The Character of Lady Macbeth

Topics: Plays

The character of Lady Macbeth is riddled with complications. Discerning her morality is a question that has no definite answer. Essentially her role in the play is as Macbeth’s wife and regardless of her motives for doing so she is the driving force in the murder of King Duncan. I am going to study the character of Lady Macbeth to determine different ways in which the character could be portrayed. There are two reasons why there is so much uncertainty about her character.

The first is being the way the plot unfolds.

The first time Lady Macbeth is introduced is in act 1 scene 5 and it is significant that her first sentence is “Glamis thou art, and Cawder; and shalt be what thou art promised” i. e. King of Scotland, significant because immediately it makes her sound obsessive. After this we see her character conjure evil spirits, this point will be discussed later in detail because it is an important factor in completing the task, but we begin to think that there is only one side to her character.

As the play goes on we learn more about Lady Macbeth, which makes us question our pre-conceptions and consequently review previous scenes in this new light.

The second reason why her character is ambivalent in nature is quite simply to do with the fact that “Macbeth” is a play, and therefore will be acted. Different emphasis, pauses, hand movements and changes in the speed of delivery can quite easily alter the way the audience will perceive a particular scene, providing that the text will support this.

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A very good and simple example for this is: When considering whose idea it is to kill the King, to make it seem like it is Lady Macbeth’s evil plan we would put emphasis on all uses of first-person pronouns in her lines e. . “my fell purpose” and “Leave all the rest to me. ” After studying the text I believe that there are three definitive interpretation of Lady Macbeth’s character. The first version is that of an evil woman who can only achieve her aims through her husband and therefore uses him as a means to get what she wants. Another version of her character is as a supportive wife and therefore partially the victim during the course of Macbeth’s quest for the throne, who consciously does everything to please her husband.

Finally, she could be portrayed as a loving wife whose impulsive mistakes and hunger for power causes her to lose control, she perhaps feels the killing will stop with that of Duncan. As mentioned she is maybe using Macbeth. This is significant to the middle ages because women did not have any status and were considered the property of their husbands. Ambitious women like Lady Macbeth could only gain consequence through their husbands. If Lady Macbeth convinced Macbeth that he wanted to be king then she would have gained from his actions.

The play is full of examples that display Lady Macbeth spurring Macbeth to kill Duncan even when he seems to be against the idea. Most noticeably in act 1 scene 7, Macbeth says, “We will proceed no further in this business. ” Her response to this is: “Such I account thy love,” suggesting he cannot love her if this is his ultimatum. She also implies he is a “coward”, “Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire? ” After seeing his reaction, “I dare do all that may become a man” she feels she is motivating him and follows his reply with “When you durst do it, then you were a man. She is exasperating his male pride and honour, and ends up manipulating him to do the deed.

At one point Lady Macbeth mentions that Macbeth had “sworn” to carry out the deed when neither “time nor place did then adhere”. So the killing of Duncan may have been an idea that they shared amongst themselves in the past. This is a good example of newfound knowledge going in favour of Lady Macbeth. Now considering that Lady Macbeth has always been aware of Macbeth’s “vaulting ambition” and his plans to kill the King; we can now understand why she immediately concludes that Duncan must be murdered upon reading Macbeth’s letter.

Alternatively, when she says he has “sworn”, she could be referring to the conversation that they had at the end of act 1 scene 5 in which case she is trying to trick him in to thinking that he had “sworn” to do it when in fact he said, “we will speak further. ” This is very sly and contributes as evidence towards the argument that she pushed him to kill the king against his better judgement. When a messenger tells Lady Macbeth that the King is to make a visit that night; she makes several interesting comments. Firstly she says, “He brings great news. This is a rather awkward line to analyse because it seems to be said in pure delight (with the murder in mind), it is a key line in interpreting her as an opportunistic character. An actress portraying Lady Macbeth as benevolent would very much try to mellow down this statement, by saying it slowly, thoughtfully and with almost a sarcastic undertone in her voice, making it seem as though she is dreading it. In fact this style or similar should be used to mellow down any statement such as “That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements. ” She could say it in an almost sympathetic voice, sorry for him but moreover herself.

A smile whilst saying this would be effective in portraying cruelty. Now we arrive at the place in the play where Lady Macbeth conjures evil spirits, this scene adds to our uncertainty about her, but different points can be picked out to serve different purposes/portrayals. “Come you spirits 40 That tend on mortal thoughts! Unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood, Stop up the access and passage to remorse,” Taking in to account that there are three different interpretations of Lady Macbeth this extract lends itself to all three.

The Shakespearean audience would not have looked favourably on witchcraft, which is what Lady Macbeth is doing. From an evil point of view if she were to experience any remorse, it would not be from killing the King, but instead from using her husband, because there is no evidence that suggests she doesn’t love him to some degree. However, as a director you may feel that Lady Macbeth is filling her mind with ‘direst cruelty’ because she is not in fact evil (logically she would only need evil if she was of good nature) and so she needs to invite darkness in to her soul before she can instigate the killing.

In contrast, if the actress were to make herself seem vulnerable and if on line thirty-nine (also forty-seven and forty-nine) she put emphasis on the pronoun “you” (when referring to the evil spirits) she would make herself seem like a victim and successfully create the impression that she is not what they are. There is a scene after the murders where Lady Macbeth faints. It has been argued over, as long as the play itself, whether she fainted to distract attention from her struggling husband or whether strangely she realises the implications of her actions. The line is “Help me hence, ho! and then she faints. If one wanted to make out that she did so to distract attention from her husband who was being interrogated then the line would be said in a theatrical and pretentious manner, with perhaps her glancing at him and then fainting. Alternatively to follow the other scenario, she would have to make the fainting more realistic and this could be done by slowly building up to it. At first the supportive wife’s part in the play is to spur Macbeth to do the deed, but now we are at the stage in the play where Macbeth has just killed the king and now Lady Macbeth changes her role.

She now supports Macbeth and calms him; “Consider it not so deeply. ” When he becomes numb she takes control of the situation, “Give me the daggers. ” She could be doing this because then she will not feel as guilty about using him. Other sections of the script, in this particular scene, such as her cruel pun, “For it must seem their guilt” and her general calmness in the situation is quite perplexing considering Macbeth’s numbness. These are points to highlight when making her seem wicked, due to her indifference, highlighted by Macbeth’s guilt.

A point of discussion is why doesn’t Lady Macbeth kill Duncan herself? There are several possibilities, of which one is clearly supported by the text. Lady Macbeth said, “Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t. ” Yet it is another view that this is just an excuse and she is using Macbeth to achieve something she cannot do herself, however evil she may be. In this situation I think the first possibility is the most realistic one because Lady Macbeth says the line to the audience and not to Macbeth in the form of reasoning.

I think that from her determination and her inability to see the wrong in her actions I think that maybe she could have killed the King herself. Banquo is another character that is murdered in the play; this is done because Macbeth does not want Banquo’s prophecy to come true for him. We can only speculate whether Lady Macbeth knew about the murder of Banquo. What we do know is that she was aware that Macbeth planned to kill him, he says to her “Thou knows’t that Banquo and his Fleance lives. In what can be interpreted in a rather sly manner; Lady Macbeth replies with “But in them nature’s copy’s not eterne. ” But this time Lady Macbeth doesn’t tell Macbeth to leave the matter in her hands but instead it is Macbeth who ends the scene with “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck. ” This change is significant because it is as if Macbeth now no longer needs Lady Macbeth to spur him anymore. In the end it appears that Lady Macbeth just disappears from the play, a method Shakespeare used in King Lear.

As the audience we have to try and understand why Shakespeare does this. If we see Lady Macbeth as just a functional character whose role is to motivate Macbeth to fulfil his ambitions; then we can conclude she is pulled out of the play after she serves this purpose, but only after we see the effects her actions have had on her. Lady Macbeth’s last scene is when she goes insane, and it is in her insanity that to some extent she realises what she has done, and the great consequences that they had, “who would have thought the old man to have so much blood in him? Quite different from her thoughts at the end of act two scene two, “A little water clears us of the deed. ” She also ponders the fate of others, “The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now? ” This is a murder, like that of Banquo, with which she had no direct link with, but she started Macbeth off and must face much of the blame. It is important to mention that the portrayal of Lady Macbeth is very much dependent on how Macbeth’s role is acted, because what is important is that a balance is struck and that they both complement each other.

From the aspect of the play the final scene may have the answer to the question of Lady Macbeth’s morality. Malcolm having defeated the crazed Macbeth is the saviour or hero of the play and therefore his opinion is to be taken seriously. He declares an end to Macbeth’s tyrannical rule over Scotland, condemning him and also his “fiendish wife. ” This label for her, coming from Malcolm, is not to be considered gospel but of significant credibility.

So far the factors I have taken in to consideration are the most significant scenes in the play for Lady Macbeth, from the evidence I have chosen to play Lady Macbeth as being evil. Now with this decision I will discuss the casting and costumes. The actress who will play Lady Macbeth should be able to look evil yet have a benevolent appeal. An actress who is tall and slim would be the most appropriate, because it will show feminine power, it would be best if she were also beautiful so we could believe that this women could successfully manipulate a man.

Facial features would best include visible cheekbones, which gives the notion of power. At first her face should not look plain; make-up should be used to bring colour to her lips and cheeks (building on her sexual power), but also to make her eyes dark so she appears mysterious. Though sometimes overused in the portrayal of evil the costumes should revolve around black and red. Black and red being synonymous with evil, darkness etc. i. e. the characteristics we want to bring out. I would use the costume to emphasise a change in Lady Macbeth from before she conjures the evil spirits to after.

Prior to doing so she should wear all black, but then she should incorporate red, the audience will be able to identify with the colours. In between I do not believe that the colours will play a lot of significance. However, for the last scene where she goes mad I would dress her in white, not because she is innocent but because she is vulnerable and the audience will notice the change in her costume as a complement to that in her attributes. Removing the colour from her face would also help emphasise this.

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The Character of Lady Macbeth. (2017, Oct 22). Retrieved from

The Character of Lady Macbeth
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