Sunday, May 22, 2011

Does Shakespeare present Lady Macbeth as fiendlike?

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Shakespeare coursework MACBETH

Does Shakespeare present Lady Macbeth as fiendlike?

Lady Macbeth is Macbeth’s wife. Her role in the play is to be a controversial character, especially in Shakespeare’s time as women are at the bottom of the Chain of Being but Lady Macbeth acts like she is at the top. The word ‘fiendlike’ suggests evilness and craftiness. Fiend means devil, demon, evil spirit or a person addicted to something. Generally Lady Macbeth might be regarded as fiendlike as she says and does a lot of evil things but is also sometimes gentle and caring at the end of the play.

Her character is very ambiguous so the audience can decide for themselves whether she is evil or not. Simple characters are very boring whereas complicated characters such a Lady Macbeth are more exciting. Other characters that could be considered fiendlike are the witches and Macbeth. However, we cannot compare Lady Macbeth with the witches because we don’t know enough about them. We can compare Lady Macbeth to her husband, as at some point in the play they both do evil things. Lady Macbeth has influenced Macbeth with her fiendishness throughout the course of the play.

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We would expect a woman like Lady Macbeth to be a typical noble who listens to her husband and supports him. She would also be expected to be kind and gentle. The role of women in Shakespeare’s time was to have children and we would expect Lady Macbeth to fit into this role as well.

Lady Macbeth’s first scene is Act 1 Scene 5, after Shakespeare sets the scene with the witches, the battle and after we have met her husband, Macbeth. She is reading the letter sent by Macbeth and the audience don’t know much about her then, but after reading the letter she talks to herself in an aside responding to the letter.

From the letter Macbeth and Lady Macbeth seem to have a close relationship. Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth everything that has happened. Macbeth also uses words like,

“…my dearest partner of greatness,” which is a huge clue to how close they are, and so far Lady Macbeth has not been fiendlike.

In the aside we get the first impression of fiendishness from Lady Macbeth

“…Yet do I fear thy nature;

It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way.”

She is saying that for Macbeth to be king, evil needs to be done. (She immediately thinks of the quickest way she can make the prophecy true, as she has an ambition to become a queen.) To back this up she says, “The illness should attend it;” implying evil must accompany ambition.

When Lady Macbeth hears that King Duncan is coming, her first thoughts are to eliminate Duncan as he is seen as an obstacle to her plans to be a queen. This is not what we would expect of a noblewoman or wife, in Shakespeare’s time or present day.

She says,

“Come you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts! Unsex me here”

She is asking to be evil in order to undertake the task of killing Duncan, by taking away everything that made her a woman, as no-one would expect a woman to kill someone in those days. This could be interpreted as fiendlike behaviour as she is taking her first steps towards killing Duncan. The audience may think she is possessed because after this point she starts acting unusually. Her actions might be forgiven by members of the audience who think the spirits can be blamed for her behaviour.

Act 1 Scene 6 starts of with dramatic irony, both Duncan and Lady Macbeth are kind to each other but the audience know Lady Macbeth is pretending to be kind as she plans to kill him later. Duncan calls Lady Macbeth a “fair and noble hostess” which is also ironic as we (the audience) know she is the complete opposite of that, so far.

In Act 1 Scene 7 Lady Macbeth is still willing to do the murder and willing to change Macbeth’s doubtful mind. Macbeth thinks he will regret killing Duncan, as he is trusted by Duncan as his kinsman and as his subject

“He’s here in double trust

First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,

Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,”

Macbeth would feel regretful for killing his guest who has trusted him.

Lady Macbeth tells us how she would rip her own baby off her nipple and rip its brains out in order to persuade Macbeth how serious she is about carrying on with the murder plan.

“I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have pluck of my nipple from his boneless gums,

And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this.”

This is evil as no-one would kill their own innocent child whom they must love and cherish. She is telling Macbeth to get rid of his emotions to kill Duncan, just like she would. This is also ironic as her role in life is to have children and she is talking about taking life away.

I think someone who is evil will try to spread evil and Lady Macbeth fits this description. She corners her husband Macbeth so he has no choice. Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth that his love for her is worth the nothing if he refuses to go on with the murder plan. Macbeth wants his wife to love him and wants her to trust him, so he agrees with the plan.

“From this time

Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard

To be the same in thine own act and valour

As thou art in desire?”

The fact that she has ‘made’ him do it makes her fiendlike as she is spreading the evilness to Macbeth.

In Act Scene 1 Macbeth hallucinates about the murder he is about to commit. He talks to himself and says, “Nature seems dead.” This could mean he is saying nothing matters to him except deciding whether he should kill Duncan or not; he becomes obsessed. This could tell us that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have become selfish � they don’t think about anyone apart from themselves anymore.

In the next Scene Act Scene Lady Macbeth is waiting for her husband Macbeth. She tells us,

“That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold,

What hath quench’d them hath given me fire.”

She believes that by making Duncan’s attendants drunk, she is more intelligent than them in comparison, as the attendants cannot do anything while drunk. She also believes that by making the attendants drunk she is more determined to kill Duncan.

This suggests to me that Lady Macbeth has planned everything out � she is always one step ahead. She has clearly thought about what she and Macbeth are going to do. When she finds that Macbeth has brought the daggers along with him Lady Macbeth says to him,

“Infirm of purpose!

Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead

Are but as pictures; ’tis the eye of childhood

That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed

I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal;”

Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth being dead is like being asleep, to reassure Macbeth that what they have done is not so bad and also to convince herself of the same thing.

Lady Macbeth also hallucinates like her husband did before. Her conscious is playing on her, however she knows a bit about what is going on around her, just like Macbeth did. This is why from her state of mind when her conscious is playing with her, she talks to Macbeth,

“My hands are of your colour, but I shame

To wear a heart so white.”

She realises her hands are red with blood just like Macbeth’s. The audience may think this is when the spirits are controlling her as she acts very unnaturally and doesn’t show any signs of guilt.

Lady Macbeth easily influences Macbeth to kill Duncan. She also uses this influence to fuel her ambition to be queen.

In Act Scene we hear that the news of the murder has spread, after Macduff has found Duncan dead. When Lady Macbeth enters Macduff tells her,

“O gentle Lady

‘Tis not for you to hear what I can speak;”

This is another example of irony. Lady Macbeth was part of the plot to murder Duncan but the characters in the play don’t know that. Macduff thinks Lady Macbeth will be too emotionally shocked when she hears about the death in her own castle, but the audience knows she cares much more about her ambitions rather than the death of Duncan. To act as though she were a normal woman she pretends to faint, “Help me hence, ho!”

Macbeth feels guilty about the murder and Lady Macbeth responds by saying,

“What’s done is done!”

I think she uses Macbeth for the murder to get what she wants � to be Queen � and then dumps him except when she has to cover up about what they have done.

In Act Scene 1 Macbeth orders the murder of Banquo after he became suspicious of Macbeth. Macbeth didn’t even tell his wife Lady Macbeth about this. Now Macbeth seems fiendlike too.

In Scene 4 Macbeth hallucinates again. He is at the banquet and he believes Banquo � who is now dead � has appeared in the hall and sat down in his place. Lady Macbeth reacts to protect Macbeth and herself from the crime, she addresses the gentlemen,

“Sit, worthy friends my lord is often thus,

And hath been from his youth pry you, keep seat;

The fit is momentary;”

She covers herself and Macbeth up by saying Macbeth has had these fits since he was young. This makes people feel sorry for Macbeth as he was dragged into the plot.

Lady Macbeth talks to Macbeth saying,

“You lack the season of all matures, sleep.”

Lady Macbeth is more caring now, and I don’t think this is fiendlike as she tells Macbeth he needs some sleep.

In Act Scene 5 Macbeth goes on the moor to visit the three witches. He doesn’t tell Lady Macbeth about this either. From what is happening in the play I can assume that Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s relationship is not so strong and they are growing apart. Like Lady Macbeth earlier Macbeth is becoming more and more fiendlike now.

In Act 4 Scene a second female character is introduced called Lady Macduff. She makes Lady Macbeth look more fiendlike in comparison, as she is kind and gentle and looks after her son � even though she is upset and quite sarcastic as her husband has fled to England. She behaves like you would expect a normal woman to in Shakespeare’s time.

The next time we see Lady Macbeth on stage is in Act 5 Scene 1, when Lady Macbeth becomes mad due to the guilt that had caught up with her, after she ran away from it. Lady Macbeth hallucinates and sleep walks about the murder (suffering from guilty conscious) she and her husband had committed,

“What, will these hands ne’er be clean”

She believes she is trying to wash the blood off her hands but she imagining it. In a way she is being punished for her actions. She deserves the punishment but you also feel sorry for her (as would the audience). She loses her fiendishness at this point in the play.

Shakespeare could be trying to present a message to the audience, which could be a reason to why she is depicted as mad in the latter part of the play

If you run away from your problems they will catch up with you. I think the message also confirms her evilness early on in the play and her punishment later on. This is the final time we see Lady Macbeth in the play.

The battle is going on when Macbeth and Seyton hear a cry.

Seyton announces the death of Lady Macbeth �

“The queen, my lord, is dead.”

Macbeth responds by saying she would have died anyway in her life,

“She should have died hereafter;”

Shakespeare makes us feel sorry for both Macbeth and for Lady Macbeth as she killed herself while she was mad.

There are four main themes in Macbeth which are good and evil, appearance and reality, the natural and unnatural, and loyalty and treachery. They all apply to Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is evil and unloyal as she nearly killed Duncan and was plotting against him. She is also unnatural as she called for evil spirits to come into her.

We would expect Lady Macbeth to appear a typical noble person but in reality she is evil, and this is very unexpected for the audience as she reads the letter and without us knowing about her much, starts calling up evil spirits.

To conclude, I think Shakespeare does present Lady Macbeth as fiendlike. She asks for evil spirits to come to her and immediately after reading the letter she assumes they have to kill Duncan straight away without even doubting it. She would even kill her own baby and rip out its brain. She wanted to be a man so she could kill Duncan as she thought a woman couldn’t do this physically, mentally and emotionally. She also uses her husband for a selfish reason and always uses her persuasiveness against her husband’s weak point to get what she wants.

Overall, she puts ambition above everything else, including her own child. When she wants something she would do anything to get it, even kill.

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