A Study Of The Differences Between Macbeth
A Study Of The Differences Between Macbeth And Lady Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
It is the development of the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth during the play that makes this character study so vital to Macbeth.
At the beginning of the play King Duncan hears of Macbeth, the bloody
hero. The battle was horrific, but Macbeth was fearless, fighting his way
through the enemy and literally cutting the rebel leader in half. King
Duncan is suitably impressed by Macbeth’s braveness.
?O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!?
The audience’s initial perception of Lady Macbeth is of a
confident and evil woman. In her first scene she is reading a letter from
her husband telling her about the witch’s predictions. Upon reading the
letter she instantly decides to obtain the crown for Macbeth through any
?Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised.?
It is these two bold and sure views of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
that are soon to change. Lady Macbeth forces Macbeth to murder Duncan and
when he first refuses, she appeals to his manhood and courage.
?When you durst do it, then you were a man?
Macbeth eventually gives in with the proposition of being king being too
powerful a lure for him. At this stage the audience can deduce that Macbeth
is easily subject to persuasion while Lady Macbeth is very persuasive.
As the fateful day draws near, Macbeth becomes delusional, picturing
visions of blood stained daggers, witches and ghosts. Killing Duncan
horrifies him, resulting in him imagining all the consequences of the
murder before he commits it, this is due to his vivid imagination,
something Lady Macbeth does not have. Lady Macbeth at this point has a
stronger inner conviction and uses very powerful antilife phrases in an
effort to persuade the evil spirits to make Macbeth kill Duncan.
?Come to my woman?s breasts
And take my milk for gall.?
One would assume here that if one of the two were to have the strength of
mind to live through this evil tragedy it would be Lady Macbeth.
Shakespeare is entering into the very interior of Macbeth’s mind allowing
the audience to realise further differences between Macbeth and Lady
Macbeth. Macbeth at this stage is going deeper and deeper into the world of
?Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtained sleep.?
Macbeth realises that in obtaining the crown by foul play he is devaluing
it as the king is meant to be appointed by God. By now, Macbeth is able to
have the courage to look into the heart of fear; Lady Macbeth on the other
hand is unable to do this.
Following Macbeth’s murder of Duncan, Macbeth becomes
frightened and unsure of himself. He begins to regret his actions and
realises that this will remain on his conscience until his own death.
?Macbeth shall sleep no more?
Conversely Lady Macbeth pushes her knowledge of this
sacrilegious act deep inside her, trying to ignore it.
?Consider it not so deeply?
She believes that she will be able to do this with relative ease.
?A little water clears us of this deed?
She thinks that it is just a question of washing the blood yet the
psychological impact is as if the blood will not come off. Macbeth however
appreciates the difficulty of disregarding their deed.
?No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red?
Here Macbeth is stating that the seas are filled with the blood of Duncan.
This blood will never leave, thus serving as a constant reminder of his
Shakespeare employs a great deal of imagery to depict certain situations
and in the last two quotations he has used the image of blood. At this
stage in the play Lady Macbeth is confident while Macbeth is subject to
frightened loyalty. However, what Macbeth fears is the evil of committing
the evil deed rather than the evil deed itself. It is at this stage that
one can first realise a chink of humanity in the originally confident and
cold Lady Macbeth. The murder has just been committed and Lady Macbeth
relates to Macbeth how the assassinated Duncan appeared to her.
?Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done’t.?
Suddenly through the hard exterior that Lady Macbeth possesses, she sees
her father as the old man lying murdered on the bed. This is a moment of
weakness that will soon broaden and leave her exposed to the evil that is
constantly present in this tragedy. Macbeth at this stage is going through
an intense period of paranoia in which he believes every noise to be that
of someone coming to arrest him.
?How is?t with me when every noise appals me??
It is when the pair relate to the other characters about the tragic death
of Duncan that additional differences between the two are discovered. Both
are trying to convince the others about the fate of the King yet the way in
which they set about achieving this is what separates them. Lady Macbeth
delivers a very superficial narration of what happened as she does not have
the poetic power to understand what is lost, yet Macbeth does.
?Had I but died an hour before this chance
I had lived a blessed time; for from this instant
There?s nothing serious in mortality?
This quotation begins a speech that encapsulates the entire play. Macbeth
is accepting that life is ruined and that all good in humanity is lost. He
then goes on to use a surface language to hide the truth, a language that
is the very sound of uncertainty. Macbeth?s compatriots will soon notice
this unsure tone and begin to suspect Macbeth killed Duncan
?His silver skin laced with his golden blood?
Lady Macbeth however can no longer continue this pretence, purporting to
?Help me hence, ho!?
The fact that she does this further demonstrates her inability to cope with
the evil that she created.
Macbeth on the other hand is facing up to the evil and coming out
victorious. Subsequent to Macbeth?s appointment as King of Scotland, he
begins to suspect that Banquo knows of his terrible deed. As a result
Macbeth seeks to kill Banquo. When he murders Banquo, Macbeth is still in
torment, but the cause of his anguish seems to have changed. He is afraid
of Banquo, because Banquo knows about the witches and because the witches
predicted that his descendants would be kings. Banquo?s death he says, will
put his mind at rest. This establishes how important ultimate power is
sought by Macbeth as he will go to any lengths to achieve it. It also
proves how paranoid Macbeth is. It is this state of mind that was present
in Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the play.
After the murder of Banquo and the fleeing of Fleance the roles of the
couple have been reversed. Macbeth is now the more confident and bolder of
the two, thriving in this evil midst while Lady Macbeth is beginning to
lose her sanity.
?Then by destruction dwell in doubtful joy?
Without knowing it, Macbeth is contributing to her madness by making
references to ?bats?, ?scorpions? and ?the shard-borne beetle?. This images
greatly worry Lady Macbeth as they act as reminders of the evil she has
caused in persuading Macbeth to kill Duncan. Macbeth then produces the best
bird image in the play by saying:
?And now the crow makes wing to the rooky wood?
A crow is a solitary bird yet even that leaves its solitude when faced with
the evil that the two are having to endure. Macbeth is saying that he will
not give in to the evil, something Lady Macbeth has already done.
Macbeth then plants spies, showing how desperate and paranoid he is. He
sees enemies, real or imagined everywhere. Meanwhile Lady Macbeth continues
to surpress the evil and in an effort to restore her life says:
?Come, we?ll to sleep?
Sleep is something that restores humanity daily. Throughout the play there
are constant references to sleep. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have been
deprived of sleep and in the latter’s case it will lead to her death. The
fact that sleep kills Lady Macbeth yet fails to kill Macbeth underlines
Macbeth?s greater inner courage.
The couple are have now been subject to evil for so long that the final
effects are beginning to occur. In Macbeth?s case the honourable hero we
met in the first act is now completely twisted. His moral sense seems to
have entirely disappeared, suggested by the murders of Macduff?s family.
Their killing gains him nothing. He has good reason to fear Macduff, but
slaughtering his enemy?s family is pointless. The end result in the
transformation of Macbeth is portrayed in this quotation:
?The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The very firstlings of my hand.?
Here he is saying that upon deciding to do something he does, no longer is
there a moral judgement. Lady Macbeth is now afraid of the things that
Macbeth was afraid of early on in the play.
?Hell is murky!?
She now sleepwalks and cannot bear to ever be in darkness. She is
effectively driving herself to suicide in an attempt to escape the horrible
nightmares that torment her. Shakespeare seems to be saying that guilt and
fear can be surpressed for a time, but they cannot be done away with
Having surpressed any guilt, it is now returning and she can no longer rid
herself of the constant reminders of her part in the murders.
?All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.?
The only thing that can save her now is divine intervention, her death is
?More needs she the divine than the physician?
Macbeth?s reaction to Lady Macbeth?s death is a sign of complete despair,
all feeling is dead in him. He launches a speech upon hearing of her death
which is less an expression of grief than it is a speech about the utter
meaningless of life.
?Life?s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more?
Ultimately the differences between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are profound.
Macbeth is frightened at the beginning then confident at the end while Lady
Macbeth confident at the beginning and frightened at the end. Lady Macbeth
fails to cope with the evil while Macbeth faces up to it and eventually it
fails to have any effect upon him.
?I have almost forgot the taste of fears?
Yet it is the manner in the which the pair die that provides a summary of
them. Lady Macbeth dies mad with a broken heart while Macbeth is slain
while proudly fighting to the death.
?-Had he his hurts before?
-Ay, on the front?