The Role of Intimacy in the Macbeths’ Marriage

May 24, 2019 by Essay Writer

The bulk of the drama in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is based in murder. Throughout the play, much of the dialogue and action have to do with plotting a homicide, carrying out the terrible deed, or being haunted by the guilt of taking another human life. With this bloody violence ever-present, it comes as no surprise that the issue of intimacy within the realm of Macbeth is not often considered. Intimacy is, however, a major force in the play as its presence and absence shape not only the relationship between Macbeth and his wife but the final direction of the plot. The key to both the plot’s movements and the Macbeths’ relationship, regardless of the twisted and manipulative turns it takes, is the intimacy and closeness of the two. It is their devoted relationship that holds them together amidst their anxiety of their murderous deeds and political power plays. Ultimately, their loss of closeness and confidence within one another signals the unraveling of their rise to power and their impending downfall. The initial rapport between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is characterized by a close affection for and a deep understanding of each other. This is seen in their interactions with one another early in the play. The first time any exchange occurs between the couple, it comes in the form of a letter written by Macbeth to his wife. Upon learning of his new title, Macbeth immediately imparts the information to his wife in a note, ending the letter with the following: “This I have thought good to deliver thee, my dearest partner of greatness, that thou mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing by being ignorant of what greatness is promised thee” (I.v.8-11). Macbeth’s choice to immediately update his wife on the news before he even returns home demonstrates his wife’s position as a trusted confidant. Macbeth communicates his desire to share any glory he may win with Lady Macbeth, showing that he cares deeply for his wife and is truly devoted to her. He also makes the selfless point that the greatness they are about to possess is promised for not just him, but for both of the “partners.” Lady Macbeth’s intimacy with her husband manifests in a different way, namely her deep knowledge of Macbeth’s personality. Once she gets the news of his promotion to Thane of Cawdor, Lady Macbeth instantly goes into an acute consideration of her husband’s character. She says: “Thou wouldst be great; / Art not without ambition, but without / The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly, / That wouldst thou holily” (I.v.16-19). Here, Lady Macbeth demonstrates a keen knowledge not only of her husband’s desires, but his morals and the lengths he is willing to go to in order to obtain an end. She recognizes in the man a kindness not suited for the harsh game of political advancement and thus decides she must aid him in his rise to power by pouring her “spirits in thine ear” (I.v.24). Although Lady Macbeth’s intimacy is shown in a less direct way, both she and Macbeth possess an intimately close relationship with one another.As the play progresses, deeper and more complex elements of the Macbeths’ relationship are exposed. While the couple delves further into their plot, a certain dynamic develops that continues for quite some time throughout the play. Lady Macbeth has taken the initiative and has devised a plan in which Macbeth will secretly kill Duncan, putting him a step closer to being crowned king. When Macbeth expresses doubts about murdering his king (who just honored him, nonetheless), Lady Macbeth uses persuasion and manipulation to try to convince her husband to go forward with the plan. She compares his former resolve to drunken hope that is now hung-over and “green and pale.” She goes on to say that “From this time / Such I account thy love” (I.vii.37-39). After using her love as a manipulative tool, she asks if Macbeth would “live a coward in thine own esteem” (I.vii.42). Her strategic tirade seems to partly convince Macbeth as he moves from claiming he will not kill his king to entertaining the idea, asking what would happen if they failed. Her dominance fully asserted, Lady Macbeth responds: “But screw your courage to the sticking-place, / And we’ll not fail” (I.vii.61). Macbeth then asks about the particulars of the plan, seemingly persuaded and set on following through with his wife’s idea. This negotiation illuminates a darker side of the intimacy between the couple where Lady Macbeth uses rhetoric and guilt to manipulate her husband into doing what she sees is most beneficial for them both. This set up is not, however, a one-way practice in coercion as Macbeth seems to need his wife’s strong hand to reinforce his more shameful ideas (such as murder for political gain). By this point in the play, the two have developed an emotionally symbiotic relationship where they both know Macbeth needs his wife’s overriding words to reinforce his thoughts and quell his fears.As the death toll mounts, an inconsistency in the Macbeths’ previously intimate relationship marks the downfall of the couple. Their practice of total confidence and sharing in the details of their lives ends here and begins the unraveling of their fates. When Macbeth becomes wary of Banquo and the Weird Sisters’ prophecy that his children will be kings, he sets up a plan to have the man and his son Fleance murdered. Macbeth chooses to withhold this plan from his wife when the two are talking in private. Macbeth says this to his once confidant: “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, / Till thou applaud the deed/…Thou marvell’st at my words; but hold thee still” (III.ii.45-54). He tells his wife to not worry about what he has in store but to wait to see it come to fruition. This marks the first time in the play that Macbeth holds back any information from Lady Macbeth, proven in part by her surprised expression that Macbeth comments on. In past situations, Macbeth not only talked over every detail and trouble with Lady Macbeth, but he also used his wife as a kind of guide through the bloody mess, someone to calm his fears and reaffirm his actions. The fact that this type of intimacy is no longer a cornerstone of the Macbeths’ relationship coincides with further breakdowns in the two’s established dynamic. During a dinner where most of the nobles are assembled, Macbeth has a fit in which he sees the ghost of Banquo seated at the table with them. Lady Macbeth assumes her role as the one to dismiss her husband’s fears, saying: “This is the very painting of your fear: / This is the air-drawn dagger which you said / Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts, / Impostors to true fear” (III.iv.61-64). Her power over her husband seems to have lost its potency at this point as Macbeth continues in hysterics in front of his guests. Yelling for the ghost to leave him alone, Macbeth cries, “Avaunt! and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!” (III.iv.93). Macbeth seems to be too intensely affected by the murders he has caused for Lady Macbeth’s former ability to soothe her husband’s fears to work. Their closeness has been sacrificed and their lack of intimacy begins to manifest in distinct ways, such as Lady Macbeth’s failure to contain her husband’s break down. Further proof of the fissure in their closeness is the fact that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are not together in another scene for the rest of the play. Later in the play, alone offstage, Lady Macbeth takes her own life. It is this fragmentation of their close relationship, their failure to communicate and inability to understand each other that marks the death of their intimacy and, ultimately, their actual deaths. In a story where blood is continuously spilled and few survive a murderous tyrant’s plot for power, it seems strange that intimacy should be an essential element. The closeness of man and wife is, however, an integral force in shaping the characters and the trajectory of the plot in Macbeth. As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plan and carry out murders for political power, it is their intimate and close relationship that allows them initial success. The couple’s confidence in one another and their deep understanding of the other’s personality and psyche help them get through not only the guilt that stems from the murders but also the logistics of their plans. Their downfall only occurs when communication stops and the couple’s ability to help and understand each other is compromised. The loss of the Macbeths’ intimate relationship marks the unraveling of their political lives and, ultimately, their total demise.

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