In Macbeth, how do different attitudes of Macbeth and his wife, in regards to their bloodstained hands, serve to point out the basic difference in their characters?

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Shakespeare's Macbeth is filled with character contrasts. For the most part, one of the most poignant character contrasts exists between Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. One large difference seen between the characters is how they each regard the idea of blood being on their hands (brought on by Duncan's murder).

At first, Macbeth does not desire to murder Duncan. Instead, he wishes to get a little more comfortable with his newly bestowed title, the Thane of Cawdor. Unfortunately for him, his wife desires the throne sooner than later.

Once Duncan has been murdered, Macbeth immediately recognizes the weight of the act. He states that the blood, both figuratively and literally, will not be able to be washed from his hands (even with all of the waters of "great Neptune's ocean"). Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, refuses to accept the existence of blood on her own hands. Instead of fearing that the blood cannot be washed off, Lady Macbeth claims pure innocence (given she wears "a heart so white").

What this tells readers is that, at this point in the play, Macbeth understands the consequences of his actions. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, fails to accept her guilt regarding her part in the murder. Therefore, Macbeth and his wife contrast greatly in regards to the acceptance of guilt.

Later in the play, Macbeth, because of his growing ambition, has changed greatly. After murdering Duncan, Macbeth has Banquo and Macduff's family murdered. It seems Macbeth is no longer concerned with washing the blood from his hands. Instead, he continues to add blood to them.

Not only has Macbeth changed, Lady Macbeth has changed as well. As readers see her in her sleepwalking scene, they come to acknowledge the fact that her inner guilt is no longer denied. Instead, it has manifested in such a way that she literally sees the blood of Duncan's murder on her hands. She, unconsciously, has come to terms with her own guilt. She realizes that nothing will remove the "damned spot" from her hands, or her conscience.

In the end, as Macbeth's ambition grows, Lady Macbeth's diminishes. Given that she no longer has to question her husband's manliness, she can fall easily back into the stereotypical role of the loving wife. As she does, she becomes more vulnerable to the overly emotional side of the woman. It is as if only one of the couple can hold power at once. What this refers to is that when one is full of power, the other is weak.

macbethwhiz66 | Student

When Macbeth talked about his bloodstained hands, he was rather nervous. Lady Macbeth was cool and confident about her bloody hands.

My hands are of your color but I shame to wear a heart so white.

Macbeth was nervous since he said the bllood will not wash off.

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitundinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.

fransparks1 | Student

" A little water, clears us of the deed"-- Lady Macbeth

When Macbeth completed the act of killing King Duncan he was horrified! He felt that  because  of this  he would no longer be able to sleep, that there was so much blood that he would never be able to wash it all away.

Lady Macbeth, who was supposed to be the one that killed King Duncan, could not do it becasue he reminded her of her father. Oddly enough, she is rather calm  after the murder. Her job is to see that the complete plot gets carried out,  as her and Macbeth intended. She calms Macbeth by telling him to wash his hands,  change his clothes and get in bed.

At this moment we realize that Macbeth  shows signs of remorse and guilt for the murder but Lacy Macbeth does not! She is the driving force behind her husband's decent into madness and  his guilt.