Lady Macbeth: The Most Powerful Female Characters In The Play

Lady Macbeth is surely one of the most powerful manipulative and ruthless female characters presented by Shakespeare. In the beginning of the play its evident that lady Macbeths personality contradicts Macbeth’s. she lacks all humility and is cunning and ambitious, she’s portrayed as the epitome of evil and is depicted as an antagonist, motivating and emboldening the idea of Macbeth committing regicide which will ultimately lead to his downfall, if it wasn’t for lady Macbeths devious act it’s possible that Macbeth wouldn’t have proceeded in the act of killing Duncan, suggesting that lady Macbeth was highly deceptive.

This completely contradicts the Jacobean expectation, during that era in the 1600s; woman was placed after the peasants in what was known as the ‘great chain of being’ so to see lady Macbeth with such a vigorous and wicked personality thus making her the antithesis of an archetypical female in the Jacobean era, she was the one with more power in the pair in the start of the play, it’s evident that Shakespeare plays a switch on gender roles.

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This will be further explained throughout the analysis. Looking at it from a different perspective its argued that lady Macbeth was an ideological apparatus used to educate a deeply religious audience about going against the ‘great chain of being’ which surely would’ve shocked the audience during that era.

Lady Macbeth taunts her husband for his lack of bravery and manipulates him exceptional effectiveness. When Macbeth questions murdering Duncan, lady Macbeth almost immediately interrogates his manhood, which leads Macbeth to come to the conclusion that he must kill Duncan to certify his masculinity.

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This is all demonstrated in the play in act 1 scene 5 when Macbeth says ‘I fear thy nature is too full o’ the milk of human kindness’ thus use of personification is purposeful here as it clearly personifies his nature as being too sensitive and compassionate. Also the key word ‘milk’ in the quotation is associated as milk is usually associated with youth and symbolizes babies and their vulnerability. Furthermore, milk is white which is a color that represents purity and spirituality. Which almost makes Macbeth seem angelic. The entire plot if full of morbid thought and intentions, lady Macbeths corrupted thoughts deceived Macbeth trapping him like a prisoner in shackles leaving him no other option but to commit the awful crime of regicide. Macbeths decision was almost as if it were forced upon him by lady Macbeth, we can infer more about lady Macbeth identity as she has power over a character that has been viewed as ‘noble’ and ‘worthy gentlemen’ by the king himself, allowing lady Macbeth to appear more powerful then most of the men that have been introduced so far in the play. This would have been inconceivable to society at that time as women have been depicted as as the more powerful beings in the play, which would’ve both confused and interested the audience during that time in society. Lady Macbeth was unorthodox in the sense that she was ruthless, merciless female which subverts what women were stereotyped to be like during during that time in society as women were subservient to mean as women were seen as feeble.

Additionally, in act I scene 5 it’s apparent that lady Macbeth envy’s a man's power and how they were seen upon society as mighty and in control while women on the other hand were considered ineffectual. It was almost as if she was living vicariously through Macbeth’s body and that she used his capabilities and advantages as a male model to achieve her needs and success. This all becomes clear when Lady Macbeth says “unsex me here” here her feelings are expressed, lady Macbeth wants to be stripped of every and any feature that defines her as a female and wants to be deprived of any humility, sensitivity and empathy which manifest lady Macbeth’s greed and thirst to be in control. The fact that Lady Macbeth is not in position of power enrages her sending her to the brink of despair. “Unsex me” is an imperative verb and lady Macbeth is demanding the spirits to strip her of her physical sex, suggesting that she is daunting, she views her sex as the only obstacle standing between her and her success. Women in the 1600s were perceived as fragile, gentle and prone to temptation, Lady Macbeth’s qualities were considered masculine as she was fierce, cold and calculating which subverts the image of femininity in the times of Shakespeare. Lady Macbeth wants to get rid of all her feminine weaknesses that are associated with her gender. Going into more detail the prefix “un” in “unsex me” suggests that Lady Macbeth has many regrets as Shakespeare uses this prefix a lot through the play the prefix implies that she wants to do undo and reverse many aspects of her life which falls under the theme of remorse, we can additionally infer that lady Macbeth has no interest in nurturing social norms, also a sense of selfishness is introduced from the quotation since lady Macbeth regrets being born female this further implies that she is greedy and thirsty to have the crown all to herself and wants all control to be hers and is willing to go to any extent to claim control indicating her qualities of self-indulgence.

To conclude, Lady Macbeth developed her character in a downward motion and continually pushes the boundaries of how typical women were viewed. She ended up being overwhelmed with her unspeakable horrific deeds and was suffocated with her wrong doings which essentially lead her to losing her mind. She started off as a powerful, ambitious character but her regret stood in front of all that and deteriorated her dream to be crowned queen. Lady Macbeth controverts all that which makes her significant and peculiar as her role in the play diverges the traditional role of women at that time in society, women were seen as “home-makers” ,but essentially her character differs in so many ways as she develops into a guilt-ridden, mentally ill queen and is trapped beneath all her mishaps that leads to her downfall where she murders herself, Lady Macbeth becomes the polar opposite of what she embodies and clearly wasn’t powerful enough to overcome the challenges she was faced with, she becomes weak and unable to control her emotions.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Lady Macbeth: The Most Powerful Female Characters In The Play. (2024, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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