Lady Macbeth takes centre stage twice in act 2 scene 3. What do her actions reveal about her character?Also decide if she genuinely faints or if she is putting on an act to divert attention away...

Lady Macbeth takes centre stage twice in act 2 scene 3. What do her actions reveal about her character?

Also decide if she genuinely faints or if she is putting on an act to divert attention away from Macbeth.

thank you very much !!

Asked on by pekoposca

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Interesting question.  I believe everything Lady Macbeth does in this act is a show or an act--including her "fainting" spell.

Truly, she doesn't say very much in this scene.  Macbeth has fielded the first round of visitors and has actually seen the murder scene for the first time (or so they all think).  Lady Macbeth makes her appearance after she supposedly hears the commotion and asks the cause of the uproar.

What follows is one of my favorite moments in the play:  Macduff is a gentleman and is concerned for Lady M's sensitive, womanly nature.  He says,

"O gentle lady,
'Tis not for you to hear what I can speak:
The repetition, in a woman's ear,
Would murder as it fell."

What delicious irony that he is trying to protect her from the very deed she committed--and even uses the word murder. (Gotta love that Shakespeare!)  Her reaction is pretty melodramatic, given what we know of this woman's strong, almost manly constitution:

"Woe, alas!
What, in our house?"

You can almost see her fling her arm to her forehead as she throws these lines to whomever is listening. Those who have been to see the gory scene have returned, and now there is some information which Lady Macbeth has not heard--her husband has killed the guards in a fit of rage.

Immediately after he explains his actions, she faints.  One of two things cause this incident, it seems to me.  One, she is truly distraught by this news and is fearful this will somehow interfere with their plans to assume the throne.  Two, she wants to divert attention from the incident and this is the quickest way she can think to do that.  The second option seems much more likely.

What happens before this scene shows Lady M to have a strong constitution.  She is the instigator and goad for her more reluctant husband; the only thing, in the end, which she cannot do is the actual murder.  She sets the stage and stages the scene to frame the culprits. 

In the scenes which follow, we see no faltering or weakness.  Not until time has passed and things in Scotland are falling apart do we see that "a little water" does NOT wash away her guilt. 

In Act II scene iii, then, it's probable Macbeth's wife is simply trying to keep their ill-conceived plan in motion by creating a diversion.  It works for a time, of course; however, since the first suspicions about Macbeth surface here, her fate is sealed in this scene.  She just doesn't know it yet.

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