How do Macbeth and Lady Macbeth characters develop throughout the play?
The development of Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s characters is a strong form and plays a huge role in the story but the way they are created seems plausible as one seems to be the more dominant than the other and vice versa. The story is supposed to be a stereotypical, a reactionary of the medieval times where men would have the dominant role over women. In this case, it seems to be true in the beginning and as it proceeds through the story. But somehow, it switches and the turning point would be established there when Macbeth becomes independent and takes all matter into his own hands leaving Lady Macbeth stranded, as these two very important characters develop throughout the whole story.
The way Macbeth is developed is dependent on Lady Macbeth influences and how he reacts to it. At the beginning of the story, Macbeth is described to be brave, ‘For Brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name’. And how he fought courageously to help win the battle, ‘Confronted him with self-comparisons, Point against point, rebellious arm against arm, curbing his lavish spirit. And to conclude, the victory fell on us’. This best describes him as a noble warrior and a loyal subject to Duncan, king of Scotland. He remains to be what has been described of him but when he encounters the witches, his characteristics begin to change. This encounter with the witches when they spoke of the prophecies that will happen to Macbeth and this triggers the bad side of him, which begins to develop slowly. At first he is stunned to silence when he heard the witches and Ross later hailed him ‘thane of Cawdor’ which suggest he is stunned by his good fortune. But soon he accepts this, ‘Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor: The greatest is behind’. And so this is the beginning where Macbeth starts to change, moving from this loyal and noble warrior to an ambitious but weary man. He is surrounded with suspicion as he begins to plot something sinister but he is weak as he lets temptations overcome him. He does this when he begins to admit a ‘suggestion’, some ‘horrible imaginings’, and says the word ‘murder’ which suggests suspicion about him and then it grows when he confesses his ‘black and deep desires’. Lady Macbeth understands her husband very well and says, ‘Thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it’. By ‘illness’ is a metaphor for ‘evil’ and states about Macbeth truthfully where Lady Macbeth thinks an illness is evil and Macbeth catches evil like a disease and like most diseases, if there is no cure then it gets worse (killing Duncan Is the first symptom, then killing Banquo is the next and gets worse for Macbeth as he progresses) until it comes to a premature end where his death is inevitable. The play shows how his symptoms, develop throughout the play until there is no hope of a cure and so the man has to die. This summarises of what is happening and will happen to these characters.
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Lady Macbeth at this point has read the letter and she understands her husband very well and she knows that he has great ambitions, but she knows he is a honourable person. Lady Macbeth too has ambition as well and wants to be queen, ‘Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be what thou art promis’d; yet do I fear thy nature, it is too full l’th’milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way’. And the way, to that is through Macbeth as he has access to the throne after being given a new title ‘Thane of Cawdor’. She knows she will have to urge her husband on to become king, and she calls for evil spirits to help her. She’s a firm believer in witchcraft and she will give up all the qualities of a woman in exchange to become a sexless fiend so she will not feel any guilt or any remorse, ‘Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty; make thick my blood, stop up th’access and passage to remorse that no compunctious visitings of nature’. Macbeth seems to be glad that his wife is taking control and the responsibility and so it appears that she has the dominant role.
Macbeth for the first time thinks about the possibility of murdering his king as he wrestles his own conscience, although at first it has only been a dream to him, ‘but fantastical’ and it seems to be a major problem to him. He seems to understand that murdering the king would be a crime that must be punished as the king is Gods appointed one on Earth and murdering the king would be questioning Gods judgement. He is aware of the duty he owes to Duncan, ‘He’s here in double trust: first, as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself’. These are profound reasons that intervenes his ambition, If he was not a kinsmen, subject and host to defend Duncan, it would be a huge sin to kill him rather than harm him. He appreciates Duncan’s fine qualities as a king to his country and he knows that to destroy such virtue would be a crime against heaven. He has a vision of Pity with all the weakness of a human baby yet able to soar over the blasts of the ‘trumpet-tongu’d angels’. Macbeth then turns to his own motives and finds nothing except ‘Vaulting ambition’, and he realises that too high a leap would result in a great fall. So Macbeth has made his mind up and won himself a great victory over himself and he is triumphant when he tells Lady Macbeth, ‘We will proceed no further in this business’. But he is unprepared by Lady Macbeths rage and abuse as she calls him a coward, and challenges his manliness to try and convince him to pursue their crime, ‘When you durst do it, then you were a man. And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more than the man. Nor time, nor place did then adhere, and yet you would make both. They have made themselves and that their fitness now does unmake you’, and she thinks he is a traitor to his own words. She threatened that she would have murdered her child while it was feeding at her breast, rather than break such a promise as Macbeth has done, ‘How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums and dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this’. He yields and is persuaded by her encouragement, which suggest Macbeth is weak, and not as strong as she is mentally and so Macbeth agrees to murder his king. This confirms that the dominant character would be Lady Macbeth as she is psychologically stronger, and Macbeth submits to her guidance. Lady Macbeth has become a bad influence to her husband but she will do anything to get in her own way.
Macbeth still petrified by the wrath of his wife as he shows signs of stress and the imminent crime waiting for him, as he speaks few words when he replies to Banquo in the courtyard. He is at first alarmed by the dagger his mind creates, but he seems to enjoy it, ‘the bell invites me. Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell’. He is kind of a way shocked as he did not expect anything superstitious, but as the dagger appear, it’s as if it is a sign to him to either warn him of what he is about to do or it could be that Duncan’s death awaits and let Macbeth to proceed. It could be either way and is not revealed in the story. Shakespeare uses ‘knell’ in the line, which is a funeral bell rung to announce a death. This is a good use of language as it lets the reader know that death awaits Duncan.
After the murder, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth react differently to it. Macbeth is disgusted and horrified to think of what he has done as he emerges from the murder and Lady Macbeth greets him and Macbeth has proven that he is a man to her. While Lady Macbeth is bold and confident, because she does not understand that the deed is morally wrong and her only concern is to destroy the evidence which Macbeth carries with him. Macbeth awakens to a consciousness of guilt as he wishes to rid of blood but he cannot, ‘What hands are here? Ha: they pluck out mine eyes. Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No: this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine,’ that the guilt will remain with him until his death. Lady Macbeth continues to take charge and confessed that she could not murder Duncan herself, ‘Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t’, which suggest some natural, womanly feelings in her. But in the end, she thinks little of the guilt that she shares with her husband, ‘A little water clears us of this deed’. And Macbeth wishes he could wake Duncan so he would not feel any guilt, ‘Wake Duncan with thy knocking: I would thou couldst.’
After Macbeth has been crown King, his character begins to become more independent and decides to take some action without consulting Lady Macbeth, as he begins to plot to get rid of Banquo and Fleance by hiring assassins as he realises that his crown is ‘fruitless’, and his sceptre ‘barren’ and he achieved it by murdering Duncan in order for the prophecy to come true. So the witches’ promise to Banquo may not come true if he was to be removed. Macbeth is increasingly becoming more independent as he begins to take everything into his own hands while Lady Macbeth is beginning to show signs of strain. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have a great understanding of each other but Macbeth with so many things on his mind; ‘full of scorpions is my mind’ keeps secrets from her in his plot to kill Banquo. Though he does say it is better to be dead as there are no worries, than when everything is accomplished where there are still worries, ‘Better be with the dead whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave. After life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well’. He wishes he could be like Duncan and be dead, so there are worries rather than be alive and have worries. He alarms his wife by conjuring up an atmosphere of evil and he seems to enjoy his dreadful imaginings jut like he did when he went to murder Duncan. But this is a mistake, as this is the beginning of the break in their relationship as he begins to move away from Lady Macbeth and be independent. Macbeth is also similar to Lady Macbeth as they both call in evil spirits to enhance their characters, ‘seeling night’ and Lady Macbeth before the murder of Duncan, ‘the dunnest smoke of hell’.
Macbeth now knows that the first murder is only the first, ‘blood will have blood’. He tells his wife and starts to accept and believes that there is no way back and that it is easier to carry on then to go back, ‘Stepp’d in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go’er’. Macbeth is a desperate man that he must act and not stop to consider the reasons for acting, ‘Strange things I have in head that will to hand, which must be acted ere they may be scann’d’. Macbeth emerges as a new man but it means it is a breakdown in his relationship with his wife as she is left stranded while he moves on and she only has herself to blame, as she was the one who encouraged him to be without remorse in the first place.
Macbeth confronts the witches as he seeks answers and wishes for comforting answers. But Macbeth trusts no one as he has no faith in the other thanes and sets spies on each other, ‘There’s not a one of them but in his house I keep a servant feed’. But it also seems that he does not trust the witches either as he is not satisfied by their new prophecy and he begins to be cruel by slaughtering Macduff’s entire family, ‘But yet I’ll make assurance double sure’, but there is no motive for this. Macbeth has been described as a cruel tyrant, and that he has turned Scotland into a country ‘Alas, poor country, almost afraid to know itself,’ and so he does not have many supporters for the way he handled things as a ruler.
Lady Macbeth is becoming ill, weak and mad and she prayed that she should know, ‘no compunctious visitings of nature’. She is continuously walking I her sleep, and she keeps thinking about the night of the murder, which suggest she is going mad. When she confidently declared that, ‘A little water will clear us if this deed’, but now she knows that, ‘all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand’. She was told to ‘Remove from her the means of all annoyance’ which shows that she is mentally disturbed.
There has been opinions about Macbeth stating that he is mad and furious but he is not, he feels old and lonely, ‘My way of life is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf, and that which should accompany old age, as honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have’. Much tragic news comes as the prophecy, which seems to go for him ends up turning against him. He hears about his wife who is dead but he seems to be unable to grieve for her as life seems to have no meaning to him and he somehow sees himself as mere actor, ‘That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more’. He has lost everything and know that he is defeated and chooses to die in battle, ‘with harness on our back’ to die in honour when he is challenged by Macduff of which he is reluctant to fight, ‘Of all men else I have avoided thee, but get thee back, my soul is too much charg’d with blood of thine already.’
So it seems that throughout the story, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth seems to begin a road where both characters lives end prematurely. Macbeth was aware of the dangers but Lady Macbeth did not see sense and let her ambition to take its toll. But the development of each character needed the other and was very dependent to each other to survive. Macbeth needed Lady Macbeth for guidance but for the wrong reasons and Lady Macbeth needed her husband for support but did not get any even though she was far more the dominant than Macbeth. When Macbeth decided to move on without Lady Macbeth, things started to get worse a lot quicker than expected.
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