Who is more evil in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth or Macbeth?

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Who is more evil, Macbeth or Lady Macbeth ? This is certainly a matter of opinion, and Shakespeare gives readers the opportunity to decide for themselves who is "worse" or who is more responsible for the downfall of the Macbeths. Here are some possible reasons to support each character as...

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Who is more evil, Macbeth or Lady Macbeth? This is certainly a matter of opinion, and Shakespeare gives readers the opportunity to decide for themselves who is "worse" or who is more responsible for the downfall of the Macbeths. Here are some possible reasons to support each character as "more evil": 

Lady Macbeth: Many readers see Lady Macbeth as mostly responsible for what happens to Macbeth. This side would argue that Lady Macbeth is the mastermind: she comes up with the plan to murder Duncan, she persuades Macbeth by (among other tactics) questioning his manhood, and she even goes in to plant the daggers on the guards after Macbeth loses his nerve. For much of the play, it seems that Lady Macbeth is composed and maybe even ruthless because she seems so unaffected by the crimes committed by the Macbeths. However, we do see later that Lady Macbeth's intense guilt wears on her; she sleepwalks, tries to wash imaginary blood from her hands, and eventually commits suicide. Lady Macbeth proves to be more fragile than she originally appeared in Act I.

Macbeth: At the start of the play, Macbeth appears to be mostly noble, though we can't forget that the battle report in Act I says that he and Banquo led a very bloody (though victorious) campaign. As soon as the witches tell him  he will be king, though, Macbeth already has the idea in his mind that he will kill Duncan to get to that position and quickly. He does need to be persuaded by his wife, but he also wants to be king. Macbeth is the one who actually stabs Duncan (Lady Macbeth claims Duncan reminded her of her father while he slept so could not do so herself). Macbeth's mental state does deteriorate, both during and after (and gets progressively worse) the murder. Macbeth is the one who orders the murders of his best friend, Banquo, and his son, who is a child, because the witches said Banquo would be the father of kings. Macbeth also has Macduff's innocent wife and children murdered because he is afraid of Macduff and also concerned about Macduff's treachery. 

Both characters certainly have flaws, and while Lady Macbeth does play her part, especially early on, Macbeth ultimately ends up with more blood on his hands, both literally and figuratively. 

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Shakespeare gives numerous clues throughout the text as to which character truly is the leader in the conspiracy to kill King Duncan. Even though the witches plant the seed of ambition in Macbeth's head in Scene 1, he would never have the guts to do something as black as murder the reigning king without pressure from Lady Macbeth. She, as his wife, knows him best, and says of him:

"Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o' the milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great; Art not without ambition, but without The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly, That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false..." (Act 1 Scene 5).

She states that though Macbeth may have ambition and potential for greatness, he is too good to act in any false way to attain his goals. This is where she decides to become the influence he needs to make quick work to fulfill the prophecy. She calls upon evil spirits to fill her with evil power. Read the whole scene to get the full effect.

"Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty!" (Act 1, Scene 5).

Later in the play, her dominant role is reinforced when Macbeth has second thoughts about the murder (Act 1, Scene 7). She tells him he cannot call himself a man unless he does the deed. Throughout the whole ordeal, Macbeth is clearly struggling with fear and guilt, while his wife is undaunted. After the murder is complete, Macbeth is the first to hear voices and suffer fear of being discovered--Lady Macbeth again becomes the voice of rationality,


I'll go no more: I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on't again I dare not.


Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers: the sleeping and the dead Are but as pictures: 'tis the eye of childhood That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed, I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal; For it must seem their guilt" (Act 2 Scene 2).

In all of these scenes, Lady Macbeth seems to be the voice of darkness and temptation for Macbeth. Yes, he does commit the murders of Duncan and his servants, but after Lady Macbeth goads him to go through with it. After all of this, the spirits of darkness that she called upon at first seem to have abandoned her to her guilt and fear, and she dies having lost her mind.

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Considering the play Macbeth as a whole, Lady Macbeth is more evil than her husband Macbeth. At one point, Macbeth had changed his mind about killing King Duncan. In Act I, Scene VII, he shares his decision with his wife:

We will proceed no further in this business.
He [King duncan] has recently honored me, and I now have the Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
Which I want to enjoy for a bit longer, and
Not cast them aside so soon.

Truly, Macbeth has come to his senses. He reminds Lady Macbeth that King Duncan has recently shown honor to him. Macbeth has decided to enjoy the new honors that King Duncan has bestowed upon him. When Macbeth shares this news with his wife, Lady Macbeth proves she is the more evil one. She begins to insult Macbeth's manhood. She refers to him as cowardly. She shames Macbeth for deciding not to kill King Duncan. Lady Macbeth is determined to become the queen of Scotland. Through her manipulation, she convinces Macbeth to follow through with the murdering of King Duncan. She is manipulative and controlling. She has no second thoughts about murdering King Duncan. She insists that Macbeth is afraid:

Are you afraid
To be the same man in reality
As the one you wish to be? Would you have the crown
Which you believe to be the ornament of life,
And yet live like a coward in your own self-esteem?

No doubt, Lady Macbeth has no respect for her husband and his decision to not kill King Duncan. She insults Macbeth's manhood by insisting that he is afraid. With no apparent concern for King Duncan as a human being who is leading the country, Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth to kill King Duncan. It is obvious that Lady Macbeth has an evil nature. Ultimately, Macbeth agrees to pacify her and follow through with the murdering of King Duncan, calling the event a terrible one:

I’m convinced, and I commit
Every part of my body to this terrible event.     

When it comes time for the actual murdering of King Duncan, Macbeth has trouble following through with the murder. He hallucinates, seeing a knife floating in the air. He has trouble remebering to leave the bloody weapons on the guards. Macbeth is in anguish throughout the murdering of King Duncan and the guards. Lady Macbeth has no patience with her husband's difficulty in his murderous task. When Macbeth forgets to leave the knives on the guards, he admits that he is afraid to go back. Lady Macbeth becomes exasperated with her husband. She impatiently insists that he just give her the knives and she will plant them on the guards. She insults Macbeth by calling him weak: 

Weak of purpose!
Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
Are only like pictures. It is the eye of childhood
That’s afraid of a painted devil. If he bleeds,
I'll smear the faces of the grooms with it,
Because it must seem that they are guilty.

No doubt, Lady Macbeth is more evil than her husband. Macbeth admits he is afraid. Lady Macbeth claims that she could have killed Macbeth herself. She seems totally exhausted with Macbeth's fear. Truly, Lady Macbeth has no conscience at this point. While Macbeth admits that he is afraid and does not desire to follow through with the murder, Lady Macbeth scoffs at him. She ridicules her husband. She manipulates him by insulting his manhood. She claims he is afraid and cowardly. Ultimately, Lady Macbeth is the more evil of the two. 

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