In Act 2, Scene 2 Lady Macbeth seems to be courageous and calm as she has to support her husband Macbeth who has just killed Duncan, King of Scotland. She remains assertive. However her character changes by the end of the play, Act 5, Scene 1, when she betrays her sense of guilt. Lady Macbeth becomes tormented and mentally deranged, as she walks and talks in her sleep.
In Act 2, Scene 2 Macbeth enters after committing regicide on the king of Scotland, which to an Elizabethan is the greatest of all crimes. Jacobeans believed in the Divine Right of kings who were appointed by God, so that to go against a rightful king was the same as going against God. He is greeted by Lady Macbeth who is relieved and proud of him because she believes he has proved himself to be a man. Her greeting him with “My husband!” shows this. She returns the daggers to the chamber whilst Macbeth feels the enormity of the crime he has committed. Lady Macbeth returns with blood-stained hands she “gilds” the guards with Duncan’s blood to make it seem their guilt and directs Macbeth to wash the blood off their hands and to change out of their bloody clothes as there is a knocking at the gates. Throughout the scene Lady Macbeth is very jumpy as this quotation shows.Order now
It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern’st good-night.”
Speech from Lady Macbeth such as this make you wonder whether she is going to lose her nerve. In Act 5, Scene 1 the doctor and Lady Macbeth’s waiting-gentlewoman watch her as she sleepwalks. Her guilt is manifesting due to her illness and she is losing control of her mental faculties.
“Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes
of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh!”
This quotation shows that Lady Macbeth feels she cannot wash the guilt off her hands, which is tormenting her. It relates to what Macbeth says in Act 2, Scene 2.
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incardine”
Here Macbeth also feels his hands are so guilty that no ocean in the world will be able to wash it off. In Act 5, Scene 1 Lady Macbeth enters carrying a candle; she will not sleep without light as it reminds her of the darkness and death on the night of the murder. She
is rubbing her hands together, trying to remove the “damn’d spot” of the guilt of murder, which reminds us of Act 2, Scene 2, when she said, “A little water clears us of this deed.”
The gentlewoman is instructed to remove anything with which Lady Macbeth might harm herself and watch her carefully. The doctor recognises that suicide is a distinct possibility because of her state of mental torment. He says, “Remove from her the means of all annoyance” but we know that later on in the play she kills herself “by self and violent hands. In Act 2, Scene 2 Lady Macbeth foretells what happens to herself and Macbeth as this quotation shows.
“These deeds must not be thought
After these ways; so, it will make us mad.”
My responses to Lady Macbeth in each scene are different. In Act 2, Scene 2 I think she is more feminine.
“Come ye spirits-unsex me here”
Lady Macbeth had to persuade herself to relinquish womanly feelings in order to brace herself for the regicide. Like Macbeth she might ordinarily be “too full o’ the milk of human kindness.” In Act 2, Scene 2 she is courageous to be brave in the face of fear. In this scene she is jumpy and on edge as she hears noises and is fearing that the plan will go wrong. However, when Macbeth is in a panic she puts aside her fears to return the daggers.
“Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done ‘t.”
This quotation shows that Lady Macbeth was prevented from killing Duncan herself because of the “picture” of the king seeming like her father. I think her character is strong in this scene and she is very practical as she prepares for the murder-drugs the guards and lays out the daggers for Macbeth. In Act 5, Scene 1 I have more sympathy for her as all her chances of being a good queen are spoiled by the evil of her ambitions. She is obviously disturbed since the death of the king and haunted by her guilt. In Act 2, Scene 2 Lady Macbeth can suppress her feelings but in this scene she is constantly reminded of the night of the murder.
A Shakespearean audience might respond to Lady Macbeth as a woman who is devoted to her husband, as she helps Macbeth achieve his ambition killing the king even though there is the risk of getting caught. She is aware of this in Act 2, Scene 2 as she jumps at every noise such as the owl and crickets chirping which were thought by the Elizabethans to herald death. In Act 5, Scene 1 the audience would be sympathetic at the sight of her suffering. They would see how pathetic Lady Macbeth had become and that she could no longer bear the strain of suppressing her real feelings.
Act 2, Scene 2 comes after the scene where Macbeth sees the vision of a dagger, covered
in blood, pointing towards Duncan’s room. This starts to build up tension and creates an evil atmosphere for the murder to be committed. Also Macbeth’s soliloquy in this scene prepares you for the scene immediately after the murder which follows, as all his
thoughts are evil.
“I go, and it is done; the bell invites me”
This quotation shows that Macbeth has got himself worked up to commit the crime and the sooner he does it, the quicker it will be over and done with. The sound of the bell, which Lady Macbeth rings, tells him when to go. Act 2, Scene 3 relieves the tension from scenes one and two as it is humorous but then tension rises again because you wonder if Macbeth is going to get found out. Macbeth kills the guards when Duncan’s death is discovered. Lady Macbeth faints, probably to distract attention from Macbeth’s deed, which means the guards cannot be questioned. The last time we see Lady Macbeth before Act 5, Scene 1 is at the banquet where she appears to be in control Act 3, Scene 4 when Macbeth becomes distressed on seeing the ghost of Banquo. However, by Act 5, Scene 1 she is no longer in control of her mental faculties. In the Polanski production the music creates tension on building up to Act 2, Scene 2, as it is low, eerie and slow. Before Act 5, Scene 1 the last shot is of fire which conveys hell and makes you wonder if the next scene is to do with this and evil. This quotation shows that evil was represented in Act 5, Scene 1.
“Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One; two: why then
’tis time to do ‘t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord-fie!”
Lady Macbeth is condemned to hell. This is shown by the words “damned” and “Hell is murky!”
The language in each scene is effective as it sets the atmosphere as you read it and controls the pace of a part of the play. Act 2, Scene 2 is in blank verse. Lady Macbeth speaks in clipped, controlled phrases. They are also peremptory as this quotation shows.
“Go, get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.”
Act 5, Scene 1 is in fragmented prose, which reflects the state of mind. Lady Macbeth’s speech contains short, quick sentences, which show us that she is losing control and breaking up. Because it is written in prose it illicits a sympathetic response towards her as she has lost control of her mental faculties. The use of exclamation marks and dashes heightens the tension and speeds up the text. In Act 2, Scene 2 Lady Macbeth tries to persuade Macbeth to pull himself together by reminding him of qualities he is supposed to have such as “worthy thane” and “noble strength”. You would not ordinarily associate these terms with a murderer.
An actor or actress might portray the character of Lady Macbeth differently. In the two
productions I have seen Lady Macbeth is portrayed differently. In Polanski’s film Lady
Macbeth is seen as a young woman who is full of fear, but courageous. She is fallible and susceptible to noises that she hears. In the production she is in the nude when she sleep
walks, which makes her vulnerable and oblivious. She is portrayed as small and fragile.
We hear the doctor and gentlewoman talk about her first before we see her. However in the modern Channel 4 version there is no talk about her first but we see her straight away. Lady Macbeth is less pathetic although she is still portrayed as being in distress
and mentally disturbed in Act 5, Scene 1. In both productions the doctor and gentlewoman are fearful of Lady Macbeth and concerned about her but the doctor is much more hurried in the Polanski production to leave the premises where Lady Macbeth is left with the gentlewoman who has to keep a constant watch on her. The doctor knows what the problem is but believes it is too dangerous to say anything, incase he is accused of being a traitor. In Act 2, Scene 2 of the Polanski production she produces tears which manipulate Macbeth. She stares at the daggers, which Macbeth was meant to leave in the chamber, in horror. But in the Channel 4 production Lady Macbeth is much more assertive and confident in herself, the scene goes at a much quicker pace. In Act 5, Scene 1 she is less frantic and more angry and spiteful which make the doctor and the gentlewoman afraid of her. In the Polanski production Lady Macbeth is seen as a pathetic wife but in the Channel 4 version she is harsh and assertive.
Lady Macbeth is a complex character who seems to be flawed with the same ambition as Macbeth, which makes this play such a tragedy. Although she does not have as many soliloquies as Macbeth does we do get an insight into her character. She appears to lose her strength when Macbeth stops confiding in her and he is obsessed with his own fear and guilt. Lady Macbeth was his “dearest partner of greatness” but when her suicide is reported to him Macbeth simply says, “She should have died hereafter” as he feels life is meaningless and so does not grieve for the death of his wife. By the end of the play Lady Macbeth had lost capacity for feeling, which I think is shocking because she seemed to be a brave and strong character who could support both herself and Macbeth. However she suppressed her feelings, this invites some sympathy for her though no audience would condone her actions.