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In the play Macbeth, compare and contrast Lady Macbeth's previous attitudes and actions...

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tay5408 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 4, 2010 at 8:20 AM via web

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In the play Macbeth, compare and contrast Lady Macbeth's previous attitudes and actions and her current condition.

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sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 4, 2010 at 10:07 AM (Answer #1)

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When you say "current condition," you don't indicate at which point in the play you are referring to; thus, I will give an overview of her attitudes and actions throughout the play.

In Act I, Lady Macbeth is ambitious.  She wants power and status, and easily contemplates the murder of King Duncan in order to gain those things.  She believes that Macbeth himself is "too full o' the milk of human kindness," and begins plotting how she will need to manipulate him to commit this murder.  She calls upon the "spirits" that "tend on mortal thoughts" to make her less feminine, so that she may have the constitution to do what it takes to get what she wants.

In Act II, Lady Macbeth has not been shaken from her attitudes or desires.  She hints at some weakness - explaining that she could not herself kill Duncan because he looked too much like her own father - but yet she has the strength to make sure the plan is foolproof.  When Macbeth takes away the bloody knifes from the scene, she returns them in order to implicate the guards.  As in Act I, she is forceful with Macbeth, encouraging him to get it together and show an unsuspecting face to the people.

In Act III, Lady Macbeth begins to show some weakness.  She demands to know what Macbeth's plans are, encouraging him for the first time to be cautious.  When he tells her to stop asking him and not worry, she doesn't push it.  He has controlled their encounter for the first time.  In the dining hall scene, she is again in control, covering for Macbeth's strange behavior and again bullying him into taking control of his actions.  However, this is the last time we will see her being so forceful in her actions.

By Act V, Lady Macbeth has been overcome with guilt.  She is not shown in Act IV, but we can guess that her trepidation in Act III - combined with the knowledge of how far Macbeth has gone to secure his position - has eaten away at her conscience.  She is unbalanced, nervous, and unaware of her surroundings.  She wanders about trying to rub invisible stains of blood from her hands, and eventually succumbs to her mental anguish.  As Macbeth has grown more sure of his pursuit of power, she has become less sure.  In the end, they both fail from the same desire, she through inner anguish, he through outward conflict.

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jseligmann | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted January 4, 2010 at 10:12 AM (Answer #2)

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As Lady Macbeth is not a real person, she does not have a "current condition." But, if what you want to know is how Lady Macbeth is different when we first meet her in the play and what becomes of her in the end, well that can be answered.

We first see Lady Macbeth in Act 1, Scene 5. She is reading a letter written to her by Macbeth. The letter tells of the prophecies of the witches. After reading the letter, she says:

...Hie thee hither

That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,

And chastise with the valor of my tongue

All that impedes thee from the golden round

She can't wait for Macbeth to come home so that she can get him to kill the king. She figures all she has to do is be cunning, strong, and merciless, and they will live happily ever after as King and Queen of Scotland.

She eventually convinces him to do the deed, but everything doesn't go as swimmingly as she had planned. First, her husband gets all upset and guilty about murdering the King, then there's a knock on the castle door, and they have to change and go to bed, then Macbeth has to kill more people to cover his tracks, and all the while Macbeth is feeling more and more guilty... he can't sleep and does more and more awful things. Lady Macbeth tries to keep it together and to calm her husband, but it's a very tough job.

By Act 3, both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, now Queen and King, are quite unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. She says ruefully:

Nought's had, all's spent,

Where our desire is got without content.

’Tis safer to be that which we destroy

Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.

Macbeth tells her everything will be alright; all he has to do is kill Banquo. He has Banquo killed, but Banquo's ghost appears to Macbeth and ruins a dinner party. Lady Macbeth is mortified and horrified by her husband's reactions to the ghost and has to make all kinds of excuses for him, and then she sends all the guests home.

In short Lady Macbeth has had to hold her composure all through the play, and she has had to deal with her husband's state of mind at the same time.

It obviously all becomes too much of a burden for her, for, by Act 5, a doctor has been sent for because Lady Macbeth is losing her mind. She is sleepwalking and sleep talking, and what she sleep talks about is blood and murder and murder and blood. Eventually everything falls apart for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and she kills herself.

So, to summarize: in the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth started off saying, Leave everything to me, and things will be great. But by the end of the play, she has seen the world crumble smash down on both of them; Macbeth is killed by Macduff and Lady Macbeth ends her own life.

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