How does Lady Macbeth change throughout the play, "Macbeth"?

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Anna Broadley VC        Macbeth Coursework        18/06/08

How does Lady Macbeth change throughout the Play?

“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be

What thou art promised;”

These are the powerful opening lines of Lady Macbeth – the most infamous and indomitable female character in all of Shakespeare’s many works, who defies the position of order and gender of her time and used power and ambition to achieve her dreams.

        Her opening scene in I.v where she is reading the letter from her husband, which proclaims the witches’ prophecy, and the following soliloquy are the first exposure to her character, as it allows us an insight into her most intimate thoughts and feelings. At the idea of her husband being possibly made King she jumps straight to the conclusion that he will be, “and shalt be what thou art promised”. This is shocking to the audience as her superstition shows her underlying hunger for power by the fact she takes three deranged,  women on a moor as the literal truth – any excuse for her to rise in authority. Shakespeare’s use of the witches adds drama because at the time the play was written, during the reign of James I, witchcraft and heresy were deemed punishable by death and to “consult with any evil sprit” was illegal under the 1604 Witchcraft Act, so they would have seen it as a scandal that Lady Macbeth believed the witches. She seems even more ruthless by the fact that automatically she presumes that they will have to use morally wrong methods to fulfil the prophecy by killing Duncan and it does not daunt her. “Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.” Shakespeare has given her this line to express that she does not mind disregarding what is right and wrong in her one track mind for power. He emphasises this further by saying that she “fears” that Macbeth’s nature is too kind to perform the deeds they will have to resort to. Shakespeare’s use of the verb “fear” shows that is does not merely annoy her that Macbeth may not be capable of murder, but it frightens her which shows how desperate she is for the power.

        Shakespeare uses the rest of the soliloquy to convey another extraordinary characteristic for the time: her power. In patriarchal Elizabethan times, women held very different positions in society than today. They were considered weaker both physically and emotionally and needed to be the possession of a male, either their fathers, husbands or another male relative. However, in Macbeth Lady Macbeth has a lot of control over her husband and is an equal to him. He respects her and obeys her orders. Yet, unlike Macbeth who achieved his respected position by violence and in battle, Lady Macbeth uses crafty methods such as manipulation to get what she desires. “Hie thee hither, / That I may pour my spirits in thine ear / And chastise with the valour of my tongue / All that impedes thee from the golden crown.” Shakespeare uses this contrast to portray that although as a woman Lady Macbeth could seem the ‘weaker’ sex; her methods of achieving what she wants are just as effective. The iambic pentameter of the verse stresses “I” and “my” which accentuates how she will be the one to push Macbeth into the murder.

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        A messenger then arrives with the news that Duncan will be coming to stay at the their castle and the news that the opportunity for the murder has come so soon excites Lady Macbeth which Shakespeare highlights through the use of verse with shared lines. “The King comes here tonight.” “Thou art mad to say it” This speeds up the scene fuelling the tension in the audience to add dramatic effect. Her following speech shows her in a terrifying and almost supernatural light. Shakespeare uses a variety of techniques to make the moment creepy and witchlike: the image of the “raven ...

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This is a very strong response and considers language, structure and form and how they are used to create certain effects. Consider also how the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth almost swap throughout the play and how as Lady Macbeth becomes weaker Macbeth seems to grow in strength. 5 Stars