How is Lady Macbeth cruel to Macbeth?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lady Macbeth is cruel to Macbeth because she wants him to be cruel, and to abandon both his fears and his sense of morality in order to kill King Duncan and seize the throne of Scotland that she sees as his destiny. Upon receiving word of Macbeth's encounter with the witches, Lady Macbeth says he is too full of the "milk of human kindness" to murder the king. She resolves to be full of "direst cruelty" in her efforts to push Macbeth toward fulfilling the witches' prophecy. When Macbeth resolves, at the end of Act I, to "proceed no further in this business," his wife bitterly excoriates him for wavering:

I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.

She implies Macbeth is a coward and challenges his masculinity in an attempt to goad him into the murder. Her remarks to Macbeth are undoubtedly cruel, and no doubt would have been somewhat shocking and unnatural to Shakespeare's audiences. We should note that Lady Macbeth did it out of a sincere desire to help her husband rise to the throne of Scotland. Lady Macbeth is indisputably cruel and evil, but she is also, in a twisted way, a very caring and loving wife to her husband.