A Study Of The Differences Between Macbeth

A Study Of The Differences Between Macbeth And Lady Macbeth Essay, Research Paper

It is the development of the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth during the play that makes this character study so vital to Macbeth.

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At the beginning of the play King Duncan hears of Macbeth, the bloody

hero. The battle was horrific, but Macbeth was fearless, fighting his way

through the enemy and literally cutting the rebel leader in half. King

Duncan is suitably impressed by Macbeth’s braveness.

O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!?

The audience’s initial perception of Lady Macbeth is of a

confident and evil woman. In her first scene she is reading a letter from

her husband telling her about the witch’s predictions. Upon reading the

letter she instantly decides to obtain the crown for Macbeth through any

possible means.

Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be

What thou art promised.?

It is these two bold and sure views of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

that are soon to change. Lady Macbeth forces Macbeth to murder Duncan and

when he first refuses, she appeals to his manhood and courage.

When you durst do it, then you were a man?

Macbeth eventually gives in with the proposition of being king being too

powerful a lure for him. At this stage the audience can deduce that Macbeth

is easily subject to persuasion while Lady Macbeth is very persuasive.

As the fateful day draws near, Macbeth becomes delusional, picturing

visions of blood stained daggers, witches and ghosts. Killing Duncan

horrifies him, resulting in him imagining all the consequences of the

murder before he commits it, this is due to his vivid imagination,

something Lady Macbeth does not have. Lady Macbeth at this point has a

stronger inner conviction and uses very powerful antilife phrases in an

effort to persuade the evil spirits to make Macbeth kill Duncan.

Come to my woman?s breasts

And take my milk for gall.?

One would assume here that if one of the two were to have the strength of

mind to live through this evil tragedy it would be Lady Macbeth.

Shakespeare is entering into the very interior of Macbeth’s mind allowing

the audience to realise further differences between Macbeth and Lady

Macbeth. Macbeth at this stage is going deeper and deeper into the world of


Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse

The curtained sleep.?

Macbeth realises that in obtaining the crown by foul play he is devaluing

it as the king is meant to be appointed by God. By now, Macbeth is able to

have the courage to look into the heart of fear; Lady Macbeth on the other

hand is unable to do this.

Following Macbeth’s murder of Duncan, Macbeth becomes

frightened and unsure of himself. He begins to regret his actions and

realises that this will remain on his conscience until his own death.

Macbeth shall sleep no more?

Conversely Lady Macbeth pushes her knowledge of this

sacrilegious act deep inside her, trying to ignore it.

Consider it not so deeply?

She believes that she will be able to do this with relative ease.

A little water clears us of this deed?

She thinks that it is just a question of washing the blood yet the

psychological impact is as if the blood will not come off. Macbeth however

appreciates the difficulty of disregarding their deed.

No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red?

Here Macbeth is stating that the seas are filled with the blood of Duncan.

This blood will never leave, thus serving as a constant reminder of his

regicidal act.

Shakespeare employs a great deal of imagery to depict certain situations

and in the last two quotations he has used the image of blood. At this

stage in the play Lady Macbeth is confident while Macbeth is subject to

frightened loyalty. However, what Macbeth fears is the evil of committing

the evil deed rather than the evil deed itself. It is at this stage that

one can first realise a chink of humanity in the originally confident and

cold Lady Macbeth. The murder has just been committed and Lady Macbeth

relates to Macbeth how the assassinated Duncan appeared to her.

Had he not resembled

My father as he slept, I had done’t.?

Suddenly through the hard exterior that Lady Macbeth possesses, she sees

her father as the old man lying murdered on the bed. This is a moment of

weakness that will soon broaden and leave her exposed to the evil that is

constantly present in this tragedy. Macbeth at this stage is going through

an intense period of paranoia in which he believes every noise to be that

of someone coming to arrest him.

How is?t with me when every noise appals me??

It is when the pair relate to the other characters about the tragic death

of Duncan that additional differences between the two are discovered. Both

are trying to convince the others about the fate of the King yet the way in

which they set about achieving this is what separates them. Lady Macbeth

delivers a very superficial narration of what happened as she does not have

the poetic power to understand what is lost, yet Macbeth does.

Had I but died an hour before this chance

I had lived a blessed time; for from this instant

There?s nothing serious in mortality?

This quotation begins a speech that encapsulates the entire play. Macbeth

is accepting that life is ruined and that all good in humanity is lost. He

then goes on to use a surface language to hide the truth, a language that

is the very sound of uncertainty. Macbeth?s compatriots will soon notice

this unsure tone and begin to suspect Macbeth killed Duncan

His silver skin laced with his golden blood?

Lady Macbeth however can no longer continue this pretence, purporting to


Help me hence, ho!?

The fact that she does this further demonstrates her inability to cope with

the evil that she created.

Macbeth on the other hand is facing up to the evil and coming out

victorious. Subsequent to Macbeth?s appointment as King of Scotland, he

begins to suspect that Banquo knows of his terrible deed. As a result

Macbeth seeks to kill Banquo. When he murders Banquo, Macbeth is still in

torment, but the cause of his anguish seems to have changed. He is afraid

of Banquo, because Banquo knows about the witches and because the witches

predicted that his descendants would be kings. Banquo?s death he says, will

put his mind at rest. This establishes how important ultimate power is

sought by Macbeth as he will go to any lengths to achieve it. It also

proves how paranoid Macbeth is. It is this state of mind that was present

in Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the play.

After the murder of Banquo and the fleeing of Fleance the roles of the

couple have been reversed. Macbeth is now the more confident and bolder of

the two, thriving in this evil midst while Lady Macbeth is beginning to

lose her sanity.

Then by destruction dwell in doubtful joy?

Without knowing it, Macbeth is contributing to her madness by making

references to ?bats?, ?scorpions? and ?the shard-borne beetle?. This images

greatly worry Lady Macbeth as they act as reminders of the evil she has

caused in persuading Macbeth to kill Duncan. Macbeth then produces the best

bird image in the play by saying:

And now the crow makes wing to the rooky wood?

A crow is a solitary bird yet even that leaves its solitude when faced with

the evil that the two are having to endure. Macbeth is saying that he will

not give in to the evil, something Lady Macbeth has already done.

Macbeth then plants spies, showing how desperate and paranoid he is. He

sees enemies, real or imagined everywhere. Meanwhile Lady Macbeth continues

to surpress the evil and in an effort to restore her life says:

Come, we?ll to sleep?

Sleep is something that restores humanity daily. Throughout the play there

are constant references to sleep. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have been

deprived of sleep and in the latter’s case it will lead to her death. The

fact that sleep kills Lady Macbeth yet fails to kill Macbeth underlines

Macbeth?s greater inner courage.

The couple are have now been subject to evil for so long that the final

effects are beginning to occur. In Macbeth?s case the honourable hero we

met in the first act is now completely twisted. His moral sense seems to

have entirely disappeared, suggested by the murders of Macduff?s family.

Their killing gains him nothing. He has good reason to fear Macduff, but

slaughtering his enemy?s family is pointless. The end result in the

transformation of Macbeth is portrayed in this quotation:

The very firstlings of my heart shall be

The very firstlings of my hand.?

Here he is saying that upon deciding to do something he does, no longer is

there a moral judgement. Lady Macbeth is now afraid of the things that

Macbeth was afraid of early on in the play.

Hell is murky!?

She now sleepwalks and cannot bear to ever be in darkness. She is

effectively driving herself to suicide in an attempt to escape the horrible

nightmares that torment her. Shakespeare seems to be saying that guilt and

fear can be surpressed for a time, but they cannot be done away with


Having surpressed any guilt, it is now returning and she can no longer rid

herself of the constant reminders of her part in the murders.

All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.?

The only thing that can save her now is divine intervention, her death is


More needs she the divine than the physician?

Macbeth?s reaction to Lady Macbeth?s death is a sign of complete despair,

all feeling is dead in him. He launches a speech upon hearing of her death

which is less an expression of grief than it is a speech about the utter

meaningless of life.

Life?s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more?

Ultimately the differences between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are profound.

Macbeth is frightened at the beginning then confident at the end while Lady

Macbeth confident at the beginning and frightened at the end. Lady Macbeth

fails to cope with the evil while Macbeth faces up to it and eventually it

fails to have any effect upon him.

I have almost forgot the taste of fears?

Yet it is the manner in the which the pair die that provides a summary of

them. Lady Macbeth dies mad with a broken heart while Macbeth is slain

while proudly fighting to the death.

-Had he his hurts before?

-Ay, on the front?


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