In the extract (from Act 3 Scene 4) and the rest of the play Shakespeare presents the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in very interesting and contrasting ways but also makes the characters incredibly similar. Up till the end, it is very clear that the couple are very close and share information and secrets with each other. The fact that in Act 1, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth of the witches’ prophecy and she immediately believes him without question, suggests that they have a healthy and trustworthy relationship. This not only highlights that they are Husband and Wife but they are very obviously also friends – best friends. Their relationship starts out as a very functional relationship but as time goes on the pair slowly distance themselves from each other due the occurrence of events in the play. As well as Macbeth’s Hubris (his tragic flaw: ambition and greed) and Lady Macbeth’s untimely death, their relationship withers and dissipates. However, one unusually noticeable fact is that neither Macbeth or Lady Macbeth play the same role in their ‘plots’ or ‘schemes’ at the same time. By this, what is meant, is that in this extract Lady Macbeth takes control or is ‘Leader’ or ‘Parent’ of the two and attempts to diffuse the situation Macbeth is causing.
Macbeth, on the other hand, took the role of the ‘follower’ or ‘child’ in this specific example. Some could describe their relationship (at times) as being like the snake and Eve from the Genesis story of Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden. Especially in this extract and the majority of Act 1 and Act 2. One of the main inspirations for this opinion and interpretation is in Lady Macbeths soliloquy when she mentioned that “I may pour my spirits in thine ear”, it was very similar to how the snake in Adam and Eve “poured” its “spirits” into Eve’s ear to eat the apple (kill Duncan). One theory for the reason this occurs is that, it is speculated that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth once had a child. Lady Macbeth at the start of the play implies this when she says ” I have given suck, and know how tender ’tis to feed the babe that milks me.” this could be an influence for why they treat each other like this, they lost their child. This theory also brings sense to how easily Lady Macbeth can exploit and emasculate Macbeth, as he may feel guilty for the child’s death.
This relationship is very ironic, due to at the time -Seventeenth Century- women were considered to be of a lower social class and order and were respected as very feeble and little. It was a very patriotic society in Elizabethan and Jacobean day and age, and women had very few rights outside of their homes, increasing the amount of oppression women faced at the time. Therefore, it was a massively interesting character choice for Shakespeare to make Lady Macbeth so fierce, independent and intelligent. In the Extract in question, Macbeth sees or imagines Banquo’s ghost and instantly is shaken by the sight “which might appall the devil”. In the earlier parts of the play, it is evident that Macbeth is more innocent and although he has killed for his country, he has clearly never attempted any treasonous act or an act with morally evil intentions. After the murder of Duncan, it becomes very obvious to the audience that the potential for Macbeth to be this tyrannical, ignorant man is deep within him. This is again shown when Macbeth puts on a dramatically ironic façade for Banquo, while he is planning to kill him.
Suddenly, the audience sees this respected and noble man become this devious, manipulative creature. In Act 3 Scene 4 Macbeth is feeling very guilty after he sees the Ghost of Banquo and the guilt is clearly eating him up from the inside. He says “Thou canst not say I did it” showing his guilty conscience immediately attempting to defend itself. Some may argue that Macbeth is hallucinating and the guilt of ordering his ‘best-friends’ murder is affecting his mental health. Others may interpret it as the work of the spirits, and that the Ghost of Banquo is actually in the room. In modern interpretations people in the audience would be more likely to believe that Macbeth was losing his minds and going mad.
That is because our society is based more around science and psychology and rely more on what we know and what we can see. However, in the 16th and 17th century, it would’ve been a very popular that many believed in spirits and the supernatural and many in audience would have believed that Macbeth was indeed actually seeing the ghost of Banquo. Regardless, this extract showed Macbeth losing both his sanity and his masculinity to the ghost of Banquo. This contrasts exceptionally well to how reasonably Lady Macbeth acts in this scene. In some interpretations, this scene also (similarly to Act 4 Scene 1 with the apparitions) shows a distant link with the idea of cosmic irony.
No matter how hard Macbeth tries, his fate is unescapable. From the very moment Macbeth hears the prophecy from the witches, till his final battle with Macduff, Macbeth’s fate is sealed. There is nothing he can do about it. Shakespeare plays with the character of Macbeth in a cosmically ironic way.
Macbeth secretly orders the murder of Banquo and Fleance in order to remain king, as he sees them as a threat, after the witches’ prophecies come true. However, his plot fails, as Banquo dies but Fleance escapes. What is really unique about the extract, is the fact the Macbeth doesn’t see Fleance’s ghost with Banquo, even before the news of Fleance’s escape is revealed. Some may say that because he may not have been close to Fleance, he wasn’t as disturbed by his death. Though others may argue that fate would have never have allowed Fleance to die and although Macbeth denies this constantly, “why do you show me this?” (Act 4 Scene 1) It can be argued that he secretly knows it at the back of his mind. This compares well to Act 4 Scene 1 when Macbeth sees another illusion of Banquo. He sees Banquo with the Kings and at first attempts to deny it and cannot believe it. He later on in the scene becomes fearful of it and it starts to prey on his mind.
“horrible sight” He says. It soon becomes clear to the audience that the play does have cosmically Ironic elements, after all the work Macbeth has done to get rid of Banquo’s bloodline, they still end up being successful in the future. Seeing these descendants eradicates the confidence Macbeth had moments earlier – seeing the first 3 apparitions – and is sent into a panic. Like most times when Macbeth has panicked he destroys and kills things to solve the problem. It usually makes it worst, but nonetheless Macbeth still decides to kill Macduff’s family in an act of anger, to cause instability to the rebellion.
This scene overall reiterates Macbeth’s inability to comprehend and understand the concept of destiny and his failure in trying to change it. Which altogether links to his character as a tragic hero. In terms of tragic hero terminology, in some opinion, Macbeths hubris is his denial and ignorance of fate. Lady Macbeth is presented as a strong, determined, ‘on their toes’ character in this scene, similarly to how she orchestrated Duncan’s murder, she controls the situation that Macbeth has caused with this hallucination. Like mentioned before as a dynamic Mother-Son (Parent-Child) relationship, Macbeth gets himself into a closed in situation in which Lady Macbeth gets him out of.
In this scene she uses quick thinking to get Macbeth out of this problem. “Sit, worthy friends. My lord is often thus, And hath been from his youth” saying that Macbeth was commonly Like this allowed for men and women at the banquet to relax. However there was still undeniable tension in the room, which she goes to sort out. She says to Macbeth “what quite unmann’d in folly?” As she believes that has gone insane and has lost control of his senses.
She then goes on to say “fie for shame”. This quote is significant because it indirectly emasculated Macbeth by disregarding his opinion and using the word “shame”. Shame is such a powerful word In this context. It shows how embarrassed and ashamed Lady Macbeth is and emasculated Macbeth.. Her emasculation of Macbeth is something that is noticed throughout the play, from the very first moment when she told Macbeth to “leave all the rest to me” in the first half of the play, it is evident that she is one of Shakespeare’s most intelligent and manipulative characters, let alone females.
This is important to understand because although we see a lot of fierce females in modern literature, Lady Macbeth was created in a time were women were not seen as equal to men and were regarded as less important. Highlighting how phenomenal Shakespeare was at creating interesting characters. This line is also significant due to the fact that her admonishment becomes tragically ironic later on in the play.
In this scene Macbeth is the one that is panicking and seeing hallucinations, the murder of his closest friend Banquo has consumed him in this fire of guilt and fear and has engulfed Macbeth in its flames. Lady Macbeth is angry by this as she is highly embarrassed by what is occurring in this extract. In Act 5 scene 1 it is ironically revealed to the audience that Lady Macbeth’s guilt is also consuming her. She is mentally revisiting the night of Duncan’s murder and is believed to be stuck in a trance that haunts her at night. This conveys to the audience that her mental health has been damaged and she even goes on to kill herself in Act 5 Scene 5. It is quite apparent to the audience that Lady Macbeth instead of increasing in confidence and fierceness and taking control like Macbeth, she decreases and ultimately loses control, she becomes the weak stereotype of women in the 16th century.
She ends up losing so much control that she ultimately takes her life at possibly the most climactic turning point in her life, making for an excellent twist in the play. This extract and scene also shows Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony. In this scene the characters on stage are completely unaware of Macbeth’s betrayal of Banquo or that he can see the ghost of Banquo. Even Lady Macbeth who’s relationship with Macbeth seems quite intimate, is unaware of this. What is very interesting about this entire extract is how the imagery is so ambiguous and allows for a creative director to create the scene in their own interpretation. Some directors may choose to show the Ghost of Banquo as an actual visible character, while others may decide not to. This allows for many interesting takes on the presentation of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and even allows for interactions with the audience. The audience may feel differently if they can see the ghost of Banquo compared to if they can’t see it or it may not have any impact whatsoever but it allows for the opportunity for a director to experiment with it and show their own creative opinion of it.
In conclusion Shakespeare presents the characters of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth very dramatically and poetically, as they start to slowly understand that killing Duncan has provided them with many more difficulties than they had first envisioned. Although the scene is short, it provides very exciting character interactions and shows significant character development. Before the extract, earlier in the scene Macbeth takes control of the murder of Banquo, that Lady Macbeth is initially unaware of. This is parallel to Act 1 Scene 5 where Lady Macbeth instigates the murder of king Duncan, instead the two characters have reversed roles and Macbeth takes charge in this scene. In this extract however, the roles reverse once more and mirrors Lady Macbeth’s character when she persuaded Macbeth to kill Duncan, she persuades the characters at the Banquet, once again using her superb deceptive and manipulative skills. Despite Macbeth’s personal bravado, neither he nor his wife seems entirely at ease.
Lady Macbeth talks of her “doubtful joy” and Macbeth of his “restless ecstasy.” In the world that the Macbeths have created for themselves, total peace no longer exists, and what has been achieved is only a half-measure. Their successes have been bitter-sweet and as Lady Macbeth looks regretfully on the last murder, Macbeth looks towards the next one. That distinction between their two states of knowledge allows Shakespeare to play once more on the power relationship between husband and wife.
Here, then is yet another reversal of character, and it is shown in two major ways: first, by Lady Macbeth’s innocent-sounding questions and, second, by Macbeth’s adoption of animal imagery. In Act I, Scene 5, Lady Macbeth was the one who spoke of “the raven” and “the serpent.” Now Macbeth takes on the same language of horror, imagining his mind to be “full of scorpions,” and speaking of the “bat” and the “shard-born (dung-bred) beetle.”