Who is the stronger character--Macbeth or Lady Macbeth?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's great tragedy, "Macbeth," the question of whose character is stronger--Macbeth or Lady Macbeth is not so easily answered.  For, on the one hand, Lady Macbeth is the force that drives Macbeth to commit his first heinous act, the murder of Duncan.  But, is it strength that she demonstrates or merely a lack of conscience at the moment and less contmplation of the act itself?  For, while Macbeth falters some as he perceives the bloody dagger before him, Lady Macbeth claims,

That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold/What hath quenched them hath given me fire. (II,ii,1-2)

Thus,it seems that her boldness is a result of knowing she has drugged the servants of Duncan, while Macbeth is emboldened by the ring of the bell, Lady Macbeth's signal.  Later, Lady Macbeth expresses fear that the servants may have awakened; she also states,

Had he [Duncan] not resembled/My father as he slept, I had done't. (II,ii,12-13)

When Macbeth returns, telling her that the servants cried out "Murder!" and "Amen" stuck in his throat as they prayed, Lady Macbeth replies,

Consider it not so deeply..../ These deed must not be thought/After these ways; so, it will make us mad. (II,ii,29-33)

Still, Macbeth is uneasy, explaining that he heard a voice cry, "Macbeth shall sleep no more" (II,ii,42).  He then tells his wife that he cannot look upon the daggers.  Angrily she retorts,

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....I shame /To wear a heart so white..../A little water clears us of this deed. (II,ii,52-66)

This last line is, of course, ironic.  For, Lady Macbeth is unable to really not think of the deed as she has instructed Macbeth, nor can she use water to clear them of their murderous deeds.  In Act V, obsessed with guilt that she can no longer push out of her thoughts, she seeks to wash out blood that she imagines is on the stairs of the castle in Dunsinane.  The character who has accused another of weakness has herself gone mad because of her guilty feelings.  Despite her earlier conviction that she could push them away by simply not contemplating them, she is not strong enough to do so; her conscience gets the better of her, driving her insane and, finally, to suicide.

Who, then, is stronger?  If one defines strength as having the will to pursue one's goal despite its evil, Macbeth is, then, stronger because he continues on his murderous path toward power after Lady Macbeth succumbs.  If, on the other hand, one defines strength as moral integrity, Macbeth certainly lacks this much more than his wife.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I argue that Lady Macbeth shows a stronger character than does Macbeth in terms of determination.  Near the beginning of the play, Macbeth often hesitates in the couple’s plan to murder King Duncan.  Lady Macbeth urges him on and tells him that he must rid himself of his wavering moments and his fear.  She challenges Macbeth’s sense of manhood to persuade him to go through with the murder.  Lady Macbeth even says that if she were a man, she would do the deed herself.  After the murder is committed, Macbeth fears that someone knows about his schemes while Lady Macbeth is confident that their plan has been foolproof.  For these reasons, Lady Macbeth may be seen as a stronger character than Macbeth.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my opinion, Lady Macbeth has the stronger character, but it is more brittle.  You know how sometimes people talk about flexible things being stronger because they bend but don't shatter?  That's how I see these two.

In a sense, Lady Macbeth is stronger.  She is the one who pushes her husband to kill Duncan and do other things necessary to become king and keep his power.  She shows more strength then because she is more willing than he to do what is necessary.

But in another sense, her character is more breakable.  She is the one who goes mad and kills herself while Macbeth does not.

paris2281 | Student

In my opinion it is also Lady Macbeth, as we all know Macbeth was afraid to do it.

In one of the acts Macbeth ask Lady Macbeth what happens if they were to fail. At that point Lady Macbeth told Macbeth to stand his group on his confidence. If it was not for Lady Macbeth, the whole scenario about Macbeth killing Duncan will not be in the book.

harrypotterfan123 | Student

many, although not those who are here apparently, would atomatically say macbeth as he did not cripple with guilt and commit suicide, not in an obvious sense anyway however i think that lady macbeth had a stronger character and mind. she appeared collected, calculating and powerful throughout the majority of the acts and she even gave advice to macbeth on many occasions. 

my argument is that lady macbeth has a greater insight into human nature, she is quicker than macbeth to reach the consequences of actions and so consequently realizes that the end is near before macbeth does, therefore killing herself before she can bare witness to the death of her husband macbeth who later dies as he realizes that he cannot live and gives in to the seige. 

all the way through the play, lady macbeth is strong when macbeth is weak, and often overpowers him.

misaco19 | Student

According to me, it is Lady Macbeth. She was determined to do what she wanted. Whereas Macbeth was unwilling to do he actually wanted.

poemlover97 | Student

I, myself, would say Lady Macbeth. She is the one that oushed her husband to kill them so he could become the king and keep the power he had.