What is a character sketch of Lady Macbeth from Shakespeare's Macbeth?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lady Macbeth is depicted as a powerful, ruthless, ambitious woman who influences, masterminds, and helps her husband to commit regicide. Lady Macbeth is initially portrayed as a callous, evil woman when she reads her husband's letter regarding the witches' prophecies. Lady Macbeth asks the dark spirits to make her bloodthirsty, cruel, and masculine as she openly displays her desire to become queen. Her ambitious nature is her defining quality, and she demonstrates the ability to mastermind King Duncan's assassination.

Lady Macbeth also displays her capacity for dissembling by acting as a gracious host while simultaneously plotting against the king. Despite her masculine, ambitious personality, she reveals her sensitive side by refusing to kill the king because he resembles her father. Following King Duncan's murder, Lady Macbeth becomes mentally deranged. She is not able to handle the anxiety, guilt, and stress of assassinating the king and begins to sleepwalk. Ultimately, Lady Macbeth fails to transform into a completely ruthless, nefarious person and suffers the consequences of her bloody actions. By act 5, Lady Macbeth is mentally destroyed, overwhelmed with anxiety, and ends up committing suicide.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is a woman in a dominant man's world.  She is extremely ambitious and authoritative, and eager to make plans.  At the opening of the play, she has a lot of influence over Macbeth.  Her only object for her ambition is her husband, however, as was generally true for all women of that era.  Any leading she does will have to come through his position in society.

She is, of course, also ruthless, and some might even say evil, although physically defeating a ruling monarch through assassination or battle is somewhat the norm in Shakespeare's day, not to mention 11th century Scotland.

She is also not quite so ruthless as she wishes to be, and not quite so ruthless as she first appears.  She prays to her spirits to make her as ruthless as a male warrior (thus showing she has natural limits to her ruthlessness).  Then she cannot bring herself to kill Duncan because he reminds her of her sleeping father.  Finally, she mentally and emotionally breaks down after Banquo, Lady Macduff, and the Macduff children and household are all slaughtered.  Those murders were not part of her original plan, and were more hideous than anything she could cope with.