Presentation of the characters in the play Macbeth is vital. There are many ways of being presented, such as through language, actions, emotions etc. Shakespeare uses these features to present to us his character of Lady Macbeth on Act 1 scenes 5 and 7.
Lady Macbeth is one of the most powerful characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare first introduces Lady Macbeth alone in stage which allows us to pry into her innermost thoughts which are filled with death and destruction. In her opening scene of Act 1 Scene 5 we see her reiterating the witches prophesy in Macbeth’s letter and we see how immediately her mind goes to work. Immediately she knows of what must be done for Macbeth to hustle the crown, and immediately her thoughts turn to possible failings in her husband. He is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” to commit murder. This shows how cold Lady Macbeth is, as milk is the food of children, she is implying that Macbeth is too much like a kind child to murder anyone. Her coldness is again shown when she asks the evil spirits to come to her “woman’s breasts” and convert her nurturing mother’s milk to “gall”, bitterness. This line itself is a contradiction, an oxymoron Shakespeare uses to portray Lady Macbeth’s determination of accepting evil. She doesn’t want the kind milk Macbeth has in him because she doesn’t want to be a coward when going through with the dark plan. “breasts” and “milk” represents her womanhood, a conveniently weak gender, but she wants to be strong and brave when going forward with the sin, so wants to be a man; this desire of hers is also shown in the symbolism “unsex me here”.
Lady Macbeth again doubts her husband when he returns home, further into the scene. His face is “a book”, a metaphor used to imply the ease in reading his emotions and at this time again we see her coldness and control over the situation. She says he should “look like the innocent flower But be the serpent under’t, an advice for the killing of the King, and then “leave all the rest to me” shows her cool control over the matter. This advice she gives Macbeth is advice given by an expert. The way Lady Macbeth acts like a perfectly welcoming hostess in front of King Duncan will make anyone deflect the fact that she is the mastermind behind it all.
In addition, from this scene we straightaway grow awareness of Lady Macbeth’s role in her relationship with Macbeth. Her doubts of Macbeth’s nature and the symbolism “unsex me here” implies she is the ‘man’ in the relationship and dominates her husband.
In Act 1 Scene 7 Lady Macbeth appears to be even more evil when she sets out to strengthen Macbeth’s doubts by mocking his weakness. She tells him he is “green” such a metaphor resembling a coward. She then also tells him that her own lack of pity would extend to murdering her own child as it suckled at her breast, “dash’d the brains out”, and with this one terrifying imagery she confirms that the ‘milk of human kindness’ is absent in her.
Her taunts then manage to manipulate her husband so that she gets what she wants; a dead king. And indeed she is aware that she will get her way as Macbeth is very obedient and will do anything with her little nudge. And straight away, once her mockery of Macbeth had cleared, Lady Macbeth shifts her tone as her attention switches to the details of the murder itself.
In this scene we discover that Lady Macbeth herself defines the word sinister.
What wife would taunt her husband’s masculinity? “What beast was’t, then…” What wife would patronise her husband to the core of agony? “poor cat”. Men at that time had the upper hand over things and were filled with bravery from head to toe. Macbeth himself was a warrior who committed many bloody deeds in the battlefield yet he is questioned upon his manhood? But then again it is obvious that Shakespeare did not create his characters as a clear cut reflection to the Elizabethan times. Lady Macbeth is most definitely not a typical Elizabethan woman. Women were expected to do household chores, raise children, and remain faithful to their husband. Women were inferior to men. However Lady Macbeth’s main priority is not the wellbeing of her children which she very clearly stated in this scene. Her main priority is not the safety of her husband or else she would not be driving him towards the path of a bloody sin. And lastly Lady Macbeth is beyond doubt superior to Macbeth. In their relationship it is she who gets the last word and it is she who gets her way. This character of Shakespeare’s really shocks us because it very unladylike but then we realise that he has in fact portrayed Lady Macbeth to be no lady at all, making it ironic that her name is ‘Lady’ Macbeth.
In Act 1 scenes 5 and 7 Shakespeare has very clearly presented Lady Macbeth to us, and as an audience, our first impressions of Lady Macbeth would be our lasting impressions of Lady Macbeth. And there is one very simple word I think of to summarise her character: wicked. The immense imagery of darkness used in Act 1 Scene 5, “pour my spirits”, “come, thick night”, suggests that Lady Macbeth is no different from the three weird witches we meet at the beginning of the play, and is herself a very dark person. We expect to unveil more of her darkness as the play proceeds.
Also the strong emotive language Shakespeare uses through Lady Macbeth’s dialogue “dash’d the brains out”, in Act 1 scene 7, tells me how, on top of being evil, cold and heartless this lady is. In fact in these scenes I have found that Lady Macbeth has been given a very demonising persona, and overall the consistent strong language she speaks in shows her sheer confidence and dominance in the scenes.
However Shakespeare then unveils a side of Lady Macbeth that we do not expect to see. Towards the end of the play in Act 5 scene 1 Lady Macbeth’s guilt takes over and she confesses to all the bloody deeds whilst sleepwalking. But in my point of view, I believe Shakespeare just unveiled the true side of Lady Macbeth. I believe that Shakespeare, throughout the play, had actually presented Lady Macbeth as being a coward trying to do evil. I mean it is very ironic how Lady Macbeth, in Act 2 scene 2, had been put off the idea of committing the murder of Duncan herself by the resemblance of the King to her own father, “Had he not resembled My father”, yet earlier in Act 1 Scene 7 she talks about killing her own child if promised. Also in Act 1 scene 5 she has to ask the spirits to make “gall” of her milk. Why? Because she is perfectly aware that being evil and immoral does not come naturally to her so needs to seek help. But even with this help she doesn’t become man enough to go through with the murder herself.
The fact is that Lady Macbeth is just very good with words, nothing more nothing less. She continuously says things but never has the courage to do it; Macbeth does it. Lady Macbeth is a puppeteer and Macbeth is her puppet. It is true that she is an evil woman, but it is far more accurate to say that she is an intelligent, manipulative and ambitious woman. She has only one motive in the play and that is to be Queen. To get this title she takes on a dark role and convinces Macbeth to be part of her plan. Macbeth did try to talk sense into Lady Macbeth in Act 1 scene 7 and did refuse to the murder twice, but Lady Macbeth very slyly poked at her husband’s weakness bringing up questions on his love for her “Such I account thy love”. This is why I believe she is intelligent. As soon as Macbeth goes back a step she just drags him in with her manipulative comments because as a wife she knows her husband very well; he is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness”, like a child, and it is very easy to manipulate a child. She doesn’t do anything evil as it is not she who killed Duncan.
Lady Macbeth thinks evil but Macbeth does evil. But did Macbeth really have to be the one doing the killing? Of course, because, like I mentioned earlier, Lady Macbeth tries to be evil to get what she wants but isn’t actually evil to do it herself. But couldn’t Macbeth just refuse to do such a horrible sin? Never, because although Lady Macbeth may not actually be evil, the ‘act’ she occupies makes her a woman you can’t say no to, especially when her act is for one particular goal. This leads me onto her ambitious aspect. Lady Macbeth only ever wanted to be Queen, which is why after she got this title she no longer pushed nor supported Macbeth in his plot to commit further murders. After Lady Macbeth becomes Queen we see a reversal of role in hers and Macbeth’s relationship. We see how Macbeth manages to conjure up his own dark plans without Lady Macbeth spitting venom in his ear. We see how Macbeth no longer suffers from sleepless nights but Lady Macbeth does.
So overall I believe that Shakespeare has very skilfully presented Lady Macbeth in the play Macbeth. In Act 1 scenes 5 and 7 she is presented as no ‘Lady’ at all through her manipulative comments and dark language, but by the end of the play we discover the ‘Lady’ in her as she seems to cower in Act 5 scene 1.
This intricate character of Shakespeare’s is hugely effective and is practically the spine of the play.