Compare and contrast the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the first three Acts of Macbeth.Macbeth, the tragedy, is a penetrating, concentrated, and harrowing study of ambition.
The play itself tells the story of a man, urged by his wife and foretold by prophecy, who commits regicide in order to gain power. His ostentatious appetite for domination only leads to his triumphal downfall deeming he and his wife naught but the, “dead butcher and his fiend like queen.” However, the final analogy is a product of circumstantial change made evident in the first three acts.
Macbeth is a basically good man who is troubled by his conscience and loyalty though at the same time ambitious and murderous. He is led to evil initially by the witches’ prophecies, and then by his wife’s provocation, which he succumbs to because of the unrequited love he has for her. In retrospect, Lady Macbeth, whilst appearing patronising and manipulative, is in essence, a good wife who loves her husband. She is also ambitious but lacks the morals and integrity her husband posesses. To achieve her ambition, she rids of herself of any kindness that might stand in the way. However, she runs out of energy to supress her conscience and commits suicide. A foundation reputation for Macbeth is fashioned before he comes on to the stage.
The Sergeant who has fought on his side harps about Macbeths valour in war, “But alls too weak | For brave Macbeth well he deserves that name”(Act I, scene II). We then hear from Ross, who consistently speaks of Macbeths courage in battle, “The Thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict | Point against point, rebellious arm gainst arm | Curbing his lavish spirit: and to conclude | The victory fell on us – “(Act I, scene II). These accounts imply a mighty, patriotic warrior and a loyal subject to the King.
As the plot thickens, Macbeth falls short of these expectations, as a cloud of suspicion hangs over his conspicuous relationships with the Three witches. The suspicion grows when he (aside) confesses his “black and deep desires”(Act I, scene IV). Macbeth knows in order to obtain the throne he must kill Duncan yet acutely acknowledges the duty he owes to Duncan. He knows to kill Duncan would ultimately be an enormous sin, a crime against heaven and therefore Macbeth is restrained.
“Hes here in double trust | First, as I am his kinsman and his subject | Strong both against the deed; then as his host | Who should against his murderer shut the door | Not bear the knife myself.”(Act 1, scene 7). Lady Macbeths conscience is incomparable to that of her husbands. She is even more ambitious than her husband and exhibits no sense of morality. In many instances, she uses emotional blackmail to seduce her husband to proceed with this ambitious enterprise, “when you durst do it, then you were a man.” She makes an analogy to emphasise the importance of Macbeth keeping his promise.
“I have given suck , and know | How tender tis to love the babe that milks me | I would, while it was smiling in my face | Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums | And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you | Have done this”(Act 1, scene VII). Lady Macbeths pressure reaches its zenith in Act II in which Duncan is murdered. All the insecurities surrounding Macbeth are stamped out by the domineering foot of Lady Macbeth and in a state of obvious hallucination Macbeth is lead towards the “fatal vision” (Act II, scene I) and hence to the murder of Duncan oblivious of his conscience. As soon as the murder is committed, Macbeth realises that he has “murdered sleep,” and for the rest of the play he is haunted (quite literally, in his visions of Banquo’s ghost) by the psychological (as well as political) consequences of the act that has obliterated his peace of mind.
While his wife seems at first to be less remorseful than Macbeth, it is she who exhibits classical Renaissance symptoms of mental disturbance. Never the less, Lady Macbeth remains bold and confident because lack of morale; her only concern being the destroyal of evidence: “Infirm of purpose! | Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead | Are but as picturesFor it must seem their guilt”(Act II, scene I).
By Act III, echoed by the witches saying, “fair is foul, and foul is fair”(Act I, scene I) a reversal of values is recognised. Macbeth, riddled with guilt, evolves to a fantastical state of mind similar to that of Lady Macbeth in the beginning. He becomes the domineering husband and puts enormous pressure on his wife to keep the facade up while he must murder Banquo to erase all suspicions under their name: “And make our faces vizards to our hearts | Disguising what they are”(Act III, scene II). Lady Macbeth evolves to a state of mind similar to Macbeths in Act I. She is reluctant to add another murder to those already committed: “You must leave this”(Act III, scene II). As the play draws to a finale, Macbeth has gone mad.
In attempt to hide all traces of the murderous tasks committed to uphold the throne, he consistently kills Macduff’s whole family. He takes on an advanced version of Lady Macbeth in the beginning of the play and it is evident that there has been a complete reversal of personalities to two extremes. Lady Macbeth has now realised her flaws. She realises how cold and manipulative she once was. She now wants to carry a candle with her at all times, to have the light with her always. She tries to get the stench of blood off her hands, but is unsuccessful: “Heres the smell of the blood still.
All the | perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”(Act V, scene I). The guilt of murdering Duncan eats away at her. She gets to a point in which she can’t take the guilt any longer, and she commits suicide. The paradox “fair is foul, and foul is fair” is the epitome of the reversal of personalities that gradually eventuate throughout Acts I, II and III of Macbeth. Throughout the course of the play, Macbeth, the fair one becomes riddled with guilt and becomes foul and Lady Macbeth, who was originally foul in her instigations, becomes fair.