Macbeth is one of the well admired historical tragedies by William Shakespeare. It is believed to be written 1604-5 when King James I was the king of England. The play is about the rise and fall of the Scottish king Macbeth who ruled Scotland between 1040-57AD . Shakespeare used some of the facts from Holinshead?s report even though he hid some due to political reasons . Macbeth and his wife are seen by those who watch the play as evil partners , ruthless murderers who began as a normal couple but who took the wrong track led by their evil desires.
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In act one scene five Lady Macbeth is introduced to the audience for the first time . She is reading a letter from Macbeth . It contains the words ?my dearest partner of greatness ?. Even though these words may seem normal to us as we live in a society of equality , the Christian audience of Shakespeare?s time would have thought them odd because the Bible dictates :-
Your desires will be for your husband ,
and he will rule over you .
Wives ?.. be submissive to your husbands .
In the audience?s view wives were supposed to be obedient and certainly were not to be equal partners with their husbands. Therefore they would have seen the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as an unnatural one at this early stage .
Macbeth?s letter tells her about how three witches foretold him about his new title the ?Thane of Cawdor? and their other prophesy emphasised by the greeting ?All Hail , Macbeth that shalt be king hereafter?. This letter makes her think about how to make Macbeth king and her thoughts are shown through her monologue. Lady Macbeth?s horrifying monologue contains unpleasant evil phrases such as ?unsex me ? and ?make thick of my blood ? . In Shakespearean times women were meant to be soft submissive creatures whilst men were supposed to be brave and tough . Due to the influence of virgin Mary in Christianity there was greater reverence to womanhood . Lady Macbeth?s desire to be ?unsexed? would have absolutely horrified Shakespeare?s audience and would have made them speculate that because she cannot turn in to a man she will use the manliness of Macbeth to achieve her evil desires.
Macbeth meets Lady Macbeth for the first time since his courageous victory with his new title ?Thane of Cawdor? . We expect any wife to congratulate her husband and talk about his bravery . Lady Macbeth instead of this directly talks about the letter and their ?future?. This reveals her strong persuasive character as she firmly tells Macbeth ?leave all the rest to me?. We also realise that Macbeth is going to be pushed into evil.
When Macbeth tells her about Duncan?s plans she says ? O never shall sun that morrow see ?. At this stage her relationship seems more than a partner as she has made the decision to murder without consulting Macbeth . She advises him to ?Look like the innocent flower , but be the serpent under?t?. The gender roles switch again as she commands him what to do. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are often compared to Adam and Eve because like Eve Lady Macbeth in tempts Macbeth to sin . According to the Bible humans lost their everlasting happy life because of what Adam and Eve did . The Shakespearean audience would have feared that something similar might happen to the Scottish rulers . Macbeth only says ?We will speak further ? but Lady Macbeth remains keen in the idea.
In the time of Macbeth people believed in a theory called ?The Divine rights of kings? which explained that the monarch was considered to be God?s representative on earth . Macbeth knew that God would seek retribution if he over reached himself by killing God?s representative on earth . He also considers how Duncan was kind and honourable to him and firmly says ?we will proceed no further in this business?. This is when Lady Macbeth shows her full potential for evil . She calls him ?coward? . This is really an irony because we know that in act one scene two the Sergeant described him ?brave Macbeth?. Macbeth considers her accusations seriously because when others were referring to his outer strength she is the only one who knows his inner strength .She also asks him ?what beast was?t then made you break this enterprise to me??. We as audience do know that Macbeth never promised her that he will kill Duncan . She also threatens his sexuality by saying ?When you durst do it , then you were a man? .She amuses the audience by showing how she can achieve what she wants from Macbeth by ?sexual taunting and force of determination?.
Lady Macbeth is the one who drugged the guards and enabled Macbeth to kill Duncan . After the murder Macbeth is terrified and his conscience commands ?Macbeth shall sleep no more?. Sleeplessness was believed to be caused by guilt . Lady Macbeth without any sign of guilt greets him ?My husband!? which indicates that he has proven his sexuality .She takes full control over the scene by returning the dagger to the murder scene because Macbeth was afraid to do so and makes him wash his blood stained hands . She tries to convince Macbeth that their guilt will vanish by saying ? A little water clears us of this deed? as she washes her hands . When the murder is discovered Lennox tells Macbeth about the unnatural events of chaos in the natural world such as the ?strange scream of death?. Macbeth knows that these are the signs of God?s displeasure . This fact and the horror of that scene makes him over react . Lady Macbeth has to cover it up by pretending to faint . In here she uses her ?femininity? which she considered as a weakness in act one scene five for their advantage .
Macbeth becomes stronger after murdering Duncan. He decides to act without Lady Macbeth?s push when he plans to murder Banquo . In act three scene three Macbeth speaks to Lady Macbeth about his worries of Banquo suspecting his plot to murder Duncan. He tells her that ? O full of scorpions is my mind dear wife?. Lady Macbeth is understanding and comforting for the first time in the play . When she asks ?what?s to be done?? he completely hides his plot to murder Banquo from her . This is when the openness of their relationship stops. Macbeth does this because he wants her to be innocent as he understands the stress caused by guilt .Macbeth at this stage shows qualities of a Machiavellian king by being cunning and scheming . But Macbeth panics in scene four when he sees Banquo?s ghost at the coronation banquet on Banquo?s seat .Some critics see Banquo as Macbeth?s conscience because if Macbeth had not killed Duncan he would have been as honest and loyal as Banquo. Macbeth sees his conscience as Banquo?s ghost . Lady Macbeth again has to take control of the situation by calming him down and sending the Lords home . In this scene Shakespeare again shows us that Lady Macbeth?s assistance is important to Macbeth.
After the murder of Banquo Lady Macbeth seems psychologically affected by her guilt . She tries to get rid of her darkness (evilness) by always keeping a candle by her side. She tries to rid herself of her sins by saying ?Out damned spot!? to her imaginary spot of guilt. This is in complete contrast to her mentality after the murder of Duncan when she thinks that she can wash away her guilt with water. While she moves towards the right side by seeking remorse for her sins Macbeth goes towards the dark side by seeking advice from the witches who are shown as the creatures of the dark side by Shakespeare (we should remember that the witches always appear in dark unpleasant situations in Macbeth to remind the audience of their evilness) .Macbeth goes to the witches because Lady Macbeth is no longer able to provide him with advice on state craft . Shakespeare uses the light and dark images to show us the differences between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in this stage.
In act five scene three, when the doctor reports about Lady Macbeth?s mental illness, Macbeth commands him to ?cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff which weighs upon the heart ?? which can also apply to him because he seems to be tempered by his guilt .When Seyton (the pronunciation of the name ?Seyton? resembles the pronunciation of ?Satan? which is again used to remind us of the evilness surrounding Macbeth) reports Lady Macbeth?s death Macbeth finds the life meaningless as he says ?To-morrow , and to-morrow , and to-morrow, creeps in this petty face from day to day? . Usually passionate lovers feel empty after their partner?s death . Macbeth?s depression shows the strength of his relationship with her. He also realises that there is nothing to face at the end but death which would have indirectly made him realise that he never enjoyed anything by his crime due to his guilt and the loss of his ?partner?.
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth were shown as partners at the beginning but Lady Macbeth seems to be the dominant one . After the murder Macbeth asserts himself again as the leader. But after all they just end as a ?dead butcher and his fiend-like queen?. By showing what happened to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth , Shakespeare re-emphasises the Jacobean theories on what will happen to a person who tries to ?overreach the chain? and what will happen if a woman goes beyond her limits. Shakespeare clearly tells us about the power of guilt and its effect on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth . The play offers an acceptable end in the view of the Christian audience of Shakespeare?s time by showing the tragic death of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and restoring the law ,order and justice in Scotland as Malcolm , the righteous king and God?s representative on earth can restore order in God?s way. . Shakespeare uses this play to tell his audience how people should not act by showing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and their terrible end ,and how people should be by showing loyal honest characters like Banquo and Macduff . Even though I personally felt that the end is justifiable I couldn?t help feeling sorry for these well admired affectionate partners .