Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to kill the king, sparking his journey towards power and death. When we first meet her, she is a strong woman who knows how to use her words to persuade her husband to commit treason and murder King Duncan; however, after the act, the two characters change. Macbeth becomes more cold-blooded and willing to kill any perceived threat in his way, while his wife shows signs of guilt.
The first sign that she will show guilt is before the murders. She tells Macbeth that she has gotten the servants drunk and laid out the weapons to set up the murder, but she was unable to kill the old king because as he slept, he looked too much like her father.
Had he not resembled My father as he slept, I had done’t. (Act 2, scene 2)
When we see Lady Macbeth again in act 5, she has changed greatly. Instead of the proud, powerful woman from the beginning of the play, her guilt has turned her weak. Her Gentlewoman reports to a doctor that Lady Macbeth has been sleepwalking throughout the castle. As the two discuss her actions, she walks in looking awake, with her eyes open “but their sense are shut” (act 5, scene 1).
As she enters, she is mimicking washing her hands and talking to herself says “Out, damned spot, out, I say!” Her guilt causes see the blood of Macbeth’s victims on her hands. She goes on counting all those who have died: “One. Two. Why then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier and afeard?” Her mind goes back to the original murder of Duncan and the bloody scene that was left from his death, “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” The same blood she now struggles to wash clean from her hands, demonstrating the guilt she feels in all of these actions.
Lady Macbeth realizes her husband has killed more people than just King Duncan and that these murders are her fault because she originally pushed him to do so. She discusses with herself the wife of the Thane of Fife who was murdered, along with her son, in the previous act.
The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? What, will these hands ne’er be clean? No more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that. You mar all with this starting.
As she sleepwalks, Lady Macbeth confesses her crimes to the doctor and gentlewoman, but her speech is fragmented, and the two witnesses cannot see the blood she does. The doctor diagnosis her rantings as a sign of her guilt and tells the gentlewoman, “The heart is sorely charged.” As Lady Macbeth continues to attempt to wash her hands, she says that the blood (and the guilt it represents) will never truly be gone.
Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. O, O, O!
Trying to regain herself, Lady Macbeth’s mind returns to the murders and begins to utter directions as though her husband is standing in front of her.
Wash your hands. Put on your nightgown. Look not so pale. I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on’s grave.
She now hears the knocking of the door they heard back in act 2, when Duncan’s body was found. She warns “what’s done cannot be undone,” which would have been calming at the time of the murder but now tells us that she realizes she cannot atone for the sins she has committed.
To bed, to bed. There’s knocking at the gate. Come, come, come, come. Give me your hand. What’s done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed.
Once Lady Macbeth exits at the end of the scene, she does not reappear on the stage, but we have two more signs that she is wracked with guilt. In scene 3, Macbeth asks the doctor if he can remove the memories from her which are causing her so much pain, but the doctor tries to explain to the new king that this illness doesn’t work that way and that “the patient must minister to himself.” The doctor knows Lady Macbeth is the only one who can help her now.
The last we hear about Lady Macbeth is in scene 5 when a messenger reports that she has died. Seyton reports to Macbeth, “The Queen, my lord, is dead.” She has committed suicide because she can no longer deal with her guilt.