British Literature 131-2
22 January 2018
The Metamorphosis of Lady Macbeth and Her Husband
Power and Ambition can change many people for the better or for worse. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth’s wife, Lady Macbeth is transformed by her husband’s prophecy. When the prophecy is told, it seems like only good things can come for Macbeth and his wife, but in the end it leads to their downfall, as the couple’ ambition; especially Lady Macbeth’s, leads to their ultimate demise. After Lady Macbeth’s sinister ideas in the beginning of the play get Macbeth is first title, Macbeth is the one who wants to continue the murder and evil, while Lady Macbeth is driven into madness due to the crimes she has been responsible for. Lady Macbeth starts off as a much more sinister character willing to act on her ambition, however she slowly switches roles with Macbeth, as he becomes the one willing to do anything for power.
In the beginning of the story, Lady Macbeth is more ambitious and power hungry than Macbeth, which leads to her being the dominant member of the couple. After she receives a letter from Macbeth telling her about the news of the prophecy, Lady Macbeth worries about her husband, claiming that “Macbeth is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness” to ever be able to kill Duncan and seize the opportunity presented to him by the witches (Shakespeare 1.5 4-6). Lady Macbeth believes her husband is not capable of committing evil acts such as killing Duncan to fulfill the prophecy. She is clearly more ruthless at this point and if it were not for her husband receiving the prophecy, she potentially would have carried out the murder herself, but since she cannot, she must persuade her husband who lacks the sinister traits that she has at this point of the story. Eventually, Lady Macbeth is able to convince Macbeth to commit the murder by repeatedly questioning his manhood and by the time Macbeth does accept to kill Duncan, he feels that he has to prove to his wife that he is capable of doing what she believes needs to be done. This is the peak of Lady Macbeth’s sinister attitude. From this point on she becomes more and more guilty over what she has done while Macbeth becomes the one willing to do anything for more power. A switch in roles between the couple has started, and Macbeth begins to take Lady Macbeth’s spot as the more dominant member of the relationship. Duncan’s murder signifies the start of Lady Macbeth’s metamorphosis.
Due to Duncan’s death, Lady Macbeth is no longer preoccupied with the need to protect her husband’s kingdom, however Macbeth is worried about Banquo and what he can do to take away his title. This is the start of their role reversal which can be seen when Lady Macbeth has had enough of her husband’s superstition and tells him that “he must leave this” after Macbeth believes that killing Duncan was not enough to secure the throne (Shakespeare 3.2 38). Macbeth starts to believe that killing Banquo and his child, Fleance is necessary to keep his title as king while at the same time, Lady Macbeth believes that murder is no longer needed and that Banquo and his son will die eventually anyway. The two have changed tremendously since the decision to kill Duncan because originally Lady Macbeth was the one who believed killing was necessary. Macbeth is also no longer submissive to Lady Macbeth as he was before he murdered Duncan. He has clearly been corrupted by Duncan’s murder and is not leaving it behind him. He is making sure that no one can challenge his new authority and now he believes that he must kill anyone who might pose a threat to him. Lady Macbeth believes that Macbeth has done enough to keep his kingship and believes Macbeth is taking this too far by plotting against Banquo. Clearly, Macbeth is the one ready to kill anyone for more power just like Lady Macbeth was when she quickly planned out Duncan’s murder. Lady Macbeth is no longer the stronger and more ambitious member of the relationship, and Macbeth has shown that he will even kill his best friend to secure the throne and his future.
Lady Macbeth’s personality at the end of the story is completely opposite from the one seen in the beginning. Like Macbeth after killing Duncan, Lady Macbeth now feels guilt for all the evil deeds she has been responsible for, claiming in a sleep walk that “She has the smell of blood still” and that “all the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten her little hand” from the sinister deeds she has committed with her husband (Shakespeare 5.1 33-34). Lady Macbeth is not well at this point of the story, she clearly is bothered mentally by the sinister deeds she has played a part in, and according to the gentle woman, her sleep walks have become a regular occurrence. It seemed like she lacked any sort of conscience at the start of this story, but now she recognizes the evil she has committed and seems like a different character. While Lady Macbeth is slowly going insane over what she has done, Macbeth has turned into a tyrant who has become obsessed with protecting his future as king of Scotland no matter the cost. In the beginning of the story, he was an ambitious man not completely in agreement with his wife’s ideas of killing for what he wants, but he now kills anyone in his way. Macbeth started off as hesitant to kill a single old man who stood in the way of what the witches prophesied, and now he has killed an innocent family without a second thought because of their relation to Macduff, the man who is set on killing him because of his crimes. The role reversal is complete: Lady Macbeth has gone insane from the guilt over the acts she was a part of and eventually dies. Meanwhile, Macbeth has become a full blown tyrant with no remorse over his actions.
Lady Macbeth’s change is completely opposite to Macbeth’s, and at the end of the story she gets driven into madness over what she has been a part of, while Macbeth feels less and less guilt for each murder he commits to protect his crown. In the beginning, Lady Macbeth was the one who was not afraid to act on her own ambition. She displayed her control over Macbeth by getting him to do the deed that he disagreed with doing at first. Following Duncan’s death, She thought enough was done to protect Macbeth’s kingship, but Macbeth was the one who wanted to ensure his title by killing Banquo. Lady Macbeth started to disagree with Macbeth at this point, but went along anyway. Towards the end of the story, the roles of the two completely switch. Lady Macbeth is going completely insane over what she has done, and Macbeth feels no guilt over the crimes he performed. At this point their personalities are complete opposites from the beginning of the story. Lady Macbeth deserved all of what was coming to her. Because of all the murder and crime she was responsible for, she eventually succumbs to all her guilt and goes insane from it. It is a fitting end to her life that brings her metamorphosis full circle.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Trans. By Nevill Coghill. The Language of Literature British Literature. Ed. Arthur N. Applebee’s, et al. Evanston, IL, McDougal Little, 2002. Print.