How is Lady Macbeth both a strong wife and weak woman?

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lusie0520 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lady Macbeth is both a strong wife and a weak woman at different points in Macbeth. At the beginning, she is the strong wife who knows that her husband will not be able to decide to kill the king on his own. Before he comes home, she asks the spirits to make her more like a man so she can do what needs to be done. “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here/ And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full/ of direst cruelty (Act I, Scene 5). When her husband expresses his doubts about killing the king, she goads him into changing his mind: “Art thou afear’d/ to be the same in thine own act and valor/ As thou art in desire?” (Act I, Scene 7). Lady Macbeth continues to support her husband and ensure that the murder is successful. “Infirm of purpose!/ Give me the daggers” (Act II, Scene 2). In the aftermath of the murder, Lady Macbeth is by Macbeth’s side to protect him when he is weak. “I pray you, speak not, he grows worse and worse” (Act III, Scene 4).

Lady Macbeth is also weak, although she does not see this in herself until it is too late. During the Duncan's murder, Lady Macbeth experiences a moment of weakness when she looks down at Duncan and sees he resembles her father. She is unable to kill Duncan for this reason. “Had he not resembled/ my father as he slept, I had done ‘t (Act II, Scene 2). Later in the play, Lady Macbeth realizes her guilt is keeping her from enjoying the rewards of the crown. “Nought’s had, all’s spent/ when our desire is got without content“ (Act III, Scene 2). As her husband kills more people and she recognizes that power does not make her as happy as she expected, Lady Macbeth sinks into madness and is unable to recover.