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Lady Macbeth's characterization and behavior in Act 5, Scene 1

Summary:

In Act 5, Scene 1, Lady Macbeth exhibits signs of profound guilt and mental instability. She sleepwalks, compulsively washes her hands to remove imagined bloodstains, and mutters about the murders she and her husband have committed. Her behavior reveals the deep psychological torment she suffers as a consequence of their actions.

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What impression does Lady Macbeth give in act 5, scene 1?

Unlike her previous performance as a vicious demon underneath a beautiful and kind exterior, by Act V, sc. i, Lady Macbeth has become consumed by guilt.  She roams around in a sleepwalking state, confessing her crimes to the doctor's unwilling ears, and lamenting the spots of invisible blood on her hands.

This may dredge up some tidbits of sympathy for her, but mostly the reader feels a sense of justice in the fact that even one as ruthless as Lady Macbeth is not safe from the stabs of guilt.  She eventually kills herself, making this sense of justice complet.

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What is your observation of Lady Macbeth in Act 5, Scene 1?

At the beginning of act 5, scene 1 of Macbeth, we learn that Lady Macbeth has been sleepwalking and has been doing disturbing things (Lady Macbeth's gentlewoman refuses to say exactly what) during these nightly strolls. Lady Macbeth enters the scene, holding a candle and rubbing her hands together as though she is trying to wash something from them, her eyes wide but unseeing. It becomes clear over the course of her confused speech that what she hopes to remove is the memory of the blood from the murder she committed. In her dream, she's experiencing the blood so clearly that she can even smell it. She regrets having believed that her and her husband's power made them unaccountable for their actions, and she is now haunted by the choices she made.

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What caused Lady Macbeth's behavior in Act 5, Scene 1?

Well, one thing is for sure; Lady Macbeth was not "unsex[ed]" by the "spirits that tend on mortal thoughts." If you recall in Act I, scene v before Macbeth comes home and before they murder King Duncan, Lady Macbeth asks the "spirits that tend on mortal thoughts" to "unsex" and to "Make thick [her] blood; / Stop up th' access and passage to remorse."  In other words, she doesn't want to be human anymore so that she will not be bothered by her conscience after they murder the king.

Well, in the act to which you refer, it reveals that her conscience is bothering her immensely, so much that it manifests itself in her subconscious causing her to sleepwalk, and while she is sleepwalking, she is attempting to cleanse herself of the evil deeds that she has been apart of, in what seems to be a confession, for in it she mentions Duncan's, Banquo's and Lady Macduff's murders.  But it doesn't work, for later in the Act she commits suicide.

This scene is extremely ironic when you take into consideration her earlier role in Act I.

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What caused Lady Macbeth's behavior in Act 5, Scene 1?

As in many Shakespearean tragedies, this scene reflects the severe consequences of one's evil acts.  Shakespeare's audience would be well aware that nothing remotely good could come to Macbeth or Lady Macbeth because of their horrible crimes, because they usurped natural law (their "unnatural deeds").  While her husband's strong character fights to the death, Lady Macbeth's weak character crumbles easily as a result of what they have done.  Shakespeare is making the point that evil actions have severe consequences.  The actions of Macbeth & Lady Macbeth are straightforwardly evil; thus, so too are the consequences.

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What caused Lady Macbeth's behavior in Act 5, Scene 1?

In this scene, a doctor is talking with Lady Macbeth's servant. The servant reports that Lady Macbeth has been sleepwalking. While they are talking, Lady Macbeth begins to walk and talk in her sleep. She utters one of her famous speeches, "Out, out damned spot!" In her sleep, she is trying to wash blood off of her hands, the blood of the murdered Banquo. Lady Macbeth has gone mad. Her guilty consience over her part in the murder has brought her down from a strong-willed, plotting woman to a guilt-ridden madwoman. The doctor discerns that she is disturbed and that there is not much he can do to help: "More needs she the divine than the physician" he mumbles. "Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles."

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How is Lady Macbeth characterized in Act 5, Scene 1?

Lady Macbeth could be described as having become mad or crazy from guilt. She is like a ghost, sleepwalking at night, muttering aloud to herself about washing a blood spot away. She talks about how much blood there is and rubs her hands as if she is washing them. The guilt over the murders she has participated in has caught up with her.

This mad sleepwalking has been happening frequently enough to alarm her gentlewoman, who calls in a doctor to witness the scene. Lady Macbeth sleepwalks in front of him with open eyes and says:

Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?—Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.

This scene is ironic, because Lady Macbeth was the one whose tough words had earlier goaded Macbeth into murdering Duncan. When Macbeth returns from the murder, in a state of shock, he says that the blood he'd shed could turn the seas from green to red. Lady Macbeth then advises him to get a grip and insists it is easy enough to wash the blood away. Now, however, she has had a change of heart, and no amount of washing can rid her of her guilt.

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How does Lady Macbeth behave in Act 5, Scene 1, and why? What are the gentlewoman's feelings towards her?

In this scene, Lady Macbeth is observed first of all by a doctor and a gentlewoman, one of her ladies in waiting. They notice that she is rubbing her hands and walking around at night, but she appears to be asleep. They overhear Lady Macbeth declaring that there is a "spot" on one of her hands which will not come out no matter how much she rubs at it.

The doctor and the gentlewoman hear Lady Macbeth wonder how it is possible that "the old man" could have contained "so much blood" that the stain of it should still be on her hands. The gentlewoman and the doctor both think this is incredibly suspicious, although the doctor does observe that he has seen people sleepwalking in the past who have died "holily," meaning that it may not actually mean Lady Macbeth has committed terrible acts.

The audience (or reader) recognizes that Lady Macbeth's behavior is an outward expression of the guilt which has been caused by the murder of Duncan. Lady Macbeth first began to flinch from the idea of killing Duncan when she recognized his resemblance to her father; now she feels consumed with guilt and is also worried about Banquo, even though she is telling herself that he cannot "return" to plague them.

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How does Lady Macbeth behave in Act 5, Scene 1, and why? What are the gentlewoman's feelings towards her?

In act 5, scene 1, Lady Macbeth is behaving as though she has a terribly guilty conscience, heavily burdened by the murder of Duncan as well as all the other terrible things Macbeth has done since this first crime. Recall that Macbeth had wanted to back out of their plan to murder the king but that it was Lady Macbeth who talked him into it again by insulting his manhood and pride, telling him he'd be a coward if he did not pursue the crown.

In her somnambulatory state, Lady Macbeth now imagines that there is still blood on her hands from Duncan's murder. She seems to relive the night of that first murder, counting the strokes of the clock the couple heard then as they awaited their opportunity to strike: "One. Two. Why then, 'tis time to do 't" (5.1.37–38).

She also has some awareness of what happened to the innocent wife and children of Macduff, as she laments, "The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?" (5.1.44–45). She realizes, on some level, that Macbeth is responsible for the Macduffs' deaths, so perhaps she realizes, too, the hand she has had in initiating their sad fate.

In her guilt, Lady Macbeth now cries that "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" (5.1.53–55). It is ironic, of course, that she once told Macbeth "a little water clears us of this deed" when he lamented the king's blood on his own hands immediately following the murder (2.2.86). She also chastised him then, saying, "Your constancy / Hath left you unattended," and now she is the one being inconstant and acting guiltily, even without her knowing it (2.2.87–88). She berated him for hallucinating, and now it is she who hallucinates.

The Macbeths have, evidently, created such a culture of fear with their reign that the gentlewoman who serves Lady Macbeth refuses to repeat what she has heard her mistress say, because she has "no witness to confirm [her] speech" (5.1.19–20). Frightened for her own safety, it seems, she will not even report to a doctor what the queen has been doing and saying in her sleep; the waiting woman will only bring him to see and hear for himself.

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How does Lady Macbeth behave in Act 5, Scene 1, and why? What are the gentlewoman's feelings towards her?

In act 5, scene 1, Lady Macbeth is seen sleepwalking and pretending to wash blood from her hands. While Lady Macbeth pretends to wash her hands, she continues to hallucinate and carries on an imaginary conversation with her husband regarding their crime. She also asks her husband about Macduff's wife and questions if her hands will ever be clean. Her comments mimic Macbeth's earlier reaction to Duncan's blood when she says, "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."

Lady Macbeth is clearly disturbed and mentally unstable. Her actions and comments indicate that she is guilt-ridden over the murder of King Duncan and her husband's recent crimes. The imaginary blood on Lady Macbeth's hands symbolizes her guilt, which consumes her mind and soul.

After witnessing Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking routine, the Doctor concludes that her mind is infected and she needs "the divine" more than a physician. The gentlewoman feels uncomfortable working for Lady Macbeth and refuses to repeat anything she heard Lady Macbeth say. The gentlewoman comments that she has no witnesses to confirm what she has heard and will not disclose Lady Macbeth's incriminating statements.

The gentlewoman understands the significance of Lady Macbeth's comments and doesn't want to deal with the consequences attached to reporting such sensitive information. Without any witnesses, Lady Macbeth could easily deny the accusations, and the gentlewoman would be put in a precarious situation.

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How does Lady Macbeth behave in Act 5, Scene 1, and why? What are the gentlewoman's feelings towards her?

In this scene, Lady Macbeth seems to have gone completely mad.  Of course, it is only happening when she is asleep, but her sleepwalking seems to show that she is deeply troubled.

She keeps getting up and doing things like pretending to wash her hands -- sometimes for fifteen minutes straight.  She talks about the "spot" and about blood.  Clearly, she is feeling guilt over the murders.

The gentlewoman does not really speak her feelings, but I think she is afraid.  She says she has heard something she shouldn't have.  And she says she doesn't want to tell what she's heard because (the implication is) Lady Macbeth would know she had told.  So I think she is afraid of her mistress.

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How is Lady Macbeth presented in Act 5, Scene 1?

In this scene, Lady Macbeth is presented as overwrought and restless, so much so that she cannot sleep and has taken to somnambulism. She consistently walks in her sleep so much that it has alarmed one of her gentlewomen to such an extent that she has reported her lady's strange conduct to the doctor. At the beginning of the scene she informs him:

... I have seen
her rise from her bed, throw her night-gown upon
her, unlock her closet, take forth paper, fold it,
write upon't, read it, afterwards seal it, and again
return to bed; yet all this while in a most fast sleep

When the doctor asks her what Lady Macbeth had to say whilst she was in this state, the gentlewoman refuses to repeat what she had heard, stating that she cannot say it to anyone since she has no witness to confirm her report.

At this point, Lady Macbeth enters with a candle. The gentlewoman reports that Lady Macbeth had commanded that that there continuously be light next to her bed. It appears that she has grown afraid of the dark. The two witness her walking with the candle, open-eyed but with no sense of sight, since she is fast asleep. The Lady then starts rubbing her hands and the gentlewoman says about this:

It is an accustomed action with her, to seem thus
washing her hands: I have known her continue in
this a quarter of an hour.

Lady Macbeth then begins to speak, saying firstly, "Out damned spot." She perceives a mark on her hand and wishes to erase it. Witnessed by the doctor and gentlewoman, she furthermore utters:

Out, damned spot! out, I say!--One: two: why,
then, 'tis time to do't.--Hell is murky!--Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?--Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.

She seems to be hallucinating and her speech is garbled. In her confusion she refers to her husband, asking him to flee, and then is suddenly critical of him. She then gives the assurance that they should not fear since none can call them to account. She then suddenly refers to Duncan's murder, stating that no one could have expected him to have so much blood.

Lady Macbeth then makes reference to Lady Macduff, who Macbeth has murdered. She then promptly refers to the supposed blight on her hands and refers to Macbeth again, stating that he spoils everything with his sudden shows of fear. The doctor is shocked by this and instructs the gentlewoman to leave since she has heard what she should not. Lady Macbeth continues in her somnambulistic state and remarks:

Here's the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!

She is clearly obsessed by the stain on her hand and its bloody smell. Her cry is a piteous wail, for she believes that the smell and the stain are impossible to remove. In her delirium, Lady Macbeth imagines that her husband is with her and instructs him to dress for bed and not look so afraid since Banquo's buried and obviously cannot return from the grave - a reference to Macbeth's fear when he saw Banquo's ghost. She then asks that Macbeth come to bed since there's "knocking at the gate," an obvious reference to the period just after they murdered the king. She beseeches the imagined Macbeth to come to bed since they cannot undo what they have done. The gentlewoman tells the doctor that she will now go directly to bed.  

It is clear that Lady Macbeth is overwhelmed by remorse. She is so stricken by guilt that it sits on her conscience constantly so that she cannot sleep. She and her husband's evil has enveloped her completely and she realizes that she cannot undo the harm that they have done. She is haunted by images of their malevolence and is a tortured, pitiful soul.

The Lady Macbeth we witness here is in direct contrast to the forthright and ruthless conspirator we have come to know earlier in the play. She then had no qualms in encouraging her husband to commit the most pernicious evil. At one point, when Macbeth expressed doubt about assassinating the king, she said the following:

... I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this. 

This illustrates the degree of remorseless evil she was prepared to commit to. She had no reservations about doing whatever was necessary to achieve their ambition. When Macbeth fears that they could fail, she says:

... What cannot you and I perform upon
The unguarded Duncan? what not put upon
His spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt
Of our great quell?

In this instance, she had already planned to intoxicate Duncan's guards by plying them with alcohol and adding a potion to their drink so that they would sleep like swine and not remember anything, whilst they committed their dastardly deed. She displayed such depth of savagery and ruthlessness that her husband commented:

Bring forth men-children only;
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males. 

Lady Macbeth has now lost this undaunted fervor and has become a miserable, overwrought, and paranoid version of her former self. She has been overwhelmed by the cruelty and overly sanguine nature of their malice and has lost her sanity--just punishment for their greed. Eventually, she is so overcome by guilt that she takes her own life.

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How is Lady Macbeth presented in Act 5, Scene 1?

In act 5, scene 1, the Doctor and the Gentlewoman spy on Lady Macbeth as she sleepwalks and hallucinates in the middle of the night. The Doctor and Gentlewoman witness a deranged, guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth discuss her husband's bloody deeds as she attempts to wash imaginary blood from her hands. The imaginary blood Lady Macbeth is attempting to wash off is from the deceased King Duncan.

Lady Macbeth is hysterical and neurotic throughout the scene as she questions her husband about murdering Macduff's family and his close friend Banquo. Lady Macbeth further illustrates her guilty conscience by saying:

Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, Oh, Oh! (5.1.31–33).

Overall, Lady Macbeth is presented as a hysterical, guilt-ridden woman who is mentally deranged and has completely lost touch with reality. Her mental illness and guilty conscience are directly related to her role in Duncan's assassination. She is no longer the confident, callous woman we saw in previous scenes, determined to rule as queen over Scotland.

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How is Lady Macbeth presented as weak in Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's play?

Earlier in the play, Lady Macbeth was the person who was ready to dash her baby's brains out without remorse. She spoke ruthless words to urge the hesitant Macbeth to do the evil deed of murdering Duncan. She told Macbeth to control his horror after killing Duncan when he came back to their rooms shaken to the core and saying the green seas had turned red with blood.

Ironically, however, by act 5, Lady Macbeth has become the person who can't handle the guilt of what she and her husband have done. We find out that she was earlier almost all talk and bluster, with very little substance, because she cracks under the strain of the crimes they have committed. She sleepwalks at night in act 5, scene 1, compulsively washing her hands as she tries to wash her guilt away. But no matter how much she washes, she can't wash the blood off her conscience.

Macbeth becomes hardened as Lady Macbeth weakens from guilt and descends into madness.

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How is Lady Macbeth presented as weak in Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's play?

In act 5, scene 1, Lady Macbeth wanders the corridors of Dunsinane Castle as if in a terrible trance. It would appear that she's in the process of going insane, her fraught nervous system cracking under the weight of guilt and paranoia. Earlier in the play, Lady Macbeth had appeared as strong and in control. It was she who acted as the main mover in the plot to murder Duncan and constantly cajoled a weak, vacillating Macbeth to put aside his moral qualms about killing the king and get on with carrying out the dirty deed.

Yet now, Lady Macbeth cuts a truly pathetic figure as she vainly tries to scrub the imagined blood-stains from her hands. In act 2, scene 2, things couldn't have been more different. Then, Lady Macbeth was so blithely complacent about the prospects of avoiding guilt:

A little water clears us of this deed.

But as she sleepwalks the corridors of Dunsinane, no amount of water or ceaseless scrubbing of hands will be enough to wipe away the guilt that has now indelibly stained Lady Macbeth's tortured soul.

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