“Macbeth” is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare in the seventeenth Century, the actual play itself is set in the 11th Century during the reign of King James 1. During this period, people were very superstitious, therefore, probably appealed to a lot of people as there is a lot of reference to this.
Throughout the play, there are quite a few recurring themes, the main ones being ambition, the idea of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wanting to be King and Queen, and evil which is shown by certain colours, weather, people and animals.
The two main characters are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Lady Macbeth being the most dominant. Macbeth, all through the play, lets his wife take control and put him down. Right from the beginning of the play she ruled Macbeth”s life and continued to do so right up until after the murder when she starts to lose all sanity.Order now
In act 1, scene 5 is the scene where we, the audience, meet Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and create our first impressions. Lady Macbeth reads her husband”s letter, she then addresses the audience yet, in her head, it seems she”s talking to her husband. She fears that Macbeth won”t go ahead with the murder because he”s too kind,
“Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o” the milk of human kindness”
She also says she”ll influence her husband-all through the play she feels she has the power to get what she wants, and usually gets it.
“Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirit in thine ear.”
Already we, as the audience, get an image of Lady Macbeth. She comes across as a control freak and very ambitious. Obviously, she doesn”t think her husband is strong enough to go through with the murder as she feels she must influence him. This means that she thinks she”s strong enough to do it. She believes that if you want something strongly enough, you should do anything to get it,
“Thus thou must do”, if though have it;”
It is also in this scene where she calls upon the spirits to fill her body with evil,
“And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty;”
she tells them to “unsex” her, take away everything that makes her a woman, such as tenderness, love and pity.
Shakespeare first introduces his euphemism for evil and death, when Lady Macbeth refers to the black raven,
“The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan”
signifying the imminent death of King Duncan.
Obviously, Lady Macbeth becomes so obsessed with the murder, she”s determined that it will happen with or without her husbands help. Yet despite her confidence, she still calls upon and prays to the spirits to give her every advantage to ensure she doesn”t get discovered. She asks for the darkest smoke of hell to hide her, and to cover the wounds made by the knife,
“And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,”
so regardless of her obsession, she”s still afraid of discovery and the result of her actions.
Act 1, scene 7 shows us how Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to commit the murder. In this particular scene, Lady Macbeth comes across as incredibly manipulative. She obviously knows her husband really well, as she knows exactly what to say to him to change his mind. Certain comments, such as,
“Was the hope drunk,
Wherein you dress”d yourself?”
“When you durst do it, then you were a man”
reveal that Lady Macbeth is desperately trying to provoke a reaction from her husband. Both are examples of Lady Macbeth trying to manipulate her husband. She said he obviously wasn”t a man twice in this scene and later on in the play, undermining Macbeth”s manhood.
As shown in lines 54-59, Lady Macbeth comes across as quite ruthless and single minded saying she”d go to any lengths to keep her promise,
“Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender “tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck”d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash”d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.”
Whether or not Lady Macbeth would actually go to these extremes, we can”t say, as she does reveal a more sensitive side later on in the play.
After a lot of planning and persuading on Lady Macbeth”s behalf, Macbeth finally succumbs to her mind games, as in act 2, scene 1, Macbeth commits the murder.
It is at this point, in act 2, scene 2, Macbeth returns to his wife with the bloody daggers and as usual, Lady Macbeth isn”t satisfied with it so she takes matters into her own hands and plants the daggers on the drunken guards. She later says to herself,
“Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done”t.”
Although this quote expresses Lady Macbeth”s despair at her husband”s inadequacies it also shows she has some compassion, but is reluctant to reveal this side of her nature to her husband as she doesn”t want to appear weak and cowardly. She does this a few times later on in the play.
“My hands are of your colour, but I shame
To wear a heart so white.”
Lady Macbeth says this to Macbeth shortly after the murder when he says nothing will rid of the blood. She says that her hands are covered in blood too, like his, but wouldn”t want to be a coward, like him. She basically states all through the play that her husband is a coward.
Throughout this scene, Lady Macbeth doesn”t seem at all worried and manages to keep calm even when there”s a knock at the door.
In act 2, scene 3, the king is found dead and Macbeth isn”t doing a very good job of covering up so Lady Macbeth draws all the attention to herself by pretending to faint. Again, in this scene, Lady Macbeth is still managing to keep calm and innocent.
Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth is totally unaware that her husband is planning to have the suspicious Banquo murdered.
In act 3, scene 2, Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth to put on an act and least try to look happy,
Gentle my lord, sleek o”er your rugged looks;
Be bright and jovial among your guests to-night.”
Lady Macbeth still has full control of her husband, who, unlike Lady Macbeth, has been really badly affected by it. Lady Macbeth, in all her confidence, made one lapse,
“Naught”s had, all”s spent,”
She feels, despite everything they”ve done to get as far as they have, they haven”t gained anything. She says this to the audience in a soliloquay, this suggests that she doesn”t want her husband to think that she”s weak.
“But in them nature”s copy”s not eterne.”
In other words, she”s saying life isn”t forever.
Act 3, scene 4, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth start to lose control and let their guilt overpower them. Even though Lady Macbeth is concealing her emotions more effectively than her husband, the audience know how she”s really feeling as she addresses them a lot more in this scene. She reveals her inner feelings to them.
Yet again, she taunts her husband,
“What! quite unmann”d in folly?”
“Are you a man?”
As we witnessed in earlier scenes, Lady Macbeth often puts her husband down and knows how to do it well.
Macbeth starts to go insane and sees Banquo”s ghost. Lady Macbeth gets worried as she thinks people are going to start getting suspicious if he keeps behaving in the way that he does. She still doesn”t know about the murder of Banquo and hasn”t even questioned it. In panic, she tells all their guests that Macbeth isn”t well and is affecting his behaviour,
“Sit, worthy friends: my lord is often thus,
And hath been from his youth: pray you, keep seat;
The fit is momentary; upon a thought
He will again be well. If much you note him,”
Then Macbeth starts to get worse and she tells the guests they must go.
“Stand not upon the order of your going,
But go at once.”
This is the last scene where we see Lady Macbeth in full control.
We really see a deterioration in Lady Macbeth”s sanity in act 5, scene 1. She lets her guilt take over. She repeats similar actions from earlier on in the play, such as getting out of bed in the middle of the night, throwing down her night-gown, unlocking her closet, take out Macbeth”s letter, reading it and then putting it back and then getting back into bed. Also, washing the blood off her hands and,
“To bed, to bed: there”s a knocking at the gate. Come,
come, come, come, give me your hand. What”s
done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed.”
Lady Macbeth is repeating what happened straight after the murder. She also gets really confused as she brings two events together,
“Wash your hands, put on your night-gown; look
not so pale. I tell you yet again, Banquo”s buried;
he cannot come out on”s grave.”
Although there”s no evidence in the text that Macbeth”s told his wife about the murder of Banquo, she obviously knows about it.
In lines 34 to 40, Lady Macbeth tries to rub the blood off her hands,
“Out, damned spot! out, I say!”
The word “spot” could be a metaphor as people used to think that witches had a mark of the Devil, and witches are usually connected with evil.
Also, she”s now scared of the dark, at the beginning of the play when she was calling upon the spirits, she asked them to bring thick night to cover up the deed she was about to commit.
As her conscience emerges, her confidence drops. She fears discovery and begins to realise exactly what they”ve done,
“A little water will clear us of this deed;”
is what she says to reassure her husband in act 2, scene 2. Now she says,
“What, will these hands ne”er be clean?”
Lady Macbeth refers to Duncan and the murder
“Yet who would have thought the old man to have
had so much blood in him?”
Lady Macbeth, unlike her husband never had a problem with lack of sleep up until now. Again, she”s scared of the dark, dark can represent evil, which means she”s actually scared of evil and spirits.
In an earlier scene, the Thane of Fife”s family was murdered, Lady Macbeth also refers back to this,
“The Thane or Fife had a wife: where is she now?”
In act 5, scene 5, Lady Macbeth commits suicide.
Throughout the play, we witness the downfall of Lady Macbeth. In the beginning she”s portrayed as an evil, strong, manipulative, greedy woman. As the plot develops, it is clear that she is a victim of her own ambition, reduced to insanity with her guilt and fears resulting in taking her own life.
I find it hard to empathise with Lady Macbeth”s character, as anybody who resorts to such evil, wicked deeds for her own gain would seem to deserve the consequences.