Lady Macbeth: is she more or less guilty than her husband?Lady Macbeth: Is she more or less guilty than her husband?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is like asking, "Which is wetter, the Atlantic or the Pacific?" The legal system determines degree of guilt in charging crimes, but what of the moral code? Macbeth committed the murder, but Lady Macbeth clearly acted to bring about the deed. Is she less guilty because she did not wield the daggers? No. Is he less guilty because she manipulated him into proceeding? No. Macbeth was a thinking adult; he was not a powerless child or someone who lacked mental capacity. The fact that Lady Macbeth manipulated him does not make him less guilty; it just shows him to be psychologically weaker than his wife.

Once Duncan dies, Macbeth continues to murder, but he does so without sharing his plans with his wife. She does not participate in the murders of Banquo or Macduff's family and servants. So, is she guilty of their deaths, as well? She must seem to think so since she relives those murders, as well as Duncan's, in her sleep walking. Why would she feel guilty if she had not participated? Sins of omission perhaps? She continued as Queen of Scotland without lifting a hand to stop her husband's subsequent murders. 

Lady Macbeth feels as guilty as her husband, so who are we to argue! Is one of them guiltier than the other? No. There's plenty of guilt to go around. 

MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with most posters in that they share guilt equally, although Macbeth has a direct hand in the actions, while Lady Macbeth serves as an accomplice in guiding her husband to those actions. However, in my own opinion, Lady Macbeth was a victim herself, while Macbeth was not. I'm sure most will read my interpretation as singularly feminist, but I think it's important to point out that Lady Macbeth is bound by the social constraints on women at the time. She will never have the opportunity to participate in the hierarchy of which her husband is a part, and her manipulations are an attempt to influence that world. I'm not going to defend her actions (although that's probably what this sounds like), but I do think that they need to be considered in a context separate from Macbeth's.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whoa! Guilty as in "feeling guilty" or guilty as in "being guilty of being bad?"

If you mean to compare the degree of guilt they feel for their actions, then I believe they suffer from the same amount of guilt, just at different times. Of course, LadyMacBeth's guilt ended up killing her in the end, while MacBeth just kept getting worse.

If you mean whoch of them is worse and guilty of being bad, I would say that, since Lady Macbeth made Macbeth the horrible being he became, she is more capable of evil than he is. I guess I am a Macbeth defender, but I am sure some people might disagree with me :(

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with epollock somewhat, that they share almost equally in the guilt. However, Macbeth is the guiltier of the two because he is the one who actually committed the murder of Duncan. The Macbeth defenders can argue that Lady Macbeth egged him on, but Macbeth is the one whose hand sank the dagger into the king. Lady Macbeth is guilty of being emotionally stronger than her husband, at least at the beginning of the play. But Macbeth is a murderer.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

He was perfectly willing to allow Fate to "stir" is she would to make him or not make him King.  It was only after his wife encouraged him to "look like the innocent flower, yet be the serpent under it" that he acted on his ambition to become King by killing Duncan.

jerry87868909876 | Student

Macbeth says "if chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, without my stir." What is he considering in this line?

kc4u | Student

The guilt of contemplating the murder of Duncan & the guilt of actually killing him lie with Macbeth. May be that Lady Macbeth invoked the powers of evil so that she could goad her husband to the heinous act. But there also it was Macbeth's letter which, in a way, sought Lady Macbeth's back-up. Ever since Duncan's murder, Lady Macbeth gradually declined; she became a victim of psychological disorder & killed herself. But Macbeth went on his murderous career & he no longer needed the support of Lady Macbeth. Macbeth is surely much more guilty than his accomplice in crime.

epollock | Student

I agree that they are almost just as guilty, but the scales of guiltiness tip in her favor because without her egging him on, it is likely that he would not have committed the murders; or even to think about murder when in fact Duncan could have died from a heart attack in his sleep since it was prophesied by the witches that Macbeth would eventually become King.

ahlammm | Student

i see that non of them is guilter than the other, as without lady macbeth pushing and nagging on her husband he wouldn't have killed king duncan from the first place as she was able to manipulates him and make convince him to do what she wants( he wishes to be a king but he couldn't take a step to make it happen as his wife was bolder than him (at least at the beginning ) and that doesn't put macbeth away from being guilty as he killed his friend banque without consulting his wife. and he killed macduff family also and he will not gain from their death any thing as he turned from loyal warior to tyrant who just kills any body he dislike with no concideration so he is as guilty as his  wife ( both are partners in crim )