In the play ‘Macbeth’, Lady Macbeth is presented as the female who dominates her husband. Discuss this statement and how typical Lady Macbeth is of a woman of her time. The play ‘Macbeth’ was written between 1603 and 1607 by the famous playwright William Shakespeare and it is considered to be one of his most famous darkest tragedies. It is about a regicide and its aftermath which would have been a topical issue in the period in which it was written in as it relates to the Gunpowder Plot.
Since the King at the time, James I, funded the play and the actors it would have been important for Shakespeare to please him and stay on his side as some critics believe that it is a warning for anyone who tries to commit regicide. The play involves Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth who is a power-hungry, dominant and ambitious woman who blackmails her husband into killing the king as he gives her too much power and freedom which would have been very atypical in Jacobean times.
In Jacobean England the desire of society was to keep women disempowered and subordinate which is the complete opposite of Lady Macbeth hence her thirst for power would have been condemned. Aside from the fact that women had physical and biological differences from men, they were brought up with different aspirations and were excluded from things such as politics and medicine simply because they weren’t allowed an education and their only duties were to help mate to their husbands and bring children/heirs into the world, nurturing them and raising them.
Women were regarded as the inferior gender and had to be submissive and obedient towards their husbands who saw them as their possession. In Shakespearean times the ideal woman would have been quiet and subservient; loving and tender; dutiful and undemanding – everything that Lady Macbeth wasn’t. Lady Macbeth has been described as one of the most powerful and complex female characters in Literature and perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragic heroines. We are first introduced to her intriguing character in Act 1 scene 5 where she reading a letter from her husband and she is a focal point on stage.
In this letter Macbeth refers to her as his ‘dearest partner of greatness’. It is evident that he sees her as an equal in contrast to the traditional customs in Shakespearean England which would have shocked a Jacobean audience. Even the very fact that Lady Macbeth receives a letter shows that her husband sees her as an equal and proves their relationship is a very atypical one. This close relationship and what seems to be a role reversal between them will prove to be Macbeth’s most fatal mistake.
Her ambitious and power – hungry nature is revealed after she reads the letter as she immediately thinks of committing regicide showing that she has no conscience and an inverted sense of morality which challenges the typical female stereotype. At this point a Jacobean audience would have been very shocked because in their eyes and God’s, killing the king would be something unforgivable as they would have believed in the Diving Right of kings. Due to this fact they would have condemned Lady Macbeth and would have seen her as a fiend-like queen who would be punished in this life and the next.
She even calls her husband cowardly and says that he is too kind to commit such a crime so she would have to take matters into her own hands proving she is the dominating figure in their relationship in contrast to a typical Jacobean family where the male would be dominant. Lady Macbeth calls on the spirits of darkness to make her even more evil so that she can carry out the murder showing that she defies her gender role in society and knows that, as a woman, she is not strong enough to carry out this ‘deed’ by herself so she needs evil spirits to help and guide her.
She commands the evil spirits to ‘unsex’ her of all of her womanly qualities showing that she is aware of her weaknesses as a woman living in Jacobean times. Witchcraft was very much frowned upon in Jacobean times as it was seen to be linked with the devil and any women who were thought to be witches were burned or imprisoned so here Lady Macbeth would have definitely been perceived as a witch. It would have also been a very topical issue at the time as King James I was terrified of them as he believed that a group of witches had tried to kill him so he got Parliament to pass a law promising the death of anyone practicing witchcraft.
He even wrote a book on them called ‘Daemonologie’ which describes the demonic rites and rituals of witches. Thus, critics have argued that Shakespeare added the element of the supernatural in this play to intrigue and please the King. Lady Macbeth proves that she is the more powerful and dominating figure as she cleverly manages to persuade her husband into killing the king by morally blackmailing and humiliating him. This proves her thirst for power and would have, again, shocked a Shakespearean audience. In Act 1 scene 7 Lady Macbeth uses a lot of persuasive devices to convince her husband that by killing the King he would gain more power.
She humiliates him and calls him a ‘coward’ and asks him is he ‘afeard’ knowing that this would offend him as he has a reputation of being a brave soldier and she knows it will hurt his pride and persuade him. She also challenges his manhood: ‘ When you durst do it, then you were a man”. She uses a number of rhetorical questions such as: “Wherein you dress’d yourself? Hath it slept since? ” this would have been a shock to a Jacobean audience as it shows that she has no respect for her husband and is willing to put him through anything in order to get what she wants which challenges the typical customs of society.
Lady Macbeth emphasises her own determination by graphically describing how she would rather kill her own baby than go back on her words: “’tis to love the babe that milks me: 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. ” The fact that she paints such a horrific and detailed picture of killing her own baby is supposed to prove the extent of her evil and would shocked a Shakespearean audience because women were considered to be kind and gentle mothers and their only legitimate role was motherhood.
The use of violent verbs such as ‘dashed’ proves how sadistic and aggressive Lady Macbeth can be; in fact it makes her seem extremely unorthodox. At this point a Jacobean audience would have felt very prejudice and antipathetic towards her as she is breaking all of the conventionalities of a Shakespearean woman. Throughout the whole conversation she deliberately avoids the word murder and instead she uses phrases such as ‘great quell’ and ‘this night’s great business’ to glorify their actions hence persuading Macbeth.
He is so convinced by her that he begins to use her words: “False face must hide what the false heart doth know. ” which is similar to what she said in Act one scene 5: “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t. ” This shows that Lady Macbeth was successful in persuading Macbeth and also proves that she is the master of oratory and will stop at nothing to make her ambition a reality. On the night of the murder, Ross and old man have a conversation about how ‘unruly’ the night has been. They talk about the storms and awful weather that they have been having.
Due to the belief in the Divine Right of Kings, this scene is supposed to reflect God’s anger and fury as his representative on Earth has been killed. The old man talks about how he has seen Duncan’s horses eat each other and an owl attacking a hawk so it is as if the laws of nature have been reversed proving the enormity of the crime which Lady Macbeth and her husband have committed. Lady Macbeth proves to be a powerful and dominant character throughout the first half of the play however her importance slowly begins to diminish and we begin to see less of her.
We see more unbalanced Lady Macbeth and she starts to show signs of weakness typical for a woman of the time. At the beginning of Act 3 scene 2 she is alone on stage and all attention is focused on her. In her short rhymed soliloquy, Lady Macbeth reveals the extent to which she has been affected by events and there are suicidal overtones in her speech; this suggests that she is already suffering from acute psychological traumas and there are some signs of guilt beginning to appear. This scene anticipates Act 5 scene 1 where she goes completely mad.
Macbeth has went on a killing spree behind his wife’s back, and she is clueless that he has murdered Banquo; at this stage everything seems to have spiraled out of her control which proves that she is no longer the stronger and more dominant character and their roles have been reversed which would have been the typical situation in Jacobean times as she cannot control him anymore. He has even began to treat her as an inferior and is addressing her as ‘dearest chuck’ in contrast to the beginning of the play where he referred to her as his ‘partner of greatness’.
Lady Macbeth is consumed by her own guilt over the murder of King Duncan and the last time we see her fully sane is in Act 3 scene 4 where she has to remain strong for her husband who is unstable and shows signs of insanity himself in front of the guests at the banquet. A more modern day audience would feel that her courage is admirable as she takes good control of the situation showing that she can think on her feet, being an atypical woman of her time.
Lady Macbeth is not involved in Act 4 at all which proves her importance in the play is diminishing and the last time we see her is in Act 5 scene 1 where she is continually sleepwalking and she is no longer in control of her thoughts; her conscience has already caught up with her, whereas before she appeared to have none. This scene is supposed to emphasise the tragic heroine’s fall from greatness and would have pleased a Jacobean audience as she is receiving her comeuppance and poetic justice.
The scene proves that she is no longer and important or a dominant character as she speaks in prose, whereas before she spoke in blank verse which is used in Elizabethan dramas by the more important characters of higher social standing. There is an example of dramatic irony in this scene as the audience knows what is happening and understand what she is talking about, whereas the gentlewoman and the doctor are confused and struggle to comprehend her incoherent ramblings but know that something is wrong.
Lady Macbeth enters carrying a candle and asks to have a light by her all night which is ironic because in Act one scene 5 she made a plea for darkness: ‘come thick night’ but now she has gone completely mad and is afraid of darkness. This may create some sympathy for a modern audience whereas a Shakespearean audience would have been pleased that she has lost her mind as she is receiving retribution for her actions.
The doctor and the gentlewoman watch as Lady Macbeth rubs her hands as if washing them and says: ‘Yet here’s a spot. . . Out, damned spot’. As she continues to ‘wash’ her hands, her words reveal her guilt to the two onlookers. . It is quite ironic because earlier in the play she reassured her husband that ‘only a little water is needed to clear [them] from the deed’. Lady Macbeth seems to be reliving the events on the night of Duncan’s death although she mentions things in a mixed and confused order. entions Macduff’s wife: ‘The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now? ’ which resembles a childlike rhyme to show that her insanity has brought her to a child-like state which creates sympathy for her character. Her death is not shown on stage at all symbolizing how her importance has completely diminished. It is only mentioned that she kills herself and Macbeth seems to show no signs of sorrow. He even states that ‘she should have died hereafter’ and that he has no time to deal with her death.
This would have again evoked sympathy in a modern day audience however a Shakespearean one would have agreed that her death is insignificant and that she has received a rightful punishment for committing regicide. The way Lady Macbeth is presented is typical for that of a tragic heroine as she has one fatal flaw: her ambition. The audience is supposed to feel a sense of waste and catharsis towards her character because she could have been great but she failed from greatness through her one fatal flaw.
The play ‘Macbeth’ proves Shakespeare’s views are very conservative and traditional as he doesn’t challenge the typical views of society because even though Lady Macbeth is a very atypical character for her time she is punished for her ambition and lust for power. Critics have also argued that Shakespeare wrote this play to please the King of England, James I, as he had been ruling in the shadows of England’s greatest monarch, Elizabeth I, who was a woman so in a sense the play was written to reflect the consequences of letting a woman have and gain too much power.
This would have pleased James I as he would have been intimidated by ruling after such a great monarch and watching this play would have proved that a woman should never be allowed to have so much power. Considering this, Lady Macbeth is supposed to be viewed as an atypical woman of her time whos fall from greatness is emphasised through her insanity and insignificant death at the end of the play. Her character also symbolizes the way society viewed women in Shakespearean times and how they believed that woman were the subordinate gender and should never have power over men and in society.