How is Lady Macbeth presented as superior?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hello! This is one of Shakespeare's most interesting plays regarding his portrayal of women. Lady Macbeth is ambitious, decisive, conniving, and some may even say, machiavellian. She appears to be twice the 'man' her husband is.

It is Lady Macbeth who has to steady her husband for the murder of Duncan. Full of ruthless ambition, she first steadies herself by resolutely calling upon evil spirits to ' unsex me here, /And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/Of direst cruelty.' She refuses to give in to any weak feminine impulses:

Make thick my blood./Stop up the access and passage to remorse/That no compunctious visitings of nature/Shake my fell purpose,

She chides her husband for being too afraid to claim that which is rightly his:

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' th' adage?

This is in direct contrast to Macbeth's anxiety and ambivalence regarding the use of murder as a means to further his own ambitions. his host,/Who should against his murderer shut the door,/Not bear the knife myself.

I have no spur/To prick the sides of my intent, but only/Vaulting ambition,...

Here is a woman who has no problem imbibing alcohol to steady her nerves for any dastardly deed. It is Lady Macbeth herself who goes back to plant the bloody daggers with the sleeping chamberlains so that they will be blamed for the murder. She tells her visibly shaken spouse that 'A little water clears us of this deed,' and sneers at him that 'My hands are of your color, but I shame/To wear a heart so white.'

Lady Macbeth feels suffocated by her role as a queen; to Lady Macbeth, her femininity is a curse. Shakespearean plays have always portrayed the feminine soul as demonstrating the virtues of kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, and cheerfulness. In contrast, the masculine spirit is always ruthless, decisive, cunning, abrasive, and definitely brutal (you can read this in Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus, and Henry V, among other plays). In other words, real men are not afraid to get their hands 'dirty.' So, Shakespeare is casting Lady Macbeth in a superior position here: she is the de-facto masculine force propelling the emasculated Macbeth forward.

Hope this helps. Thanks for the question.