The interaction between the Macbeths in the above scene portrays the nature of their relationship, until this point. The main message conveyed in this scene is that Lady Macbeth is the dominant partner in their relationship, which is shown through the ease of her manipulation of him.
In act one scene five, Shakespeare explains Lady Macbeth’s understanding of Macbeth’s personality, when she receives his letter and states “I do fear thy nature is too full o’th’milk of human kindness”. This also succeeds in describing Lady Macbeth’s cruelty and unwomanly nature – even though she knows Macbeth is too kind to kill Duncan of his own accord, she will force him against his own will, and persuade him to murder, breaking the laws of human nature. Later in the scene, Lady Macbeth puts forward her plans for Duncan’s murder, to which Macbeth’s response is “we shall speak further – “. This is the first introduction of Lady Macbeth’s dominance; Macbeth is a kind, loyal person, and when Lady Macbeth first puts the idea of murder in Macbeth’s mind, rather than completely objecting as he normally would, his reaction to his wife is a feeble appeasement – she is in control.
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Lady Macbeth further portrays how deceptive and malicious her character is, in Act One Scene Six. After previously contemplating the murder of Duncan, she greets him with elaborately courteous language, speaking ironically of loyalty, obedience and gratefulness for past honours – meanwhile planning his disloyal murder. She also redisplays her attitude and total outlook on life, as described in Scene Five “look like the innocent flower and be the serpent under’t”.
At the start of act one scene seven, Macbeth’s soliloquy considers all the arguments for and against murdering Duncan – which are very weighted toward staying loyal to his king. However, upon almost completely persuading himself not to kill Duncan, Lady Macbeth enters. The reader notices an instant change in the mood, as if an evil presence had entered the room – with Macbeth’s long speeches being reduced to short sentences. Bravely, Macbeth decisively states “We will proceed no further in this business” – showing no option for doubt or debate. However, he then continues his speech by attempting to justify his decision “he hath honoured me of late, and I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people, which would be worn now in their newest gloss, not cast aside so soon” – saying he should be celebrating his new thaneship, not pursuing more glory. Although not described in the play, this suggests Macbeth is responding to the disapproving facial reaction of Lady Macbeth – quickly adding a justification to his ‘final decision’ in a vain attempt to prevent Lady Macbeth continuing her angry persuasion- reiterating her leadership and control over him.
Lady Macbeth then begins an onslaught of insults on Macbeth, with each one angering him “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself?” Macbeth’s reaction to these insults portrays the depth of Lady Macbeth’s knowledge of him, knowing exactly what to say to manipulate him – no matter what Macbeth thinks, Lady Macbeth will always get her way.
Lady Macbeth’s main persuasive technique in the above scene was to torment Macbeth. One of Macbeth’s ambitions is to uphold his reputation for being brave – which Lady Macbeth is aware of and uses to her advantage. She taunts, “And live a coward in thine own esteem” – knowing that he will become angry at being called a coward, and force him to want to prove that he isn’t. Macbeth defends “I dare do all that may become a man, who dares do more is none” – which means he regards himself as the bravest possible man, but the fact that he feels he has to defend himself shows that Lady Macbeth’s tactical torments are affecting him. She continues, mocking his manliness “When you durst do it (introducing idea of killing Duncan), then you were a man”. “But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we’ll not fail” is cleverly used by Lady Macbeth, as it is fighting talk and she knows it will be effective in spurring Macbeth on, building up his adrenalin for the task ahead. This metaphor was also familiar to Jacobean audiences, which would make the argument more poignant.
Many different themes running through the play are represented in this scene. Macbeth’s objection to being called unmanly represents one of the main themes running through the play – the idea of masculinity and femininity. This theme is reinforced, when Lady Macbeth attempts to shock and horrify Macbeth, saying “I would, while it (a baby) was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from its boneless gums and dashed the brains out”, rather than breaking her promise – as Macbeth had about killing Duncan. Lady Macbeth takes the nurturing image and sacred bond between mother and baby, and destroys it – emphasising her own determination and disregard for her femininity. In scene five, she says “unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty” – this illustrates the image of sexuality in Jacobean times, showing that only men were thought to be cruel. “Bring forth men-children only” adds to this Jacobean idea, showing that a woman so cruel could only give birth to men, the more cruel sex. This also shows how Lady Macbeth contrasts the stereotype of women at the time, and disobeys the natural rules of sexuality – which succeeds in creating an evil, darker and more twisted image of her. This twisted image also fits into the supernatural element running through the play, created by the witches in the very first scene, where “fair is foul, and foul is fair”, describing the chaotic atmosphere. Jacobeans would also interpret the relationship between the Macbeth’s to be strange, as it was usually the man dominating the woman – this contrast bringing them out of the security of their own rules and views, enforcing the unstable, chaotic atmosphere, where “fair is foul, and foul is fair”. The relationship would be interpreted differently by modern day readers, as complete male domination is now not the case, suggesting Shakespeare foretold how society would develop – and displayed it to Jacobean viewers.
After ridiculing Macbeth for a short time, Lady Macbeth persuades him – showing it didn’t take much for his mind to be altered. “If we should fail?” shows that he has not made his own decision, but has in fact cowardly conceded to Lady Macbeth’s bullying influence, which sums up the relationship between the Macbeth’s – Lady Macbeth is completely in charge, she can even force her kind husband to commit murder. Modern readers would interpret this to mean Lady Macbeth is clever, and has outsmarted Macbeth – the fact that she knows him so well enabling her to manipulate him. Jacobean readers would interpret this as Macbeth being weak, giving in to his wife – the man should be the dominant figure in the relationship, and shouldn’t be able to be manipulated.
Lady Macbeth uses emotive language as a technique to persuade Macbeth. She describes the task vividly, “When in swinish sleep Their drenchï¿½d natures lie as in a death, What cannot you and I perform upon th’unguarded Duncan?” She uses this to create a strong image of the task in Macbeth’s head, to illustrate how easy it is, to reassure him that nothing will go wrong, helping her control him and to get him used to the idea of the murder, so he can come to terms with it more quickly. Another way she persuades him is by reassuring him “Who dares receive it other, As we shall make our griefs and clamour roar Upon his death?” – showing that no one will suspect them afterwards, as they will act surprised and upset.
Another persuasive technique used frequently by Lady Macbeth in this scene is the use of rhetorical questions. “What cannot you and I perform upon th’unguarded Duncan?” – this technique aids in getting her point across: putting forward her argument, and then asking a rhetorical question, which forces Macbeth into a position that he cannot argue with. Lady Macbeth also subtly threatens him, when she says “From this time, such I account thy love” – Lady Macbeth is insinuating that she will not love him anymore if he does not kill Duncan, which is intended to scare him. . She also tempts him, presenting him with images of his own glory “And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man” – which shows how his glory will be emphasised if he becomes king, She also talks of being king as life’s highest achievement, “the ornament of life”. Divine right of kings.
Another strong sense of thematic symbolism running through the play is deception, and reference to the “innocent flower” and the “serpent beneath it”. This is represented at the end of the scene, when the reader can notice the first change in Macbeth “Away, and mock the time with fairest show, False face must hide what the false heart doth know”, illustrating how Macbeth has realised he must deceive the world. This idea of a flower, or plant, is also linked to the witches. Metaphorically, the witches planted the seed (idea) in Macbeth’s mind, and Lady Macbeth watered (influenced) it – until it finally grew into a full-grown plant (ruthlessness). Although Macbeth was greatly influenced by Lady Macbeth, there must have been an element of temptation already within Macbeth, from the moment the seed was planted. If Macbeth was so adamant that he could not commit a murder, especially against his king, then he would have been able to prevent it – no matter what his wife did to persuade him. This also shows that his wife knew even more about him – she must have known there was this original element of temptation “art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it”. She knew that Macbeth had the ambition, but not the natural “illness” to go through with it himself. Perhaps Macbeth knew he could not do it himself, and subconsciously wanted Lady Macbeth to bully him into murdering Duncan – which is why Macbeth mentioned the witches’ prophesy in his letter.
‘Macbeth’ also uses thematic imagery, to aid in characterising the play. Blood is constantly referred to, representing guilt “get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hand”. Lady Macbeth is infatuated by this idea, which is eventually revealed in her nightmares, as she constantly imagines washing the blood of guilt from her hands. Outer appearances are also used to characterise inner personalities – king’s clothes are used to represent being king, even if the person wearing them isn’t king. This links to the idea of the concealed serpent – a character can hide their true personality by disguising their outer appearance, whether by clothes worn or by false emotions, as the Macbeths planned to do after they murdered Duncan.
As the play progresses, the relationship between the Macbeths gradually changes. In act two scene two, Lady Macbeth gets Duncan’s guards extremely drunk but gets drunk herself in the process. This suggests that her ruthlessness is not as strong as it first appeared – she requires the support of alcohol-fuelled confidence to fulfil her task. She explains that she would have killed Duncan herself if he had not looked like her father – which suggests she is more humane than she is given credit for.
Macbeth almost instantly starts to feel guilty, and thinks he hears voices “sleep no more, for Macbeth hath murdered sleep”. Previously, Lady Macbeth taunted him, saying he was a coward for not wanting to kill Duncan, but now he feels like a coward for murdering Duncan in his sleep – which contrasts with Macbeth’s brave reputation. His guilt is reiterated when he says “will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No”.
At this point in the play, there are still some similarities between the Macbeths’ current relationship and their relationship in act one scene seven. Once again, Lady Macbeth takes charge of the situation, by smearing blood on the guards’ faces. Then, when Macduff becomes suspicious of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth pretends to faint, in order to draw attention away from Macbeth. This would be interpreted by Jacobean viewers as Macbeth being depending on his wife, which contradicts the views at the time – showing he is weak and has become a coward by murdering Duncan.
Once Macbeth becomes king, he begins to get stronger, and takes control of the situation – he instructs two murderers to kill Banquo and Fleance. He does this for two reasons – Banquo is becoming suspicious of Macbeth, and Macbeth wants to prevent the witches’ prediction of Banquo’s sons becoming king. He is beginning to grow in confidence – and starts to kill more people. However, he upholds his new cowardly reputation, by not killing them himself, but hiring two people to do it for him.
In Act three scene one, Macbeth has changed from being a loyal soldier to being a vicious murderer, willing to kill anyone who stands in his way. At first, he was reactive “If chance will have me king, why chance may crown me without my stir” – saying that he might become king by chance, but wont do anything to make it happen, but now he is proactive. The way Macbeths taunts the murderers shows his current strength of character – he is no longer unsure of himself. In fact, he didn’t even tell Lady Macbeth that he is going to murder Banquo – as this time he doesn’t require persuasion. In act three scene two, the roles of the Macbeths have reversed – this time Macbeth is telling his wife to “make our faces vizards to our hearts, disguising what they are”. However, Macbeth’s guilt begins to manifest itself, and he imagines Banquo’s ghost, which shows he has not yet completely lost his conscience.
As the play continues, Macbeth continues to grow in strength and eventually loses all respect from the audience “I’m in blood steeped so far”. This shows he has now lost his conscience – and no longer cares who he kills – viciously killing Macduff’s family. He has killed so many already, it doesn’t matter who he kills – it won’t add to the existing guilt. The witches continue to fuel his strength – by saying “no man of woman born” can kill him.
The state of the Macbeths seems to change inversely – as Macbeth grows stronger, Lady Macbeth grows weaker. Lady Macbeth has been having nightmares – dreaming of washing her hands, washing away the metaphorical blood of guilt. This shows that she does in fact have a conscience, and feels guilty for what she has done. The theme of sleep also runs through the play – and her true feelings are portrayed in this way. There has been a complete role reversal between the Macbeths, which contrasts to their relationship in act one scene seven.
Act one scene seven characterises the Macbeths’ relationship only until that stage of play, but both react differently to the murders and handle the guilt in different ways – resulting in a role reversal in their relationship.
In act five scene five, Lady Macbeth has grown increasingly weak and dies. When Macbeth is told this, he shows no emotion. Perhaps the guilt of killing so many people has changed his views on life, but he has adopted the philosophy that death is inevitable – life is too short. As he has developed into a repeated murderer, taking away so much life, his value for life has been destroyed. So, as the English army approaches him, he has no fear for his ‘inevitable’ death but aims to salvage any dignity that he possibly can, by dying like the brave soldier he used to be.
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