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To What Extent Was Lady Macbeth Responsible For Macbeths Downfall?

Having read the play, I feel that Lady Macbeth is responsible for Macbeth’s downfall but only to a certain extent, as there are the witches and Macbeth himself who also play a role in his downfall. Shakespeare opens the play with a meeting taking place between the three witches and Macbeth. Once the reader has read just the opening of the play they are not made aware of the significance of the witches. It is in Act 1 Scene 3 that the audience discovers the true nature and role of the witches. Shakespeare introduces the witches in an atmosphere that reflects upon their nature. At first, in Act 1 Scene 1, the witches appear in ‘thunder and lightning ‘. The fact that Shakespeare uses such an atmosphere to present the witches, illustrates to the audience the witches are evil and sinister beings in the play. Also when Shakespeare uses insects in the cauldron scene, the audience is made aware of the destructive and fearful atmosphere apparent when the witches are present.

In Act 1 Scene 1, the witches say, ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair.’ Shakespeare uses words with stressed syllables, ‘ fair…foul.’ Use of stressed syllables is commonly used alongside spells and the supernatural. Hence, through Shakespeare using such words, he effectively conveys the supernatural powers of the witches – again making the audience aware of the powers the witches possess. At the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, witches were seen to be significant beings and problems which would arise would be blamed upon the witches – as seen in this play, the witches are partial to be blamed for Macbeth’s downfall, alongside Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who is the main cause of Macbeth’s downfall.

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The witches had made Macbeth believe that his great prize was near, ‘ All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.’ This makes Macbeth more determined to go ahead and find out for himself if what the witches say is what will really take place. The witches had chosen the right moment to approach Macbeth, as he was in that state of mind where he could have had anyone easily persuading him to carry out anything evil. This is because he had just returned from the battle and killing others. Here we see that the witches had an effect on Macbeth’s state of mind at that time in the play as they themselves knew that if they came to him at that particular moment in time, then Macbeth would have thought that whatever they had said about murder or evil wasn’t anything abnormal.

They showed him they have the power of prophecy by showing him the 3 apparitions and predicting his future, which must have made Macbeth feel more at ease by knowing that what the witches tell him must be what is going to come true or take place. They torment Macbeth with riddles. In the 2nd apparition, ‘ the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.’ Here the witches are saying no one born from a woman would cause any harm to Macbeth. This apparition has its explicit meaning, which is clearly seen, whereas the implicit meaning doesn’t look into the depth of the apparition. Macbeth doesn’t look deeply into how the apparition is also saying that being born through caesarean isn’t the same as a normal birth – which thus leads him to the murder of Macduff, which eventually leads him to his own destruction as Macduff, being born by a caesarean is an exception to this apparition, hence he has the ability to harm Macbeth.

Thus, from the above we come to see how the witches are beings that seek to lead man away from that which is moral. One may argue the witches are the major cause of Macbeth’s downfall, yet I would disagree as I think they are the ones who only act as a trigger to initiate all events in the play, whereas it is Lady Macbeth who continues to be forceful towards her husband throughout the play. Thus I feel that Lady Macbeth is the most influential person in Macbeth’s downfall. Throughout the play, the audience comes to realise the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is a paramount issue. Initially, the relationship that exists between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth seems to be quite normal and is like that of a genuine married couple.

Only once the reader reads on, do they realise it is Lady Macbeth who undertakes the role Macbeth should be playing – instead of Macbeth laying down rules and regulations, Lady Macbeth does so. Lady Macbeth is the one who becomes more dominant in their lives and has more authority over Macbeth than Macbeth does over her. It is Lady Macbeth’s opinions that are taken into consideration rather than Macbeth’s. She manipulates Macbeth to accept that which she wishes and so he does what she says. The first time Lady Macbeth is introduced to the audience is in Act 1 Scene 5, where she is reading the letter sent to her from Macbeth in relation to his meeting with the witches. Lady Macbeth acts in a powerful and dramatic manner when she reads her husbands letter. As we see, as soon as she finishes reading the letter, she instantaneously sets her mind upon making Macbeth, king:

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‘Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be What art thou promised.’ Act 1 Scene 5 The fact that Macbeth sent a letter to his wife about the recent event that took place shows they had a very intimate relationship. In the letter Macbeth wrote to his wife, he wrote, ‘My dearest partner in greatness.’ This alone implies Macbeth has a great love for his wife and it may also suggest Macbeth sees Lady Macbeth as being of the same status as him. Shakespeare may have chosen such words to initiate the letter as he wanted to make the audience aware, although women were seen as being subservient to men at the time, Lady Macbeth was an exception. Hence, her opinions and thoughts would not be neglected by her husband. This seems to prepare the audience for what lies ahead, as Lady Macbeth does have a say in all matters and it is in fact what she says, that is carried out, which results in the destruction of her husband.

Despite the fact that Lady Macbeth was adamant for Macbeth to be king, she herself did not have the evil within her, which explains why she invites the evil spirits to enter her: ‘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!’ Act 1 Scene 5 The fact that Lady Macbeth had to invite evil spirits shows the weakness in her character. If LadyMacbeth were naturally sinister, then she wouldn’t have required this extra aid in making her lack femininity. Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to murder King Duncan in order for Macbeth to gain the title he yearns for. Lady Macbeth uses skilful tactics to persuade her husband to go ahead with the murder of King Duncan. She mentions Macbeth had already promised her that he would carry out the murder and she also casts doubt on his masculinity:

‘What beast wasn’t then That made you break your enterprise to me When you durst do it, then you were a man.’ Act 1 Scene 7 This made Macbeth more determined to overcome his ambition and for him to show his wife that he has got the ability to remove any barriers which are in his way. When Lady Macbeth accuses Macbeth of not loving her by saying: ‘From this time Such I account thy love.’ Act 1 Scene 7 We see that she is being skilful and adamant to kill Duncan. She does not mention the word ‘murder’ instead she just says ‘O never shall sun that morrow see,’ indicating that Duncan won’t see the sun rise the next day – this could be said to be a form of euphemism used by Shakespeare. Lady Macbeth uses a form of seduction so as to hide the foul ideas she is in fact bringing forth. This makes the audience aware of the ways in which Lady Macbeth gradually and successfully is able to put Macbeth under her power.

In Act 1 Scene 6, Lady Macbeth welcomes Duncan and the others into their castle and seems warm-hearted and kind, which is sly, as deep inside she is ambitious to have Duncan murdered. Lady Macbeth is hypocritical as she thanks Duncan for rewarding her house with his presence whereas in reality she wants him killed. From this scene alone we come to realise the way in which Lady Macbeth acts as a shield against her husband and herself being found out about their intention to murder Duncan Thus, Lady Macbeth is at the time indirectly encouraging Macbeth to carry out the murder as she aids Macbeth’s intentions being hidden – if she hadn’t of made Macbeth’s intentions unknown to others through her character to Duncan, then Macbeth may have been found out, thus wouldn’t have had the chance to murder Duncan and Macduff’s family, which would, in turn, have prevented Macbeth being killed.

In the banquet scene (scene 7) Shakespeare reinforces Lady Macbeth’s cruelty and ambition. Macbeth hesitates at the idea of murdering Duncan whereas Lady Macbeth seems to diminish Macbeth’s weak character through mocking him- ‘wouldst thou have that…in thine own esteem,’ Act 1, Scene 7, lines 41-43. Lady Macbeth is able to bend Macbeth to her will very easily. The audience again sees Lady Macbeth’s manner of putting Macbeth under her control as she says the crown is the ‘ornament of life’ and not striving to seek it would be an act of a coward. Due to Macbeth being in an unstable state when Lady Macbeth says this, he is again taken under her rule.

Lady Macbeth says: ‘… and dashed the brains out.’, (Act 1, scene 7) meaning she would sacrifice her own child, rather than letting such an opportunity of becoming king be pushed aside. Here Shakespeare has used a powerful image to make the audience aware of Lady Macbeth’s cold ambition and the extent she would go to, in order for her to satisfy her desires. This statement said by Lady Macbeth also makes Macbeth see murdering Duncan as being a minute act and not that, which is of great wickedness, thus making Macbeth feel inclined to carry out the murder.

Lady Macbeth has answers to all aspects of killing Duncan. She re-assures Macbeth that he won’t be caught as being the one behind the murder as Lady Macbeth has planned to blame Duncan’s ‘spongy officers who shall bear the guilt of [they’re] great quell.’ Here we again come to see how Macbeth, being a vulnerable man, sees this as a great idea and applauds his wife’s suggestion – which alone supports the fact that Lady Macbeth is the one leading to Macbeth’s downfall. If Lady Macbeth had not come up with such an idea then Macbeth would perhaps have been even more reluctant to carry out the murder due to fear of being found out.

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The murder of Duncan is eventually carried out, as Lady Macbeth was able to manipulate Macbeth, thus he carried out that which she desired. The murder of Duncan takes place at night, as does the murder of Banquo. Repeatedly, the audience is made aware of Shakespeare dedicating night as a time for evil to be carried out. In the play, night acts as a veil to hide the evil being carried out. Act 2 begins with Lady Macbeth awaiting Macbeth’s arrival in the courtyard of their castle, after the murder of King Duncan has taken place. Lady Macbeth has drugged the guard and also makes herself drunk and notes its exhilarating effect: ‘That which hath made them drunk, hath made me bold; What hath quenched them, hath given me fire.’ (Act 2 Scene 1 – lines 1-3)

The fact that Lady Macbeth had to drug herself to make her brave again shows the audience weakness in the character of Lady Macbeth. However, at this time both husband and wife are in an unstable condition which is understandable as they have both just carried out an evil act of murdering the king. Macbeth makes apparent the state he is in as being weak, as we see throughout Act 2, Scene 1, Macbeth remains unsettled: ‘…I’ll go no more. I am afraid to think what I have done; Look won’t again, I dare not.’ (Act 2 Scene 1, lines 54-56) Here the audience comes to realise how Macbeth is in a state of weakness due to the murder he carried out, however, Lady Macbeth doesn’t ignore Macbeth’s state, rather she makes Macbeth see the deed of evil as being quite normal and flawless as she soothes her husband’s tattered nerves.

Lady Macbeth is also quite distraught, however, she seems to gain strength from her husband’s weakness, which allows her to again make Macbeth believe that the murder of Duncan wasn’t as sinister as he makes it out to be. An example of her comforting Macbeth is when she says, ‘A little water clears us of this deed,’ Act 2 scene 2. Again the audience is made aware of the way in which Lady Macbeth encouraged and comforts Macbeth to that which is in reality seen to be an evil act. In Act 2 Scene 3 others are made aware of the murder and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth carry out an amazing drama so as to disguise the fact that they were the ones guilty of the crime. Macbeth kills the guards on who he and his wife planted the evidence of the murder upon, which in turn removes the ability of the guards to defend their innocence. Here again, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as being a crucial character as she pretends to faint, ‘Help me hence, ho.’

This in turn removes the inquisitive attitude of Macduff towards Macbeth, as Macduff is interrupted by Lady Macbeth’s fainting – thus drawing his attention towards a different direction. The murder of King Duncan frightens his sons, Donalbain and Malcolm, hence they flee as they fear they may be the murderers next target. However, this puts them under suspicion as others suspect they are guilty of murdering their father hence are escaping from being caught. This again seems to clear Macbeth and Lady Macbeth of their guilt. From this alone, the audience comes to see Lady Macbeth as being triumphant in encouraging Macbeth to eliminate the King from his throne so Macbeth can take his place as still, the Macbeths remain innocent in the eyes of others.

Between Act 2 and Act 3, Macbeth is crowned king and the assassination of Banquo takes place. Although Macbeth plans the murder of Banquo alone, the audience realises he gains the title of King, as a result of Lady Macbeth’s forceful attitude towards her husband. This enables Macbeth to attain new courage so as to plan out others murders. We come to see how initially Lady Macbeth made Macbeth immune to carrying out the murder of King Duncan; hence he sees another murder as being a normal aspect. At the banquet, as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are welcoming their guests to the feast, one of the murderers enter to inform Macbeth of how the assassination was successful. (After Macbeth’s conversation with the murderer) Macbeth’s state of mind is revealed to the audience when the ghost of Banquo appears. Here we see initially the guests were being served and their was civilised order but that was then interrupted by Macbeth’s murderer, followed by the ghost of Banquo, hence bringing forth disorder.

From this scene alone we see how Shakespeare presents order and disorder through the actions and speech of the characters. In this scene, we see Macbeth and his wife together and it is also the final scene wherein Lady Macbeth takes charge of Macbeth. Past this stage in the play, Lady Macbeth can not be the one responsible for Macbeth’s actions, because she has no longer got the opportunity to have her say – however, I still do consider Lady Macbeth as the main person to be blamed for Macbeth’s downfall as she drove Macbeth to such a position, and although Macbeth and his wife no longer have the strong partnership they had initially, Macbeth is left with no choice but to carry out what he feels would satisfy his desires.

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Lady Macbeth herself comes up with many ways in which she makes the murder of Duncan seem minute. She makes plans on how they will pass the guards, ‘with wine and wassail so convince That memory, the warder of the brain, Shall be a fume, and the receipt of the reason a Limbeck only.’ If she hadn’t had such an idea then Macbeth would have felt hesitant as to how he would get past the guards. Due to Lady Macbeth coming up with such an idea, the murder of Duncan takes place. This murder leading to another and another until eventually, the murder of Macduff’s family triggers off a war, in which Macbeth feels the urge to defend himself and his title. Although Macbeth was at first a man full of ambitions, in the end, he is the one who is defeated and made to suffer.

Lady Macbeth is a thought-provoking character all along in the play. The prophecy made in Macbeth’s letter only reinforces Lady Macbeth’s opinion that she and her husband would be given the title of King and Queen. I believe that even without the witches’ prophecies, she would have pursued her ambition. We know that Macbeth murdered Duncan because Lady Macbeth encouraged him to do so. Nevertheless, if he was really wise and determined to do good for himself, then he should have been daring enough to stand up and say that he wasn’t going to carry out such an act because it was immoral. However, Shakespeare makes the audience aware Macbeth is vulnerable – thus easily put under others’ authority.

Overall, Lady Macbeth is depicted as a manipulative female who goes to any extent to fulfil her ambition. The readers are aware that Lady Macbeth does anything possible for her to become strong within so she can engage in the murder. The only way in which Lady Macbeth would gain such wickedness within her would be by inviting evil spirits within her,’ come you spirits..fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty.’ She asks the spirits to take away her femininity so her natural inclinations of being tender are eliminated, ‘unsex me here.’ Lady Macbeth exhibits masculine tendencies, which I think are present due to the masculine world she was born into – as society at the time was a patriarchal society. She feels that the only way through which she will obtain her ambitions is to be sinister and evil. Due to Lady Macbeth being unable to take authority in order to gain high status, she uses her husband as a vehicle to fulfil her ambitions.

I believe Lady Macbeth is the main cause of Macbeth’s downfall. She is the main one to be blamed for why Macbeth’s ambitions lead to his downfall. Although the witches were involved, it is Lady Macbeth who constantly urges Macbeth to gain that which she requires. Although Macbeth is also to be blamed, for his own downfall, I do not see him as the main cause. He did feel guilty within, yet as his wife would mock his manliness he felt the need to defend his dignity as at that time, questioning a man’s masculinity was seen as being a disgrace to the man as they were meant to be fierce warriors and men of great might. Lady Macbeth is to be blamed the most as we see when she dies, Macbeth says: ‘ ..[life] is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.’ Act 5,Scene 5

The above suggests Macbeth’s motivation and power has vanished, due to Macbeth no longer being manipulated by Lady Macbeth. It suggests Macbeth no longer sees the significance of holding the title of a ‘king’. He doesn’t seem to comprehend why he even desired to have such a title. After the death of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth realises his own death is near: ‘And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death.’ Act 5, Scene 5 The above spoken by Macbeth suggests he feels he can no longer return to the happy moments he had undergone before he was poisoned by ruthlessness and ambition by his wife. Having taken into consideration the roles of the witches, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, I am convinced Lady Macbeth is the main driving force behind Macbeth’s downfall.

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To What Extent Was Lady Macbeth Responsible For Macbeths Downfall?. (2021, Apr 16). Retrieved December 9, 2022, from