Lady Macbeth tells her husband to "look like the innocent flower/But be the serpent under it". Explain what she means.

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Essentially, Lady Macbeth is urging her husband to put on an act. To help advance his ruthless ambition he should give the impression of being completely gracious and charming, friendly and reasonable, when Duncan arrives that evening. Yet at the same time he shouldn't lose sight of their plan to have him killed.

Lady Macbeth is highly adept at the skill of dissimulation, or hiding one's true thoughts or feelings. And as she's insanely ambitious for Macbeth, she wants to pass on this vital political skill to someone for whom it doesn't come quite so naturally. In fact, Lady Macbeth tells her husband bluntly how easy it is for other people to read his facial expressions:

"Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time. Bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue." (act 1 scene 5)
Macbeth must try to appear the way that other people expect him to appear. After all, Duncan is the king, even though Macbeth plans to kill him, so he should be formally treated as such upon his arrival. This will help lull him into a false sense of security, making it easier for Lady Macbeth's dastardly plot to be successfully carried out.
stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This comment comes shortly after Macbeth has told Lady Macbeth that King Duncan is arriving for a visit to Inverness, their castle home, later that evening. Macbeth is hungry for power, ultimately hoping to be named and crowned as the King of Scotland, so this seems like an opportunity to remove an obstacle to the realization of his goal.

However, Lady Macbeth doesn't trust her husband to be able to conduct himself without giving away his true desires and thoughts about King Duncan. She encourages him to be a respectful and gracious host to King Duncan, taking care that his facial expressions and actions not give any indication of their plans against the king.

Your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters. To beguile the time, look like the time; bear welcome in your eye

She wants him to appear as innocent of any deceit or evil thought as a flower, while remembering that he is actually the poisonous serpent ready to strike behind the pose of innocence.

me1tsush | Student

Just before the arrival of king duncan lady macbeth suggests macbeth to look chearfull and happy.she asks him to act talk and look as if he is very happy to be the host of king duncan, peolpe should not even get the slightest of doubt about their planning. she asks macbeth to hide his real nature beneath a look as innocent as a flower which contains poisonous vectar. thus , over all she asks him to disguise himself and hide his real feelings .

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