What excuse does Lady Macbeth give for not killing Duncan herself in Shakespeare's Macbeth?

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Lady Macbeth starts out as a strong female character (albeit with villainous motives) not commonly seen in Shakespeare. She has a sense of purpose and will seemingly stop at nothing to ensure her husband is on the throne.

Yet when it is time to commit the actual murder, Lady Macbeth stands solidly to the side, using this excuse:

Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done't. (2.2.15–6)

Shakespeare likely needed a good excuse here to move Lady Macbeth back to the sidelines and allow her husband to commit the actual murder. First, she is fairly isolated, especially as a woman. Whom would she look to for support if she had committed murder? She has been the main source of strength in this power couple, so it is unlikely that Macbeth could have been an emotional or mental support if she became a murderess. There are no other women around her to fulfill this role.

Second, the historical context pointed to Macbeth needing to be the actual murderer. An audience could understand a man showing dominance, cunning, and leadership—taking what he thinks he deserves. But could they understand this plot if Lady Macbeth had committed the murder? It is likely that a strong, independent, murderous woman would have received an entirely different reaction.

Furthermore, where would this action then leave her throne-seeking husband if he had not had the fortitude to follow through with the plan and simply stood behind his wife instead? Also worth noting is that Macbeth was written early in the reign of King James I, further supporting the need for a strong male character, as Shakespeare and King James had a strong relationship.

Shakespeare needed to shift the focus from Lady Macbeth to the title character here, and these lines provide a convenient excuse for Lady Macbeth to slide into the background and for her husband to emerge as the man of action.

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The answer to this question is given in act 2, scene 1, of Macbeth when Lady Macbeth says the following:

Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done’t

In other words, Lady Macbeth claims that she would have killed Duncan had he not looked so much like her father while he slept. Lady Macbeth is alone when she says this, so there is no reason to assume that she is lying.

The interesting thing about this explanation is that it humanizes Lady Macbeth in a manner that we have not seen up to this point in the play. Although Lady Macbeth has previously seemed to be purely diabolical, here we see that she has emotional depth.

Of course, she still wants Duncan to be killed, and so she cannot be absolved altogether. Nonetheless, this is a crucial moment in the development of one of Shakespeare's most complex characters.

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It is in Act II, Scene ii, that Lady Macbeth reveals why she could not kill Duncan herself. Just before Macbeth returns with his hands covered in blood, Lady Macbeth says:

Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done ’t.

For Lady Macbeth, then, the resemblance between King Duncan and her father prevented her from committing the murder. This is significant because it suggests that, deep down, Lady Macbeth is not quite as ambitious as we first thought. Specifically, it shows that she values her family more than she values power. Even though she planned the murder and made the necessary preparations, it was the love of her father that stopped her from committing such a violent crime. In other words, Lady Macbeth might not be as callous as the reader first imagined.

Note the contrast here between Lady Macbeth and her husband: while she is distracted by the thought of her father, Macbeth does not have the same familial concerns and is able to commit the "deed."

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Lady Macbeth certainly has the opportunity to kill Duncan when she drugs the grooms' drinks and then looks into the king's room. She says, however, that she would have killed Duncan had he not resembled her father as he slept. Her courage wilts when she sees the sleeping king who reminds her of her own father, so she leaves the job of murdering Duncan to her husband, Macbeth.

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The episode you are referring to happens in Act II, Scenes 1 and 2 of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

In Act II, Scene 1, Macbeth decides that he will kill Duncan.  He hesitates a bit, giving his soliloquy about the knife and whether he really wants to go through with the murder, but when he hears the bell his wife rings he goes and kills Duncan.

Although Lady Macbeth wants Duncan dead (and although she provides the knife for Macbeth to use), she doesn't do it herself.  The excuse she gives is that Duncan, when sleeping, looks too much like her father.

I laid their daggers ready;
He could not miss 'em. Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done't.

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