Lady Macbeth -- a Lady? -- in Macbeth
William Shakespeare's Macbeth places a woman in center stage, a woman who embarrasses every woman because of her lack of conscience. This essay attempts to shed light on her character.
Blanche Coles states in Shakespeare's Four Giants evaluates the character of Lady Macbeth:
A woman who could speak as Lady Macbeth does, who could call upon the spirits that tend on mortal thoughts to unsex her and fell her from head to foot full of direct cruelty, who could entreat these same spirits to stop all avenues of remorse so that no compunctions of conscience will interfere with the carrying out of her purpose, who could call upon the night to wrap itself in the murkiest, gloomiest smoke of hell in order to hide, even from the keen knife she would use, the wound she would make when she herself stabs the sleeping King, such a terrible, frightful woman would not scruple at telling a little wife-to-husband lie to accomplish her purpose. (52)
In Everybody's Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack shows how Lady Macbeth complements her husband:
Her fall is instantaneous, even eager, like Eve's in Paradise Lost; his is gradual and reluctant, like Adam's. She needs only her husband's letter about the weyard sisters' prophecy to precipitate her resolve to kill Duncan. Within an instant she is inviting murderous spirits to unsex her, fill her with cruelty, thicken her blood, convert her mother's milk to gall, and darken the world "That my keen knife see not the wound it makes" (1.5.50) (189)
L.C. Knights in the essay "Macbeth" describes the unnaturalness of Lady Macbeth's words and actions:
Thus the sense of the unnaturalness of evil is evoked not only be repeated explicit references ("nature's mischief," "nature seems dead," " 'Tis unnatural, even like the deed that's done," and so on) but by the expression of unnatural sentiments and an unnatural violence of tone in such things as Lady Macbeth's invocation of the "spirits" who will "unsex" her, and her affirmation that she would murder the babe at her breast if she had sworn to do it. (95)
Samuel Johnson in The Plays of Shakespeare underscores how ambition by the protagonists leads to detestation on the part of the readers:
The danger of ambition is well described; and I know not whether it may not be said in defence of some parts which now seem improbable, that, in Shakespeare's time, it was necessary to warn credulity against vain and illusive predictions.
The passions are directed to their true end. Lady Macbeth is merely detested; and though the courage of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every reader rejoices at his fall. (133)
The Tragedy of Macbeth opens in a desert place with thunder and lightning and three witches who greet Macbeth with "hail to thee, thane of Glamis," "thane of Cawdor," and "thou shalt be king hereafter!" When Ross and...