In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth struggles with his conscience and the fear of eternal damnation if he murders Duncan. Lady Macbeth’s conflict arises when Macbeth’s courage begins to falter. Lady Macbeth has great control over Macbeth’s actions. What tactics does she use to gain control over him? Cite examples from Act One.
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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Lady Macbeth exerts a great deal of control over her husband at the start of the play.
In Act One, the audience learns that Macbeth has been a valiant warrior for Scotland and his king, Duncan. Macbeth enjoys an excellent reputation for his prowess in battle; Duncan has promised to reward him further for all that he had done. However, the witches place the seed of greed in Macbeth's mind with the idea that he could be king. Macbeth acknowledges that it is only his "vaulting ambition" (a writhing, twisting sense of ambition that trips over itself to be satisfied) that drives him forward.
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself,
And falls on th'other… (I.vii.25-28)
In Act One, scene seven, Macbeth begins to question the plan he has conceived: to murder Duncan. However, Lady Macbeth is just as ambitious if not more so. As she begins to recognize that her dreams of being queen may be snatched away from her, she preys upon Macbeth's perception of his manhood, questioning his male prowess. She is so exacting in her manipulation that even Macbeth is unnerved by her viciousness.
First Lady Macbeth criticizes her husband for what she calls his cowardice:
Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life
And live a coward in thine own esteem (I.vii.45-47)
In other words, he could be a king if he weren't such a wimp. When Lady Macbeth accuses her husband of being a coward, Macbeth rears up like an affronted lion, roaring at her to be quiet, declaring that he is as brave as any man:
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none. (50-52)
However, Lady Macbeth does not stop, but instead continues. She points out that when Macbeth came up with the plan to kill Duncan, then he acted like a man. Frighteningly, Lady Macbeth tells her husband of the horrible thing she would do if she had promised Macbeth to do it:
I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this. (60-65)
In other words, she has such a corrupt heart that if Lady Macbeth had promised her husband to do so, she would easily kill her own child while it nursed at her breast (one would assume it to be the safest haven for an infant) if she had told Macbeth that she would. In this section, Lady Macbeth is questioning his credibility, noting that he is not a man of his word. At the same time, the audience sees just how dark a person Lady Macbeth is.
Macbeth seems to take a mental step backward upon hearing this and the bloodthirsty plans his wife (who he loves) has for Duncan because her capacity for evil startles even him—a man steeped in the brutality and carnage of the battlefield:
Bring forth men-children only,
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males. (81-83)
Lady Macbeth bullies her husband into returning to his plan to kill Duncan by telling him that he is a liar and a coward, and putting herself forward as an example of someone (and a woman, at that!) who can surpass his capacity to carry out a plan for murder if she had committed herself to do so. In light of her insults, her tenacity and the brutal plan she outlines, Macbeth reconsiders his reticence and decides that they will move forward in assassinating Duncan: Macbeth's king, cousin, friend and houseguest.
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