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The feeling of being racked with guilt can often lead to pure madness. Madness is a mental illness with the signs of guilt, suicidal thoughts and loss of reality which is visible in Macbeth. Macbeth is a story written by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the most recognizable English dramatist. He wrote his shortest and darkest tragedy between 1603 and 1607 to please James I and is based on some historical facts from Scotland. As Shakespeare was interested in human mind and psychoanalysis, he created characters which show the nature of madness in various forms. One of the most powerful feminine character as co-protagonists in his play is Lady Macbeth. She is one of the most enigmatic, interesting, decisive character in the play who is powerful at the expense of her man to whom she is the closest and whom she helps to ruin. However, like most of the feminine characters in Shakespeare's plays she is a tragic figure who loses her personal power , takes leave of her senses due to the unsound mind and eventually commits suicide. It turns out that guilt leads to internal destruction.
Lady Macbeth is ambitious person loving her spouse. She have had a child since she says: "I have given suck and know how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks meâ€¦" (Shakespeare I; vii)" but we do not know anything else about her child as she mentions it only once. She takes all her care of Macbeth and sometimes treats him as he was her own child. He also loves her and calls her "dearest partner in greatness". This becomes a blind and mad love in which she is ready to do everything for her man.
To fully understand the reasons of Lady Macbeth's madness and why her mind is taken over by the power it is beneficial to move back to the sixteenth century when there was a belief claiming that the woman are passive, weak and fearful while the men are active, strong and brave. Acts of violence were performed only by men. Surprisingly, Lady Macbeth is a woman who identifies with male strength and thus is willing to rule. She wants to struggle against the limitations of being a woman in such patriarchal society to become powerful and famous. She wants do decide about her own destiny. As she is not able to do this she shames her man into taking action. She calls Macbeth "a coward" criticizing his weaknesses. She says: "What beast was't then / That made you break this enterprise to me? / When you durst do it, then you were a man;/ And to be more than what you were, you would / Be so much more the man" (I, vii). She strives to her aim - the fulfillment of the prophecy using her husband's love in a ruthless way to become a queen. Under such pressure, Macbeth decides to kill Duncan.
Lady Macbeth manipulates his husband constantly. She does it because she loves him - she takes care of him thinking that when he kills Duncan he will become "Thane of Cawdor" (I, iii) which will make him powerful and happy. It is she who plans the murder, does not listen to her conscience and does not hesitate unlike Macbeth who has some doubts about the deed. He asks: "If we should fail"? (I, vii) Lady Macbeth gives him the strength answering: "We fail? But screw your courage to the stitching-place/ And we will not fail" (I, vii). She knows that women are perceived as weak and submissive so she asks the spirits for help: "Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me hereâ€¦make thick my bloodâ€¦take my milk for gall, you murdering ministersâ€¦come thick night." (I, v) But when she looks at Duncan while he is sleeping she says that she would never kill him herself. She is afraid of the slightest sounds and the possibility of being caught. It turns out that her only physical part in the murder is when she drugs and smears the grooms being satisfied and telling Macbeth: "My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white" and she adds as if nothing has happened that: "A little water clears us of this deed; how easy is it then!" (II, ii) This could mean that she wants to repress her conscience at all costs, she lacks respect for human life and that she murders just to satisfy her own ambitions.
Next day when the crime is revealed, Macbeth kills Duncan's grooms. When Lady Macbeth hears about it, she faints which can be an evidence for her relief from the nervous tension. What is more, the murder and the secret separate the spouses. Macbeth does not love Lady Macbeth anymore, he treats her indifferently. He makes all the decisions, she none. Now he calls her "Prithee see there! Look! Lo! How say you!" (III, iv) leaving her in despair. Such rejection of her husband connected with the terrible dreams she is having leads her to insanity. When he tells her that he wants to get rid of her she is desperate to save her relations saying: "How now my lord? Why do you keep alone, of sorriest fancies your companions making; using those thoughts which should indeed have died with them they think on? Things without regard: What's done is done." (III, ii) She wants to go back to the times they were happy but Macbeth desires blood only. She fears that Macbeth is able to kill her either. All the aforementioned aspects of her heartbreak and the guilt of her husband's crimes committed contribute to her deepening insanity.
Lady Macbeth's madness is visible through many symptoms which make her behaviour irrational. After the murder she claims that stain and smell of Dunkan's blood seem not going out of her hands. So she washes them continually but without any effect. She writes, speaks and walks in her sleep. She rehears some parts of the reminiscences of murders. Most of her uttered words seem to be directed to the absent husband. This sleepwalking scene could be a sign of demonic possession which we can find in the following lines: "Come to my woman's breasts/And take my milk for gall, you murth'ring ministers" (I,v) These lines can refer to Elizabethan thought when milk was associated with a form of blood. Such psychoanalytic approach of her dreams is the best example of her possessed mind and the revealed secret desires and anxieties. In the course of the play she totally loses her mind and the doctor who witnesses her concludes that: "Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles: infected minds/ To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets:/ More needs she the divine than the physician./ God, God, forgive us all" . (V, ii) She commits suicide as it becomes her final escape. Suicide was the only one possibility to control her conscience which could be repressed.
In order to fully understand the psyche of Lady Macbeth it is necessary to use psychoanalytical theory which says that the unconscious mind is driven by the sexual desires as well as primal instinct of man. Lady Macbeth is an example of the personality of Freud's three desires governed by the Id (part of unconscious mind)- a woman's anger, desire to rule, the Superego (conscious part in the mind) and Ego which mediates between these two. Such psychoanalysis is best to find the reasoning of Lady Macbeth's metamorphosis. At the very beginning of the play Lady Macbeth is the one who is stronger character pushing his husband to actions. However, in the course of time her personality changes as she breaks down first. Lady Macbeth from cruel, ruthless and purely evil, becomes alone, unhappy and abandoned woman. She could be described as psychopath who eventually becomes more human-like.
To sum up, Shakespeare was a master of showing the tragic hero characters. The drastic personality change Lady Macbeth goes through confirms that the evil destroys people. Her crimes led her too far as she could not cope with the situation, lost her husband's love, her common sense and health. In my opinion, Lady Macbeth pays great price for her cruelty which makes her even more interesting character. She became one of the most inspiring one.