Malcolm calls Lady Macbeth a “fiend like queen” as he thought of her as witch-like. Lady Macbeth was based on a real person, although no one really knew who she was so Shakespeare made up her personality and character. Elizabethans believed in magic and witchcraft and they often accused witches for anything bad that happened and many witches were put to death. Fiends and witches were often frowned upon, but Elizabethans genuinely believed that witchcraft was true and so were often scared of witches and fiends as they did not know and so feared what they might do.
A fiend is thought to behave in a scheming manner, they often cover up their evilness and plan nasty events that they then deny or act innocent about later on.
In Act one scene 5, Lady Macbeth receives a letter from her husband informing her of his success in a battle and the witches’ prophecies. After reading the letter she is worried that Macbeth is too soft a person to be able to take the crown and is determined to assist him through the ‘valour of my tongue’.
When she hears a message that the King Duncan will be staying in their castle overnight, she decides that she needs to take action so that Macbeth can be king. She exults and invokes demonic spirits to harden her resolve and to destroy any weakness of pity. Lady Macbeth is already prepared for the death of Duncan and her resolution is absolute. Macbeth’s seed of ambition is catalysed by his “fiend like” wife Lady Macbeth, she utilises his weak mental power and deploys manipulative techniques to make him succumb to her plan of regicide, she says “Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it” (Act 1 sc 5 line 62).
The serpentine imagery used here by Shakespeare shows Macbeth to be like an “innocent flower” and Lady Macbeth is seen as very fiend like and as the “serpent under it”. Macbeth decides to stand up for himself against her, “we will have no further in this business ” (Act 1 sc 5 line 50′), however, Lady Macbeth coerces him into complying with her plan showing Macbeth to be the weaker one. Lady Macbeth is seen as more dominant and in control than him, she has power over him and role reversal appears in this scene. Macbeth’s weak mental power lets him down as Lady Macbeth takes advantage and overpowers him.
In this scene, Lady Macbeth appears ruthless, totally committed and is willing to put in every effort to strive for the greater glory of her husband. She fears that Macbeth will let her down as he is too kind to murder “I fear thy nature, it is too full o’th’milk of human kindness” (act 1 sc 5 line 14). She sees his tendency to speculate and think round problems as a crucial weakness. There is an element of her attitude strongly reminiscent of the witches “that I may pour my spirits in thine ear”(Act 1 sc 5 line 24), she wishes to alter his character. She invokes the spirits of evil to “defeminise” her, “dehumanise” her and for darkness to hide her planned action.
Lady Macbeth makes Macbeth feel like a coward and questions his masculinity and does all she can to persuade Macbeth to kill duncan, she threatens him by saying that she will not love him anymore if he does not do it and tells him that it will be very easy, they will not get caught and that there are no risks. She succeeds as he is convinced and does go through with it. Their traditional roles are reversed in this scene, as she is a very dominant and strong person whereas he seems vulnerable, weaker and more caring. She is very unfeminine which may be due to a manly upbringing or the fact that she is childless. She seems very unnatural as a woman as it was always the woman’s duty to have children and to care and look after them. She bullies Macbeth into it by saying that he is not a man and that he is not strong enough to go through with it.
The language Shakespeare uses gives her speech a special urgency and determination as she uses many imperatives e.g. fill, come etc. When Macbeth appears, there is little trace of endearment from her and she forces him to see himself in terms of her plan for power. There is drastic brevity in her language here “he that’s coming must be provided for” (Act 1 sc 5 line 64) and she addresses him as he had been addressed by the witches.
Lady Macbeth immediately understands the full implications of Macbeth’s letter and her response is direct and uncompromising. She wants Macbeth to be what he has promised. No niceties of conscience or loyalty seem to assail her, and it is noticeable how she overwhelms her husband when he appears.
In act 1 scene 7, Lady Macbeth’s fiend-like and pernicious personality is clearly shown. She completely manipulates Macbeth, she uses both her femininity and her innocence as potent persuasive techniques when she asks the question “what beast was’t then That made you break this enterprise to me?”(Act 1 scene 7 line 46). The fact that Lady Macbeth uses a feminine tone and utilises her innocent position here, surely shows her to be fiend-like.
This onslaught of manipulation is drawn to a conclusion when Lady Macbeth gives a malicious statement saying “I would while the babe was still smiling in my face have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed his brains out had I so sworn as you have done this” (Act 1 sc 7 line 55). This fiend like speech completely defies the sacred bond between mother and child, it also in concludes a conversation in which Macbeth’s position is changed from “we will proceed no further” (Act 1 sc 7 line 31) to “If we should fail” (Act 1 sc 7 line 59) in just twenty seven lines. This array of persuasive manipulative techniques is so effective it single handedly overwhelms Macbeth and long term is the catalyst for his downfall, thus showing Lady Macbeth’s cold blooded nature and fiend like personality.
In act 2 scene 2, Lady Macbeth seems more uncertain, she is nervous about the whole situation as she waits, stimulated by wine having dragged out Duncan’ servants, for the return of her husband and the completion of the murder. Macbeth is almost out of his mind as it verges on hysteria, he is unable to distance himself from the scene in Duncan’s room. His wife who, seizing control of the situation, finds that she has to take the daggers back as Macbeth has removed them. She rebukes him. He is not able to return to the scene of the crime, as his state of mind is so bad. The extreme tension is communicated to the audience and Shakespeare does this well by the abrupt changes of direction in the speech of characters, the interruptions “knock [within]”, the sudden noises, “[an owl shrieks]”, the questions and the exclamations “Who’s there? What ho?” and “Murder!”.
A knocking sound is heard and Lady Macbeth leads Macbeth out to wash the blood off his hands. The audience feels trapped in Macbeth’s anguish and, like Lady Macbeth, we struggle to feel in control of the situation. The fact that Lady Macbeth needed some alcohol beforehand shows the audience that she is not as tough and as full as courage and she makes out to be. She masterfully takes the daggers back.
Lady Macbeth, despite some nervous apprehension, is how she was made out to be in Act 1 scene 5 as she is bold, exultant and boasts about managing to drug the guards, she seems in complete control of her and her husband – who deals with the situation very badly. She says that she would have been able to commit the murder herself if it wasn’t for the fact that Duncan was sleeping which reminded her of her father. It is clear that she was very close to her father maybe causing her to have some masculine qualities about her.
Her readiness of mind and strength of purpose compensates for the way Macbeth behaves and fails to do what was asked of him. This remorse shown by Macbeth does demonstrate his still active conscience however, it is quelled by Lady Macbeth when she says “These deeds must not be thought after it will make us mad”(act 2 scene 2 line 67).
This realistic statement means Macbeth cannot now emancipate him from this downward cycle he has embarked on the road to ultimate failure and now must succumb to his ambition. It is ironic that Lady Macbeth imagines that washing the blood of ones hands will free the guilt that is in ones mind, however, it is she who finally is able to come to terms with this theory and is unable to wash her hands clean. Her harsh comment towards Macbeth “infirm of purpose!” comes back to haunt her, as he strengthens in evil resolve, she becomes madly suicidal – anticipated in her dismissive comment “so, it will make us mad”.
In Act 2 scene 3, the news is discussed. Lady Macbeth faints, and it is not clear why she appears to do so. Women in that day knew how to faint very well at exactly the right time in order to get out of an unpleasant situation, such as when a male expressed a vulgarity in her presence, people would not necessarily believe that her faint was more than just a public gesture.
Another way of looking at it is that Macbeth had just made a big mistake, and in order to help him by distracting the attention away from him onto her, she faints. However, she may have fainted due to the stress and strain of the situation, so she might have not intended to do it.
In Act 3 scene 2, Lady Macbeth realizes that the plan for satisfaction that her and Macbeth sought had not been achieved. She becomes less and less fiend- like due to her conscience “haunting” her, she even goes as far as saying “here’s the smell of blood still, not all the perfumes of Arabia will sweeten this little hand”. Shakespeare uses blood imagery to show how her conscience has taken her over. Like Macbeth, she cannot emancipate herself from this downward spiral and lacks the fiendish, dominant personality that we first saw of her. She tries to enter into her husband’s obsessive involvement while, at the same time, trying to reassure him and urge him to be cheerful.
Macbeth is tormented, his thoughts fixed on banquo and he imagines banquo’s face often. He hints at black deeds to come but won’t tell Lady Macbeth about them. As he does not tell his “dearest partner of greatness” about his thoughts and plans, he is now in control ,he says “be innocent to the knowledge dearest chuck” (Act 3 sc 2 line 45) and she herself feels isolated. He grows stronger “things bad begun make strong themselves by ill”. He is brooding on the crimes committed and on the crimes he intends to commit (“oh full of scorpions in my mind”) – and inures himself to doing evil.
The situation has changed, Lady Macbeth’s futile presence in conversation shows she is a shadow of her former self and is now no longer fiend-like. She has lost control rapidly and will only take control once more, at the banquet and then she will be overwhelmed by remorse for the tide of evil she has helped unleash, this leads to her madness and causes her to commit suicide. Their roles have reversed once more.
In act 3 scene 4, As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are welcoming the guests to the feast, one of the murderers arrives and tells Macbeth of the death of Banquo and the escape of Fleance. Macbeth turns back to the table and comments on Banquo’s absence. Banquo’s ghost enters and occupies Macbeth’s place; he is visible only to Macbeth. Lady Macbeth tries to calm him and keep control of the situation, but after the ghost has gone, he seems to be recovering. Suddenly when Macbeth mentions his name again – Banquo appears again and Macbeth is helpless. After the ghost has gone, Lady Macbeth brings the feast to a hurried end. He informs her that he intends to visit the witches and press on with eliminating all opposition. This is the last appearance of a sane Lady Macbeth. Her iron self control, loyalty to her husband, organising skill, apparent callousness – all evident in this scene are all qualities in which she possesses, however, she soon pays dearly for them.
The strain on Lady Macbeth is evident. Although Macbeth has been terrified, by the end of the scene he seems casual in his attitude to what has happened “we are yet but young in deed” suggests that this mere blip will soon pass. She, however, has had to use all her resources and wit to contain all the potential damage of exposure.
This part in the play is where the full enjoyment of majesty could be entertained; Lady Macbeth is on her throne, surrounded by subjects. Yet this, through Macbeth’s actions becomes a hollow and empty event, lacking any dignity or regal significance. Her mind then does begin to question of what it has accomplished. Macbeth no longer talks of we but of himself alone: “For mine good/ all causes shall give away”.
In act 5 scene 1, in Dusinane castle a doctor and Lady Macbeth’s lady in waiting are watching to see if Lady Macbeth walks in her sleep as her servant has reported to the doctor. She enters and begins to rub her hands as if struggling to clean them and before she departs she refers to the deaths of Duncan, Macduff’s wife and Banquo. The doctor confesses that he is incapable of dealing with such cases. This scene shows her carefully contrived mask has slipped. In her sleepwalking she reveals the guilt and anxieties by which she is tortured. Particularly she re-enacts the first murder scene. Now, alone, her loyalty to her husband remains intact; only once does she reproach him, “‘no more o’ that; you mar all with this starting”. Her behavior is revealing and moving. She has given all and now her present is overwhelmed by the past. “What’s done cannot be undone”.
The clear mental breakdown of Lady Macbeth is deeply affecting. As with guilt, Lady Macbeth has an obsession with the past. It was Lady Macbeth who said, “what’s done is done”, thus suggesting that it would no longer be of concern. Here, despite all her courage and ambition and strength of purpose, all that has been “done ” is not past but present – and ever present in her mind. Ironically the physical symptoms of her guilt include the forlorn hope of washing her hands clean.
This links to her statement “a little water washes our hands clean of this deed”. Most of this play is written in blank verse but the appearance of Lady Macbeth in this scene is an exception. Before and particularly in the first 2 acts, Lady Macbeth’s speech had been blazing and fiery blank verse – the strong rhythms affecting her strong grasp on reality, and her determination. Now she speaks in prose, choppy abrupt and lurching from one incident to another. This represents her breakdown; the language is breaking down under the strain she is under. It is therefore not surprising that she commits suicide – she can no longer hold it together and on death language disappears altogether.
This is the last scene where Lady Macbeth is present and Shakespeare, it appears, put this scene in to show the audience how vulnerable and weak she really is. The audience get a very different view of her in this scene than that of Act 1 scene 5, the final feeling is to feel sorry for her and to not base her on her fiend like personality, but on the vulnerable one instead. If this scene was left out, the audience would remember Lady Macbeth as being cold blooded and fiendish, this part of the play shows her weak, powerless side and it shows that she hides her true feelings.
The phrase that Shakespeare uses to describe Lady Macbeth – as merely a “fiend-like queen” is a completely biased and partisan comment. The fact that at the end of the play Lady Macbeth commits suicide, makes too unfair to deploy such a critical description. It shows that Shakespeare did not want Lady Macbeth to seem just as a “fiend like queen” but as a person with other redeeming features and with other emotions and feelings. As the play continues, the strong dominant character we once saw eventually embers out and she eventually commits suicide, however at this point she is not at all influential to Macbeth.
Her un-fiend like legacy is summed up by Macbeth’s cold statement saying “she should have did here after there would have been time for a word”. This is an un-fiend-like end and it would not be expected if she was judged on her previous actions. It also shows that Lady Macbeth’s conscience is far too strong for her to be labelled as malevolent and fiend-like. It is obvious that the sleep walking scene was put in to show a less evil and fiendish side to her, that she is perhaps weaker than her husband which seems absurd to suggest when we see her in Act 1 scene 5, and to show that she hides her true feelings. Lady Macbeth is also so intricate that it is hard to describe her whole character in one line so Shakespeare uses the metaphor ‘fiend like queen’.