Comment on the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in Act 2 and Act 3 scenes 1 and 2. Give textual references and quotes.
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In Act 2, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are co-conspirators in the murder of Duncan. In fact, Lady Macbeth is the instigator of the murder, the organizer, and the one who helps Macbeth see it through. Lady Macbeth is the one who drugs the guards, lays their daggers out so that Macbeth can find them. In fact, Lady Macbeth in referring to Duncan says, "Had he not resembled/ My father when he slept, I would have done it" (2.2.12-13) After Macbeth kills Duncan and returns to Lady Macbeth, he is guilt-ridden and immediately remorseful. He stands before her holding the bloody daggers in shock,"I am afraid to think what I have done" (2.2. 50). But Lady Macbeth has the presence of mind to take the daggers back and place them with the guards, smearing their hands with Duncan's blood: Lady Macbeth returns saying, "My hands are of your color but I shame/ To wear a heart so white." (2.2.63-64) In Act 2, Lady Macbeth is ruthless, composed, clear-thinking, and dominant. Macbeth is hesitant, fearful, cautious, guilt-ridden, remorseful, and subordinate.
This all changes in Act 3. In Act 3, Macbeth no longer consults Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth must make an appointment, so to speak, to communicate with her husband. She becomes regretful of the murder of Duncan: "Tis safer to be that which we destroy/Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy" (3.2.6-7) But Macbeth moves on to plot another murder--the murder of his friend Banquo. This murder is carried out without Lady Macbeth's input or knowledge: "Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, /Till thou applaud the deed" (3.2.45) In Act 3, Macbeth is ruthless, dominant, and self-directed. Lady Macbeth has lost her influence on her husband, and she becomes, not exactly guilt-ridden, but very regretful that the murder of Duncan has not brought the two the joy that she had envisioned.
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth's main action in Act II concerns the murder of Duncan, the primary scene being scene ii. However, Macbeth has a famous and important speech in Act II, scene i, his "Is this a dagger..." speech. This soliloquy is the moment that the audience knows for sure that Macbeth will indeed follow through and murder Duncan. He ends by saying, "I go, and it is done."
In scene ii, Lady Macbeth is waiting for Macbeth to finish the deed and report back to her. He comes in from the murder, visibly shaken, and she attempts to snap him out of it by telling him to stop being such a baby (in essence). She also chides him for being a foolish murderer -- He has brought the daggers he used to kill Duncan back with him! She orders him to take them back and leave them at the murder scene, and, when he hesitates she takes them herself. She returns in triumph, gloating over Macbeth's cowardice:
My hands are of your colour; but I shame
To wear a heart so white.
It is in Act III, that Macbeth sinks deeper into his vice, needing to commit more murders to cement his position. It is also in this Act that he pulls away from Lady Macbeth, telling her to "[b]e innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck." This Act also shows how Macbeth is shaken up by his actions, with the appearance of Banquo at the banquet. After the banquet, Shakespeare alludes to the unrest that is to come for both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
You lack the season of all natures, sleep.
Come, we'll to sleep. My strange and self-abuse
Is the initiate fear that wants hard use.
We are yet young in deed.
Macbeth indicates here that there is a long road of murders yet to come before they can really "rest." And, of course, we know that the peace of mind that Macbeth seeks will never come, no matter how many murders he commits.
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