Analyse the character of Lady Macbeth of Shakespearean play ‘Macbeth’. (CALCUTTA UNIVERSITY- ENGLISH HONOURS).
“I will drain him dry as hay:
Sleep shall neither night nor day
Hang upon his penthouse lid;
He shall live a man forbid:
Weary se’n nights nine times nine
Shall he dwindle, peak and pine:
Though his bark cannot be lost
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.”
Much more than the other elements, the Witches introduce an element of supernatural mystery and fear into Macbeth. As Coleridge says, “as true a creation of Shakespeare’s as his Ariel and Caliban” and “wholly different from the representation of witches in the contemporary writers, and yet presented a sufficient external resemblance to the creatures of vulgar prejudice, to act immediately on the audience.”
It is significant thatthe play begins with a brief meeting of the three witches. A very short prologue is long enough to awaken curiosity, but not to satisfy it. We have come in Act I, Scene I ,where at the end of the witches’ meeting, just as they are arranging their next appointment before their familiar spirits-devils in animal shapes-call them away into the ‘fog and filthy air’. The apparent confusion implied in their words –“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” points to the general upheaval of order to which Scotland is led by Macbeth and that constitutes the main action of the play. “So fair and foul a day I have not seen”—a strange coincidence evidently establishes a connection-a kind of affinity- between Macbeth and the Witches, even before they meet. It also brings out the possibility that Macbeth, who has so far been referred to as a brave general in the heights of glory, has a somewhat tainted soul and is, therefore vulnerable to the Witches’ machinations:
“First Witch“Here’s the blood of a bat.
HecatePut in that; oh put in that.
Second WitchHere’s libbard’s bane.
First WitchThe juice of toad, the oil of adder.
Second WitchThat will make the younker madder.
Hecate Putin: ther’s all, and rid the stench.
FirestoneNay, here’s three ounces of the red-haired wench.
AllRound: around, around, & c.” “
Who can tell us more about a man’s character than his wife? Shakespeare allows Lady Macbeth to explain her husband’s character as she understands it, and although she cannot see the whole truth, she tells us a great deal about Macbeth that is true. Two lines of her soliloquy in Act I, Scène 5 are particularly significant:
“Thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it: ‘’
By ‘illness’ Lady Macbeth means ‘evil’; but her metaphor is appropriate: Macbeth catches evil, as one might catch a disease. The play shows how his symptoms develop, until there is no hope of a cure, and the man must die------!
“Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry 'Hold, hold!'
When Lady Macbeth makes her first appearance in the play, she is seen reading the letter from her husband in which he tells her “his dearest partner of greatness”, of his success in the battle, the prediction of the witches and their partial fulfillments. In her comments on the letter ,she expresses her admiration for his greatness, and wishes for him all that he wishes for himself. Aware of her husband’s weakness, she is determined to further the schemes using the whole force of her superior will lead him into prompt action. Her cruelty is only assumed and meant for the betterment of her husband’s career.
---------------------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. --------
Lady Macbeth is feminine not only as a perfect wife but also as a mother. She has given suck and knows “how tender ‘tis to love the babe” that milk her. In Act II Scene II, she also shows the feminine feeling of tenderness explaining her reluctance to kill Duncan herself:
“Had he not, resembled
My father as he slept, I had done’t…………”
It is not that she is unaware of her feminine weaknesses, but she has enough will to repress them; at least temporarily. Her feminity, noticed long repressed by an apparent show of cruelty, fully takes possession of her in the sleep-walking scène, at end. Every crime has struck deep into the mind and heart. She now sobs like a delicate woman:
“The Thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now...”
We find her concern for Macbeth again in Act III, Scene II, when she tries to cheer up her husband and rid him of his “sorriest fancies” and a tendency to “keep alone”. Though Macbeth does not reveal his plans of murdering Banquo and Fleance, the understanding between him and his wife is so perfect that she can easily read the thoughts in her husband’s mind. Macbeth knows quite well of the feminine qualities of his wife. So in Act III, Scene II, he decides to protect her from the knowledge of his plans to murder Banquo and his son. He tells her: “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck.”
“Therefore much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery”
We hear a lot about Macbeth before he comes on to the stage, first from the Sergeant who has fought on his side, and then from Ross, who also speaks of Macbeth’s courage in battle. These reports lead us to expect a noble warrior and a loyal subject to Duncan. We have only one slight doubt about Macbeth, and we are not able to explain quite what this is. We know that, somehow, he is associated with the witches; and this surely, cannot be good:
----------------------Assisted by that most “disloyal’’ traitor,
The Thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict…………..-
As soon as however, Macbeth arrives, when Lady Macbeth goes straight into business, significantly greeting him as lone greater than both Glamis and Cawdor. When Macbeth tells that Duncan who is coming as a guest will leave the next day, she straightaway hints at the proposed murder:
“Look like the time bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue:
And then proceeds to offer him sound advice:
“Look like th’ innocent flower,
But be the serpent under it.”/
“The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements.”
Being aware of her husband’s weakness she wishes to take control of the situation--
“and you shall put
This night’s great business into my dispatch;
Which shall to all our nights and days to come
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.”
And yet Macbeth, who has a strong conscience, is yet to decide on further action. So his response to his wife’s persuasion is non-committal: “We will speak further”, but Lady Macbeth cannot let the matter rest here. She advises Macbeth to “look up clear” and tells him “Leave all the rest to me.”
“Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose nor keep peace between
Th’effect and it.
Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief!”
After the arrival of Duncan , Macbeth finds himself tormented by the practical and the moral objections to the proposed assassination:
“Black spirits, and white; red spirits and gray,
Mingle, mingle,mingle;you that mingle may.
Titty,Tiffin,keep it stiff in.
Fire-Drake,Pucky,make it lucky.
Liand ,Robin,you must bob in.
All ill come running in, all good keep out.”
-----But in these cases,
We still have judgement here that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught, return
To plague th’inventor. ------------.
When Macbeth expresses his fear of the consequences of failure, she assures him that failure is impossible if only Macbeth shows the courage to act. The practicality of her scheme and her reproaches to drive away Macbeth’s scruples. He cannot help agreeing to her plan:
“[Knock] Knock, knock. Knock. Who’s there I’th’name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on th’expectation of plenty. Come in time-have napkins enough about you, here you’ll sweat for’t.”
It is true that the thought of murdering Duncan initially comes to Macbeth’s mind from his meeting with the Witches, but without Lady Macbeth’s instigations, the thought might probably never been transformed into action:
----- Here I have a pilot’s thumb,
Wreck’d as homeward he did come.
To tempt Macbeth into action she outlines the evidently fool-proof plan she has chalked out. When Duncan is asleep, his two guards will be reduced to a state of drunken stupor and it will be possible to put on them the guilt of the great quell:
“[Knock] Knock, knock. Knock. Who’s there? Faith, here is an English tailor come hither for stealing out of a French hose. Come in, tailor, here you may roast your goose. [Knock] “
In the Banquet Scene, though Macbeth’s superstitions, fears and loss of self control have spoilt their schemes and threaten certain ruin to both of them, it is noticeable that, even when they are left alone, she utters no words of reproach to him.
“Almost at odds with morning, which is which.”
Her love for him makes her look upon the incident with genuine sympathy, she only endeavors to comfort him and find an excuse for his strange behavior: “You lack the season of all nature’s sleep!”
“In conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and giving him the lie, leaves him.”
Lady Macbeth’s influence on her husband begins to decline steadily after accomplishment of Duncan’s murder. Despite her apparent cruelty, Lady Macbeth is certainly not without traces of conscience. In Act III, Scene II, her first private thought since Duncan’s murder gives a momentary expression to her feelings of remorse at the heinous deed:
..” ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy…”
Lady Macbeth is capable of tremendous self-control and practically when it comes to meeting crisis. In Act II, Scene III after the discovery of Duncan’s murder, she pretends in ignorance of the murder. And her pretence is so convincing that it succeeds, atleast for the time being, in keeping her husband beyond the suspicion of those present. Her subsequent fainting now seems only too natural in the eyes of the others there, she tries to save the awkward situation by intervening an illness for her husband, by discouraging the guests from talking to him. She remains composed all through that even Macbeth cannot help admiring her:
“When now I think you can behold such sights,
And keep the natural ruby of your cheeks,
When mine is blanched with fear”…..
She employs her strength of determination to keep her conscience suppressed because without doing so, she can never reach her goal:
“Bring forth men-children only,
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males.”
Though Lady Macbeth’s influence on Macbeth guides the earlier action of the play, later she becomes so insignificant that she doesnot appear at all on the stage after Act III, Scene IV. Though she partially succeeds in saving the situation by bringing the banquet to a hurried end, it now becomes clear that her personal influence upon her husband is no longer a match for his fast growing guilt-conscience. Macbeth’s decisions to murder Macduff’s family and to revisit the Witches, it may be noted, have nothing to do with his wife’s influence. While Macbeth degenerates into a butcher, Lady Macbeth is herein now overcome by a growing sense of guilt and becomes a nervous wreck. Their isolation from each other goes to such an extent that when Macbeth receives the news of her death, he seems to do so with extreme callousness:
“Out, out brief candle,
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That stuts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Thus Lady Macbeth is undoubtedly the most fascinating female character of Shakespeare. To quote A.W. Verity, “Lady Macbeth and Hamlet stand apart from the rest of Shakespeare’s creations in the intensity and perplexity of theinterest they arose.” Inspite her all her crimes and machinations, the readers cannot help pitying her ultimate sufferings and premature death. According to A.W. Verity,” Of all women, Shakespeare had drawn none exercises so strange a fascination as this fragile, indomitable northern Queen, who makes the great denial of her sex-and greatly suffers, even to the death.”
[Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’th’ Tiger:
But in a sieve I’ll thither sail,
And like a rat without a tail,
I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.] (?)
EXCEPT SETTINGS, IDEAS AND TO CONTEXTUALIZE, WORK ON REFERENCE, WORDS, SENTENCES FROM DR.S.SEN AND THE TEXT BOOK.
© Copyright 2016 Rituparna Ray Chaudhuri. All rights reserved.
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