Shakespeare employs various techniques, including language, actions, and emotions, in Act 1, scenes 5 and 7 of Macbeth to portray the character of Lady Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most powerful characters, is initially introduced alone on stage, allowing us to delve into her thoughts filled with death and destruction. In Act 1 Scene 5, she echoes the witches’ prophecy from Macbeth’s letter and immediately begins strategizing. She knows what needs to be done for Macbeth to seize the throne, but she also recognizes her husband’s potential weaknesses. Macbeth is deemed “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” to carry out a murder, thus showcasing Lady Macbeth’s coldness. By likening him to a kind child nourished by milk, she implies his incapability for such an act. Lady Macbeth’s determination to embrace evil is further exemplified when she implores the evil spirits to transform her nurturing mother’s milk into bitterness or “gall.” This statement serves as an oxymoron, highlighting Lady Macbeth’s resolve to reject kindness and cowardice. While traditionally associated with weakness, she rejects her femininity and desires strength and bravery in executing their sinful plan; this desire is also depicted through the symbolism of “unsex me here.”
Lady Macbeth expresses doubt about her husband upon his return home, perceiving his face as a readable book. Her continued coldness and control are evident as she advises him on the murder of the King. Instructing him to appear innocent but ruthless underneath, she demonstrates her cool composure and authority with the statement “leave all the rest to me.” Her counsel resembles that of an expert, disguising herself as a gracious hostess in front of King Duncan while being the mastermind behind it all.
Furthermore, this particular scene promptly exposes Lady Macbeth’s position in her association with Macbeth. Her uncertainties regarding Macbeth’s character and the significance of “unsex me here” imply that she assumes the authoritative role in their relationship, overpowering her spouse.
In Act 1 Scene 7, Lady Macbeth displays even greater evil as she seeks to reinforce Macbeth’s uncertainties by belittling his weakness. Using a metaphor, she refers to him as being “green,” implying cowardice. In addition, she shockingly declares that her own lack of compassion would even extend to killing her own nursing child by violently “dashing its brains out.” This horrifying imagery solidifies the fact that she lacks any trace of human kindness.
Lady Macbeth’s taunts successfully manipulate her husband into fulfilling her desire for a dead king. She knows that Macbeth is highly obedient and will do whatever she subtly suggests. As soon as her ridicule of Macbeth dissipates, Lady Macbeth immediately changes her tone and focuses on the specifics of the murder.
It is in this scene where we learn that Lady Macbeth embodies the meaning of sinister.
In the Elizabethan era, it was unthinkable for a woman to mock her husband’s manhood or humiliate him to the point of agony. Men held the advantage and were known for their bravery, like Macbeth who displayed his warrior nature through countless brutal acts on the battlefield. However, Shakespeare did not create characters that directly represented this era. Lady Macbeth defied expectations of an Elizabethan woman by not conforming to domestic duties or being loyal to her husband. In this scene, she prioritizes neither her children’s well-being nor her husband’s safety; instead, she urges him towards a path of sinful bloodshed. Moreover, Lady Macbeth dominates their relationship and always has the final say. Shakespeare shocks us with his portrayal of Lady Macbeth because it deviates from traditional ladylike behavior expected during that time. It is ironic that she bears the title ‘Lady’ Macbeth despite lacking qualities associated with a typical lady.
Throughout Act 1 scenes 5 and 7, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth in a way that leaves a strong impact on the audience. Right from the start, she is portrayed as a sinister figure. The utilization of imagery in Act 1 Scene 5, such as the phrases “pour my spirits” and “come, thick night”, indicates that Lady Macbeth possesses similarities to the eerie witches introduced at the beginning of the play. She is depicted as a character with dark tendencies, and we expect her dark side to be further explored as the play progresses.
The text reveals Shakespeare’s use of strong emotive language through Lady Macbeth’s dialogue in Act 1 scene 7, such as “dash’d the brains out.” This language suggests that Lady Macbeth is not only evil, but also cold and heartless. Throughout these scenes, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as a demonic figure, and her consistent use of strong language demonstrates her confidence and dominance.
Shakespeare surprises us with an unexpected side of Lady Macbeth in Act 5 scene 1, as the play approaches its conclusion. In her sleepwalking state, Lady Macbeth’s guilt overwhelms her and she confesses to all the gruesome deeds. This revelation reveals the true nature of Lady Macbeth according to Shakespeare. Throughout the play, I believe Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as a coward who attempts evil acts.
In Act 2 scene 2, it is ironic that Lady Macbeth refrains from directly killing Duncan because he reminds her too much of her own father. However, earlier in Act 1 Scene 7, she discusses being willing to kill her own child if promised. Furthermore, in Act 1 scene 5, she pleads for the spirits to turn her milk into poison as she knows that wickedness and immorality do not come naturally to her; thus seeking assistance. Despite this aid, however,she lacks the bravery to carry out the murder herself.
Lady Macbeth possesses persuasive skills but lacks the courage to act on her words. Although she is wicked, she is better known for her intelligence, manipulative nature, and ambition. Throughout the play, her ultimate goal is to become queen, which she convinces Macbeth to help her achieve. Initially hesitant, Macbeth eventually succumbs to Lady Macbeth’s cunning appeal to his love for her and becomes more involved in their plan. Lady Macbeth understands her husband completely and exploits his vulnerabilities as he can be easily influenced like a child due to his excessive kindness. It should be noted that Lady Macbeth does not personally carry out any of the murders; instead, she orchestrates them.
While Lady Macbeth possesses the wicked thoughts, it is Macbeth who executes the malevolent actions. However, one may question whether it was necessary for Macbeth to carry out the killings. The answer is affirmative since Lady Macbeth, despite her yearning for evil and achieving their objectives, avoids getting her hands dirty. Conversely, Macbeth cannot decline participation in such abhorrent acts due to Lady Macbeth’s compelling nature and their shared ambition serving as an irresistible force. Her aspiration to become Queen is evident as she no longer supports or encourages Macbeth’s future murderous plans once she attains royalty herself. Following her ascension to the throne, Lady Macbeth’s role alters; she no longer influences Macbeth through manipulation. Consequently, while Lady Macbeth endures sleepless nights, allowing Macbeth to devise his own sinister schemes.
Shakespeare skillfully depicts Lady Macbeth’s character in his play Macbeth. In Act 1 scenes 5 and 7, she is depicted as anything but a lady through her manipulative remarks and foreboding speech. However, in Act 5 scene 1, towards the end of the play, we witness a contrasting facet of her personality as she appears to exhibit fear and vulnerability.
This complex nature of Shakespeare’s character is highly effective and serves as the backbone of the play.