How far can the audience sympathise with Lady Macbeth?

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Macbeth Coursework

In the play we see that Lady Macbeth is a multifaceted character – at times she behaves in a way which would make us see her as a “fiend-like monster”; however later in the play we begin to see her as a “Lady of remorse.” 

        Lady Macbeth first appears in the play in Act 1 Scene 5 when she has just received Macbeth’s letter and is reading it.  She does not doubt the veracity of the witches’ prophecies. Immediately we begin to see her own scheming ambition, “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be what thou art promised” – her only concern was that her husband would not be able to act in such a way so as to fulfil the prophecy “Yet I do fear thy nature; It is too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way.” She understands Macbeth’s nature very well, and knows that she will have to use her own influence and power over him to compel him to act, “Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear and chastise with the valour of my tongue all that impedes thee.” She is hopes that she will be able to bring him to her point of view “pour my spirits in thine ear” and that she will be able to convince him that murdering Duncan is the right course of action to take, and overcome his good, kind nature, “and chastise with the valour of my tongue all that impedes thee.”

        At that time, the 16th century, it was widely accepted and believed that witches were both real, and held enormous power and influence over people and their lives. People accepted the supernatural as part of their everyday lives and lived in fear of witches who, they believed, could influence the course of their lives for the worse.

        Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth display these beliefs in the supernatural when Macbeth accepts the prophecies of the witches without doubt or hesitation; Lady Macbeth too has no doubts as to their veracity. Later in the play Macbeth, totally faithful to the words of the witches, goes and seeks them out again for further confirmation of his wishes.

        When Lady Macbeth is informed that King Duncan would be staying with them that night, immediately she begins to plan his murder, in a ruthless and callous manner. She shows her “fiend-like qualities” when she begins to invoke the evil spirits to “unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe-top full of direst cruelty, make thick my blood, stop up the access and passage to remorse.” She pleads with them to become more like a man and take on supposed “masculine qualities”, as femininity was associated with weakness. The cacophony is used throughout the sentence and the repetition of the harsh “k” sound gives each word particular emphasis – as though it is being spat out, “unsex”, “crown”, “cruelty”, “access”, etc. Alliteration is used in the phrase “toe top”, forcing the speaker to slow down and emphasise the words.  

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        Up to this point, we have seen many indicators that the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is close and loving. Macbeth refers to his wife as “My dearest partner in greatness”, and she greets him, “My dearest love”, suggesting a degree of equality in their relationship, and, of course, mutual love.


By Act 1 Scene 7, Macbeth has changed his mind and decided against going through with the murder. He is worried about what the consequences of it will be “If th’assassination could trammel up the consequence, and catch with his surcease success.” He knows that simply ...

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Shows understanding of Lady Macbeth's character with textual support. Lacking in empathy for her character. Some references to language.