washing her hands exclaiming, "yet here's a spot" (V.i.28) what will these hands ne'er be clean?" (V.i.38). Her failure to escape the smell of blood is a direct sign of her guilt. She is finally revealing and admitting that she committed a terrible act, whereas previously she was convinced by such evil that she lacked even an inking of a conscience. ...read more.

Conclusion

The question is, if Macbeth had never received the Witches prophecy would all this have still happened or would he have lived a happy life with Lady Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor? "If chance will have me king, why chance may crown me/ Without my stir"(I.iii.143) The witches plant the seed of ambition in a man already capable of murder, whose "brandished steel, / which smok'd with bloody execution! (I.ii.17) well before he learnt of his prophecy. Lady Macbeth does urge and encourage Macbeth to take action but the real catalyst of the play is the prophecy, it may be argued Lady Macbeth speeds matters up. It is Macbeth who takes his destiny into his own hand and ignores chance and fortune, so whilst Lady Macbeth is to blame to an extent, Macbeth seals his own fate. Masculinity is equated with the rational and the logical, where as femininity is often connected with over developed emotions and irrationality. Lady Macbeth's resulting insanity due to the guilt of having blood on her hands is an ironic twist; the "unsexed" villain is reduced to a manic wreck and thus embodies the stereotypical derogatory opinions of what it is to be a woman. Macbeth is a tragedy of blind love and ambition. In the end the joint guilt of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth ultimately separates them, and they perish as individuals, each alone. Jeffrey Nelson 1 ...read more.

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