Lady Macbeth1





Sec. 4-A
27 February 2001

LADY MACBETH’S DOWNFALL

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth has been a theatrical favorite since Elizabethan times. Its timeless themes of ambition, fate, violence, and insanity collaborate to produce a captivating plot. The audience traces the disintegration of a tragic hero and his willful wife. Lady Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most forcefully drawn female characters, plays an important role in the play Macbeth. She has a profound influence over the action of the play, and her character accentuates many of the themes. It seems evident that Lady Macbeth is motivated by repressed emotional complexes which lead to her insanity.
Lady Macbeth is introduced as she reads a letter from her husband regarding his new title and the prophesies of the three weird sisters. Macbeth is the first to contemplate killing King Duncan, but the notion immediately enters his desirous wife’s mind as well. Macbeth is the medium through which the train of evil extends to his calculating companion. Once this evil is exposed, Lady Macbeth’s strong and dominating ambition to become queen is born (Jameson 192).
There are two reasons why Lady Macbeth is ambitious. Her first motive, ardent affection for her husband, reveals a touch of womanhood. Because she loves Macbeth, she has an earnest desire to help him attain the throne. Upon reading his letter, the devoted Lady Macbeth does not once refer to herself; she thinks only of Macbeth (Jameson 191-2). On a deeper level, Lady Macbeth’s ambition also stems from a sublimation of a repressed desire for children. This sublimation is based upon the memory of her long since dead child. The unconscious battle that this memory produces plagues Lady Macbeth’s mind and will be responsible for all of her further actions in the play (Coriat 219).
As Lady Macbeth ponders and schemes the “taking off” of the king, she convinces herself that she is brave (Freud 223). She callously asks for her womanliness to be sacrificed so that she will be able to carry out her murderous intentions:
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
...................................................................
Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers. (I. v. 39-40, 46-7)
In the harsh words of Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, she substitutes ambition for her repressed sexual complex. Her strong-willed speech makes her appear to be very courageous when, in actuality, she is suppressing her genuine underlying cowardice (Coriat 219). Consciously, she believes in her volition; however, her unconscious complexes are the factors that determine her behavior (Coriat 222).
As the time of the murder approaches, Macbeth begins to waver about implementing the plan. The domineering Lady Macbeth goads him on to his damnation as she calls him a coward and shows that she is fearless (Jameson 191). Her horrific words convince Macbeth that he must be a man and keep his word:
I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this. (I. vii. 54-59)
Here Lady Macbeth’s repressed sexual complex for a child is sublimated into ambition and strength. On the surface, she steels herself against emotional harm, but subconsciously, this abhorrent woman is deeply sorrowful about her childlessness (Coriat 220).
As Lady Macbeth waits for Macbeth to return from the cataclysmic deed, she divulges that she is not as daring as she appears by saying: “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold; / What hath quenched them hath given me fire” (II. ii. 1-2). Her cowardice is illustrated by her need for alcohol to enable her to act out her wishes. That pusillanimity resurfaces when Lady Macbeth tells her husband: “Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done ’t” (II. ii. 12-13). She uses her father as an excuse for her inaction (Coriat 221).
The entire murderous experience fills Lady Macbeth with intense fear and horror. The silence, whispering, and dangerous situation that is broken by the knocking at the gate transforms Lady Macbeth’s delusive bravery into consummate terror. She also realizes that the murder of Duncan is rendered even more evil because it violates claims of kindred and hospitality (Jameson 191). She chooses to repress the secret of