The Characterisation of Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Drama

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In this essay I will explore the play’s key techniques, such as; Imagery, Characterisation, Stage Directions, and Dialogue alongside other important language features which are portrayed in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ focusing on the extract, Act 1 Scene 7. This scene highlights the central themes of the play, ambition and witchcraft. This passage accents Macbeth’s craving to become powerful as he is plans on murdering King Duncan. Therefore, deciding his own fate which has which has major which has a negative aftermath. Whilst the characterization of Lady Macbeth is presented as a deceitful, dominant and decisive woman.

Firstly, the Exposition announces that servants are carrying utensils and torches suggesting that night has fallen and light is scarce. ”…torches”. Through the Stage Directions it’s evident that darkness is upon them, whilst they talk about treason, it’s important to remember that majority of the play’s key scenes are set at night .The darkness emphasises the sinister undertone of the play, and alludes to the idea that the dangerous duo can only do their worst in darkness. They invite darkness in and evoke it. 

This alludes to the theme of ‘blindness’ as MacBeth and Lady MacBeth cannot see clearly, their judgement is clouded and therefore, they simply act immoral. This is a common theme in Shakespearean plays similarly, in ‘King ‘Lear’ Lear goes metaphorically ‘blind’ due to his daughters tricking him so that they could overthrow the kingdom. Strong female characters such as Goneril ,Regan and Lady MacBeth manipulate the male protagonists into getting what they desire. Lady MacBeth acts as a catalyst in her husbands downfall. Thus, leading them to experience peripeteia and then in turn anagnorisis. As the philosopher Aristotle claimed, that the tragic hero must experience a reversal of circumstances to have a tragic downfall.

Additionally, in the extract MacBeth is aware of his ‘blindness’ as he states, “…Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself and falls on th' other.” This declarative phrase signifies that the only thing inspiring MacBeth is in fact, ambition. Which makes people act upon their feelings brashly which ends in a catastrophe. MacBeth’s hubris is his sheer desire to be power hungry which stands in the way of him succeeding and therefore, has a tragic outcome which may evoke catharsis within an audience.

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Secondly, Lady MacBeth is a strong, cunning character who controls her husband. She strips away his manhood by condescending him. MacBeth becomes unsure and uneasy with the idea of treason. However, Lady MacBeth influences and persuades her husband by stating “and live like a coward in thy own esteem”. Her patronising language indicates how the gender roles have flipped now she is the one in control. She manipulates his manhood so that she gains more power. 

Let Macbeth’s behaviour would’ve been unheard of, during this time period. As a woman you were to be ‘seen and not heard’. Women kept to themselves, and carried the dual burden of housework and cooking and cleaning. However, lady MacBeth is the complete antithesis of the traditional stereotypical housewife. Lady MacBeth is involved in the plotting of murders and manipulates her husband into doing so. She craves power and is fiercely ambitious like just like her husband, MacBeth.

Furthermore, MacBeth and Lady MacBeth are unable to bear children which sums up the extent of Macbeth’s manhood.. This is a clear indication that their bloodline is unsuccessful, which emphasises how the Gods have already decided his fate, and how MacBeth is not destined to become King. This furthermore emasculates MacBeth and further strips him of his manhood.

Thirdly, ‘sleep’ is another important language feature and consistent theme in ‘MacBeth’. When I’m Lady MacBeth discuss’ how MacBeth should murder Duncan she clearly states “...When Duncan is asleep-“. The vulnerable language used insinuates that something negative is going to occur due to King Duncan as he will not be aware or able to resist his future fate. It can be interrupted that sleep is only for the innocent and pure, this is symbolic of King Duncan. Who is in his true form of being a king, he’s peacefully resting with no trouble falling asleep due to a clear conscience. MacBeth ‘murders’ sleep, as he finds himself and Lady MacBeth unfit to sleep due to their dark corrupted nature. As sleep represents peace of mind. MacBeth However, allows his guilt to take over as he has just killed an innocent man. Lady MacBeth reciprocal of Macbeth’s emotions however, she is accompanied by sleepless nights and hallucinations.

Gender roles are a main focal point of this play. Lady MacBeth challenges the stereotypical female role. However, in Act 1 scene 7 MacBeth states, “Bring forth men-children only, For thy undaunted mettle should compose Nothing but males” Macbeth’s patriarchal, sexist language indicates that Lady Macbeth’s dominant, ambitious and ruthless demeanour and free spirit are fascinating traits, desirable in a son. And would be wasted on a female who wasn’t masculine. This is ironic because MacBeth and Lady MacBeth cannot bear children. 

Referring to earlier in the scene lady MacBeth juxtaposes with the caring, loving mother figure when she violently and colourfully claims, “Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out,” the vivid body imagery presented alludes to a warped maternal view of Lady MacBeth. The language used such as ‘boneless gums’ and ‘Brains out’ evokes a sense of corruption, cruelty and a strong unsettling idea of Lady MacBeth as a mother. The characterisation of lady MacBeth and how she is presented in this scene would have been quite harrowing to a Jacobean audience. Especially a female audience. As this would’ve been their only real goal in life to bear children and raise them in a nuclear family.

Overall, In conclusion, it is evident that the extract links closely to the main themes in ‘MacBeth’. They are important as they frame the plot line. Thus, creating and reinforcing the characterisation of MacBeth, Lady MacBeth and King Duncan. As this is a reoccurring theme in a lot of his work, such as ‘King Lear’. Blindness, sleep and reverse gender roles as predominantly used.

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