How Does Shakespeare Present the Character of Lady Macbeth

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Shakespeare through Lady Macbeth, presents a formidable sense of power as she doesn’t seem to fit into her patriarchal role in society as seen when she describes the raven as croaking the ‘fatal entrance of Duncan beneath my battlements’ – here, the personal pronoun ‘my’ is declaring, as it reveals her belief that she owns the castle, and subsequently is in charge. However, Shakespeare presents ambition as an inherently destructive trait, in line with religious beliefs of the Jacobean era; that you should not try to transcend your place in the Great Chain of Being. The contemporary audience believed in the Chain of Being; which was a belief in which there was a clear hierarchical order where the closest person to God on Earth was the King. By committing regicide, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are challenge the Divine Right of Kings - a condemned act which was believed to cause chaos. Following Duncan’s murder the world is plunged into chaos.

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 In Act 2 Scene 4, the Old Man explains to Ross how ‘a falcon, tow'ring in her pride of place, was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed.’ This pathetic fallacy reflects the chaos from the disruption in the Chain of Being. Lady Macbeth’s tragic flaw of “vaulting ambition” to lead to her eventual demise and to appeal to King James I’s paranoid torment of an act of regicide being committed against him. The play was written in the early reign of King James I, so there was an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. I believe Shakespeare intended to unite the people, thus in the play, the English and Scots unite to defeat Macbeth and establish Malcolm as the rightful King. The fact the English army and Scottish army collaborate to defeat Macbeth promotes the idea of England and Scotland working together and warns potential people willing to commit regecide. The roots of Macbeth are inextricably linked to James’ Scottishness

Shakespeare originally conveys Lady Macbeth to be as the antithesis of the archetypal Jacobean woman - superior to her husband. The typical Jacobean were commonly regarded as subordinate to men, women’s worth in society was entirely dependant on their husbands and were expected to execute their every command. Nonetheless, Lady Macbeth’s conflicting behavior is explicitly highlighted to the reader, when she uses the imperative verb “give” to direct “brave” Macbeth around. This is seen when Macbeth’s “constancy hath left (him) unattended” following the killing of Duncan, Act 2 Scene 2, upon which Lady Macbeth instantaneously takes authority of the vulnerable Macbeth. As she is seen directing Macbeth to “Give (her) the daggers.”; it becomes apparent that Lady Macbeth the more dominant of the pair in contrast to the stereotypical Jacobean woman, who would never envision herself taking control of her husband. To the contemporary audience it would come as a substantial shock as Lady Macbeth is controlling her husband who was contemplated as a remarkable warrior and even resembled “Bellona’s bridegroom”. Subsequently, this may cause the contemporary audience to appraise the woman at the time in a higher light and perhaps feel that women had more influence than they believed; Which is what I believe Shakespeare intended.

Shakespeare further depicts Lady Macbeth’s trajectory into instability through the meter used. In her opening scenes in which she appears assertive and acts in favour of her conscious by employing the use of the sophisticated iambic pentameter; which was commonly utilised by educated nobility in Macbeth. This dominant Lady Macbeth is heavily juxtaposed by the vulnerable and mentally unstable Lady Macbeth in Act 5 Scene 1, who questions her own actions and morality. This troubled Lady Macbeth stumbles around the castle speaking in the lowly construct prose; Which highlights her loss of linguistic fluency and power. Shakespeare, through the use of prose, might be implying to the contemporary audience that Lady Macbeth is now a ‘lowly’ character, and one that can be compared to the drunken porter who also speaks in prose. Shakespeare belittles Lady Macbeth to the lowest class of speech because she has part taken in regicide and through this, Shakespeare presents a bare warning to the audience about the dangers of harming their king. Further, Jacobean audiences were very conscious of class structure and Shakespeare’s change of speech form for Lady Macbeth’s character would have been keenly noticed by them. Moreover, the aftermath of the killing of Duncan on Lady Macbeth would have been well received by the paranoid King James I. 

Lady Macbeth’s anxieties about an inedible “spot” on her hands which symbolises the moral corruption that has tainted her soul: she is “damned” to hell for the sin of regicide. As she pleads to the “spot” with the imperative verb “Out!” it reiterates a desperation about her in the moment; she is metaphorically pleading for her remorse to disappear. This is further reinforced by her use of the lowly construct prose highlighting her great downfall as opposed to when she confidently manipulated language through the iambic pentameter. Lady Macbeth is under the illusion that she is under control through the use of the exclamation mark which is ironic since she has no sleep nor sanity. Her lack of control is further reinforced through the repetition of the imperative verb “Out!”.



Sources :

  3. file:///C:/Users/mcfac/Downloads/grade-9-analysis--rhythm-and-meter-in-macbeth-1.pdf  

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