How does Lady Macbeth's character change and devolop through the tragic play of Macbeth?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth is bold, forceful, and portrayed as masculine by William Shakespeare. She pushes her husband to commit the murder of Duncan that they both know is necessary for Macbeth to become king. When he falters, she challenges his manhood:

Art thou afeard 
To be the same in thine own act and valor 
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life 
And live a coward in thine own esteem, 
Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would” 
Like the poor cat i’ the adage?

After the murder, she encourages him not to feel any remorse. She even helps to handle the murder weapons before and after the fact, smearing blood on the King's two guards. After this night, though, Lady Macbeth becomes a less important character in Macbeth's life. He does not consult her about the murders of Banquo and Macduff's family. By Act V, she is consumed by guilt, as portrayed in her famous "sleepwalking" scene, where she attempts to wash imaginary blood from her hands:

Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One–two— 
why then ’tis time to do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! 
A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, 
when none can call our power to account? Yet who would
have thought the old man to have had so much blood in

By the time she commits suicide near the end of the play, there is not much left of her former, assertive self.