, Research Paper
A Comparison of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the first three acts.
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth tells the story of a general who commits regicide in order to become king. Early in the play, Macbeth is conflicted as to weather or not he wants to kill his kinsman the king. In the first two acts Macbeth is not portrayed as a ruthless killer; he is a sympathetic character who succumbs to the provocation of his wife and a prophecy foretold by three mysterious witches. In contrast, Lady Macbeth is a manipulative, immoral woman. Her ambition is so strong that she is willing to do anything to see her husband succeed. However, in the third act things begin to change. The death of the king and lord and lady Macbeth’s rise to power catalyze profound transformation in their personalities.
Before Macbeth enters the stage his reputation as a prestigious general is established. In the second scene of the play men who have fought with Macbeth rant about his courage in battle. The first account of Macbeth’s bravery comes from an injured captain. He says: ” But all’s too weak/for brave Macbeth (Well he deserves that name)/ Disdaining fortune, with his brandish steel/. (1.2.17) The rest of the scene consists of other recounts of Macbeth’s success; the thane of Ross informs the king that Macbeth has successfully suppressed the joint efforts of the thane of Cawdor, and the king of Norway. Furthermore, in this scene the king announces that Macbeth is to be promoted as the new thane of Cawdor. In this scene Macbeth is portrayed as a mighty, patriotic, warrior and a loyal subject to the king. However as the play progresses Macbeth deviates from these traits. Macbeth’s encounter with the three witches confuses him. He begins to decide on a course of action. It becomes apparent that Macbeth has contemplated killing Duncan when he (aside) acknowledges his “black and deep desires” (1.4.58) Macbeth knows that, if he wishes to take the throne, he must kill Duncan. Yet, at the same time, he acknowledges his allegiance to the king. “He’s 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. (1.7.12) Macbeth is conflicted between his morals and his ambition.
In stark contrast to her husband Lady Macbeth is not conflicted. In the fifth scene of act one, she is reading a letter from Macbeth that describes his encounter with the witches. After she reads the letter she becomes excited and wants to aid her husband in anyway she can. She fears that he won’t be able to complete the task without her help. “Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way.”(1.5.16) Lady Macbeth is willing to do anything to help her husband become king. She is willing to take control to ensure she will be queen. She has Macbeth’s ambition but she lack the morals and integrity her husband possessed. Her conscience cannot parallel that of her husbands. While her husband struggles to find the right course of action, she constantly provokes him to take the wrong course. “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 pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out, and I so sworn as you Have done to this. (1.7.54)
By act two Lady Macbeth has destroyed all of her husband’s insecurities. Her constant provocation pushes him toward killing Duncan. Her persuasive word finally overcome Macbeth. He begins to hallucinate; it is here that he sees the fatal vision and hence kills Duncan. After the murder is committed Macbeth is overwhelmed with remorse. He is horrified at the act he has committed. Again, Macbeth proves that he is not a cold-blooded killer. His ethics interfere with his ability to function. He is so panic-stricken that he brings the knife he used to kill Duncan with him instead of leaving it in the room with the servants, as Lady Macbeth had planned.
On the other hand Lady Macbeth remains bold and confident. She shows no hint of remorse. Her only concern is to destroy the evidence that could potentially incriminate her and her husband. “Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead Are but as pictures. ‘Tis the eye of childhood That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed, I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guilt( 2.2.68).
By act three a complete reversal of values is evident. Macbeth who is driven mad by guilt, evolves to a fantastical state of mind similar to that of Lady Macbeth in the beginning of the play. Macbeth becomes the dominant figure in their relationship. He becomes manipulative in the same way Lady Macbeth had been. He instructs lady Macbeth to uphold a fa ade while he plots to kill Banquo, “And make our faces vizards to our hearts, Disguising what they are” (3.2.37) In act one Lady Macbeth instructs Macbeth to do the same thing “Look innocent like a flower, But be the serpent under ‘t”(1.5.76). Their methods of convincing people to kill are also identical. When Macbeth is talking to the murderers he used to kill Banquo he says ” Not I’ th’ worst rank of manhood say ‘t And I will put that business in your bosoms”(3.1.115) This was the same technique that Lady Macbeth used when she was persuading Macbeth to kill Duncan; she questioned his manhood. While Macbeth is loosing his morals, Lady Macbeth is developing hers. After Macbeth reveals his plot to kill Banquo she is reluctant to add another murder to those already committed: “You must leave this”(3.3.40)
In act three another prophecy foretold by the witches comes true. The paradox “fair is foul and foul is fair” characterizes the changes the protagonists undergo in acts one, two and three. Throughout the play Macbeth, the “fair” one, becomes overcome by guilt and becomes “foul”. While Lady Macbeth who was “foul” in her instigations becomes “fair”.