First impressions are similar to the cliché ‘never judge a book by its cover’. In The Tragedy of Macbeth by Shakespeare, a first impression may not actually reveal a person’s true identity. The protagonists, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, are introduced to the reader as a noble soldier and a deceitful woman. Power and the desire to achieve absolute power is the central issue that these two characters face. Lady Macbeth’s strong ambition to become queen, spurs the faltering ambition of Macbeth to a quest where his character undergoes a transformation. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, runs out of will to suppress her conscience and natural being, which lead her to metamorphosis into a dynamic character. The playwright does not judge their desire of power, but rather the actions they undertake to claim their own possession. Shakespeare’s play Macbeth reveals the similarities, differences, and changes in the characters of Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth.
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The characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are illustrated with similar traits in this play. From the moment the reader is introduced to these two interesting and complex characters, one skillfully knows that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are a compatible couple. Macbeth is revealed in Act I scene 3 already showing ambition for power and wealth, when the three witches tell him that he will be named thane of Cawdor and king, to his already held title, thane of Glamis. Macbeth secretly exposes his desire to become king by saying, “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my site,” (I.3.141-143). He is ready to refute the title of king because the realization of that royal dream unleashes Macbeth’s raging, uncontrollable ambition. However, his ambition does not become overbearing until it is fueled by Lady Macbeth’s own ambition. She receives word of the witches’ prophecies in a letter and is determined to become queen by having Macbeth kill Duncan. The reader notices how incisive and in control Lady Macbeth is because she tells Macbeth, “To alter favor ever is to fear, leave all the rest to me” (I.6.69-70). Lady Macbeth, as her husband, is ready to fulfill the deed on order to ensure the fate she wants for herself. In addition, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are lustful in the play. Her voluptuous personality exists to a point where she believes in supernatural powers. She calls on, “the evil spirits to take her feminist away in order for her to act stronger and guiltless” (I.6.37-40). Lady Macbeth does not even question the motives of the witches or the moral ramifications of killing Duncan. Similarly, Macbeth also believes in superstitions of becoming king, even though he knew the witches were “â€¦evil and no good” (I.3.131).
Despite Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s active imaginations and ambitious personalities, their behaviors progress in different ways. When time comes to execute the plan and murder Duncan, Macbeth is scared and too honorable of a man to commit such a crime. He explains that “Duncan trusts him as a kinsman and he has received gratifying opinions from people that he does not want to throw away” (I.7.32-35). Macbeth knew Duncan in the past, which is why he feels he cannot go through with this cold-blooded murder. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, expresses ruthlessness in the thought of murdering Duncan. It seems as though she is almost excited to commit murder and mocks Macbeth by saying “he would be less of a man and would acquire cowardness” (I.7.39-45). Lady Macbeth senses her husband’s weakness, yet ridicules his masculinity because she is unstoppable in her evil plan. She becomes satisfied and proud once she convinces Macbeth into killing Duncan and the deed finally is fulfilled. She fears nothing at this point, and “â€¦feels that the blood on Macbeth’s hands can be cleared by the purity of water” (2.2.44-45). Even though her plan has worked accordingly as she knew it would, the reader realizes and sees how the power of Macbeth’s conscience is overpowering him. He is “â€¦imagining voices that are dominating his head telling him that he will never again sleep” (2.2.34). Macbeth is becoming obsessed with the murder, especially when he “â€¦shows Lady Macbeth his hands covered with blood” (2.2.57-61). Their opposing character traits are also seen in Act 3 when the ghost of Banquo appears to Macbeth. The reader, witnesses Macbeth’s vulnerability because rather than him kill Banquo and his son, Fleance himself, he sends two of his servants to do the filthy work. When he notices the ghost sitting in his chair, Macbeth begins yelling at it that “â€¦he has not done the deed and therefore he (ghost) cannot blame him” (3.4.50-51). During that moment, Lady Macbeth’s only concern is her future social status as queen, and asks her husband if “â€¦he is a, man” (3.4.58). She displays no consideration or concern over Macbeth’s state of being, but instead yells at him for acting unmanly.
In this Shakespearean play, the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth change throughout the play. At the beginning, Macbeth is courageous and noble when he defeats the rebels of Norway. He fights ferociously, risking his own life to save his country. Macbeth is illustrated as a strong soldier who is loyal and represents a heroic figure. The Duncan he is the “worthiest cousin” (1.2.24); to the wounded sergeant/captain “valor’s minion” (1.2.19); and to Banquo “my noble partner” (1.3.54). It is Macbeth’s weakness and ambition that causes him to become a corruptive and hated tyrant. The reader changes his or her impression of Macbeth during his reaction to the witches’ prophecy. He is pushed by misplaced confidence in the prophecies that lead him to become a man with no sense of morals. After he kills Duncan, his paranoia is so deeply ingrained that he seeks to distance himself from anyone who could threaten his reign. Macbeth arranges for the death of his good friend Banquo and his son, Fleance, because of the prophecy that “â€¦Banquo’s sons shall become kings” (1.3.65-68). He displays obsession with the idea that others would overthrow him as king, so Macbeth had slaughtered Macduff’s whole family, even the women and children. For him to go as far and kill Lady Macduff and her children, demonstrates Macbeth’s heartless and ruthless personality.
Lady Macbeth also changes throughout the play, thus becoming a dynamic character. However, unlike Macbeth, she progresses from a savage and strong woman, to a weak, reserved female. At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare introduces the character of Lady Macbeth by her determination in plotting the murder of Duncan. She lusts after power and position and then pressures her husband into killing Duncan. She displays assertiveness by demanding Macbeth:
â€¦ To beguile the time, Look like the time. Bear welcome in your eyes, your hand, your tongue. Look like th’ innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t. He that’s coming Must be provided for; and you shall put This night’s great business into my dispatchâ€¦ (1.5.61-65).
Lady Macbeth knows that her husband is weak, so she takes the murder into her own hands. She becomes even more cold-hearted and inhuman when she tells her husband that “â€¦she would kill her own baby during nursing if she had promised, just like Macbeth promised, to help her with the murder of Duncan” (1.7.54-59). For the power of being Scotland’s queen, she would give up the most closest thing in her life by murder. Though, when Lady Macbeth arrived at the palace, ready to commit the filthy deed, she took one look at Duncan and decided that she couldn’t kill him because “â€¦he resembled her father too much” (2.2.12-13). The reader notices irony in the fact that she would kill her own baby, but not her father. That was the first sign of weakness presented by Lady Macbeth because even though she shows no signs of fear, she cannot, in fact, bring herself to kill someone that looks like a member of her family. Until scene 5, the audience is lead to believe that Lady Macbeth will never feel any guilt concerning the murder, but her guilty conscience is illustrated near the end of the play. She began saying strange things about “â€¦not being able to wash off all the guilt, and still having blood on her hands” (5.1.28-32).the shame and regret of the murder have become unbearable for her, to the point of taking her own life. Lady Macbeth tried to cope with obvious guilt, but her powerless and weak personality led to her downfall.
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During the course of the play, the reader is given the ability to see the similarities, differences, and disintegrations of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Macbeth was introduced as a character with no motivation, while his wife was provocative and strong. Their relationship had always directly affected each other’s decisions and actions. They shared their deepest thoughts, but as the murderous plot unfolded, she lost her iron grip on power/control, and his murderous motivation gathered a speed of its own. By the end of the play, the once deceitful Lady Macbeth emerges as a character that actually has a conscience, while Macbeth, also guilty or murder, fights Macduff and faces his end with dignity.
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