Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lady Macbeth's Transformation

Sam Montagna
Professor Mulready
Shakespeare I
26 November 2012

           One character stands out: Lady Macbeth. Judging by Act I, she is probably one of the most, if not the most, independent and strongest female characters from a Shakespeare play. To start, one can tell by her name. Her first name is not given; she is not called Ms. Macbeth or Macbeth's wife. She is called Lady Macbeth, her very own noble title. Next, she is much more ambitious than her husband. She pushes him more than he pushes himself to kill the king. She helps set everything up and and helps set up the guards for the murder. What is surprising is that she is a woman. In this time, a woman's role was to cook, clean and have babies. She is willing to completely reject this role. She says “unsex me here,/ and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/ or direst cruelty” (2587.39-41). She even says she would kill her own child to accomplish her goal. She says “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 plucked my nipple from his boneless gums/ and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn/ as you have done to this” (2590.54-59). She seems not to care how this persona she has will look to her husband. She seems completely oblivious to how a woman should act according to her society. She is a one woman wrecking ball of ambition and brutality.
           What is even more shocking than Lady Macbeth's attitude towards killing the king is her transformation. She went from this ruthless woman who wanted to help her husband kill the king by any means to a guilt-ridden, lost woman who sleep walks. Her subconscious has taken over and it shows that Lady Macbeth is no longer who she used to be. She does not know who she is. “The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she/ now?” (2624.36-37). She knows that her role in the murder was wrong and there is nothing she can do to change it. “Here's the smell of the blood still. All the per-/fumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” (2624.42-43). The old Lady Macbeth did not care about committing murder; she only cared about becoming Queen. The doctor leaves the scene saying that she needs a priest instead of a doctor because she is obviously troubled. In the beginning of the play, it is hard to believe that Lady Macbeth could ever be troubled because she seems so sure of herself and filled with confidence. Lady Macbeth's transformation is very drastic and leaves the reader confused about who the real Lady Macbeth is. Is she the ruthless woman who would kill her own child? Or, is she the woman who feels so guilty that she sleep walks and has lost faith in who she is?


Kelsey Maher said...

I completely agree with your characterization of Lady Macbeth. She is probably one of my favorite characters in all of Shakespeare’s plays because of how readily and completely she rejects the expected role of a female in this society. I think that by transforming her into the almost crazed, hallucinating shell of her former strong-willed self, Shakespeare is almost commenting on the effects of murder on a female. Her complete disintegration speaks to the fact that her entire psyche is completely ruined because of the murders she helped plot, unlike Macbeth, who, even though he does experience odd hallucinations and his sanity is questionable, does not experience a complete meltdown like his wife, and he was the one who actually committed the murders.

ssomer said...

I found your characterization of Lady Macbeth very interesting. It is quite significant that her character is given a proper title. From the start, she is this strong willed woman who believes what she believes and does not care about anything. She is extremely sure of herself. This strong and independent woman character just couldn't last. Women in Shakespeare's plays just aren't given roles in which they can prosper. It was inevitable that her character would have a downfall and ultimately lose herself completely.

Cyrus Mulready said...

Lady Macbeth's transformation is a topic in many posts this week, and it is fascinating to note how little she resembles the strong-willed woman who spurs Macbeth along by the end of the play. As we discussed briefly in class, the image of the female ruler loomed large in Shakespeare's time. I think the highly ambivalent image we get of Lady Macbeth in the play (examined so nicely here by Sam) might speak to how the period was questioning the role of a female monarch in the period--what do others think?