In been the norm in the 1600s.
In this essay, I will be discussing how Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth’s change in character.
Act 1 Scene 5We are first introduced to Lady Macbeth by Shakespeare in Act 1 Scene 5, with a soliloquy in which she directly reveals her thoughts to the audience, discusses the prophecy of Macbeth becoming king and tells us exactly what she wants for herself and also Macbeth. This soliloquy is very important in understanding her character at the beginning of the play, as we can not only see her evilness but also her power and ability to manipulate Macbeth. This would have been very shocking for the audience at that time, as she breaks the mould of women in that era, who would have been submissive to their husbands. We can see the power that Lady Macbeth has in her relationship, when she is reading the letter from Macbeth, in which he refers to her as “my dearest partner of greatness”, not only showing that Macbeth holds her in high regard and trusts her, but also that they are also equal in the relationship, due to the use of the word “partner”, which both would not have been the norm in the 1600s. However, the use of the possessive pronoun “my” shows that he still holds some control.After reading the letter from Macbeth, which explains the news that he has received from the witches, she begins to plot Duncan’s murder, which Macbeth has no thoughts on doing. The language that she uses here is very similar to that of the witches, as she uses the words “shalt be” and “spirits”. She also, later on in the play, greets Macbeth with “Hail Macbeth”.
This could be because she is moved by the predictions made by the witches and has an ambition for her to be queen and Macbeth king, or she might have been possessed by the supernatural power of the witches and is being used by them to manipulate and control Macbeth and fulfil the prophecy.Lady Macbeth plots ambitiously, but she fears that Macbeth’s nature is liability, and says that it “is too full o’th’milk of human kindness”. Thismetaphor shows us that she thinks that Macbeth is too soft to be able carry out the deed.
She also uses the words “catch” “illness” and “attend” which build a lexical field of sickness, which shows that she thinks that ruthlessness is an illness that you have to catch and nurture. However, it’s an illness that Macbeth does not possess and the use of the modal verbs in “though wouldst be great” and “though wouldst be highly” further emphasizes this point, showing that Lady Macbeth thinks that he could be the king, if only he became ruthless and evil. When she says that she will “chastise with the valour of my tongue” she is trying to say that she will remove all of the goodness out of Macbeth, so nothing will hold him back from being the king. Notice, here that she uses the word “tongue”, as she doesn’t have any physical strength but can be persuasive and her sexuality to control Macbeth. There is also much irony here, as she suggests that evilness is an illness, and we see later in Act 5 Scene 1 that she makes herself ill due to guilt from the deed and her overriding ambition to have power, which is the fatal flaw in her character that leads to her death.After the attend leaves, we are left with another soliloquy from Lady Macbeth and we are again shown her evilness as she begins it, as she builds a semantic field of death, using words such as “raven” and “fatal”, foreshadowing what she wants to do to Duncan.
We also see that she wants to be masculine, when she says, “unsex me here” and “take my milk for gall”, and she says this as a woman couldn’t be someone who would do evil, so she wants to be more masculine and have all her womanly weaknesses removed from her in order to be more ambitious, independent, so that she can be able to commit this sin. She also wants to be more cruel, this is evident when she says, “fill me from the crown… of direst cruelty”, showing that she wants to lose her gentleness and sensibilities associated with being a woman, and this is the direct opposite to when she says that Macbeth is “full o’th’milk of human kindness” and this shows the contrast in their characters; the ruthlessness of Lady Macbeth and the weakness and vulnerability of Macbeth. The use of the word “crown” suggests that she thinks that she already has the crown on her head, which is foreshadowing, and emphasises her ambition to be queen. What is quite peculiar here, is that she is asking for these things from the witches, which she refers to as the “spirits” and “murd’ringministers”, and she is almost inviting them to possess her, as she repeats the word “Come” three times showing urgency, and this creates an almost sinister tone. The sinister tone is further emphasised by the use of sibilance in “sightless substances”. She also wishes for a “thick night” which could symbolise that she wants to be overcome by darkness so that no light, symbolising goodness peeps through, or she wants the night to be dark so that they can carry out the murder without being seen, so they couldn’t be stopped.
She mentions “heaven” which is a reference to God, showing that she wishes for it to be so dark that even God couldn’t stop them.When Macbeth enters in the next part, Shakespeare shows the dichotomous nature of Lady Macbeth’s character. She speaks to him with respect and really massages his ego – praising him with words such as “Great Glamis” and “worthy Cawdor”, whereas before when by herself she was criticizing his weaknesses and vulnerability. This shows her two-faced nature and her ability to manipulate Macbeth, as she is doing this in order to talk Macbeth into the plan. Lady Macbeth speaks in anthesis and uses euphemistic language here when she is trying to convince Macbeth of her plan. The double meanings she uses are “provided for”, “business” and “dispatch” which are all related to killing. She also says, “never shall sun that morrow see” suggesting that Duncan will die tonight. This could be because she is afraid that using direct language will Make Macbeth refuse to act, showing her ability manipulate Macbeth, but it could also be because she is denying responsibility and avoiding guilt.
She also tells Macbeth to “look like th’innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t” – to be evil but look innocent and warning him to be better at deceiving people. This reflects Lady Macbeth’s dichotomous nature, and the use of the word “serpent”, which has religious connotations – referring to the devil, shows her as being devilish and almost demonic. When Macbeth replies unsure, Lady Macbeth interrupts him and uses the imperatives, with verbs such as “look” and “leave”, again showing that she has the power in the relationship.
She tells Macbeth to “leave all the rest to me”, this not only shows us her ambition as she is ready to prepare the murder, but also that she is the orchestrator and Macbeth is only her tool to gaining power.Throughout this scene Lady Macbeth speaks in iambic pentameter and in verse, which is fitting for her dominant presence and her power at the very start of the play.In conclusion, in Act 1 Scene 5 Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a merciless and ambitious woman, in conflict between masculine and feminine ideals, who has power over and manipulates her husband – using him as a tool to gain power.Act 2 Scene 2Act 2 Scene 2 begins with Lady Macbeth waiting for the return of Macbeth, having killed the king. In this scene full of irony, we see that the high confidence that she had in Act 1 Scene 5 is beginning to degrade, and she is now a panicked woman no longer in control of herself.
At the start of this scene, Lady Macbeth says, “that which hath made them drunk, hath made me bold”. This shows a role reversal as the alcohol that has made the guards drunk and fall asleep has made her strong and brave.We can see from the caesura used “and ’tis not done; th’attempt and not the deed” that she is not as confident as before and she is beginning to doubt the plan, further shown by “I laid the daggers ready, he could not miss ’em” which really shows her as being panicked and not in control as she was before.
At the end, she also says “Had he not resembled my father… I had done’t”, showing why she didn’t do the deed herself, and also showing her vulnerable side of which we have not seen before; this could be an excuse or genuine. The quick interaction of speech between Macbeth and the Lady, which gives a fast pace, shows us that they are both nervous, and further emphasising that Lady Macbeth is beginning to lose her confidence and control.We see that Macbeth is quite troubled after having killed Duncan, as he says he has “hangman’s hands” and he fears he can’t say “amen” and can’t ask God to bless him, for he has sinned. He begins to question his action and feel guilt, to which Lady Macbeth replies “Consider it not so deeply”, which shows us that she is still has some control and power and she also says to Macbeth “These deeds must not be thought after theseways; so, it will make us mad” and this is ironic as this is exactly what happens to her, and so this foreshadows her downfall. There is more irony here, as Macbeth repeatedly mentions not being able to sleep because of what they have done, and Lady Macbeth is the one who ends up sleep walking at the end due to her actions.
She builds many lexical fields here; of death, by using the symbols of the “owl” and “cricket”, of fear and of the devil. The language that she uses here reflects her guilt, and shows us that she is losing control.In this scene, Lady Macbeth begins to lose her power over Macbeth soon after the killing of Duncan. This is evident when she is angry at Macbeth for bringing the daggers back and commands him to “go carry them”, however Macbeth replies with “I’ll go no more”.
This is the first time that Macbeth refuses Lady Macbeth, and stands up to her. From the very beginning she was using Macbeth as a tool to gain power for herself by making him kill Duncan, but now it’s the very act that has made her lose her power and will lead her to become insane.After returning, having taken the daggers back, she says “My hands are of your colour, but I shame to wear a heart so white”. She questions Macbeth’s manhood and masculinity. She does this previously in “infirm on purpose!” and “’tis the eye of childhood”. She could be doing this to try and regain some power over Macbeth, but it doesn’t work, as now Macbeth’s character has also changed and is becoming ruthless like Lady Macbeth wanted it to be.
You could say that the power that she previously held in the play came from the witches so that she would be able to control and manipulate Macbeth into carrying out the murder and so was being used as tool by the witches (to fulfil the prophecy) as she thought she was using Macbeth. However, now that the deed has been done, she is no longer needed and so the witches has removed all the power from her leaving her panicked and out of control.To conclude, in this scene, we see the vulnerable side of Lady Macbeth and her losing power, which in the end makes her mad.Act 5 Scene 1The climax of Lady Macbeth’s character is in her last appearance in the play, in Act 5 Scene 1, where she is portrayed by Shakespeare as having lost her mind and suffering from sleepwalking. We are first told by the gentlewoman about the things she does in her sleep which is set out in a list with the repeated use of commas, making the Lady’s actions seem quite ritualistic, and as she is compelled to carry out these rituals in her sleep, it shows that guilt has taken over her dreams. We know for sure that she feels the need to do this as the words “slumbery agitation” are used by the Doctor to describe her actions.
She is now afraid of the dark and “has a light continually” by her, which shows that she feels guilt as darkness has connotations of death, which reminds her of her deed. The use of the word “continually” shows us that she is constantly in fear and that the guilt follows her around.When Lady Macbeth first speaks in this scene, she says “yet here’s a spot”, this shows that she has stopped speaking in verse, but now speaks in prose, showing us that she has now gone mad as she has fallen from noble to prosaic.
Shakespeare is also showing us by making Lady Macbeth speak in prose that she has lost her power and significance within the play. Her madness is further shown as she rambles, speaking in short, sharp and fragmented sentences, not making sense most of the times and giving away clues of her deed and revealing her true colours. She also repeats words and phrases that she used previously in the play like “to bed”, “wash your hands” and “look not so pale”, which shows us that she is living in the past further proving her madness.The quote “yet here’s a spot” also shows us that her guilt has made lose all sanity, as she hallucinates that she has blood on her hands. She constantly rubs her hand trying to get rid of the blood but she can’t, “will these hands ne’er be clean?”.
She also repeats “Out, damned spot” and says, “the old man has so much blood in him” which further emphasises the guilt that she cannot get away from and shows us that she has not realises the consequences of her actions. The word “damned” use has biblical connotations, building a lexical field of hell, suggesting that she believes that is where she is going, as she is so overtaken by guilt. This all is in contrast to Act 2 Scene 2 when Lady Macbeth said, “A little waterclears us of this deed”, but now no matter how much water she uses, or how much she rubs her she cannot get rid of the guilt from the deed. Shakespeare also makes use of synaesthesia in the quote “here’s the smell of blood”, to show that guilt has completely overcome in all her senses.
Her final line, “To bed, to bed, to bed”, signifies her death. From now on she is no longer present in the play and we just hear of her death later on, which shows us just how unimportant and powerless she has become. The fact that Macbeth ignores her death and says, that “she should have died hereafter”, shows her loss of power over Macbeth and how her ruthlessness, cruelty and power that she had at the start of the play have now been transferred to Macbeth. This gives the audience a chance to empathise with Lady Macbeth, which they could not do before.
We can clearly see her hamartia was her lust for power, using Macbeth to gain this by transforming him into ruthless character, which in the end made her lose all her power, thus leading to her death.