Untitled Essay Research Paper By Garth BensonThe

Untitled Essay, Research Paper

By: Garth Benson

The Guilt of Lady Macbeth

“To metamorphose ones character through years of experience and age is salutary.

To deteriorate ones character through a short period of fast decisions and

unsure actions is perilous.” Lady Macbeth gives truth to this theory. The

impulsive mistakes and power-hungry tactics littered the journey Lady Macbeth

paves throughout this play is ultimately her dramatic flaw. She feels overwhelmed

by all that is happening, both physically and mentally, and decides to end

her own life. The Tragedy of Macbeth, by William Shakespeare illustrates

two seemingly ordinary nobles whose lives intertwine in a whirlwind of power,

corruption, and the supernatural resulting in their descents. They both,

so wrapped up in this greedy world, failed to consider the consequences of

their actions and more realistically Macbeth started to succumb to the belief

of deeds that he is about to perform is the right thing to do, “I dare do

all that may become a man. Who dares do more is none.”(Shakespeare, Macbeth

291). Lady Macbeth in particular loses sight of rationality from the play’s

beginning to end. She creates an image of ruthlessness and believes she can

handle the intrusion of unearthly evil in her mind and soul. She presents

a seemingly stable foundation of control in which she clutches with an iron

fist. As Macbeth becomes less dependent on his wife, she loses more control.

She loses control of her husband, but mostly, of herself, proving her vacillating

truth. Lady Macbeth’s character gradually disintegrates through a false portrayal

of unyielding strength, an unsteady control of her husband and shifting

involvement with supernatural powers.

Throughout the duration of play Lady Macbeth’s truly decrepit and vulnerable

nature is revealed. Lady Macbeth has been the iron fist and authority icon

for Macbeth, yet deep down, she never carried such traits to begin with.

This duality in Lady Macbeth’s character plays a huge role in planting the

seed for Macbeth’s downfall and eventual demise. At the beginning of the

play, Lady Macbeth is introduced as a dominant, controlling, heartless wife

with an obsessive ambition to achieve kingship for her husband. Her weak,

sheltered, unsure and unstable condition is only revealed at the end of the

play. However, the audience begins to see hints of this hidden nature by

the manner in which Macbeth addresses her. Contrary to her supposed ruthless

nature, her husband regards her as a pure being. He attempts to shield her

from foreign agencies by saying, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,”

(319). It is only in private that Lady Macbeth shows her weaknesses. As oppo!

sed to her seemingly violent persona, Lady Macbeth is horrified by blood,

and during her sleepwalking soliloquy refers to her hand as if suggesting

a delicate stature by uttering this: “All the perfumes / of Arabia will not

sweeten this little hand.” (353). Although Lady Macbeth is unstable and

vulnerable, she uses dramatic analogies to persuade her openly fragile husband

to follow through with the first murder:

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 to this. (291).

Her shocking and persuasive effect on Macbeth convinces him that he is settled.

By hearing a woman who seems to be fearless of his anxieties, he is soothed.

But even here we begin to catch a greater glimpse of Lady Macbeth’s very

unstable mind. By using such a graphic description, she reflects her straining

desperation for Macbeth’s commitment. She knows that Macbeth is a strong

person, and she must seem stronger to convince him to go along with her.

She now has to wear a ‘mask’ of this determined and cold character, creating

more distance between her true self and Macbeth. Lady Macbeth has the persuasive

capable of humiliating someone into murder, but has no personal capacity

to execute ‘the deed,’ though she spoke, at times, as if she would take the

opportunity whenever it arose, “Had he not resembled my father as he slept,

I had done’t.” (298). Lady Macbeth imagines that she has ability to hide

her true emotions, though her mind is as frail as an “egg”. She claims that


e can act to “look like the innocent flower/But be the serpent under’t” (287).

Lady Macbeth imagines that she has the capability to be a remorseless and

determined villain, but she isn’t anything of the like in reality; in actuality,

at the end of the play Lady Macbeth is so feeble-minded she becomes overwhelmed

with the guilt that has been set upon her by her husband. In reality, the

final results are only accountable to Lady Macbeth. She is the one who convinces

her husband to commit the murders, therefore ending in a series of emotional

and mental problems. As the play begins, she is a motivated, power-hungry

woman with no boundaries; however, as the play moves on, Lady Macbeth begins

to fall further and further into a guilt-filled world, ending in her own


Throughout the play, Lady Macbeth’s shifting control over her husband is

mainly responsible for aggravating the struggle between Macbeth’s morality,

devotion and “vaulting ambition.” In the beginning, she believes matters

should be taken into her own hands from the moment she receives the letter

about the witches’ prophecies. At the dawn of the play, Lady Macbeth believes

that Macbeth doesn’t have the “spirit” to “catch the nearest way” (286).

At this moment, she decides that quick action will be the basis of her reasoning

and planning. Her spur-of-the-moment orders will affect Macbeth so deeply

his character will be forever changed. Lady Macbeth intentionally tries to

ignore consequence and concentrates on securing Macbeth’s future as king

of Scotland. She looks to the ‘quickest way’ as one that may lack rationality,

but shortens their path to the throne. She receives a letter from Macbeth

with the news that he was prophesied as the king of Scotland. As soon as


r eyes ran across the words, she said, “thou. shalt be / What thou art promised”

(286). She suggests, by this quick reaction, her intentions to be a major

participant in ensuring Macbeth’s royal success. After the murder is plotted

between the two, Duncan decides to make a surprise appearance at Macbeth’s

house. Lady Macbeth tells her husband to put the “great business into my

dispatch” (287), taking charge and covering for Macbeth, who is defenseless

to the overbearing tension residing in himself. As the situation escalates,

Lady Macbeth tries to soothe him by explaining that “things without remedy

/ Should be without regard: What’s done is done” (318). She has changed her

technique with Macbeth from shock and intimidation to restraint. She says,

“You must leave this”, which sounds calming and unworried. 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, “what’s to be done” (319), which is a drastic change

in control. She doesn’t voice any opinions or plans of any sort for the rest

of the play. Lady Macbeth is now in awe of Macbeth, a contrast to when Macbeth

was in awe of Lady Macbeth’s infanticide analogy. She, by the end of the

play, has lost self-confidence by realizing that most of this situation is

a result of her impulsiveness and instability. When Lady Macbeth finally

recognizes her incompetence, all else crumbles, including her husband. The

significance of this dramatic flaw secures her role as the foundation and

authority in the beginning of the play, which plants the seed for failure

from beginning to end.

Lady Macbeth’s relationship with the supernatural evolves from confidently

seeking and obtaining the evilness, to being victimized by its power. At

one point, Lady Macbeth demands the assistance of unearthly evil forces:

“Come you spirits/ unsex me here, and fill me, from crown to the toe” (287).

Being totally rash, Lady Macbeth summons the evil as if she can undermine

the power of darkness to her advantage. She asks for the assistance of the

evil, implying that she holds no resident evil in her soul. It must act as

an additive to fulfill a transformation. Lady Macbeth is creating, instead

of magnifying, wickedness that she must manifest in order to propel Macbeth.

She embraces the darkness and welcomes it. By being so crude in her requests,

she must believe that she is far too ‘valorous’ to be negatively affected

by it. It is rather ironic to see the utter reversal of this at the end of

the play. She eventually goes delirious, carrying a lit candle wherever she


lked. Indeed, this behavior is a pathetic attempt to try and fend off the

true evil darkness with a man-made light. She looks to Lady Macduff with

a countenance of that which would belong to a ghost. She begins to express

a compassion that she had never felt when she utters, “The Thane of Fife

had a wife. Where is she / now? What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” (352).

Lady Macbeth’s decaying remorse she had chosen to restrain had sunken into

her brain, like a sump, slowly grabbing at her thoughts one by one. The darkness

had stripped her of her ‘mask,’ and she is now engulfed in agony and sorrow.

She is helpless. The thought of the evil, which she once sought after and

accepted, was now an image of terror in her mind.

Lady Macbeth’s character gradually disintegrates through a false portrayal

of unyielding strength, an unsteady control of her husband and shifting

involvement with supernatural powers. Lady Macbeth’s deterioration is not

only a result of unwise decisions and actions; many factors played a role

in this tragedy of this character’s morale: She regarded supernatural forces

with such respect and confidence, she tried to get in touch with her own

only to become overpowered by their evilness; her desire for an intimidating

personality resulted in the destruction of her morals and in the end, the

brutal realization of her true weaknesses. The couple’s ambition, although

obsessive, is a characteristic of human nature; her gift of harsh control

over Macbeth resulted in a perilous journey for a common goal and the demise

of not only herself but also her husband. Possibly as a result of these many

factors, Lady Macbeth ends her life and Macbeth is forced to ponder his own


existence as well. Macbeth’s general outlook of life proved to be a brief

meditation on the meaningless of human actions:

Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing. (360)

He realizes everything he strove for in life was in vain; therefore his wife’s

death seems more like an escape from their worthless life. Perhaps if Macbeth

and his lady were happy with who they were, they would not have let power,

ambition, authority, and supernatural forces hinder their chances at happiness.

Shakespeare, William. “Macbeth” Evanston, Illinois: McDougal, Littell

& Company, 1992


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