How does Lady Macbeth treat Duncan in Act I Scene 7 of Macbeth?

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booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the theme of deception is quite clear in the way the Macbeth's acts with Duncan and other characters. There is also a clear sense of "appearance vs reality." Macbeth is a highly decorated general in Duncan's army, well-thought of by King and peers. No one (except Banquo—because he knows about the witches' predictions) would suspect that beneath Macbeth's sterling exterior is a man whose ambition will lead him to kill Duncan—his King, friend, cousin, and house guest (a serious breach of moral integrity at the time).

The only person that can compare to Macbeth in the act of deception—as well as demonstrating the difference between appearance vs reality—is Lady Macbeth. It is important to remember that she wants wants Duncan dead even more than Macbeth. For example, Macbeth, after being praised and rewarded by Duncan, decides that he wants to wait to kill the King in order to enjoy the "moment." So Lady Macbeth insults his manhood, his bravery, until Macbeth agrees. And he tells her that she is so hard of heart that she should only give birth to male children, for there is nothing soft within her.

In Act One, scene six, when Duncan finally arrives, the King tells Lady Macbeth how much he appreciates their love. Though it is inconvenient that he has descended upon them unannounced, it shows his high regard for them in wanting to stay at their home.

Lady Macbeth responds with a welcome that has an appropriate level of respect, and complimentary sentiments. She basically tells the King that no matter how much they would try, there is no way they could possibly repay him for all of the honor he has bestowed on their family; also, for all the honors of past and present, the Macbeth family's lives are at the King's service. Lady Macbeth says:

All our service

In every point twice done, and then done double,

Were poor and single business to contend

Against those honors deep and broad wherewith

Your Majesty loads our house. For those of old,

And the late dignities heap'd up to them,

We rest your hermits. (14-20)

When Duncan says that he and his party will be staying with the Macbeths that night, Lady Macbeth replies that their servants and all that they have is there for his comfort.

Your servants ever

Have theirs, themselves, and what is theirs, in compt,

To make their audit at your Highness’ pleasure,

Still to return your own. (25-29)

Duncan ends the scene by saying how much he loves Macbeth, and that he will continue to reward him.

In light of all that Lady Macbeth says, and as caring as she seems, she is planning the death of their King.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Since Duncan does not actually appear in Scene 7 of Act V, the assumption will be made that the question addresses Lady Macbeth's attitude toward Duncan.  Now, in the previous scene, Lady Macbeth is the gracious hostess, saying that she and Macbeth are at his service,

Your servants ever
Have theirs, themselves, and what is theirs, in compt,
To make their audit at your Highness’ pleasure,
Still to return your own. (4.6.30-34)

However, in scene 7, Lady Macbeth is brutal.  She berates Macbeth for being a coward after he tells her that he cannot go through with the murder of the man who has lately honored him,

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 pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.(1.7.60-65)

She tells Macbeth that she will get the guards drunk, and while Duncan is unguarded, they can do anything to the king: 

What cannot you and I perform upon
The unguarded Duncan? (1.7.77-78)

Lady Macbeth is so forceful that Macbeth, impressed, exclaims, "Bring forth men-children only," meaning that such violent strength should only be passed on to male children.



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