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Macbeth was commissioned for a specific purpose: the accession of Elizabeth’s Scottish cousin, James, to the throne following her death in March 1603.
Did Shakespeare in some ways model the character of Lady Macbeth on the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth? As Sigmund Freud noted, the play “offered remarkable analogies to the historical moment. ‘Virginal’ Elizabeth, who had once described herself as a ‘barren stock,’ was obliged by her own childlessness to make the Scottish king her successor.”
Like Elizabeth, Lady Macbeth will produce no heirs. Might, as Freud argues, Lady Macbeth’s callousness be explained as a reaction to childlessness? To be barren during the Renaissance was no light matter. Barrenness was commonly thought to be a punishment for sin. Additionally, as Elizabeth well knew, only a male heir could inherit property, so the pressure was great for women to have male children.
Lady Macbeth is subject to many of the same kinds of pressures regarding her barrenness as Elizabeth was. Macbeth knows that Banquo’s prophecy is that his children will inherit the throne. If this is to come to pass, it must mean that Macbeth himself will never have an heir. For all of her attempts at control, Freud argues, Lady Macbeth is powerless against nature.
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