The Masks of Lady Macbeth
People are not always as strong as they seem on the outside. Because of certain images society holds, it allows humans to wear masks for protection from what they are actually feeling internally. Individuals wear these masks to protect hidden, troubled emotions they feel or to hide from society because of inner fears of revealing their true selves. In William Shakespear’s famous play Macbeth, Lady Macbeth uses masks of power and evil to conceal tremendous emotions of guilt and weakness.
Lady Macbeth’s incredible desire for power is first introduced in Act I of the play when she begins to read a letter from her husband. As she reads about the witches’s prophecy of Macbeth becoming king of Scotland, she begins to accumulate villainous ideas in her mind. Only the death of the king would allow the witches’s predictions to come true. King Duncan’s visit to Inverness would be his “fatal entrance” (1.5.35). “Unsex me here” (1.5.37) and “make thick my blood” (1.5.39) Lady Macbeth would say, wanting to have the courage and strength of a man. To have power, she must win the “golden round” (1.5.24) and become queen of Scotland. Lady Macbeth craves for her husband’s success so much that she would “dash the brains out” (1.7.58) of her own child in order to achieve her goal. The strong ambition within her makes it seem as if she had no conscience or human feeling. Supernatural incidents are what mainly motivates her desire for power. Lady Macbeth would not have wanted to commit murder if the three weird sisters had not said Macbeth would be king. She even mentions how “the raven himself is hoarse/ That croaks” (1.5.34-35), which foretells the upcoming death of Duncan. Lady Macbeth’s hunger to be queen is only the start of the immense mask she creates for herself to become the dominating and powerful woman she wants to be.
Trying to convince Macbeth to kill the king is a great challenge for Lady Macbeth that allows readers of the play to see the demanding side of her. Because her husband is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” (1.5.13) to kill Duncan himself, Lady Macbeth’s domineering traits help them both succeed in their unruly plan to gain the crown. When Macbeth is unwilling to commit murder, she claims that her husband is “a coward in thine own esteem” (1.7.43) and compares him to a “poor cat I’ the adage” (1.7.45). Humiliating Macbeth’s manhood is all a part of her deceiving plan to convince him to commit regicide. She is determined that they will not fail if Macbeth would just “Look like the innocent flower” (1.5.61) and use a mask to cover his guilt. Devising her own plans, they will blame the murder on the drunken guards “who will bear the guilt / Of their great quell” (1.7.71-72). Her idea will succeed as long as they “screw their courage to the sticking-place” (1.7.60). No doubts or thoughts of failure ever enter Lady Macbeth’s mind because she is so greedy for the crown that she is willing to risk anything. These dangerous attempts emphasize her great hunger to be queen and the power she yearns for. Killing the king appears to be rather simple to Lady Macbeth, which displays her as a cold-hearted and unremorseful person. If murdering the king will give her the power that she craves for, then she will definitely act upon it, while wearing a merciless mask to those that dare block her way from becoming the queen of Scotland.
As Lady Macbeth welcomes King Duncan to her home, she wears a mask of generosity to make the king feel welcomed. She acts very delightful to see him, and her courteousness is to good to be true. Lady Macbeth kindly tells Duncan that whatever he desires will be at his “Highness’ pleasure” (1.6.28). Her falseness to the king conveys her apprehensive feelings about the murder. By not acting normal towards Duncan, it is shown that Lady Macbeth is not as strong as she seems. She cannot even commit the murder herself because the king “resembled her father as he slept” (2.2.12-13). Questioning “the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman” (2.2.3) displays the fear she holds about the omen of death. She mentions a second time that she “heard the owl scream and the crickets cry” (2.2.16). These cries from the owl frighten her because of the supernatural signs they represent. How can she want to commit murder if she shrivels at the sound of an owl? As she tries her best to hide the murder, Lady Macbeth’s falseness and frightfulness are moderately beginning to crumble her mask of power.
Lady Macbeth’s guilt gets the best of her during an altered state of mind as she sleepwalks. In her dream, she cannot simply “get some water / And wash the filthy witness” (2.2.46-47) from her hand, as she told her husband to do after he committed the murder. By washing her hands, she believed that it would simply wash away her guilt. She desperately tries to wash the blood from her hands and asks herself, “who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (5.1.31). She even mentions how “her hands would ne’er be clean” (5.1.34). It was impossible to remove “the smell of the blood” (5.1.39) even “all the perfumes of Arabia could not sweeten her little hand” (5.1.39-40). Not being able to wash the blood away causes her to be hysterical in her dreams. This short scene of a doctor and gentlewoman observing Lady Macbeth displays a great change in her comparing to her dominating character in the beginning of the play. Her weakness finally overcomes her when she commits suicide in Act V. Killing herself was her only way of escaping her guilty conscious and intense fear. Lady Macbeth’s outer masks of malevolence can no longer handle the tremendous guilt within her.
Lady Macbeth’s dramatic change in her character displays a person who is too weak to carry on their own outer mask to society. Even though she was so controlling and influential to her husband, she could not even handle her own guiltiness within her. Her desire for power and ruthlessness about the kings murder just made her a weaker person by being greedy and desperate. Because of manipulation and evil, even a strong person, like Lady Macbeth, can fall into despair if they cannot reveal their true inner emotions. Wearing a mask cannot hide a problem, nor is it a solution to any problem.