What quotes from Macbeth show Lady Macbeth's guilt? List quotes and describe their significance.

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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...

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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.

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The first time we see Lady Macbeth experience something like guilt is in act 2, scene 2. Here, alone on the stage, she says,

Naught's had, all's spent,
Where our desire is got without content.
'Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy. (3.2.6-9)

In these lines, Lady Macbeth addresses her real feelings, feelings she mostly hides from Macbeth. She expected to be happy once she and her husband took the throne of Scotland, but now she feels only "doubtful joy"—in other words, her joy is not complete but, rather, tainted with negative feelings. These feelings could certainly include guilt, especially given what happens to her in the future.

Later, when Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, she still sees Duncan's blood on her hands. She says, "Out, damned spot, out, I say" (5.1.37). To have blood on one's hands is a figurative expression that refers to one's guilt, and here, Lady Macbeth imagines that Duncan's blood is still actually there. This signals her overwhelming guilt.

In this same scene, she asks, "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" (5.1.41-42) Similar to the last one, this line recalls her bloody hands from the night of the murder, and she cannot escape that image because her guilty conscience won't allow it.

Next, she asks, "The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?" (5.1.44-45) Here, she seems to express some guilt about Lady Macduff's fate. Macbeth had her and her children savagely murdered because he was angry at Macduff. Lady Macbeth only planned to kill Duncan, and, since then, Macbeth has also had Banquo murdered (and attempted to murder Banquo's young son, Fleance), and she seems to know that he's responsible for the family Macduff's murders as well. These additional deaths must weigh heavily on her conscience since she brings Lady Macduff up now, as though this woman's fate is also disturbing Lady Macbeth's peace.

Further, Lady Macbeth cries, "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" (5.1.45) This can be interpreted in much the same way as above. The same is true of her line, "Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" (5.1.52-53). First, she saw the blood on her hands, which was not there, and now she feels that she can smell it there too: more evidence that her conscience is heavily laden by her guilt.

At this point, the Doctor says that her "heart is sorely charged" (5.1.56-57). He seems to refer to the guilt that not only prevents Lady Macbeth from sleeping peacefully but also compels her to walk around and speak in this way.

Finally, Lady Macbeth says, "What's done cannot be undone" (5.2.71). She seems to try to put the guilt she feels behind her, recognizing that little can be done now to remedy what's happened.

The Doctor, in response, says,

Unnatural deeds
Do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets. (5.2.75-77)

Thus, he seems to realize that guilt for some "unnatural deed" is what so disturbs the queen's slumber. Her mind is "infected" by the guilt she feels, and this is why she talks so during her sleep. Further, he says, "More needs she the divine than the physician" (5.2.78). In other words, she needs a priest or a minister to whom she might confess, not a doctor of the body who can do nothing to ease her conscience.

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Shakespeare uses several symbols in Macbeth to indicate either the guilt or innocence of a character. The major symbols of guilt are blood and sleep. When a character has blood on their hands this is an indication of their guilt. The blood can either be literal (actually there) or figurative (imagined or implied). Also, when a character is unable to sleep, the audience can assume they are guilty of something. Shakespeare uses sleep as a reward for the innocent. Think about it, it’s hard to sleep when you are bothered by something. You keep thinking about it!

If you will think back to Act V, when Lady Macbeth is sleep walking and imagining the blood on her hands, this is twice a symbol of her guilt. She is not actually sleeping ( a reward for the innocent), and she is struggling to wash blood (a symbol of guilt) off her hands.  If you examine the text and look for images dealing with blood and sleep, you will soon be able to collect your quotes addressing her guilt.

 

Good Luck!

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