How was Lady Macbeth acting in act 5, scene 1, and why? How does the gentlewoman feel as she is working for Lady Macbeth?

Lady Macbeth acts irrational and mentally disturbed in act 5, scene 1. She is filled with guilt and remorse over her role in King Duncan's murder and hallucinates as she sleepwalks. Lady Macbeth pretends to wash imaginary blood off her hands and discusses her crime. The gentlewoman is extremely uncomfortable working for Lady Macbeth and refuses to repeat what she heard. The gentlewoman fears the consequences of disclosing the sensitive information without any witnesses to confirm Lady Macbeth's comments.

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In this scene, Lady Macbeth is observed first of all by a doctor and a gentlewoman, one of her ladies in waiting. They notice that she is rubbing her hands and walking around at night, but she appears to be asleep. They overhear Lady Macbeth declaring that there is a "spot" on one of her hands which will not come out no matter how much she rubs at it.

The doctor and the gentlewoman hear Lady Macbeth wonder how it is possible that "the old man" could have contained "so much blood" that the stain of it should still be on her hands. The gentlewoman and the doctor both think this is incredibly suspicious, although the doctor does observe that he has seen people sleepwalking in the past who have died "holily," meaning that it may not actually mean Lady Macbeth has committed terrible acts.

The audience (or reader) recognizes that Lady Macbeth's behavior is an outward expression of the guilt which has been caused by the murder of Duncan. Lady Macbeth first began to flinch from the idea of killing Duncan when she recognized his resemblance to her father; now she feels consumed with guilt and is also worried about Banquo, even though she is telling herself that he cannot "return" to plague them.

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In act 5, scene 1, Lady Macbeth is behaving as though she has a terribly guilty conscience, heavily burdened by the murder of Duncan as well as all the other terrible things Macbeth has done since this first crime. Recall that Macbeth had wanted to back out of their plan to murder the king but that it was Lady Macbeth who talked him into it again by insulting his manhood and pride, telling him he'd be a coward if he did not pursue the crown.

In her somnambulatory state, Lady Macbeth now imagines that there is still blood on her hands from Duncan's murder. She seems to relive the night of that first murder, counting the strokes of the clock the couple heard then as they awaited their opportunity to strike: "One. Two. Why then, 'tis time to do 't" (5.1.37–38).

She also has some awareness of what happened to the innocent wife and children of Macduff, as she laments, "The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?" (5.1.44–45). She realizes, on some level, that Macbeth is responsible for the Macduffs' deaths, so perhaps she realizes, too, the hand she has had in initiating their sad fate.

In her guilt, Lady Macbeth now cries that "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" (5.1.53–55). It is ironic, of course, that she once told Macbeth "a little water clears us of this deed" when he lamented the king's blood on his own hands immediately following the murder (2.2.86). She also chastised him then, saying, "Your constancy / Hath left you unattended," and now she is the one being inconstant and acting guiltily, even without her knowing it (2.2.87–88). She berated him for hallucinating, and now it is she who hallucinates.

The Macbeths have, evidently, created such a culture of fear with their reign that the gentlewoman who serves Lady Macbeth refuses to repeat what she has heard her mistress say, because she has "no witness to confirm [her] speech" (5.1.19–20). Frightened for her own safety, it seems, she will not even report to a doctor what the queen has been doing and saying in her sleep; the waiting woman will only bring him to see and hear for himself.

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In act 5, scene 1, Lady Macbeth is seen sleepwalking and pretending to wash blood from her hands. While Lady Macbeth pretends to wash her hands, she continues to hallucinate and carries on an imaginary conversation with her husband regarding their crime. She also asks her husband about Macduff's wife and questions if her hands will ever be clean. Her comments mimic Macbeth's earlier reaction to Duncan's blood when she says, "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."

Lady Macbeth is clearly disturbed and mentally unstable. Her actions and comments indicate that she is guilt-ridden over the murder of King Duncan and her husband's recent crimes. The imaginary blood on Lady Macbeth's hands symbolizes her guilt, which consumes her mind and soul.

After witnessing Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking routine, the Doctor concludes that her mind is infected and she needs "the divine" more than a physician. The gentlewoman feels uncomfortable working for Lady Macbeth and refuses to repeat anything she heard Lady Macbeth say. The gentlewoman comments that she has no witnesses to confirm what she has heard and will not disclose Lady Macbeth's incriminating statements.

The gentlewoman understands the significance of Lady Macbeth's comments and doesn't want to deal with the consequences attached to reporting such sensitive information. Without any witnesses, Lady Macbeth could easily deny the accusations, and the gentlewoman would be put in a precarious situation.

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In this scene, Lady Macbeth seems to have gone completely mad.  Of course, it is only happening when she is asleep, but her sleepwalking seems to show that she is deeply troubled.

She keeps getting up and doing things like pretending to wash her hands -- sometimes for fifteen minutes straight.  She talks about the "spot" and about blood.  Clearly, she is feeling guilt over the murders.

The gentlewoman does not really speak her feelings, but I think she is afraid.  She says she has heard something she shouldn't have.  And she says she doesn't want to tell what she's heard because (the implication is) Lady Macbeth would know she had told.  So I think she is afraid of her mistress.

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