In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is introduced as Macbeth’s loving, loyal wife. An Elizabethan audience would expect her to be a domesticated housewife who depended on her husband. She holds the respect of the King, her servants and her husband’s companions. However, the moment she receives Macbeth’s letter, she initiates the action behind the play. Without Lady Macbeth, Macbeth would not have felt as obligated to murder King Duncan, and the play would not have developed the way it had.
Her manipulative and cunning qualities were revealed during the planning of Duncan’s murder, and as the play continued her mind began to unravel. Her tragic flaw, a willingness to succeed without being caught, destroyed her. She became mentally unstable and the guilt in her heart resulted in her suicidal death. In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is the catalyst behind the play, and falls the furthest in the end. Lady Macbeth is not considered a normal Elizabethan woman. She is ambitious and has a weaker moral base.
The average woman in Shakespeare’s time would be respectful and subservient to men. After reading Macbeth’s letter involving the witches’ prophecies, she begins planning how Macbeth will become King of Scotland. “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be What thou art promised. Yet so I fear thy nature; It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way. ” (I, V, 14) She is aware that Macbeth is too kind to kill Duncan without proper motivation. She plans on talking him out of whatever is keeping him from pursuing the crown, and believes that fate wants him to become king.
Her lust for power exposes her unpredictable qualities to the audience. This breaks the stereotypical view of Lady Macbeth because Elizabethan women did not take on warrior-like attributes, or became involved in political affairs. These qualities would seem unfit for a woman, and would be more appropriate traits of a man. “Come, you spirits That tend on moral thoughts, unsex me here And fill me from the crown to the toe topfull Of direct cruelty; make my blood thick, Stop up th’access and passage to remorse. ” (I, V, 15)
Lady Macbeth removes herself from the female sex spiritually to help her cope with the crime she plans to commit. She places herself in a cruel frame of mind so that her emotions will not get in the way of her accomplishing murder. When Macbeth returns, unsure of his choice, she questions his manhood and forces him to wrestle with his super-ego, resulting in his decision to assassinate Duncan. His decision, modified by Lady Macbeth’s manipulation, puts the play into motion. It can be argued that Lady Macbeth is the tragic heroine in the tragedy.
She has ambition, holds power over her subjects and has a tragic flaw: a willingness to succeed without being caught. Her character is intriguing, persuasive and strong. These qualities ascertain the audience’s curiosity to know Lady Macbeth’s next moves after Duncan’s murder. Instead of taking a more prominent role after Macbeth becomes king, her role as influential wife deteriorated, as she realizes the monster she has created within her husband. “How, now, my lord, why do you keep alone, Of sorriest fancies your companions making,
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died. Things without all remedy Should be without regard; what’s done, is done. ” (III, II, 46) She portrays an appearance of relaxation, knowing her crime is done. However, she can see that her husband is becoming more paranoid, and he begins to take a dominant role over Lady Macbeth. She is forced into the background while Macbeth begins to plot murders for everyone he suspects. While these plans are being followed out, Lady Macbeth begins to lose her unperturbed facade and cannot sleep.
King Duncan’s murder takes a toll on her conscience, and what seemed such an easy task for her before becomes the bane of her existence. She has fallen from high expectations to nothingness. By the end of the tragedy, Lady Macbeth is engulfed by contrition, and commits suicide. Although Lady Macbeth did not seem guilty after the murder of Duncan, the guilt manifested inside her until she became an empty shell of her former self. Her mind falls apart, to the point where Macbeth hires a doctor to cure her sleep-walking. Here’s the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. ” (V, I, 84) The doctor can tell that she is overwhelmed by remorse over a crime, but for the sake of his own life, he does not repeat what he heard. Lady Macbeth suffered from hysteria, fearing her own tragic flaw; she feared that her murders, as well as her husband’s murders in cold blood, would be publicized. “Not so sick, my lord, as she is troubled with thick-coming fancies that keep her from her rest. ” (V, III, 89) The doctor believes nothing can cure her of her own mind.
Her anguish became so great she could not live with herself anymore, and her suffering outweighed all other endured during the tragedy. Lady Macbeth’s desire for political power, her territorial ownership over Macbeth’s heart, and her lack of ability to suppress guilt resulted in her paying the biggest price at the end of the play. She had everything a woman in the Elizabethan era would ever want, but instead allowed her ambitions run wild toward a more enchanting lifestyle. She no longer had a strong hold over her husband, and her mental health had decreased a great extent.
By the time she ended her own life, Lady Macbeth had nothing left to her name. Her castle was surrounded, and her husband was soon to be sent to the grave. The murders committed in the Macbeth name would eventually be revealed, and everyone she held dear had fled or was murdered. Her bad decision made at the beginning of the play caused a series of unfortunate events to occur, and eventually made her feel like there was nothing left to live for. Lady Macbeth fell from being highly respected and strong to her lowest point of living, all because of her catalytic decision.