Lady Macbeth as a Central, Unusual Character in Shakespeare’s Play

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Lady Macbeth is a central, unusual character in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. She is presented as a complex character that directly challenged the classical principals and beliefs of women at the Jacobean era. She is an unstoppable, assertive woman with aspiring ambition, most notably in the first two acts. As the play continues her overflow of strength starts to summon her downfall; she struggles with a guilty conscience and is ultimately physiologically broken by her remorse.

When we are first presented to Lady Macbeth, she is already plotting Duncan’s assassination, she is powerful, more brutal and determined than her husband, Macbeth. She appears fully aware of the situation and perceives that she will have to force Macbeth into committing the regicide. At one point, she draws spirits to elude out her femininity and sympathy ‘unsex me here.’ Lady Macbeth calls upon the supernatural to make her crueler in order to fulfill her plans. She wants to be stripped of all her natural female instincts, and be possessed by all ‘direst cruelty. ’ She also requests that they ‘make thick my blood,’ stop up the passage to remorse.’ Metaphorically she wants the flow of guilt and pity to be cut off and to become viscous. However another interpretation would be that naturally she could be a decent person, otherwise she wouldn’t be pleading to dark forces to block up her conscience. She wants them all ‘blocked’, so no natural feelings can divert from her original purposes. She is also so alarmed and panicked, she knows Macbeth is very generous and considerate and is not wicked enough to commit such a murder and so she says ’It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness.’ Here she is not directly talking to her husband but is thinking out loud. In her soliloquy, she says that she knows him very well and understands that he is not sufficiently ruthless to use treachery and violence to obtain what he wants; he is too softhearted. The metaphor ‘milk of human kindness’ is mainly concerning women, it suggests the feeling of breastfeeding a baby. It is a veiled insult when applied to a man. It shows that Lady Macbeth is the leader in their marriage and that she is in charge of all situations. Shakespeare inverts the natural order through this quotation. He reverses the traditional masculine and feminine roles to show the untraditional marriage in Scotland. Lady Macbeth is the woman that most women wished they could be. She is a forceful, self-reliant woman that gives orders instead of taking them.

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Lady Macbeth uses several methods to influence her husband into committing the deed. Firstly she says ‘when you durst do it, then you were a man.’ Here she is peer-pressuring him by questioning his manhood. She directly plays on his pride and ego and undermines his authority. She mocks and insults his lack of courage, as well as challenging him. She strips him out of masculinity and takes power over him. Her arrogant accusation that Macbeth is not a man displays the importance of masculine traits to males at the time. In contrast to Macbeth’s lack of courage, Lady Macbeth displays some masculine traits. She is forceful and aggressive, and takes control over the situation. She reveals many techniques of convincing Macbeth to commit the regicide. Her use of emotive language, personification and insults to Macbeth's masculinity all contributed in changing his mindset, therefore deciding the outcome of the play.

Act 5.1 is a turning point for Lady Macbeth. Her determined, manipulative character quickly changes into a lost, helpless woman. Her guilt is indeed evident as she reveals her true colours whilst unaware of her surroundings; everything is slipping away. ‘Out, damned spot! Out I say’ Lady Macbeth says this back in Scotland in Macbeth’s castle, surrounded by the doctor and the gentlewoman. Here she commands the blood spot to come out from her hands. Then she blames Duncan for having so much blood in him, that she is unable to clean it off. Shakespeare's use of the imperative verb “out” highlights Lady Macbeth’s dominance over the situation; she is ordering the spot to be gone. Also the use of exclamation emphasises the control she thinks she has, which is ironic, as she has no control of her sleep or her sanity. This is reinforced again with the repetition of the word “out” supporting her loss of control. She is clearly feeling guilt for her actions. The “spot” alludes to the imaginary blood she sees on her hands from Duncan’s murder. For all her madness, eventually she does recognise that she cannot fix what happened, as ‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.’ This hyperbolic statement highlights her deep regret. She imagines Duncan’s blood all over her hand. She believes that she can literally smell it and that it had become so immersed into her skin that nothing would be able to remove its smell.

 It is so ironic that Lady Macbeth is the one so overwhelmed by guilt and sorrow at this point. Prior to Duncan’s murder she accused her husband of weakness and threatened not to love him. She has dramatically changed into a demented, disturbed woman who is overwhelmed by grief and unmanageable flashbacks. This eventually develops into her committing suicide.    

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