Who appears to be more evil? Macbeth or Lady Macbeth? Justify.

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luannw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe Lady Macbeth is more evil.  When Macbeth first thought of killing the king, in Act 1, sc. 3, in the aside that begins at approximately line 148, he says that the thought of killing, "...that suggestion / whose horrid image...", makes his heart pound and his hair stand on end.  Then, in Act 1, sc. 4, after Duncan announces that Malcolm is his successor, Macbeth says, "Stars, hide your fires! / Let not light see my black and deep desires."  This suggests that he has thoughts of killing Duncan, but he is pushing those thoughts to back of his mind and doesn't want them brought out into the light.  In contrast to that attitude is Lady Macbeth's attitude in Act 1, sc. 5, when she gets Macbeth's letter telling her of the witches' prophecies and of his becoming the Thane of Cawdor, she immediately fills her head with dark thoughts. Rather than desire that her deadly thoughts be hidden from the light, she asks the powers of darkness to bring them forth - just the opposite of her husband.  Macbeth is an ambitious man or the witches would not have been able to take advantage of him, but he was willing to wait and see if the prophecy that he'd become king would happen on its own, (Act 1, sc. 3, "If chance will have me King, why, / chance may crown me, / Without my stir."  Lady Macbeth chastised her husband and called him weak and unmanly when he balked at the idea of killing Duncan.  Macbeth was a weak, easily manipulated man whereas his wife was a self-serving, manipulating woman who couldn't do the dirty deeds herself.  Once Macbeth gets the crown, he becomes paranoid and goes to any length to keep his position, but it is Lady Macbeth who encouraged his behavior.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question concerning who is more evil, Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, has been well covered by other editors above, but since the question is still open I'll add just a little piece of evidence that hasn't been dealt with yet. 

One piece of evidence that suggests Macbeth is the evil one is the fact that Lady Macbeth has the opportunity to just kill Duncan herself, but she is unable to do it.  She is impatient with her husband and does not have confidence in his ability to do it, yet she doesn't do it herself.  She says she can't do it because Duncan reminds her of her father.  There is a compassionate, sentimental side to Lady Macbeth.  Her plottings are just that:  plans and theory, directions to her husband.  She worries earlier in the play that her husband won't be able to do it, but then she turns out to be the one who can't do it. 

While her mind falls apart and she plunges into petrifying OCD (as we might think of it today) and commits suicide, Macbeth rules as a tyrant and arranges the slaughter of Banquo and Macduff's family.  Lady Macduff is certainly the planner of the family, but Macbeth does the deeds.  Her evil is just expressed in words. 

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are so many opinions on guilt, culpability and evil in the characters of the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare that it is probably best for each member of the audience, or reader, to make their own judgement depending on their reading/view of it.  My own reading of it leads me to prefer the scenario that poor Macbeth is ill - he has a psychological/mental illness which predisposes him to suggestiblity. Because he is very suggestible, other people can work on him - his personality is malleable and others exploit that weakness and frailty. Chief among them of course is the true villain of my piece - Lady Macbeth. I think she knows her husband well enough to know which buttons she has to press to get him doing her bidding. He does the rest.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There will be divergent answers to this question.  An equally strong case can be made for each.  I think that Macbeth proves to be more evil than Lady Macbeth.  While she plays a very devious role as inspiring him to commit the deeds of murder, in the final analysis, Macbeth is the one to commit these acts.  At the same time, while Lady Macbeth does display some level of regret, guilt, or remorse about her actions, Macbeth plunges into a deeper moral abyss with his actions and the depravity they represent.  Both characters can fit the label of being evil with their actions and thoughts, but in my mind, I think that Macbeth is marginally more evil than his wife.

nusratfarah | Student

Every person has his or her individual opinion, and may be, my opinion would not go after those of many, but I think that Macbeth himself is more evil than his wife.

The most important reason that makes me think so is that of the insanity of Lady Macbeth. Two persons, following the same path, commits sin, and one of them passes days much more normally, and the other, how far devilish s/he is, at one stage, becomes mad for the guilt s/he feels inside because of the crime s/he has committed, then, it is easily understandable that the person who becomes insane is far more humane than the other. A human does have feelings, a demon does not. Lady Macbeth is found in the tragedy to lose her senses as the assassinations go on and finally, she dies. She can not endure such guilt, and that is why she feels that there is “the smell of the blood still” in her hands and “all the perfumes of Arabia” will not be enough to remove it.

Macbeth, on the contrary, leads a normal life, continues killing, and ruling the country like a bloody tyrant not even sparing small children to secure his kingship (his men kill Macduff’s son). Indeed, after killing so many people constantly, he does not get tired, neither he repents and turns off. Rather he says that it is difficult for him to return, and he himself tells to Lady Macbeth: “I am in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er” (Act 3, Scene 4). He was ready to do anything for the sake of his survival and position. Even one of the witches, in Act 4, Scene 1, makes other witches alert when Macbeth was entering: “Something wicked this way comes” and Hecate also, considers him as ‘wayward’, ‘spiteful’ and ‘wrathful’ who only thinks of his own (Act 3, Scene 5). In fact, the news of his wife’s death does not bring any major change in his character. It seems that, his chief aim is to hold on the power at any cost and nothing can stir him.

So, to me, Macbeth is more malicious than his wife. Lady Macbeth, till a stage of her life, works as the spur, but the main wickedness is derived from Macbeth himself. His cruelty can not be ignored by condemning the witches’ equivocation or Lady Macbeth’s stimulation.

ayesha9000 | Student

i think that neither are evil... if u look at the text closely u will see that lady macbeth had to call upon the evil spirits to assist her. this shows that lady macbeth is not evil. she needed assistance to assist her husband in fulfilling his ambitions. she thinks that her husband lacks courage to fulfill his ambitions.

when u look at macbeth he does not know what to do. he is undecided about duncan's murder. when he eventually murders duncan he realises his deed he says that no water will be able to wash off his deed(duncan's blood). he also asks lady macbeth as to y he could not say AMEN!!!

mkcapen1 | Student

Lady Macbeth is more evil than Macbeth. Macbeth has been told that he is going to become the king and is relatively satisfied to allow the course to play out. However, Lady Macbeth is impatient and wants it to happen quickly. She has a strong presence and is very capable of manipulating her husband.

Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to kill the King so that he can have the throne. She faces the witches intrusions as a gift from the evil presence and uses it to fulfill her own ambitions.