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    The Changing Relationship Between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

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    Throughout “Macbeth” there are changes in the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as they both in turn take on the role of the more dominant character. Shakespeare presents the play in such a way that the audience sees how progressively their relationship changes dramatically as a result of how they each handle their emotions following the murder of King Duncan. It is evident at the beginning of the play that Lady Macbeth is the dominant character in the play. She is portrayed as ambitious, manipulative and overpowering by Shakespeare.

    When Lady Macbeth is first introduced in to the play she is reading a letter from Macbeth, describing the Witches’ prophecy and her reaction does not display uncertainty or suspicion. Her only concern is of whether Macbeth is capable of fulfilling the prophecy and she is certain that the “valour of my tongue” will persuade him. This letter in itself shows the nature of Macbeth’s relationship with Lady Macbeth as he clearly trusts her to a great extent to have shared this potentially treasonous information with his wife, describing the Witches’ predictions which indeed could become truth.

    The letter shows a deep love between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the phrase “my dearest partner of greatness” suggests that he sees her as an equal. At this time in history, women were seen as inferior to men and therefore this is significant. Lady Macbeth sees Macbeth as a weak character and is determined to “pour mine spirits in thine ear. ” Already at this point in the play we can see that Macbeth does not share his wife’s ruthless edge and she is confident that she can manipulate him as her main objective is the task of killing King Duncan.

    Lady Macbeth prays to the dark powers to “unsex me here” and “come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall” as she wants to replace her maternal femininity with cruelty. This could perhaps show a weaker side to her personality as it indicates she was not born evil and needs guidance from the supernatural in order to gain this extra infusion of darkness. Lady Macbeth uses imperatives in her speech which display determination and urgency.

    Shakespeare implies that Lady Macbeth has no feelings of guilt or remorse and when she says, “That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan,” we are aware that this is where she intends the murder to take place. She is willing to sacrifice her femininity and humanity to “give solely sovereign sway and masterdom” to Macbeth and herself. When Macbeth enters they greet each other warmly and Lady Macbeth immediately tells her husband of her plan to murder the king.

    Shakespeare constructs the character of Lady Macbeth to reveal absoluteness and purpose to her personality, to indicate her control of the situation and to show that she now has the upper hand in their relationship. This portrays an unusual relationship at this time when men were seen as far more important than women. Lady Macbeth uses veiled talk in order to persuade Macbeth to go along with her plan and to disguise her cruel intentions. She does not specifically say that she wishes Macbeth would murder the king but instead says, “Shall sun that morrow see,” which indicates Duncan will never see the sun rise tomorrow.

    Lady Macbeth tells her husband not to give anything away in the face and to act “like the innocent flower” and not reveal “the serpent under’t. ” Deception is an important theme throughout “Macbeth” as we learn to be aware that appearances are not always what they seem. Lady Macbeth says, “Your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters. To beguile the time, look like the time. ” This speech to Macbeth shows how she manipulates her husband and is telling him how to act when around other people.

    When Macbeth tries to interject Lady Macbeth’s plans she simply speaks over him, soothes his concerns and making him agree to portray an innocent face. In the next scene, Lady Macbeth welcomes Duncan and his attendant lords into Macbeth’s castle and plays the part of a perfect hostess. She is true to her own advice and is kind and warm hearted to her guests when all the while she plans to murder King Duncan. Macbeth weighs up the pros and cons of murdering King Duncan. We see a more humane side to Macbeth’s character and his guilt begins to isolate him from his wife.

    This shows that Macbeth has a conscience and lives by morals. He knows how serious regicide is and therefore has doubts in his mind. Although Macbeth wants to be king, he is unsure of himself and Lady Macbeth takes advantage of his vulnerability and manipulates him by questioning his manhood and loyalty to her. She claims that she would rather kill her own child and “Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out” than back down, therefore breaking a promise. This is a powerful image and further increases her mask of cold ambition.

    Shakespeare shows how in Lady Macbeth’s mind she links femininity with goodness and truth and tries to rid herself of her femininity. Lady Macbeth states that the crown is the “ornament of life” and it would be cowardly not to seek it. Macbeth deeply desires power and Lady Macbeth’s words convince him that murder is a small price to pay for the throne. Evidence of Lady Macbeth’s influence on Macbeth can be found when Macbeth says, “False face must hide what the false heart doth know,” since this is echoing his wife’s words in a previous scene when she is trying to convince him to “look like the innocent flower.

    At this point in the play, Lady Macbeth is the domineering partner in her relationship between her and Macbeth and we see that she exerts ample power over her husband. The audience can see that Macbeth is now ready to carry out this terrible deed. Macbeth’s character reveals a strong power of imagination at the end of Act I Scene 3 when he begins to deceive people. Shakespeare constructs this scene so that in Macbeth’s asides he reveals a deeply disturbed mind.

    We see a connection between the Witches and Macbeth as his words, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” relate to the Witches significant line in Scene 1 “Fair is foul, and foul is fair. ” Whilst Macbeth waits for the signal from his wife, he hallucinates and sees a dagger pointing towards Duncan’s chamber. This reflects his disturbed mind and in his soliloquy he uses images of witchcraft, wolves and ghosts to ally himself with the supernatural and murder. Lady Macbeth has convinced Macbeth to commit regicide by targeting a flaw in his personality which she recognises as basic dishonesty.

    I feel that the fact that Lady Macbeth sees Macbeth as an easy target with a weak character does not explain his actions as Lady Macbeth’s manipulating, clever ways could not have convinced Macbeth to carry out the deed if he was wholly good. We begin to see cracks in Lady Macbeth’s character when she feels the need to drink to keep complete control of the situation. She notes the exhilarating effects of the wine but still focuses on the task ahead and waits nervously for the return of Macbeth from the scene of the crime. When Lady Macbeth hears an owl hoot she panics and is worried that Macbeth has not carried out the crime.

    She suffers from severe paranoia as she awaits her husband’s return and we see a side to her personality which reveals that she is not without a conscience when she states, “Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t. ” This shows sensitivity which had been concealed up until this point. When Macbeth returns we begin to see how tortured his mind is as a result of his atrocious act. Lady Macbeth takes control of the situation and she seems to gain strength from her husband’s weakness. An example of Lady Macbeth comforting her husband is when she says, “A little water clears us of this deed.

    When Macbeth describes how he cannot say the word “Amen” since he feels he has been cut off from God and everything good, Lady Macbeth soothes him by telling him to “Consider it not so deeply. ” Macbeth regrets what he has done and it is clear that it is burning on his conscience. Shakespeare creates a scene of intense excitement and when Macbeth is almost hysterical on his return, there is a feeling of extreme tension. This puts a strain on their relationship as they are both disturbed by the horror that has just taken place.

    However, Lady Macbeth only seems to voice her true feelings when she is alone. It is ironic that Lady Macbeth feels she will go mad after thinking about what they have done. The following scene is constructed so as to increase the dramatic tension since the audience are aware that the chatter between the Porter and Macduff is delaying the discovery of the murder. The imagery of the supernatural and the freak weather conditions builds up tension and it seems as if nature is in revolt at Duncan’s death and indeed the whole castle has died with the King.

    Through his imagery, Shakespeare is spreading the idea of death and absolute horror. Macbeth and his wife work well together under pressure as they try to deceive the others into believing they are both innocent. It is ironic that Macduff feels he cannot talk of the murder in front of Lady Macbeth as “the repetition in a woman’s ear would murder as it fell,” when she has rejected her femininity and played a huge part in Duncan’s murder. Macbeth successfully deceives the other houseguests and says, “Had I but died an hour before this chance, I had liv’d a blessed life,” which appears to be a heartfelt speech.

    Macbeth kills the guards who he planted the evidence on and claims it was an act of love and loyalty to King Duncan. This temporarily makes Macbeth look guilty but when Lady Macbeth sees the situation she faints in order to distract the attention away from Macbeth. She acts as “an innocent flower” who is overcome with emotions after the discovery of the murder. This teamwork between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth displays an excellent relationship between the couple as they work as a team to convince the others of their innocence.

    We see a change in Macbeth’s character when he murders the drunken guards as he acts quickly and now kills without second thought. It is apparent that he is now willing to dispose of anyone who stands in the way of him and the throne and he sees that Macduff is a possible threat to him. Macbeth is now a more dominant character and has more confidence in himself. This contrasts to lady Macbeth who is slowly becoming unstable and is possibly shocked by the transformation in her husband. Macbeth seems to gain more courage after his coronation and he independently arranges for the assassination of Banquo whom he sees as a threat.

    Banquo is seen as goodness and truth as he has wisdom and courage which contrasts to Macbeth who represents everything evil. It is interesting how Shakespeare concentrates on the meeting between Macbeth and the two Murderers. Macbeth he has picked weak and desperate characters to carry out the murder of Banquo and he manipulates them as he knows that the murderers have had bad experiences involving Banquo. Macbeth tells the murderers that they need to commit the murder in order to prove their own manhood and Lady Macbeth used this same technique on him previously in order to get her evil way.

    This manipulation of other people is a mark of the tyrant. When Lady Macbeth asks her husband of his plans he refuses to share them with her and this shows a change in their relationship. Lady Macbeth tries to reassure Macbeth and her words “what’s done is done” echo Macbeth’s words “were done, when ’tis done,” which were spoken before the murder of Duncan. Macbeth reveals to his wife that he is tormented by his murderous acts and is having trouble sleeping. His words “Than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy” show that he relates lack of sleep with insanity.

    We also see that he envies Duncan as death looks like sleep. The relationship has changed between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as they can no longer share their thoughts with each other. They feel similarly about the situation since they both realise that neither partner is satisfied and when Lady Macbeth says, ” Nought’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content,” we see that she feels they have not gained anything and lost everything. Macbeth has detached himself from his wife and the roles appear to have switched when it is apparent that Macbeth now intends to work independently.

    Macbeth now tells his wife to “make our faces vizards of our hearts, disguising what they are,” and this is ironic since Lady Macbeth no longer has the power in their relationship and he is convincing her to deceive now. For the first time in the play, Lady Macbeth asks her husband “What’s to be done? ” as he now has all control and she is not aware of his plans to murder Banquo. This change of roles is due to an increase in Macbeth’s confidence and a decrease in that of Lady Macbeth’s. Macbeth asks his wife to act no differently around Banquo when she knows he is soon to be disposed of.

    This shows Macbeth’s more dominant character and displays how he can act independently and without the manipulation of Lady Macbeth. His words “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, Till thou applaud the deed,” reveal his almost inhuman nature. When banquo’s ghost appears at the banquet, Macbeth is distraught as he realises he is being haunted. Lady Macbeth covers up for him by telling the other guests that the King’s apparent madness is due to a disease and she prevents the truth of Macbeth’s guilt from being shown.

    A different side to their relationship is now revealed as we see that they compliment each other by being strong for the other partner when the other is weak. Loyalty to her husband is also shown on Lady Macbeth’s side as she tries to protect him. This is the last point in the play when Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are together and indeed the last point when Lady Macbeth acts as the stronger character who is strong willed and in control. As the play continues, the relationship between Macbeth and his wife deteriorates further as they both suffer from increasing paranoia and they sink further into their own discontent.

    Lady Macbeth begins to lose all self control and she suffers from a guilty conscience. In the last scene in which Lady Macbeth appears she walks in her sleep and the Doctor is called and he recognises that “More need she the divine than the physician. ” Her soul is injured and troubled and she is haunted by the crimes which she has committed. Lady Macbeth has lost all balance, discipline and control which initially were her strengths and allowed her to manipulate her husband.

    Lady Macbeth writes letters of confession in her sleep and she re-enacts the murders in her mind in sleep. She repeatedly rubs her hands, trying to wash away the blood on her hands after the killings and she is trying to rid herself of the guilt and torture of the reality of it. Lady Macbeth remains loyal to her husband and only once does she rebuke him saying, “no more o’ that. You mar all with this starting. ” Lady Macbeth cannot control her revealing behaviour which takes place at night and she is aware that “What’s done cannot be undone. Macbeth is now too paranoid to even put trust in his wife, when up until now he has trusted her with everything. Lady Macbeth has no say in her husband’s actions as he distances himself further from her and locks himself away from the world. Their relationship continues to decay as he functions without her help. Macbeth now relies on the Witches and begins to seek them out for power. It is not until the final scene that Macbeth recognises the Witches for their true evil and by this point in the play it is too late as all has been lost.

    Lady Macbeth commits suicide as she is driven to insanity and cannot live with the burning guilt inside her. When Macbeth learns of her death he is insensitive and says, “She should have died hereafter,” implying that she will now not see her husband as victorious. Macbeth is blinkered by the reality of the supernatural and cannot see that good will always triumph over evil. It is his arrogance that pulls him down and when he discovers the truth of Macduff he realises that maybe he is not immortal.

    Macbeth fights a losing battle and Malcolm gains control over Scotland when he is victorious and shows unity with his family and the whole of Scotland. This contrasts to Macbeth who represents division as he plans to selfishly rule Scotland and gradually pushes his wife away. When Malcolm is accepted as the new king, he pledges to bring peace and order back to Scotland. It is interesting in Malcolm’s final speech how he refers to Macbeth as a “dead butcher and his fiend-like queen,” as perhaps Lady Macbeth was driven into madness by her husband.

    Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship changed dramatically throughout the play from being one of love and loyalty to one of great ambition where both partners gained strength from the others’ weakness and this resulted in a complete break down in their relationship. Lady Macbeth started out as the determined, manipulative and dangerous woman but her downfall came when Macbeth pushed her away as he gained more confidence and relied more and more on the Witches and the supernatural. Lady Macbeth was evidently the weaker character of the two as she could not deal with her guilt and in the end it was too much for her to cope with.

    She knew that the “sovereign sway and masterdom” had not come about and she was gradually drawn into insanity. They both depended on each other and when Lady Macbeth is fazed out of the play it shows the decaying relationship between the two as they lived separately in their paranoid worlds. Lady Macbeth originally fuelled Macbeth’s power obsessed personality but he was eventually responsible for his downfall when he began to rely on the Witches. We notice a change in Macbeth’s speech from a diplomat to a language full of blustering, bullying manner.

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    The Changing Relationship Between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. (2018, May 26). Retrieved from

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