What new aspects do we see in Lady Macbeth in Act 2 Scenes 1-3?

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chriseparker eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, let’s examine what we already know about Lady Macbeth. We first see her in Act 1.5 where she has just learned from a letter from Macbeth about the witches’ prophecy that Macbeth will be king. She’s ambitious and excited about this news; she resolves to “pour [her] spirits in [Macbeth’s] ear” so that she can convince him to kill the king. Fearless and bold, she calls upon evil spirits to “unsex” her so that she will not have the nature of a woman but be cruel enough to kill a king.

In Act 1.6 we see Lady Macbeth greet and welcome King Duncan with formal courtesy, playing out the advice she gave Macbeth in the previous scene:


...look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under't.

In Act 1.7, Lady Macbeth seeks out her husband, who has left the banquet to ponder whether he should carry out the murder. Macbeth decides that he should not, and tells Lady Macbeth “We will proceed no further in this business.” Lady Macbeth challenges his manhood  and courage and chastises him for breaking his promise to her. Clearly, she is in charge. She convinces Macbeth to continue with their plan to kill the King.

We next see Lady Macbeth in Act 2 scene 2. Here she is alone, pacing nervously in the dark, waiting for Macbeth to kill the king. She says she is bold, but she startles when she hears an owl shriek. Here she seems to express some vulnerability as she notes:
“Had he not resembled/ My father as he slept, I had done't.”  What might these words suggest about her real and deep feelings about murdering the King?

When Macbeth finishes the murder and meets her, he seems distraught about what he’s done, Lady Macbeth tries to console him. She then finds out that Macbeth still has the murder weapons in his hands and scolds him, telling him to go back to plant the daggers on the drugged guards. When Macbeth refuses, she chides him again with “Infirm of purpose!” Her bold, controlling nature comes out again as she says she will take the daggers herself to plant upon the guards.

Act 2 scene 2 finishes with Lady Macbeth taking charge of the distracted Macbeth, leading him to go back to their bedchamber so that they can fake innocent sleep.

In Act 2 scene 3, Lady Macbeth once again plays a role, feigning horror to hear that the King has been murdered in her house. In this scene, she watches the reactions of Macduff, Banquo, Lennox and others. She also must notice that Macbeth is talking too much and too eloquently to explain his rash killing of the King’s guards. To take attention from Macbeth, she fakes a fainting spell, crying “Help me hence, ho!”  We know that Lady Macbeth is certainly not the fainting type from watching her in previous scenes! Macduff says, “Look to the lady!” and the attention shifts away from Macbeth’s behavior.

In this scene 3, this is the last we hear from Lady Macbeth as the men resolve to get dressed and meet to figure out what to do. Because of what is said by Lady Macbeth and Macduff, it is likely she may be carried offstage at this point.  The scene wraps up with the princes deciding between them that they will escape in case they, too, are in danger.

Consider, then, what you have seen of Lady Macbeth in Act 1 and these first scenes of Act 2. What is new about her behavior in Act 2? How might what she says as she waits alone for Macbeth to finish the murder reveal something else about her character? What does her behavior in scene 3 tell us about her?

I hope this helps! Good luck!


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