In Shakespeare's Macbeth, how does the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth adhere to the rules of society?   

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, how does the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth adhere to the rules of society? 

 

 

Expert Answers
karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Outwardly, the marriage of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth follows the conventional gender roles that would've been expected for men and women at the time. However, the reader/audience gets an inside look at the Macbeth marriage, where it is revealed that the power dynamic is perhaps not what it seems on the outside. 

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth maintain the appearance that Macbeth, as the man and husband, holds the power in the relationship. He is a traditional man of his class and of his time: he holds a title (one at the start of the play with others to be added later) and is a brutal warrior and commander on the battlefield. When Duncan comes to Macbeth's castle after he has named Macbeth Thane of Cawdor, it is Lady Macbeth who greets Duncan and promises their hospitality. Of course it is Macbeth who commits the murder and then ascends to the throne in this patriarchal society. All of these actions align with traditional gender roles. 

Behind the scenes, however, the Macbeths' power dynamic is more complex. Macbeth sends a letter ahead to his wife telling her of the witches' prophecies in Act I.  He addresses her in a way that shows he values her advice and includes her in his confidence. She immediately begins plotting her husband's ascension to the throne, which she believes he deserves. She has reservations, though, because she thinks Macbeth is "too full o' th' milk of human kindness"; in other words, she doesn't think he can go through with it without her persuasion. Conversely, Lady Macbeth sees herself as the powerful one and wishes to be rid of all her feminine qualities ("unsex me here") so that she can circumvent her husband's weakness and do the deed herself. Many readers see Lady Macbeth as the mastermind in the plot to kill Duncan and as the more ruthless of the marriage partners.

Soon after being crowned, however, Macbeth grows more paranoid about his position and lashes out at anyone he sees as a threat. He has Banquo killed, as well as the entire family of his enemy Macduff. Lady Macbeth is not involved in these plans, nor is she privy to any of her husband's plots ahead of time after Duncan's murder. Eventually, Lady Macbeth breaks down and commits suicide, while Macbeth vows to die fighting, sword in hand. So in the end, the two characters conform a bit more to traditional gender roles as the strength we previously saw in Lady Macbeth's character is swallowed up by her guilt and regret.