Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What is ironic about Lady Macbeth's state of mind in Macbeth, act 5, scene 1?

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Understanding the irony in this scene is dependent on reflecting on Lady Macbeth's state of mind in the earlier scenes in the play. In act 1, scene 7, Macbeth begins to doubt the plans the duo have concocted against Duncan, and it is his wife who convinces him to move forward. Lady Macbeth is unwavering and resolute in her courage and evil convictions, telling her husband,

Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would, ”
Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage? (I.vii.44-48)

She then provides a chilling image of the depth of her own resolve, telling her husband that if she had given her word, she would rip a nursing infant from her breast and "dash the brains out." In this characterization of Lady Macbeth, there is no room for a wavering or guilty spirit.

By act 5, however, Lady Macbeth has ironically become the representation of what she vowed she could never be. Her guilt plagues her, stealing her...

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