The Rise and Fall of Lady MacBeth

Lady Macbeths 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 Duncans 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 pluckd my nipple from his boneless gums,/ and dashd 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 husbands 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 Ladys Macbeths 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 babys brains in in the beginning of the play. Throughout the play, Macbeths character grows stronger as Lady Macbeths 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 husbands slaying of Macduffs 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 dot… / The thame of Fife had a wife: where is/ she now?- What, will these hands neer be/ clean?… This guilt and paranoia eventually leads to Lady Macbeths 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 Shakespeares 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 Shakespeares time. In todays 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?
Category: Shakespeare

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