In Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth’s desire for power prompts her interest in controlling Macbeth’s actions; consequently, when she loses control of Macbeth, she loses control of herself. Lady Macbeth relies on Macbeth to be the brawn so she can be the brain; she has somewhat of a symbiotic relationship with him. After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth slowly starts losing the need for and interest in Lady Macbeth. This loss of interest removes Lady Macbeth’s access to power and eventually begets her demise. However, in the beginning she is a key factor in Macbeth deciding to follow through with the murder.
Lady Macbeth’s impetus for Macbeth to kill Duncan shows she is able to control Macbeth. She sees Macbeth as a weak man who is unable to carry out any wrongful act. Lady Macbeth says, “[…] I do fear thy nature; / it is too full o’ the’ milk of human kindness / to catch the nearest way” (1.5.16-18), which implies that she feels Macbeth is too kind to kill Duncan. She decides the only way to get what she wants is to intimidate Macbeth. When Macbeth says, “Bring forth men-children only; / For thy undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males,” (1.7.72-74)
Mabeth’s fear of his wife really come to surface. She has a very masculine and powerful personality. Carolyn Asp, in her essay Tragic Action and Sexual Stereotyping in Macbeth says, “Masculine and feminine impulses are at war within her; she is unable either to fuse them or to polarize them” (Asp 203) which shows how she would like to be able to act like a man, but is unable to fully change because she still has many feminine influences on her life. Lady Macbeth asks to have her womanliness stripped from her when she says:
[…] 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. (1.5.47-50)
Cumberland Clark states in A Study of Macbeth that, “she prepares herself to resist the whisperings of her better nature and the interference of conscience” (Clark 93) by saying this. She wants to be able to not have a guilty conscience about what is about to happen. When Lady Macbeth says, “I would while it was smiling in my face, / Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums / And dashed the brains out” (1.7.64-66), she shows she has no regrets and no conscience to get in her way. She is now able to control herself; however, she now has to find a way to control Macbeth. Asp says that Lady Macbeth sees her role is to bring out the “noble strength” in Macbeth and that she must appeal to his manliness while at the same time appearing very masculine herself (Asp 203).
Lady Macbeth challenges Macbeth’s manliness by saying that he is weak and afraid. Asp states, “When she describes him as a lover/husband who, like his hope of glory, has become ‘pale,’ ‘green,’ and ‘waning,’ she challenges an essential element of his self-image, that of potent male, which is the foundation of all his other roles” (203). Macbeth wants to defend his manliness; therefore, he decides to go through with the murder of Duncan. She also tells Macbeth there is no way for the murder of Duncan to go wrong and that he need not worry. However, after the murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth becomes less important to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth starts losing her control.
After Duncan’s death, Macbeth starts to lose control of himself and reality; the control that Lady Macbeth once possessed is quickly fading. After Macbeth kills Duncan, instead of leaving the daggers with the servants as he was instructed, he brought them back with him. This leaves the murder weapon in Macbeth’s hands and makes it more likely that he is discovered as the killer. This inability to remember instructions is the first sign of Macbeth losing control. Then, in his chamber he starts hearing voices, which is another sign he is losing touch with reality. However, at the banquet, Macbeth starts to really lose his mind.
Alan Hobson states in The Even-Handed Justice that, “When [Banquo’s ghost] appears, Lady Macbeth is at [Macbeth’s] side trying to brace his courage by the sharp rebuke that was once so effective in moving him to a determined purpose; but we soon realize that he is hardly conscious of her presence” (Hobson 177). When Macbeth sees the ghost, he thinks that everyone else can see him. However, when Macbeth learns that the ghost is all in his head, he is unable to just ignore it. When Lady Macbeth says, “You have displaced the mirth, broke the good / meeting / With most admired disorder” (3.4.132-134), she is finally realizing that she has lost all power over Macbeth because she was unable to control his actions. After the banquet Lady Macbeth disappears from the story until she returns near the end and has gone insane from her utter loss of control.
Even before the murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth has slowly been losing control over herself and her ability to remain in power. When Lady Macbeth says that she cannot kill Duncan because he looks too much like her father, Lady Macbeth is showing a lack of competence because she has a soft spot in her heart for her father. When planning a murder, this lack can really complicate matters. Also, when Macbeth makes the decision about the murder of Banquo and Macduff’s family, Lady Macbeth starts to feel overwhelmed with all the killing when she says, “Here’s the smell of blood still. All / the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” (5.1.53-55).
This shows that she is unable to handle all of the blood that is being shed. She wants to be able to cleanse herself of these murders. When Lady Macbeth finally reappears she is sleepwalking and acting like she is washing her hands. While sleepwalking she starts mindlessly blabbering about all the killings and secrets that Lady Macbeth is trying to hold because she loses control subconsciously. This is the last time Lady Macbeth is seen alive. When Lady Macbeth kills herself, Macbeth is not in the least upset because he no longer finds Lady Macbeth important.
Lady Macbeth lost power over Macbeth slowly. However, once she lost control of Macbeth, she lost control of herself. Lady Macbeth’s suicide is the final time that she shows weakness because she is unable to handle not having control as well as her feelings of helplessness while around Macbeth. Lady Macbeth may seem powerful because of the choices she makes, but on the inside she is a very weak person and relies on Macbeth to be the force behind her choices. There is obviously a very dear connection between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth because when he loses interest in her, she loses her outlet for her choices and can no longer function on her own. Lady Macbeth as well as many other people have symbiotic lifestyles; if the person they rely on is no longer there, they lose all their power and without that power they lose control of their lives.
Asp, Carolyn. “Tragic Action and Sexual Stereotyping in Macbeth.” Major Literary Characters: Macbeth. Ed Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1991. 198-210
Clark, Cumberland. A Study of Macbeth. Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1926.
Hobson, Alan. “This Even-Handed Justice.” Major Literary Characters: Macbeth. Ed Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1991. 170-188.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. Eds. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.