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My Attitude to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth Characters

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This is how I responded to the characters of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth. Yes, they do horrify me. The way they act, their decisions, their thoughts, it does horrify us. But strangely, I do feel sorry for them, no matter what horrible thing they did. Their characters are complex, and the basic instinct of human nature makes us feel sympathy for them. So although the two of them caused many deaths and committed many crimes, I still feel sympathy for both of them at their deaths.

MacBeth and Lady MacBeth are one of the two most complex characters in all of Shakespeare’s plays. The way they act and think is completely intriguing, the characters so complex, but no matter how horrible their actions are, we still feel sympathy for them.

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From a traditional point of view, MacBeth is portrayed as a brave and strong soldier, but for the sake of ambition, is willing to murder not only his king, but his best friend as well. He is often seen as someone who was a victim of the witches and overpowered by his hamartia, the need for power and ambition, which leads him to his downfall.

But what separates him from other villain characters of Shakespeare is that MacBeth, unlike Iago in Othello or Richard III in Richard III, feels so terrible about the crimes he commits. His conscience almost stops him from committing the crime, and after he does commit the crimes, he is full of guilt, when he says “”..all great Neptune’s oceans will not wash this blood/clean from my hands” MacBeth, unlike Iago for example, does not enjoy being evil. MacBeth never enjoys being king and taking the crown, instead, he is in anguish and distressed, which is shown when he says “O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!”

This shows that MacBeth is not really evil as Shakespeare’s other villains are, and makes us feel sympathy for him. It can be said that it is due to the female manipulation that causes him to murder Duncan and cause the chain of other murders it leads to. Also, he dies a tragic death, his army is terrified of him, and with nowhere to turn, he still faces the battlefield, knowing he will not win. And it is his death that makes us sympathise with him, knowing himself that he will die, yet still fighting till the end.

A traditional analysis of Lady MacBeth shows her quite similar to MacBeth, power hungry and driven by ambition. She is shown to be more power, and stronger than her husband, as in the first scene we see her in, she is plotting the murder of her King, whom she is related to by family.

She has an amazing amount of will power, and knows her husband very well “yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness, To catch the nearest way” and she, unlike MacBeth, is not at all worried about committing a sacrilegious murder of King Duncan. To her, it is nothing. When she sees the weakness in MacBeth, she immediately questions his manhood, and both she and the witches use manipulation to get what they want.

However, at the end of the play, she falls to a state of insanity, going crazy at the thought of the murders she has helped commit. It is at this stage, that she can be seen as a tragic figure, and it is amazing that such a strong woman, the woman we see have total control over her husband, suddenly become so weak and tormented by a bloodstain she cannot wash away. It is at this stage that we feel sympathy for her. She is now a weakling, terrified of her crimes, and we cannot help but feel sorry for her.

There have also been other views about the characters of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth. As Sigmund Freud says, “Shakespeare often splits a character up into two personages, which taken separately, are not completely understandable and do not become so until they are brought together into a unity. This may be so with MacBeth and Lady MacBeth.” I agree with Freud. This would explain why MacBeth and Lady MacBeth “switch” during the duration of the play.

MacBeth starts off as the “weaker” one. But after he murders Duncan, he becomes stronger and stronger, murdering anyone who gets in his way without another thought. He becomes distant even from his wife, and when he finds out about her death, does not give it a second thought. After betraying his King, he becomes what Lady MacBeth was at first, ruthless and willing to do anything to get the crown and keep it.

Meanwhile, Lady MacBeth, starts off as the “stronger” one, who manipulates MacBeth, who taunts him about his manhood, who makes all the decisions, turns out frail, insane, and weak. Lady MacBeth first calls out to the darkness, to hide her evil deeds, but after the deed is done, she is terrified of darkness and must walk around with some form of light, a tiny flame. She becomes nothing but a speck of light, solely dimming away, into nothing. And that is what she becomes, after the banquet scene, there is a sudden change in her, her powerful ambition is gone, her will power, gone.

Lady MacBeth is unable to sleep, yet it was MacBeth who thinks he hears a cry of “Sleep no more, MacBeth does murder sleep”. Yet, we have no reason to believe he does not sleep, unlike Lacy MacBeth, who sleep walks around the castle talking about the crimes she has committed. And while it is MacBeth who cries that his hands are blood stained, and Lady MacBeth who says, ” a little water clears us of this deed”, later on, she is unable to stop washing her hands, and it is she who cannot lose the smell of blood, while MacBeth has no more concerns about it. Also, it is MacBeth who first has hallucinations of a dagger before he is about to commit the crime, but it is Lady MacBeth who suffers from a mental disorder, one that ultimately drives her to suicide.

So we can see hear, that MacBeth and Lady MacBeth are more like a single character, that has been spilt in half, than two separate characters. They feel the same things, just at different times, and they know each other extremely well. I believe it really is because Shakespeare splits his characters in two that the characters of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth are so similar. And even though the crimes they commit are horrible, after all that we see them go through, we still cannot stop ourselves from feeling sorry for them.

From another point of view, we can see that what MacBeth and Lady MacBeth have done was merely a result of their childlessness. We see this very clearly when MacDuff cries out “He has no children!” It maybe cause of the anger that he himself has no children, that MacBeth destroys all other men and their sons. He kills Duncan, leaving his sons with no father. He also kills Banquo, leaving his son with no father, and he also kills MacDuff’s children, leaving MacDuff with no sons.

Like he says to Lady MacBeth, “Bring forth men-children only! For thy undaunted mettle should compose, Nothing but males…” This shows us how badly MacBeth wishes to have heirs, yet Lady MacBeth cannot give him any. However, this may be the result of MacBeth and Lady MacBeth’s evil deeds. MacBeth has murdered both fathers and sons and Lady MacBeth had demanded the spirits to unsex her, stopping her from bearing a child.

Once again, even though MacBeth and Lady MacBeth had committed a numerous amount of evil deeds, we still feel sympathy for them, as they cannot have children of their own, as they will never become a mother and father. How can you not feel sympathy for two people who cannot have children?

So as you can see, from no matter which point of view you are looking from, although MacBeth and Lady MacBeth have committed deeds that horrify us, deeds that are not even thinkable in times like our own, we still, oddly, never lose sympathy with them, cause we still feel sorry for them, for what they have gone through, for what the cannot do, for what they are. And I believe that even though what they have done is inexcusable, I still never lose sympathy with them, because it is human nature to feel sympathy for people who have gone through that much. There is a compassion and sympathy that you just feel for them, no matter how evil they are, no matter how much they horrify us.

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