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behind Macbeth s downfall
Lady Macbeth? The driving force behind Macbeth s downfall? Certainly not. Macbeth was completely and solely responsible for all the acts of great evil which were to lead to his downfall, and to even suggest the blame can be shifted on his wife is ludicrous.
From his very first meeting with the witches, Macbeth s mind became instantly plagued with thoughts of murder and treachery. The guilty start that Banquo noticed:
“Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair? ”
showed us that the thought of murder was already at the back of his mind. This showed us that Macbeth could not have been as honourable and trustworthy as people believed him to be, given that if he had had but a shred of integrity, murder would have been the last thing on his mind. The witches cannot corrupt the virtuous (like Banquo), they can work only on the evil that they already find in their victim s mind. At this point, Macbeth (and everyone else), was not aware of this evil inside of him, which is why he was so horrified by the hideous imaginings that spring to mind. He was afraid of speaking of his “black and deep desires” openly, even to himself. For this reason, he sends a letter to his wife, explaining the situation, hoping that the thought of murder would cross her mind, and he won t have to be the one to bring it up. On receiving the letter, Lady Macbeth s first thought (as Macbeth had hoped it would be) was one of murder. She was just as ambitious, if not more so, than her husband, so much so that she would do anything, even conspire to commit murder, to get what she wanted in the end. However, she was not an evil woman, which is why she felt the need to call on the powers of darkness to aid her in what she was about to do:
” Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood ”
This shows us that she doesn t possess enough cruelty for the task she was about to carry out, and she wasn t as strong as she would like to be.
Later on (Act 1 Scene 7) Macbeth started to have some serious doubts about the dreadful deed he was planning. He still very much wanted to be King, but his conscience was getting in the way of his “vaulting ambition”. However, his wife managed to reassure him that all will be well, and he weakly submits. Nevertheless, it is absurd to suggest that Lady Macbeth was responsible for Macbeth s decision to kill the King. If Macbeth had not wanted to kill the King, he wouldn t have, regardless of any amount of bullying from his wife. He knows that he really wants to kill Duncan, it was his initial thought when he first encountered the witches. However, he didn t like to think he was capable of such atrocities.
It was in Act 2 Scene 1, that Macbeth starts to show signs of acute distress and strain, and is alarmed by the dagger his imagination creates. However, towards the end of the scene, he seems to look back on the horror of the moment with enjoyment, and he even allows himself a moment of grim humour:
” .the bell invites me
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.”
In Act 2 Scene 2, we see further evidence of the fact that Lady Macbeth is not as strong as she seems on the surface, she needs to drink to give herself courage. She also mentions that she would have done the deed herself, if Duncan hadn t resembled her father while he slept. After Macbeth has done the deed, he realises what a terrible crime he has committed, and becomes confused and irrational. However, as in all the other scenes when Macbeth has being scared or confused, Lady Macbeth takes over. It s as if she knows she has to be strong for the both of them, and she always does her best to restore Macbeth s confidence when he is feeling depressed, regardless of how she is feeling. She is well aware that the statement
“A little water clears us of this deed”
is not in the least bit true. It is said in an attempt to make light of the situation, and to reassure Macbeth, and herself.
Later on, Act 2 Scene 3, Macbeth kills Duncan s guards, so that the crime can be blamed on them, putting them in a position in which they would be unable to defend themselves. Disturbingly, we see how murder seems to be becoming easier and easier for Macbeth, and he kills the guards almost impulsively, and this time with no support from his wife.
Then, in Act 3 Scene 1, Macbeth decides that Banquo and Fleance will have to die. He seems to plot their murders with ease, and apparently feels no guilt while doing so. Yet again, his wife remains “ignorant of the knowledge”. He alarms her by conjuring up dreadful images, and just like the scene with the imaginary dagger seems to enjoy them in some kind of sick, twisted way.
Macbeth and his wife have a very strange, unbalanced relationship. It seem when Macbeth is feeling anxious and depressed, she acts as his support, and puts on a brave face for him. However, when Macbeth is in control of the situation (as he is now), she fades into the background, and becomes a shadow of her former self. It is almost as if she is just as weak as Macbeth underneath, but she feels she has to be assertive, and in control of the situation for his sake. However, when Macbeth takes the lead, it seems that she feels that she doesn t have to be the strong and commanding one anymore, and it is almost a relief to her. The unbalance in their relationship, however, is that when Lady Macbeth is confused and anxious, Macbeth does nothing to try to reassure her, while as I aforementioned, Lady Macbeth does her best to try to make him feel better when he is at a low. It is as if Macbeth gets caught up in a world of his own, and is unaware of the distress his wife is going through.
At this moment, Lady Macbeth is most unhappy with the situation. She somehow thought that after Macbeth killed Duncan, they could live as King and Queen happily ever after. She was not to know that the crime would provoke a psychotic response in Macbeth, and he would, literally, go on a killing spree.
However, Later on (Act 3 Scene 4), when Macbeth falls apart at the appearance of Banquo s ghost at the State Banquet, Lady Macbeth once again takes over the situation, asking the guests to leave, and trying to speak some sense to Macbeth.
By now (Act 4 Scene 1), Macbeth has become completely and utterly deranged, relying on the forces of darkness (the witches) to help him through. At this point, we hear no more from Lady Macbeth, she has well and truly faded into the background.
In Act 4 Scene 2, we see further evidence of what a ruthless, evil, tyrant Macbeth has become, when he hires some assassins to murder Lady Macduff, her children, and the whole household, with no reason whatsoever, apart from malice. We cannot ignore the fact that all Macbeth s most heinous crimes were planned by him alone, and with no help whatsoever from Lady Macbeth, and without her knowledge or interference.
It is in Act 5 Scene 1 that Lady Macbeth makes her entrance back into the play. She is now at her most weak and vulnerable. She walks in her sleep and seems unable to get the murder out of her head. Earlier, she had dismissed the matter of Duncan s murder, but now she admits to herself what she knew all along, that
“All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”
In the end, she can no longer cope with the guilt, and in the words of Malcolm in the last scene of the play.
“Who, as tis thought, by self and violent hands
Took of her life- ”
It seems now that Lady Macbeth must have been less strong, and not as evil as Macbeth. When she took part in the planning of the murder of Duncan, she felt so guilty in the long run that she felt she had to take her own life. However, Macbeth has performed crimes that are a lot worse than the crime his wife committed, but he has not decided to do anything as drastic as taking his own life.
It is in Act 5 scene 5 that Macbeth shows us the true extent of his insanity. He has lost the capacity to feel fear (for his inevitable death), and grief (for his dead wife). It is in Act 5 Scene 7 that Macbeth s life comes to an abrupt end, and no one grieves him. He died a tyrant and a murderer, all through his own fault.