In Act 1, scene 7 of Shaksepeare’s tragedy Macbeth, Lady Macbeth emerges as stronger than her husband in a number of different ways. As the scene opens, Macbeth is contemplating the murder of Duncan, his king, but is hesitating about actually committing the deed. However, while Macbeth spends the first half of the scene pondering and feeling ambivalent, Lady Macbeth, when she arrives, is full of energy, determination, and questions. Her sentences are initially brief and clipped: “He [that is, the king] has almost supped. Why have you [that is, Macbeth] left the chamber?” (1.7. 29). There is already a hint of rebuke in her opening question here, as well as in the question that immediately follows (1.7.30).
Notice, in fact, how many of her opening sentences are quick questions; she is clearly annoyed with her husband, implying that he is insufficiently resolute (1.7.35-38). She even implies that if he is slack in his ambition, he must also be slack in his love for her (1.7.38-39). Her taunting questions continue when she implies that he is timorous or fearful:
. . . Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valor
As thou art in desire? (1.7.39-41)
She actually raises the possibility that he may be a “coward” and literally likens him to the proverbial “fraidy cat” (1.7.41-45). Of course, by rebuking her husband in this way, she implies that she herself possesses all the traits he apparently lacks: ambition, resolution, determination, fearlessness, and manly courage.
Indeed, she challenges Macbeth’s masculinity, implying that he is no longer a “man” (1.7.49). She reminds him of his earlier ambitions and upbraids him for being fickle (1.7.51-54). Then, in some of the most famous lines Shakespeare ever wrote, she claims that she would be willing to dash out her own baby’s brains if she had to do so to achieve announced ambitions. Ironically, these lines make her sound like the very “beast” she had earlier accused Macbeth of being (1.7.47).
When Macbeth asks what will happen if they should fail to kill the king, she responds with another very abrupt question: “We fail?” (1.7.59). It is as if she cannot even imagine that possibility. It is Lady Macbeth, in fact – not her husband – who now outlines the details of the practical plot that will allow them to succeed (1.7.61-72).
She thus shows the kind of initiative and inventiveness she finds sorely lacking in her husband, whom she regards with a kind of contempt but whose ambitions she also seeks to re-arouse. In essence, she takes command, and she speaks so forcefully that Macbeth’s response implies that he is simultaneously intimidated, astonished, and impressed (1.7.72-74).
He also now seems to accept her plan of action and adds to it – a practical plan he might never have considered if she had not first proposed it (1.7.74-77). It is he who is now asking questions, and she is the one who provides ready, confident answers (1.7.74-79). She even elaborates upon her plan (1.7.77-79), once again showing initiative and inventiveness. Urged on by his powerful, almost over-powering wife, Macbeth now agrees to commit the murder, but even his resolution seems somewhat irresolute, as when he refers to the planned murder as a “terrible feat” and when he alludes to his own “false heart” (1.7.80, 82). Even as the scene concludes, then, he seems far less powerful than his wife.