Summary: How Shakespeare Gives Life to the Relationship and Makes It so Captivating to Watch

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Throughout the play, we can clearly see Macbeth’s affection for his wife. They are often on stage together and their speech complements each other’s like pieces of a puzzle. In act 1 scene 5 Macbeth addresses his wife as “My dearest love”, this is evident of the affection that he has for her. The word “dearest” hyperbolizes the vehement adoration he has for his wife. Nearing the end of the play in act 5 scene 5 Macbeth hears the death of his queen. He speaks about life and mentions “Out, out, brief candle” this symbolizes that he has nothing left, all the things he cherished are gone. The light of the candle could also be representative of his wife who was the light in his life; since she is gone he has nothing left and no direction, the quote also exhibits the dearest love he has for his wife. The strength of their feelings is what is intriguing about the way Shakespeare depicts their multi-faceted relationship.

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At the start of the play, the impression of their relationship is that Lady Macbeth is domineering, seen to have total control over Macbeth. In act 1 scene 5 we can see her empowerment over Macbeth. She tells him “you shall put/ This night’s great business into my dispatch” this shows her authority over her husband. The modal verb “shall” along with her commanding and assertive tone conveys that Macbeth has no choice but to follow her instructions. Furthermore, she constantly challenges his masculinity especially when he does not obey her. Lady Macbeth describes her husband as “too full o’th’milk of human kindness”. This conveys that she feels he is too tender and gentle to perform what needs to be done (killing King Duncan) in order for him to gain the crown, with milk suggesting compassionate feminine qualities. In scene 7 Lady Macbeth confronts Macbeth about the plan to the kill the king. Macbeth declares they won’t continue with the plan but she thinks different. She begins attacking his masculinity “When you durst do it, then you were a man” this shows her manipulative power over Macbeth. The word “then” reveals that she never thought of him as a true man before. The dynamic of their relationship is very interesting to watch as it does not conform to the patriarchal society of the renaissance time, therefore Shakespeare’s audience would be extremely dubious of such a powerful woman. Also, it is contrasting that Macbeth who was described as a ruthless war hero in act 1 scene 2, appears extremely feeble compared to his wife, which enhances the overall dramatization of their relationship throughout the play.

Later on, in the play there is a drastic shift of power from Lady Macbeth to her husband. Macbeth grows more independent, planning things on his own accord. In act 3 scene 1 Shakespeare depicts how Macbeth plans Banquo’s murder without consulting his wife. He states “It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight” meaning he has made up his mind about murdering Banquo, one of his greatest friends. The way Macbeth declares this, has a powerful and assertive tone which creates assurance that his plan will be executed. Later in act 3 scene 2 Macbeth is relaying his plan to Lady Macbeth. She is hesitant and says “You must leave this” implying that he should not continue with this. However, her tone is feeble now compared to earlier on in the play and the modal word “must” does not have as great an effect anymore. Later, Macbeth states “there shall be done/ A deed of dreadful note” to which his wife replies “What’s to be done?” this is evident of the shift in power of their relationship. The dentals “deed of dreadful” create a heavy grim, infuriating tone, which reflect the ill-mannered actions of Macbeth. Lady Macbeth now takes her place as the passive wife and adheres to Macbeth’s plan without questioning why. This significant shift in power leads to Lady Macbeth and Macbeth being so engrossing to watch.

Furthermore, the destruction of their relationship also adds to the viewing interest. Act 1 scene 7 sets the tone of their close relationship, where Lady Macbeth has sovereignty over Macbeth. When Macbeth decides, he does not want to continue with the plan, she is outrageous and begins attacking him. She knows his weaknesses and vulnerabilities, his masculinity and courage. She starts questioning his manhood and attacks his courage, saying “screw your courage to the sticking-place”, suggesting that he is a coward and is not masculine. The imperative “screw” conveys an infuriated tone and that Macbeth would listen to what she demands. A major change in their relationship can be seen when Macbeth is told of his wife’s sickness in act 5 scene 3, he is so consumed by the desire to stay on the throne that his wife becomes secondary to it. He absent-mindedly tells the doctor to cure her of her disease, “Cure her of that”; the tone of his voice makes it seem that he is not distressed by his wife’s condition; that he does not truly care for her anymore. This is further emphasized by the constant, repetitive interruptions; the references to battle while discussing his wife’s sickness with the doctor, suggesting the deterioration of their relationship. Later on, he is told of his wife’s death in act 5 scene 5. Macbeth states “She should have died hereafter” this suggests the grief he feels however; the tone is mild and he is not wailing for his wife. This shows how much they have drifted apart; Macbeth almost feels nothing with the loss of his wife. This dire severance of their relationship makes watching their relationship so compelling because of the drastic contrast of their relationship at the start and now.  

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