During the Elizabethan era, the great chain of being reigned. Women were low on this chain of power, and men were on top. In fact, women were below horses; you couldnt live without a good horse, but, you could live without a wife. Lady Macbeth was a woman before her time, she was caught between being todays ambitious, powerful modern woman and a fragile creature of the Elizabethan era. In the first four acts of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is vicious, overly ambitious, without conscience, and willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. In this case, she wants to become Queen of Scotland.
“Whiles I stood rapt in the/ wonder of it, came missives from the king, who all-/ hailed me, Thane of Cawdor; by which title, before,/ these weird sisters saluted me, and referred me to the/ coming on of time, with Hail, King that shalt be!/ This have I thought good to deliver thee, my dearest/ partner of greatness; that thou mightest not lose the/ dues of rejoicing, by being ignorant of what greatness/ is promised thee. ” (I v, 5-13).Because Lady Macbeth is a woman, she does not have the strength in her female frame, either in heart, body nor mind to carry out the deed of killing the King. Therefore, she calls upon the aid of the supernatural to give her male powers, so that she may have the gall to go through with the plan to murder the King, and allow Macbeth to obtain the throne. “The raven himself is hoarse/ That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan/ Under my battlements.
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,/ Stop up the access and passage to remorse,/ That no compunctious visitings of nature/ Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between/ The effect and it! Come to my womans breasts,/ And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,/ Wherever in your sightless substances/ You wait on naturess mischief! Come thick night,/ and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,/ That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,/ Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,/ To cry Hold, hold!” (I v, 41-57)”Man: a human male, or human kind. Women have always been considered as the gentler and fair sex. Lady Macbeth feels that to commit this crime, she must become as cruel as she believes men are.
She calls for the spirits to unsex her, so she may act as a man would (The Rise and Fall of Lady Macbeth).The killing of Duncan was enough for Lady Macbeth, she saw it as a necessary action in order to obtain the throne (“might over right”). Macbeth continued on a killing rampage, irradicating all perceivable enemies.
“Suddenly, Lady Macbeth begins to have pangs of guilt, such as in the famous scene where she attempts to wash her hands of blood. She begins to have frequent bouts of sleeptalking and sleepwalking, where the terror of her conscience expresses itself.” (SparkNotes, list of characters: Lady Macbeth).”Her control over Macbeth has waned, and over herself, her control is dwindling as each second passes. The fire she once had, which drove Macbeth forward is now no more than a minute spark. She is beginning to lose that controlling stiffness.
She asks Macbeth, whats to be done” (III ii, 44), which is a drastic change in control.” (Lady Macbeth- Character Changes Throughout the Play).Lady Macbeths seemingly male actions are replaced at this point in the play and she is wrought by guilt. She suffers from a mental and emotional breakdown as a result of this guilt. She is emotionally exhausted and becomes the typical “fragile flower”.We first see this side of her when she states that she cannot kill Duncan because “had he not resembled/ My father as he slept, I had donet” (II ii, 16-7). After Duncans murder, the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are reversed, previously, she was the main motivator in the plan to overthrow the kingdom.
Following Duncans death, she breaks down and Macbeth becomes powerful and tyranical. Macbeth gets all the inclination and she gets the guilt. “The germs of fear which break out in Macbeth on the night of the murder do not develop further in him, but in her. It is he who has the hallucination of the dagger before the crime; but it is she who afterwards falls ill of a mental disorder. It is he who after the murder hears the cry in the house: sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep and so Macbeth shall sleep no more; but we never hear that he slept no more, while the Queen, as we see, rises from her bed and, talking in her sleep, betrays her guilt.
It is he who stands helpless with bloody hands, lamenting that all great Neptunes ocean will not wash them clean, while she comforts him: a little water clears us of this deed; but later it is she who washes her hands for a quarter of an hour and cannot get rid of the bloodstains: All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Thus what he feared in his pangs of conscience is fulfilled in her; she becomes all remorse and he is all defiance.” (Shakespeare Criticism- Freud on the Macbeths). Lady Macbeth is eventually driven to the point of madness:”She talks to herself about her dark guilt, trying to comfort her conscience, but very obviously failing.
In probably the most famous image from this play, Lady Macbeth is maniacally and obsessively attempting to wash her hands, loudly commanding an invisible blood-stain to disappear: Out, damned spot! Out I say! (V i, 35). The onlooking servants and doctor are in utter disbelief about what they are seeing, and the servants report that Lady Macbeth has even ordered a permanent light to be affixed by her bedside all night long. Scene i ends with Lady Macbeth walking offstage, uttering, Whats done cannot be undone.
To bed, to bed, to bed (V i, 69). It later becomes apparent that Lady Macbeth kills herself.” (SparkNotes, Macbeth Act V, Scenes i to ix).
Lady Macbeth was under a great deal of pressure, being a powerful and ambitious woman at a time when she would have been criticised and possibly even accused of being in league with the supernatural (witches were believed to have the power to turn the natural order of things around). Her problem was that she separated male and female characteristics. This separation of herself caused her breakdown. In todays society, it is acceptable for males and females to display qualities that in Lady Macbeths day would be seen as solely masculine or feminine. When Macbeth usurped her power, (after Duncans murder), she was left alone with her guilt and fears. She committed the evil act because she was a woman, even though she had to sacrifice her womanliness to do it.
She tried to suppress human nature; the intrinsical duties to express feelings and have a conscience. She was trapped between then when men did not display feelings and women had no power. “We may take as an example of a person who collapses on reaching success, after striving for it with single-minded energy, the figure of Shakespeares Lady Macbeth. Beforehand there is no hesitation, no sign of any internal conflict in her, no endeavour but that of overcoming the scruples of her ambitious and yet tender-minded husband. She is ready to sacrifice even her womanliness to her murderous intention, without reflecting on the decisive part which this womanliness must play when the question afterwards arises of preserving the aim of her ambition, which has been attained through a crime.
” (Shakespeare Criticism- Freud on the Macbeths). “And now we ask ourselves what it was that broke this character which had seemed forged from the toughest metal? It is only disillusionment – the different aspect shown by the accomplished deed – and are we to infer that even in Lady Macbeth, an originally gentle and womanly nature had been worked up to a concentration and high tension which could not endure for long.” (Shakespeare Criticism- Freud on the Macbeths). Lady Macbeth is a powerful character who goes from a rise to power to a fall of mental illness brought on by guilt. She was caught between two time periods, that of the Elizabethan era and modern day.Works CitedHarbrace Shakespeare. Macbeth.
Ed. Margaret Kortes. Harcourt Brace: Canada, 1988.William Shakespeare Criticism- Freud on the Macbeths (from Some Character-Types Met With in Psycho-Analytical Work; 1916). http://sunflower.singnet.
com.sg/yisheng/notes/shakespere/mbeth_f.htmLady Macbeth- Character Changes Throughout the Play PlanetPapers.com.
http://www.plantpapers.com/count.cgi?ID=1790The Rise and Fall of Lady Macbeth http://www.aurora.komux.norrkoping.se/oxford/litera/tim/links.htmMacbeth SparkNotes Online Study Guides http://www.sparknotes.com