How can I analyze these lines spoken by Lady Macbeth? The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? What, will these hands ne'er be...

How can I analyze these lines spoken by Lady Macbeth?

"The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? What, will these hands ne'er be clean? No more o' that, my lord, no more o' that. You mar all with this starting." (5.1.43-46)

Is she talking about how she will never clean the blood from her hands?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These lines are from Act V, Scene 1, in which the gentlewoman speaks with the physician about the worsening psychological condition of Lady Macbeth.

In Act IV, Scene 2, Macbeth has learned that Macduff, the Thane of Fife has fled England. Enraged, he decides to kill anyone who stands in line for his inheritance:

The castle of Macduff I will surprise,
Seize upon Fife, give to th' edge o' th' sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
That trace him in his line (Act IV, Scene 2, lines 156-160).
At the castle of Macduff, who has fled to England, Lady Macduff and her son are murdered. Although earlier she scoffed at her husband for his anxiety and guilt about his murder of Duncan, in Act V Lady Macbeth bewails the blood upon her own hands.
 
Indeed, Lady Macbeth alludes to her and Macbeth's murderous deeds that have compounded until she and Macbeth are steeped in evil. The consequences of her sins have caused Lady Macbeth to go mad in the magnitude of her guilt and imagine that there is blood upon her hands.
 
In Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence observes "These violent delights have violent ends" (2.6.), and Lady Macbeth exemplifies the truth of these words, as the violence of Macbeth's exciting rise to power has wrought the terrible destruction of her mind.
shaketeach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At this point in the play, Lady Macbeth is not in her right mind.  The doctor has already told Macbeth that he can't cure what is wrong with her.

The Thane of Fife was Lady Macduff.  Macbeth had her and her children murdered.  Lady Macbeth imagines that she sees the blood of Duncan (and Macbeth's other victims) on her hands.  If you remember, she returned the bloody daggers after Macbeth killed Duncan and by mistake did not leave them with the drugged grooms.  It was necessary for her to literally get the blood on her hands.  Her guilt drives her insane and she sees the evidence of her guilt, the blood, on her hands.  It is not literal blood at this point.  The blood becomes metaphorical, a symbol of her guilt.  Since she planned Duncan's murder and pushed him to do it, she is just as guilty as Macbeth of the bloodbath that followed.

Her guilt eventually drove her to commit suicide.

Read the study guide:
Macbeth

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