How does Shakespeare surprise us in his presentation of Lady Macbeth in Act 1 and Act 2 Scenes 1 and 2?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lady Macbeth is one of the more noteworthy characters in the play. If Shakespeare surprises the reader or the audience, it is because he portrays Lady Macbeth as ruthless, cunning, and cruel. At this point in the play, Lady Macbeth is seen as a driving force behind Macbeth's ambition, which, as Shakespeare acknowledges in Lady Macbeth's brief soliloquy, seems to upset the gendered order of things as his audiences would have seen them:

Come, you spririts
Thast tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood...

In Act II, as Macbeth vacillates, his wife pushes him to commit the deed, and tells him later that he should not feel guilty for having killed the king. She even questions his manhood and his courage. Later in the play, she has lost her nerve, and is tormented by guilt. But in this section of Macbeth, she is portrayed as the forceful character in the marriage. Whether Shakespeare intended to suggest that women could be strong or to portray female ambition as conniving and wicked is open to debate. But Lady Macbeth is a powerful character however we read her.