Why doesn't Lady Macbeth kill Duncan in Macbeth?

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Lady Macbeth says that she didn't kill Duncan because he looked too much like her father as he slept. However, it's possible that this might have been an excuse to cover up her cowardice or some deeper emotional issue. Perhaps she feels, deep down, that as a woman she is not capable of committing murder; or perhaps Shakespeare just gave her this weak excuse to keep the focus of the plot on Macbeth and his deeds.


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The short answer to the question of why Lady Macbeth didn't kill King Duncan is that she thought about doing it but couldn't bring herself to go through with such a bloody deed because he looked too much like her father.

I laid their daggers ready;
He could not miss ‘em. Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done't.

The long answer, however, is that she did not kill the King because the play's author did not want her to kill him. Shakespeare wanted Macbeth to do the killing because the play is about Macbeth, what he does to become king and how this affects him afterward. Lady Macbeth exists as a character to give Macbeth someone to talk to. Characters in plays have to talk to each other in order to communicate information to the audience. Macbeth has no one else with whom he could discuss his most secret thoughts and feelings. His wife also serves to encourage him to go ahead with his ambition to become king by murdering Duncan. 

Then why does Lady Macbeth say that she would have killed Duncan herself if she hadn't thought he resembled her father? Mainly because Shakespeare wanted to explain to the audience why such a vicious woman didn't actually commit the murder when she had the opportunity. Shakespeare also wanted to explain to the audience that she "laid their daggers ready." Why was this necessary? Shakespeare probably wanted to explain how Macbeth was going to be able to get inside the King's bedchamber and assassinate him when he was being guarded by two men. Lady Macbeth's soliloquy informs the audience that she was an important accessory. She provided the grooms with drugged "possets."  (The word "possets" is glossed in one edition as "hot drinks, containing milk and liquor.") Her statement that she "laid their daggers ready" is intended to inform the audience that Macbeth will have the weapons available when he enters the bedchamber and, more importantly, that he plans to kill...

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writergal06 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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