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Who appears to be more evil? Macbeth or Lady Macbeth? Justify.

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cooldude123 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted February 11, 2010 at 6:42 PM via web

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Who appears to be more evil? Macbeth or Lady Macbeth? Justify.

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:55 AM (Answer #1)

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This question concerning who is more evil, Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, has been well covered by other editors above, but since the question is still open I'll add just a little piece of evidence that hasn't been dealt with yet. 

One piece of evidence that suggests Macbeth is the evil one is the fact that Lady Macbeth has the opportunity to just kill Duncan herself, but she is unable to do it.  She is impatient with her husband and does not have confidence in his ability to do it, yet she doesn't do it herself.  She says she can't do it because Duncan reminds her of her father.  There is a compassionate, sentimental side to Lady Macbeth.  Her plottings are just that:  plans and theory, directions to her husband.  She worries earlier in the play that her husband won't be able to do it, but then she turns out to be the one who can't do it. 

While her mind falls apart and she plunges into petrifying OCD (as we might think of it today) and commits suicide, Macbeth rules as a tyrant and arranges the slaughter of Banquo and Macduff's family.  Lady Macduff is certainly the planner of the family, but Macbeth does the deeds.  Her evil is just expressed in words. 

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luannw | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted February 11, 2010 at 8:28 PM (Answer #2)

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I believe Lady Macbeth is more evil.  When Macbeth first thought of killing the king, in Act 1, sc. 3, in the aside that begins at approximately line 148, he says that the thought of killing, "...that suggestion / whose horrid image...", makes his heart pound and his hair stand on end.  Then, in Act 1, sc. 4, after Duncan announces that Malcolm is his successor, Macbeth says, "Stars, hide your fires! / Let not light see my black and deep desires."  This suggests that he has thoughts of killing Duncan, but he is pushing those thoughts to back of his mind and doesn't want them brought out into the light.  In contrast to that attitude is Lady Macbeth's attitude in Act 1, sc. 5, when she gets Macbeth's letter telling her of the witches' prophecies and of his becoming the Thane of Cawdor, she immediately fills her head with dark thoughts. Rather than desire that her deadly thoughts be hidden from the light, she asks the powers of darkness to bring them forth - just the opposite of her husband.  Macbeth is an ambitious man or the witches would not have been able to take advantage of him, but he was willing to wait and see if the prophecy that he'd become king would happen on its own, (Act 1, sc. 3, "If chance will have me King, why, / chance may crown me, / Without my stir."  Lady Macbeth chastised her husband and called him weak and unmanly when he balked at the idea of killing Duncan.  Macbeth was a weak, easily manipulated man whereas his wife was a self-serving, manipulating woman who couldn't do the dirty deeds herself.  Once Macbeth gets the crown, he becomes paranoid and goes to any length to keep his position, but it is Lady Macbeth who encouraged his behavior.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 12, 2010 at 7:06 AM (Answer #3)

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There will be divergent answers to this question.  An equally strong case can be made for each.  I think that Macbeth proves to be more evil than Lady Macbeth.  While she plays a very devious role as inspiring him to commit the deeds of murder, in the final analysis, Macbeth is the one to commit these acts.  At the same time, while Lady Macbeth does display some level of regret, guilt, or remorse about her actions, Macbeth plunges into a deeper moral abyss with his actions and the depravity they represent.  Both characters can fit the label of being evil with their actions and thoughts, but in my mind, I think that Macbeth is marginally more evil than his wife.

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nusratfarah | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted February 12, 2010 at 1:34 AM (Answer #4)

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Every person has his or her individual opinion, and may be, my opinion would not go after those of many, but I think that Macbeth himself is more evil than his wife.

The most important reason that makes me think so is that of the insanity of Lady Macbeth. Two persons, following the same path, commits sin, and one of them passes days much more normally, and the other, how far devilish s/he is, at one stage, becomes mad for the guilt s/he feels inside because of the crime s/he has committed, then, it is easily understandable that the person who becomes insane is far more humane than the other. A human does have feelings, a demon does not. Lady Macbeth is found in the tragedy to lose her senses as the assassinations go on and finally, she dies. She can not endure such guilt, and that is why she feels that there is “the smell of the blood still” in her hands and “all the perfumes of Arabia” will not be enough to remove it.

Macbeth, on the contrary, leads a normal life, continues killing, and ruling the country like a bloody tyrant not even sparing small children to secure his kingship (his men kill Macduff’s son). Indeed, after killing so many people constantly, he does not get tired, neither he repents and turns off. Rather he says that it is difficult for him to return, and he himself tells to Lady Macbeth: “I am in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er” (Act 3, Scene 4). He was ready to do anything for the sake of his survival and position. Even one of the witches, in Act 4, Scene 1, makes other witches alert when Macbeth was entering: “Something wicked this way comes” and Hecate also, considers him as ‘wayward’, ‘spiteful’ and ‘wrathful’ who only thinks of his own (Act 3, Scene 5). In fact, the news of his wife’s death does not bring any major change in his character. It seems that, his chief aim is to hold on the power at any cost and nothing can stir him.

So, to me, Macbeth is more malicious than his wife. Lady Macbeth, till a stage of her life, works as the spur, but the main wickedness is derived from Macbeth himself. His cruelty can not be ignored by condemning the witches’ equivocation or Lady Macbeth’s stimulation.

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted February 12, 2010 at 3:12 AM (Answer #5)

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There are so many opinions on guilt, culpability and evil in the characters of the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare that it is probably best for each member of the audience, or reader, to make their own judgement depending on their reading/view of it.  My own reading of it leads me to prefer the scenario that poor Macbeth is ill - he has a psychological/mental illness which predisposes him to suggestiblity. Because he is very suggestible, other people can work on him - his personality is malleable and others exploit that weakness and frailty. Chief among them of course is the true villain of my piece - Lady Macbeth. I think she knows her husband well enough to know which buttons she has to press to get him doing her bidding. He does the rest.

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doggyman86 | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted June 1, 2011 at 1:44 AM (Answer #6)

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ayesha9000 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 11, 2012 at 4:07 PM (Answer #7)

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i think that neither are evil... if u look at the text closely u will see that lady macbeth had to call upon the evil spirits to assist her. this shows that lady macbeth is not evil. she needed assistance to assist her husband in fulfilling his ambitions. she thinks that her husband lacks courage to fulfill his ambitions.

when u look at macbeth he does not know what to do. he is undecided about duncan's murder. when he eventually murders duncan he realises his deed he says that no water will be able to wash off his deed(duncan's blood). he also asks lady macbeth as to y he could not say AMEN!!!

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bettykirkers | TA , Grade 12 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted February 26, 2015 at 9:38 PM (Answer #9)

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The answer as to whom is more evil lies Lady Macbeth and Macbeth lies in Malcom's line:

"This dead butcher, and his fiend-like queen"

Throughout Macbeth audience are witness to the supernatural forces that drive Macbeth to act, in the form of the Witches and indeed, Lady Macbeth herself. He is pushed into the trade of murder by other characters. Macbeth develops a warped perspective of manliness, in the form of self-serving aggression as a “result of his wife’s machinations”, such as “I shame to wear a heart so white”. Macbeth delegates responsibility to the murderers as if too weak-stomached to carry out the deed himself. If he were a true butcher, he would be able to carry out the ‘work’ with a degree of emotional detachment. Throughout the play Macbeth exhibits horror at his own behaviour: “to know my deed ‘twere best not know myself”. Through doing so, he highlights that he is a good man, a “worthy gentlemen” at heart, which is in accordance with Aristotle’s expectations of the character of a tragic hero. With the play being set in an innately religious age, Macbeth’s murder of Duncan – the king, God’s minister on earth – was the pinnacle of blasphemy. Perhaps a secular, modern reading of Macbeth sees Macbeth’s crimes as less heinous than they would have been at the time of reception. Not only that, but to either audience, Macbeth seems suitably reluctant to commit the crime in the first place: “we will proceed no further in this business”. The fact he is convinced to commit such an earth-shaking deed is a result of his spouse’s goading that he is not a true man, ridiculing his masculinity. Such a reading sees Macbeth as a victim of his wife’s cruelty, and far less evil as a result.

There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that Lady Macbeth is indeed a ‘fiend-like queen’ and subsequently the more evil of the two. She establishes her affinity for dark, supernatural forces upon her introduction to the audience in Act One, Scene Five. By calling on dark spirits to “unsex me here” and “exchange my milk for gall”, she fulfils the role of a transgressive female, often central to the Gothic. Adelman’s feminist psychoanalytic reading exposes the “terrible threat of destructive maternal power” and the “helplessness of its central male figure before that power.” This is consolidated through imagery of violence in Lady Macbeth’s declaration that she would “dash the brains out” of her child “while it were smiling in my face”. Perhaps it is not her ‘maternal power’ that is the ‘terrible threat’, but her denouncement of that which makes her female. The strength, resolve and independence she demonstrates “leave the rest to me” are so out of kilter with expectations of an Elizabethan woman that she “seems to us a monster, while Macbeth does not” (McCarthy).

Not only this, but Lady Macbeth exhibits duplicitous behaviour akin to that of a ‘fiend’ in her perusal that Macbeth “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t”. She puts on this false face when she lies at the banquet to cover Macbeth’s strange behaviour: “My Lord is often thus, and hath been from his youth”. Despite having been kept out of Macbeth’s plans since the murder of Duncan, she still covers for her husband. This perhaps highlights her weakness is her love for Macbeth, she views herself as his “dearest partner of greatness” and will do whatever it takes to prove that.

Yet Lady Macbeth’s ‘fiend-like’ status deteriorates as time passes. She demonstrates an inability to abandon female traits such as sympathy and tenderness, in her failing to murder Duncan because he “resembled my father as he slept”. Not only this, but she is shunned by her own husband as he accelerates the rate of his ‘butchery’. Although Macbeth’s endearing use of the term ‘chuck’ can be viewed at his attempt to prevent her from wading further into blood, it does seem that he has forsaken her by her death “she should have died hereafter”. Arguably, the audience is sympathetic towards her isolation by the time her death is reported in Act Five, Scene Five.

Furthermore, despite Lady Macbeth’s initial resolve to “wash this filthy witness” from her hands, she finds herself fixated on the Gothic symbol of blood: “out damned spot!” This serves to highlight her guilt. She always has a “light with her” and sleepwalks, suggesting a fear of the darkness that has already consumed her and her husband. The association of darkness with evil is a reoccurring theme in the Gothic; Van Doren argues “sleep is the reward of the good in Shakespeare” and that if it is absent, there is no goodness left. This suggests that as night falls, those who are evil will be plagued with sleeplessness. Therefore ‘fiends’ like Lady Macbeth will be forced to pay the price of their abhorrent crime. It is in this way that the Gothic genre delivers evil characters justice.

By the plays conclusion Macbeth is more than a ‘dead butcher’; he is a tragic hero whose hubris, his “vaulting ambition”, has brought about his demise. Lady Macbeth is certainly more ‘fiend-like’ but in death is no longer a ‘queen’. The “valour” of her tongue has brought nothing but misery to herself, her “partner in greatness”, and indeed the rest of Scotland. She is undoubtedly the more evil character. 

Sources:

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted February 11, 2010 at 9:30 PM (Answer #8)

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Lady Macbeth is more evil than Macbeth. Macbeth has been told that he is going to become the king and is relatively satisfied to allow the course to play out. However, Lady Macbeth is impatient and wants it to happen quickly. She has a strong presence and is very capable of manipulating her husband.

Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to kill the King so that he can have the throne. She faces the witches intrusions as a gift from the evil presence and uses it to fulfill her own ambitions.

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