The Rise and Fall of Lady Macbeth




The Rise and Fall of Lady Macbeth


Lady Macbeth's character is one of complexity; slowly, but
continuously changing throughout the play. What begins as a struggle for power
and a longing to shred her femininity turns Lady Macbeth into what she fears
most - a guilt ridden weakling.
In the beginning ( I, v, 43-54) , we see Lady Macbeth reacting to the
news of her husbands success and King Duncan's visit. This ignites her lust for
power. In the quote “...unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe
top full/ Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;.../ Come thick night,/ And
pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,/ That my keen knife see not the wound it
makes,” Lady Macbeth talks of wanting all of the cold blooded aspects of “
manliness” so she can kill King Duncan with no remorse - she sees herself as
having these qualities more than her husband, and because of this, in a sense,
wishes to shed her womanhood. We can see this ruthless nature more in depth in
the quote “I would, while it was smiling in my face,/ Have pluck'd my nipple
from his boneless gums,/ and dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you/
Have done to this” (I,vii,56-59) She is obviously a very bitter female,
frequently referring to her role as a woman, both physically and emotionally in
negative ways. In the above quote, Lady Macbeth is commenting on her husband's
lack of gall, stating, that quite frankly, she would make a better man than
he.
Although still a very strong woman, we see the first signs of weakness
in Lady's Macbeth's character in Act II, Scene ii, 12-13. She says, “Had he
not resembled/ My father as he slept, I had done it.” She is giving an excuse
for not killing Duncan herself. As you can plainly see, this is not the same
Lady Macbeth that would bash a baby's brains in in the beginning of the play.
Throughout the play, Macbeth's character grows stronger as Lady Macbeth's will
regresses. It even gets to where Macbeth will not include his wife in his
villianous schemes, where at one time, it was Lady Macbeth who was
implementing these schemes in his head in the first place. In a sense, the two
characters switch roles; Lady Macbeth taking a backseat to her husband almost
becoming wallpaper for the rest of the play. The turning point for Lady Macbeth
is when she learns of her husband's slaying of Macduff's family. She realizes
that this is all a result of her greed for power, power that led to the
corruption of her husband and allowed her to create a monster out of a once, at
least, worthy man. In this state, she turns to sleepwalking which reveals her
guilt in Act V, scene i, 37-55. “Out, damned spot! out, I say!-One: /two:
why, then ‘tis time to do't... / The thame of Fife had a wife: where is/ she
now?- What, will these hands ne'er be/ clean?...” This guilt and paranoia
eventually leads to Lady Macbeth's violent death at her own hands.
What happened to the power - happy woman that L. Macbeth once was?
What was it that motivated this gradual, yet altogether drastic change in her
character? The answer, I believe, is that it was ambition that motivated her,
and ultimately destroyed her also. What Lady Macbeth and her husband wanted
most in the world eventually strangled them with its power. They are two of
Shakespeare's many victims of the “ambition plague”, joining the ranks of
Julius Ceasar and others. The real message here is not to place your ambitions
over the rights and lives of other people; something people must have done
quite a lot in Shakespeare's time. In today's society, Lady Macbeth would
probably have been much happier. She would certainly feel less oppressed by her
womanly attributes - she would have been able to seek as much power as she
wanted without being hindered by her less-than-ruthless husband. This theme of
ambition ruining everything still is quite evident today, however. Countless
numbers of people are ruined each day because of their own desires and wants.
This is obviously an ageless problem. But the question still goes unanswered,
Is there any way to stop it?