Macbeth is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare. The play displays the detrimental effects of over-ambition and selfish desire for power on one’s physical and emotional conditions. The theme of violence and ambition is reoccurring throughout the whole play. One character who embraces such theme and is essential to understand Shakespeare’s tragedy is Lady Macbeth due to her dynamic and complex characteristics. Lady M spurs various interpretations from different points of view. Some, like Malcolm, regard Lady Macbeth as a “fiend-like queen” who is evil, greedy, ruthless, and capable of taking any possible measures to achieve one’s goals. Others, however, regard Lady Macbeth as a victim of misrepresentation. In fact, towards the end of the play, Lady M actually expresses her humane aspects by showing guilt, remorse, and deep affection for her husband. Thus, Lady M can’t be simply labeled as either an evil nor a humane character.
Lady M manifests her evil characteristics by her ruthless behaviors to achieve anything she wants without any sense of guilt. This was especially emphasized in the process of organizing the murder of King Duncan. In the 16th century, murdering a King was virtually unheard of. People believed that Kings were appointed by God and there was a clear order of universe which all things could be ranked in order of superiority. Only God and angels were on top of the king in the hierarchy. Since people believed that killing the king will break the cosmic order, only someone like Lady M who is truly evil and greedy would consider and even commit regicide. Lady M seems like she has no remorse for the action she takes. In Act 1 Scene 5, Lady M performs her first soliloquy with a letter from Macbeth which informs her of his encounter with the witches and the prophesy of Macbeth becoming the king. Lady M instantaneously comes up with plans to kill the King and conjures up the dark spirits to take her maternal characteristics such as compassion and tenderness. This indicates that Lady M doesn’t hesitate to obtain what she wants. She is even willing to summon dark spirits to assist her in the process of killing the king. Furthermore, Lady M describes the thought of killing the king as an “illness”. This signifies that Lady M is fully aware of what kind of actions she’s attempting to take but she is still willing to do it and feels no sense of guilt. Through this, she shows her will and ambition to neglect and abandon all human qualities in order to become Queen of Scotland. Moreover, in Act 2 Scene 2, after the murder of Duncan, both Lady M and Macbeth bloods their hands. Their bloody hands portray the reality and horror of the murder. While, Macbeth is horrified and remorseful of his action, Lady M behaves differently. She states she is ashamed to “wear a heart so white” and critiques Macbeth for his courage and manhood. This shows how cold-hearted Lady M is, she is depicted as if she feels no sense of guilt but actually critical at Macbeth for feeling guilt and not being manly.
Furthermore, Lady M reveals her “fiend-like” attributes by showing her ability to manipulate others and hide her own emotions. In Act 1 Scene 6, Lady M excellently adopts the role of the ideal “noble women” when she greets King Duncan in her castle. Duncan is charmed by Lady M’s eloquent speech and courteous attitude which eases him to a defenseless state. This is very ironic, considering Lady M’s malicious intent to kill the King and shows how cunning and guileful Lady M can be when it comes to manipulating other people’s minds. She is acting “like the innocent flower” but is actually the “serpent underneath it”. In addition, in Act 1 Scene 7, Lady M criticizes Macbeth for his honor and loyalty. Lady Macbeth completely changes Macbeth’s perception of “masculinity” and transforms an honorable, respected man to a machine filled with ambitious capable killing with no remorse. She even states that she would dash the brains out of the babies if she had taken such promises. This showed her magnitude of conviction and her willingness to keep her words if she did swear. By saying such emotional and impactful remarks, she eliminates Macbeth’s concerns and guilt and successfully convinces Macbeth to carry the murder. This shows Lady M’s “fiend-like” qualities to deceitfully manipulate individuals. Lady M intentionally exploited Macbeth’s moral weaknesses, revealed by his concealed ambition, to change his mind.
Nonetheless, Lady M displays compassion and humane aspects towards the end of the play. In Act 3 Scene 4, Macbeth encounters Banquo’s ghost at the banquet. He is struck with fear, guilt and quickly becomes paranoid. Lady M attempts to pacify Macbeth by encouraging him to let go of the vision he is struggling with. She ends up using all the strength left in her to bring Macbeth stable state, and the effort leaves her drained. Then, she is able to see the ruin of their hopes. With Macbeth in a paranoid state speaking about his dark desires and his affair with the devil, Lady M knows that she is lost to him and their love can never be the same again. Although Lady M wants to confess her crimes and seek forgiveness to gain her innocence again, she chooses not to because to do so would be betraying her husband. This shows her loyalty and affection for her husband. IN addition, in Act 5 Scene 1, readers see Lady M’s mental ruins. Lady Macbeth is sleep walking and talks about the murders of Duncan, Lady Macduff, Banquo, and other crimes due to extreme guilt. Additionally, she constantly suffers from nightmares about the deeds she committed. She also thinks that her hands are stained with Duncan’s blood which can never be “washed away”. As a result, she goes insane to start endlessly washing her hands. At the end, Lady Macbeth could not live with herself feeling guilt any longer and decides to end her own life. This shows that Lady M’s weak and humane interior. Even though Lady M might have been depicted as a strong, rigid character on the exterior, she is also susceptible of feeling guilt and remorse.
Overall, the play shows how compassionate, tormented Lady Macbeth can be both heroic and tragic figure. In the beginning of the play, Lady M’s depicted as a “fiend-like queen” deprived of any emotions and driven only by ambition. However, towards the end, readers are able to realize that Lady M is not only “evil” after all. There are humane and warm aspects of her present.