Lady Macbeth: The Culprit for the Bloody Deeds

April 6, 2018
Custom User Avatar
More by this author

When reading through Macbeth by William Shakespeare, which incident would impress the readers most? Is it the extermination of respectful King Duncan, the end of Banquo’s life, or the destruction of Macduff’s family? Because of the corrupted morality of the Witches, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, they are all culpable for these bloody events. And yet, there is one character among the three who causes the most harm and shows the greatest loss of humanity. Although the Witches foretell Macbeth’s future kingship and Macbeth is the one who actually commits murder, Lady Macbeth is the most responsible for the bloody deeds because of her insistence that Macbeth ignore his conscience.  
      

Despite the Witches’ prophecies and Macbeth’s stabbing of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth is the most to blame for the king’s murder because she demands that Macbeth act on his ambition. 
At the beginning of the play, when the Witches see Macbeth, they greet him as “Thane of Glamis” (I.iii.47), “Thane of Cawdor” (I.iii.48) and say that he “shalt be king hereafter” (I.iii.49).

 

The Witches are manipulating Macbeth, aware of his ambition, hoping that he will follow a bloody plan that will lead him to his doom.  Macbeth begins to show his lust for power when he is not named King Duncan’s heir: “The Prince of Cumberland: that is a step / On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, / For in my way it lies” (I.iv.48-50). His greed alone, however, is not strong enough to support his plan of murdering King Duncan. Being notified of the Witches’ prophecies, Lady Macbeth is excited about her husband’s future role, but expresses her fear that his nature “is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way” (I. v. 16-17). She also points out that although he has ambition, he is “without the illness should attend it” (I. v. 18-19). Lady Macbeth’s worries suggest that Macbeth is innately kind, which could be an obstacle to her plan of him murdering Duncan. These lines also foreshadow the important role that Lady Macbeth is going to play in demanding that Macbeth act. Lady Macbeth calls upon the “spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts” (I. v. 39-40) to “unsex [her]” (I. v. 40) and “fill [her] from the crown to the toe topfull/ Of direst cruelty” (I.v.41-42). Afterwards when Lady Macbeth is notified that Duncan is coming to their house that night, she reminds Macbeth to act innocently in front of Duncan. However, Macbeth is not yet prepared to commit murder saying, “We will speak further—” (I.vi. 70).  Then Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to let her handle the details of Duncan’s murder: “Only look up clear. / To alter favor ever is to fear. /Leave all the rest to me” (I.v.71-73). After stabbing Duncan but failing to leave the daggers in Duncan’s chamber, guilt-ridden Macbeth decides to “go no more. / [He] [is] afraid to think what [he] [has] done; / Look on’t again, [he] [dares] not” (II.ii.53-55). When hearing this, Lady Macbeth is immediately irritated: “Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead/ Are but as pictures” (II.ii.57-58). Again, Lady Macbeth blames Macbeth for his indecision, taking the more “masculine” and active role in their plan. By orchestrating the murder and making sure that the guards are framed for it, Lady Macbeth is the most responsible for the murder of Duncan.
    

Even though the Witches influence Macbeth’s alertness against Banquo and Macbeth orders the murder, Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind Macbeth’s decision to act on his desires which results in Banquo’s death. The prophecies of the Witches indicate that Banquo “shalt get kings, though [he] shalt be none” (I.iii.65). Although no time frame is noted, Macbeth views Banquo and especially his son as a threat to Macbeth’s kingship. Later, Macbeth plans to kill Banquo and his son Fleance even though Lady Macbeth counsels him to “leave this” (III.ii.36). Convinced that she will support this action later, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, / Till thou applaud the deed” (III.ii.45-46).  Earlier Lady Macbeth questions his courage for “letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’” (I. vii. 44). While Lady Macbeth actually tells Macbeth to “[c]onsider it not so deeply” (II.ii.33), she later admits her role in his wrongdoing as she sleepwalks. She tells him how to cover the deed: “Wash your hands, put on your night-gown, look not so / pale. I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he cannot / come out on’s grave” (V.i.54-56).  By demanding previously that he act on his own desire, she has driven Macbeth to plan the murder of Banquo and Fleance.   
    

Even though the Witches’ first apparition warns Macbeth about Macduff and Macbeth orders the murders of everyone in Macduff’s castle, Lady Macbeth is the most responsible for the deaths because she pushes Macbeth down this immoral path. When Macbeth returns to talk to the Witches, their first apparition warns Macbeth to “beware Macduff, / Beware the Thane of Fife” (IV.i.70-71).  Although at first alarmed, Macbeth then sees the next two apparitions and believes that he does not have anything to worry about: “none of women born/ Shall harm Macbeth” (IV.i.79-80) and “Macbeth shalt never vanquish’d be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/ Shalt come against him” (IV.i.91-93).  Feeling invincible because of the apparitions and justified in his actions because of Lady Macbeth’s support and encouragement, he orders the murder of everyone in Macduff’s castle. Emboldened by her support and his belief in his invincibility, he decides that “[t]he very firstlings of [his] heart shall be / The firstlings of [his] hand” (IV.i.146-147). While Lady Macbeth does not appear to have a direct role in ordering these deaths, she again acknowledges her role in the bloody deeds: “The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?” (V. i. 38).  Lady Macbeth reveals her guilt, now recognizing that the “hands [will] ne’er be clean” (V. i. 39) and she cannot use water to clear herself of these bloody deeds.  All of the scenes come together and to prove that Lady Macbeth has so much influence on Macbeth that he commits to the bloody deeds despite his prior unwillingness.
    

Lady Macbeth has been the major cause of the bloody deeds in Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Indeed, she remains loyal to her husband. Yet in order to fulfill her own ambition to be queen, she has to “unsex herself” and convince Macbeth to act.  Lady Macbeth keeps pushing Macbeth to overcome his sense of guilt and fear, forcing Macbeth to fulfill the plans of murdering King Duncan, Banquo and even Macduff’s family. She is the powerful figure behind Macbeth. Without any concerns, Lady Macbeth uses ruthlessness to arm herself and causes the bloody deeds against her conscience. She then becomes the main culprit for the deaths, and “the Fourth Witch” in Macbeth.






Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback