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How Does Shakespeare Present the Relationship Between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth?

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From the beginning of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is viewed as very controlling, strong, and certain; saying that Macbeth ‘Shalt be what thou art promised’. This illustrates Lady Macbeth’s position in the relationship, she is ordering Macbeth to become what the witches have foreseen. We see just how powerful Lady Macbeth is, if she can command her husband to murder the king of Scotland. Her power is also shown in the way she taunts Macbeth, saying he is ‘too full of the milk of human kindness’. This shows how cold Lady Macbeth is, as milk is the food of new born children, she is implying Macbeth is too much like a kind child to murder anyone, which is another method used to spur Macbeth on into killing Duncan. Her coldness and control is again shown when she begins to plot Duncan’s murder with Macbeth, she says he should ‘look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it’, more advice for the killing of his king, and ‘leave the rest to me’ shows her cool control over the matter. Lady Macbeth also shows a more helpful side, offering help. ‘I may pour my spirits in thine ear’, which although apparently providing a contrast to her cold hearted plotting earlier, is in fact another way in which she is convincing Macbeth to kill Duncan. Her words propose sweetness, but are in fact rooted in evil, and this perhaps shows an ‘innocent flower’ side to Lady Macbeth.

Macbeth, however, is on the other end of the scale in their relationship, and this is seen once he plucks up the courage to tell her he does not want to continue with the murder. But she still rallies, calling him a ‘coward’, saying that if he could murder Duncan ‘he were a man’. This to Macbeth, a proud and mighty warrior is a deep insult, and he soon is convinced that he will carry out the murder. Lady Macbeth’s cold hearted side again shows, saying she would ‘dash’ out the brains of her own child because she is so sure Macbeth should kill Duncan. We also see how Lady Macbeth’s influence has rubbed off on Macbeth, as he says ‘False face must hide what the false heart doth know’, which is very similar to Lady Macbeth’s words of the ‘innocent flower’ earlier. All in all, in act 1 we see how Lady Macbeth has a power over Macbeth, she is cunning and calculated, and despite the fact that Macbeth is the seasoned warrior, she is the one who laughs at murder and Macbeth who declines, however we see her exert her power over Macbeth to make him want to murder Duncan, showing how the power in the relationship is all in Lady Macbeth in the first act.

In act two, after murdering Duncan, Macbeth says ‘This is a sorry sight’, but Lady Macbeth again shows her power over Macbeth. ‘A foolish thing to say a sorry sight’. This shows how she is still cold hearted, as she thinks it is ‘foolish’ for a man to show remorse at a murder he committed. She orders him to not think ‘so deeply’, saying that thinking about the deed ‘will make us mad’ and ‘unbend your noble strength’. Here we see a slightly weaker side to Lady Macbeth, she is herself feeling vulnerable to guilt, almost immediately after the murder. This is shown in ‘will make us mad’. The ‘us’ shows that she is no longer only concerned for Macbeth, but is worried about her own mental state too, fretting that she may go mad with guilt. But soon after, Lady Macbeth regains her control, and begins to once more organize affairs, ‘go get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hand’. This implies that Lady Macbeth wants Macbeth to get order with himself, as she asks him to dispose of ‘this filthy witness’, suggesting that Macbeth rid himself of the part of him that was uncertain. Again this is another massive request from Lady Macbeth, but Macbeth seems to obey anyway, showing her power over him. Macbeth however is ‘appalled by every noise’ and ‘Wake Duncan with thy knocking’. The fact that he is ‘appalled by every noise’ suggests Macbeth is a nervous wreck, and the fact that he wishes Duncan was alive suggests he is racked by guilt, showing how Lady Macbeth is very much still in control of the relationship.

In act three we see Lady Macbeth’s weaknesses coming through, by her, surprisingly. We see that she is troubled by guilt ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy’, saying that they never should have murdered Duncan. Macbeth too is racked with guilt, ‘Better be with the dead than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy’, saying he would rather be dead with Duncan that alive with his guilt. But despite the fact that both are feeling guilty, Lady Macbeth tries to remain strong in front of Macbeth ‘what’s done is done’. This shows Lady Macbeth again telling Macbeth that the murder has happened and that he should get over it, as nothing can be done to change it. There is however a hint of remorse in Lady Macbeth’s voice, showing how she is losing her power over Macbeth, mainly because she is finding it hard to get over her guilt. But we see when Macbeth cries out ‘O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife’ shows how despite Lady Macbeth’s best efforts to make Macbeth forget his evil deeds, he cannot let go, and so Lady Macbeth’s power over him continues to decrease, as she is losing the ability to control him. This appears to be a turning point, and Macbeth now begins to take the matter of murder into his own hands, as he says he is going to perform a ‘deed of dreadful note’. He seems to be in the driving seat, telling her she should be ‘innocent’, which echoes Lady Macbeth’s ‘innocent’ flower quote earlier, showing how their roles have swapped and the relationship has flipped.

We see now that Macbeth has the power over Lady Macbeth, ‘tomorrow… I will to the weird sisters’, implying that Macbeth has started to make decisions for himself, instead of Lady Macbeth organizing everything for him. He has decided that he will continue killing and when he says ‘we are but young in the deed’ it shows just how serious Macbeth is, and how far he is willing to go. But Lady Macbeth has no say in this; she is left to be the hostess, showing how the power and control have shifted.

In act five, we see Lady Macbeth as a guilty wreck; she is sleepwalking and talking gibberish. She says ‘What, will these hands never be clean?’ These words echo her word earlier in the play, when she talks of washing ‘their hands of this deed’; she has now realized that the guilt that has overcome her will never leave. The killings have had a profound effect on her, as earlier in the play, she was a cool, calm, controlling wife who could make her proud warrior husband kill at the click of her fingers, whereas now she is overcome with guilt.

In act five scene five we see again the change in Macbeth’s character, he has gone from the man who was ‘appalled be every noise’, to a man who has ‘almost forgot the taste of fears’ as has ‘supped full with horrors’. This implies that Macbeth no longer fears anything, for he has seen too much violence and fear to be affected anymore. This is a vast contrast to the nervous wreck which killed Duncan, and shows how much he has changed. After news of Lady Macbeth’s death is brought to him, Macbeth reflects on the uselessness of his actions ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by and idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing’. This shows he has looked back on his life and seen that he has achieved nothing. However in this speech, he recognizes that his actions were pointless, as no matter how hard one ‘struts and frets’ in life, it is ‘but a walking shadow’ and ‘signifying nothing’, and Macbeth has thrown away ‘his hour’, as his life or his play was ‘full of sound and fury’.

Perhaps it is Lady Macbeth’s cold-hearted ways that have taught Macbeth not to care. By the end of the play, we see how their relationship has deteriorated to such a state that Macbeth no longer cares if she is alive or not, whereas before he had trouble with Duncan’s death, someone far less close to him than his own wife.

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