The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth: change and deterioration
Show how the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth changes and deteriorates in the play Macbeth.
The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth changes throughout the play, Macbeth. In the beginning Lady Macbeth is the stronger, more dynamic character she pushes her husband. The pair trust each other, tell each other everything and care for each other deeply. At the end of the play Macbeth has control and Lady Macbeth has gone mad. In the end the trust has gone from their relationship and Macbeth doesn’t grieve at all for his dead wife.
We first meet Macbeth in act one, scene three. Before that, in act one, scene one, we are introduced to the witches, who are, in the end, the root of everything Macbeth does. They tell us they intend to meet Macbeth, and they set the scene for all the supernatural events that occur in the play. We are introduced to Macbeth’s character in act one, scene two when we find out that he is a good warrior and very patriotic.
We find out that because of his success in battle he is going to be awarded the title ‘thane of Cawdor’
In act one, scene three Banquo and Macbeth meet the witches. They are returning from battle and so haven’t heard of Macbeth’s good fortune. The witches hail Macbeth with three prophecies. They call him thane of Glamis, which he already knows he is, then thane of Cawdor and King thereafter. They also tell Banquo that his children will be kings. Whilst Macbeth and Banquo are still in shock, Ross and Angus arrive to break the news to Macbeth. Macbeth is stunned and says, “Two truths are told as happy prologues to the swelling act of the imperial theme” He is wondering if the witches other prophesy can come true. But, of course the title ‘thane of Cawdor’ first belonged to a traitor.
We first meet Lady Macbeth in act one, scene five. She enters reading a letter that Macbeth has sent to her, telling her about the witches and their prophecies. In reading the letter we get an idea of the trust in their marriage. They tell each other everything. Lady Macbeth then starts to talk to herself about her husband. She worries about him, she says “Yet do I fear thy nature; It is to full o’ the milk of human kindness” meaning she doesn’t think that he is ruthless enough to get what she thinks he deserves. She decides to be too strong for Macbeth. She wants to be something she isn’t and she rejects good and heaven. She also wants to get rid of her femenity, “Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts! Unsex me here.” She wants to be made insensitive so her conscience won’t interfere with her plans.
When Macbeth enters she praises him with “Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor! Greater than both, by the all hail hereafter!” Macbeth refuses to be swayed and sticks to his point, he tells his wife that Duncan is coming to stay tonight. Lady Macbeth then asks when Duncan intends to leave. When Macbeth says tomorrow, Lady Macbeth replies “O never shall sun that morrow see!” She then says that Macbeth is too open, that his face is like a book. She tells him he needs to be more seductive if he wants to be King. Macbeth senses he is losing control of the situation, if, indeed, he ever did have control, and says, “We will speak further.” He isn’t completely dismissing the idea but when he wants to talk about it he wants it to be on his terms. Lady Macbeth, however, just ignores him and says, “We will kill him.”
This shows that Lady Macbeth is the driving force in the relationship. She uses imperatives such as “To beguile the time, look like the time,” to order Macbeth about.
In act one, scene seven, we see Macbeth preparing for murder. Here we see some of the weakness that Lady Macbeth commented on in act one, scene five. He is indecisive, he knows that what he is going to do is wrong but his wife has persuaded him that it’s his only option. He says, “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’er leaps itself and falls on the other.” He means ambition is his only motive for committing such a crime, and that is like something that jumps too high to get over something only to fall over on the other side.
Lady Macbeth then enters and asks what he is doing out here and why he isn’t tending to his guests. He wonders if Duncan has asked for him and she replies of course, don’t you know. Macbeth then tries to act strong and tough, like the warrior he is. He says, “We will proceed no further in this business.” Lady Macbeth then taunts him with things like “Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou desire?” and “When you durst do it, then you were a man.” She also blames Macbeth for giving her the idea. Lady Macbeth has the upper hand in the relationship at the moment because she knows how to crush Macbeth’s act of trying to be strong and stand up for himself. She knows that by insulting his manhood she will get him to do what she wants and then she reassures him and gives him a plan so he knows that everything will be all right. The scene then ends with Macbeth seeming happy to do the deed.
In act two, scene two we find Lady Macbeth and Macbeth wandering around, becoming unsettled by the noises of the night. Macbeth more so than Lady Macbeth, as he has just killed Duncan and feels great remorse and guilt. Lady Macbeth takes charge again leading her husband to get the blood washed off his hands and she tries to reproach him for his remorse. Macbeth says “This is a sorry sight,” and Lady Macbeth says “A foolish thing to say a sorry sight.” Macbeth then becomes delusional. He declares he will never sleep again. Lady Macbeth tries to flatter him and make him forget what he has done. She then gets angry with him as she sees he has brought the daggers with him.
She reminds him that he was supposed to leave them with the guards and pin the murder on them. She goes off to plant them on the guards. Macbeth then starts to talk to himself and wonders if his hands will ever be clean, a similar thing to what Lady Macbeth says in act five, scene one when she has gone mad, which is when their relationship really goes wrong as their roles have been reversed. Lady Macbeth then returns and comments that their hands are the same colour, the colour of her hands is another thing she mentions when she is sleepwalking. Then at the end of the scene, someone starts to knock on the door. Macbeth then yells out “Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!” He is again expressing the deep regret about what he has done.
Lady Macbeth tries to deal with Macbeth’s madness calmly but in the end most of it comes back to haunt her. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s teamwork starts to fall apart slightly at this point because although everything goes smoothly it is only because Lady Macbeth goes back to tidy up Macbeth’s mistakes. She gets very impatient with Macbeth as he is racked with remorse and can’t see straight.
This shows Lady Macbeth’s dominance as she takes charge of the situation and turns it around. At one point it looks as though everything is going to fall apart as Macbeth is falling to pieces, is covered in blood and carrying the weapons, but Lady Macbeth turns it around by taking the weapons, planting them with the guards and cleans Macbeth up. She doesn’t do anything to help his mental situation, which shows that she is as deeply affected as he is. All of this creates an air of great tension between the two characters which never really gets resolved and that helps lead to the deterioration of their relationship.
In act two, scene three the porter starts off the scene to provide some light relief. He answers the door for Macduff and Lennox, who ask why he took so long to answer the door. He replies that the “carousing” or partying went on late into the night. The tension starts to build again as Macbeth arrives on the scene and we wait for the murder to be discovered. Macduff and Lennox mention some unusual things that have happened in the night such as earthquakes and thunderstorms. This is to show that the natural order has been disrupted; in Shakespeare’s time they believed that God appointed the king and any disorder in the monarchy was reflected by disturbances in the natural world.
Lady Macbeth supports her husband in this scene by pretending to faint in order to distract attention from her husband, who has just killed the guards who he planted the murder on. The crowd become increasingly suspicious of Macbeth when they find out what he has done out of what he claims is grief. When Macbeth is asked why he says “The expedition of my violent love outran the pauser; reason” meaning that his love for Duncan made him do it before reason set in However, when Lady Macbeth faints they postpone discussing this with the result that it is never really brought up again. The crowd assume she is fainting out of grief or horror but we know better.
In act two, scene four we hear more about the strange events that followed the death of Duncan. We hear Ross discussing with an old man that Duncans horses turned wild and broke free. The old man says he saw an owl kill a falcon. Macduff appears and Ross asks if he knows who killed Duncan and then they discuss the possibility that Malcolm and Donalbain did it because they have run away. He says they have displaced the natural order and placed suspicion on themselves and that is why all these strange things are happening.
In act three, scene two the mood is sombre. Lady Macbeth says, “Naughts had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content,” meaning that nothing has been won and everything has been lost because they aren’t satisfied with what they have got. She also says that the results of killing give an insecure pleasure. Macbeth then enters and she doesn’t relay any of her fears to him but starts to try and cheer him up. She tells him “What’s done is done,” another thing she mentions in her madness.
At this point in the play Macbeth is growing in dominance, he has started to decide to kill for himself and hide things from his wife. He says, “Be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck.” It is difficult to tell whether Macbeth is trying to protect his wife or whether he just enjoys holding out on her. The relationship has changed in that Macbeth is now the more dominant and Lady Macbeth has to settle into the more submissive, which she obviously doesn’t enjoy.
In act three, scene three Banquo is murdered which is what Macbeth was plotting previously. However, Fleance, Banquo’s son who Macbeth really wanted dead in order to stop the witches’ prophecy coming true, escapes.
Act three, scene four is when we see Macbeth lose it a bit and Lady Macbeth has to try and control the situation. Macbeth appears bright and cheerful, as his wife had told him to be in the previous scene. He gets a little upset when the murderer enters and tells him that Banquo is dead but Fleance lives. He quickly shrugs this off though. The mood, however, changes dramatically when Lennox asks Macbeth to sit down and Macbeth sees Banquos ghost sitting in his place, but only Macbeth can see him.
He alarms his guests with his behaviour and they quickly come to the conclusion that he is ill and they should leave. Lady Macbeth tells them to stay as he will be fine in a moment. She takes him aside and asks him what he is doing. She snaps at him and tells him things like “Are you a man?” When the ghost leaves he tries to get back to normal but as soon as the ghost is back he falls to pieces. Lady Macbeth does a bit of crisis management, reassuring people with things like “But as a thing of custom: ’tis no other; only it spoils the pleasure of the time,” meaning its nothing to worry about it only spoils the mood.
When the ghost finally vanishes Macbeth apologises again and Lady Macbeth gently, or so seemingly, tells him off for spoiling the mood although you can imagine she would be glaring at him for nearly blowing their cover. Then the Lords leave and Macbeth starts to tell Lady Macbeth what should happen to him because of what he has done, however Lady Macbeth seems more interested in what his next plans are and when she cant get anything out of him she tells him to go to sleep and relax. Macbeth then proceeds to tell Lady Macbeth that “My strange and self-abuse is the initiate fear that wants hard use.” This means that he only nearly blew their cover through inexperience and that it wont happen again.
This is the last time we see Lady Macbeth and Macbeth together on stage and we can see that their relationship has changed a lot already but not as much as it does in the next few scenes. Macbeth has steadily grown more dominant as he arranges the murder of Banquo and reassures his wife. Lady Macbeth regains a little of her dominance in this scene in having to try and control the situation her husband has put them in but as she goes mad and her husband gets calmer she is forced into an unwanted submissive role.
In act five, scene one we see how deeply Lady Macbeth has been affected by everything. However, it is only whilst she is asleep she loses control and it is whilst she is sleepwalking we learn all this. The scene begins with a doctor talking to Lady Macbeth’s Gentlewoman (lady-in-waiting.) They discuss what the Gentlewoman has reported that Lady Macbeth has been sleepwalking and talking in her sleep. When the doctor asks what she has been saying the Gentlewoman refuses to say. Lady Macbeth then enters and the doctor decides to take notes. Lady Macbeth starts to wash her hands as she did in act two, scene two where she helps her husband clean his hands.
She repeats many things that she told her husband to comfort him and she now appears to be saying them to comfort herself. She also repeats things that her husband said when he was mad. She talks of her husband’s cowardliness and appears deranged. The doctor says “The heart is sorely charged” meaning that she has something weighing heavily on her heart, they don’t know it but it obviously means the murder of Duncan. She is reliving in her mind the murder and the end of the scene when she was helping her husband clear up. The doctor says he can do nothing for her as her disease is all in her mind. He then wonders aloud to the Gentlewoman if her disease is somehow related to all the strange happenings in the natural world.
This is the last time we see Lady Macbeth alive. The murder has obviously affected her more deeply that she first let on. At first she was the one comforting Macbeth but now she is the one needing comfort and unable to get it as her husband is in battle. She has stored up in her mind all the things she used to comfort Macbeth and uses them to try and comfort herself but they don’t work.
In act five, scene five Macbeth comments on his invincibility by saying, “I have almost forgotten the taste of fears.” When Seyton comes in to tell him his wife is dead, Macbeth doesn’t grieve saying, “She would of died hereafter,” basically saying she would of died sometime so there is no point grieving as life is meaningless. He brushes it off as his wife once did the murder of Duncan, showing the switch in roles.
In act five, scenes six and seven we see Macbeth being killed and the rightful king, Malcolm, being restored.
The relationship changed in the end by an almost complete reversal of role. Originally Lady Macbeth was the one who brushed off murder, decided what they needed to do and supported her husband while he did them and made sure he didn’t blow their cover. In the end she goes mad because of being unable to forget what has happened and commits suicide. Macbeth who was once deeply affected by Duncans murder then brushes aside the news of his wife’s death in the same way his wife brushed aside the death of Duncan. He treats everything calmly as he feels strengthened by the witches’ prophecies but in the end they came true and he got what he deserved.
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