Alex Lukeman Biography & Facts
Lady Macbeth is a leading character in William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth (c.1603–1607). As the wife of the play's tragic hero, Macbeth (a Scottish nobleman), Lady Macbeth goads her husband into committing regicide, after which she becomes queen of Scotland. She dies off-stage in the last act, an apparent suicide.
Lady Macbeth is a powerful presence in the play, most notably in the first two acts. Following the murder of King Duncan, however, her role in the plot diminishes. She becomes an uninvolved spectator to Macbeth's plotting and a nervous hostess at a banquet dominated by her husband's hallucinations. Her sleepwalking scene in the fifth act is a turning point in the play, and her line "Out, damned spot!" has become a phrase familiar to many speakers of the English language. The report of her death late in the fifth act provides the inspiration for Macbeth's "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech.
The role has attracted countless notable actors over the centuries, including Sarah Siddons, Charlotte Melmoth, Helen Faucit, Ellen Terry, Jeanette Nolan, Vivien Leigh, Simone Signoret, Vivien Merchant, Glenda Jackson, Francesca Annis, Judith Anderson, Judi Dench, Renee O'Connor, Helen McCrory, Keeley Hawes, Alex Kingston, Marion Cotillard, and Hannah Taylor-Gordon.
Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth appeared to be a composite of two personages found in the account of King Duff and in the account of King Duncan in Holinshed's Chronicles: Donwald's nagging, murderous wife in the account of King Duff and Macbeth's ambitious wife, Gruoch of Scotland, in the account of King Duncan. In the account of King Duff, one of his captains, Donwald, suffers the deaths of his kinsmen at the orders of the king. Donwald then considers regicide at "the setting on of his wife", who "showed him the means whereby he might soonest accomplish it." Donwald abhors such an act, but perseveres at the nagging of his wife. After plying the king's servants with food and drink and letting them fall asleep, the couple admit their confederates to the king's room, where they then commit the regicide. The murder of Duff has its motivation in revenge rather than ambition.
In Holinshed's account of King Duncan, the discussion of Lady Macbeth is confined to a single sentence:
The words of the three Weird Sisters also (of whom before ye have heard) greatly encouraged him hereunto; but specially his wife lay sore upon him to attempt the thing, as she was very ambitious, burning with an unquenchable desire to bear the name of a queen.
Not found in Holinshed are the invocation to the "spirits that tend on mortal thoughts", the sleepwalking scene, and various details found in the drama concerning the death of Macbeth.
According to some genealogists, King Duncan's wife was Lady Macbeth's grandmother where Duncan's wife had a stronger claim to the throne than Lady Macbeth. It was this that incited her jealousy and hatred of Duncan.
Role in the play
Lady Macbeth makes her first appearance late in scene five of the first act, when she learns in a letter from her husband that three witches have prophesied his future as king. When King Duncan becomes her overnight guest, Lady Macbeth seizes the opportunity to effect his murder. Aware her husband's temperament is "too full o' the milk of human kindness" for committing a regicide, she plots the details of the murder; then, countering her husband's arguments and reminding him that he first broached the matter, she belittles his courage and manhood, finally winning him to her designs.
The king retires after a night of feasting. Lady Macbeth drugs his attendants and lays daggers ready for the commission of the crime. Macbeth kills the sleeping king while Lady Macbeth waits nearby. When he brings the daggers from the king's room, Lady Macbeth orders him to return them to the scene of the crime. He refuses. She carries the daggers to the room and smears the drugged attendants with blood. The couple retire to wash their hands.
Following the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth's role in the plot diminishes. When Duncan's sons flee the land in fear for their own lives, Macbeth is appointed king. Without consulting his queen, Macbeth plots other murders in order to secure his throne, and, at a royal banquet, the queen is forced to dismiss her guests when Macbeth hallucinates. In her last appearance, she sleepwalks in profound torment. She dies off-stage, with suicide being suggested as its cause when Malcolm declares that she died by "self and violent hands."In the First Folio, the only source for the play, she is never referred to as Lady Macbeth, but variously as "Macbeth's wife", "Macbeth's lady", or just "lady".
The sleepwalking scene is one of the more celebrated scenes from Macbeth, and, indeed, in all of Shakespeare. It has no counterpart in Holinshed's Chronicles, Shakespeare's source material for the play, but is solely the bard's invention.A.C. Bradley notes that, with the exception of its few closing lines, the scene is entirely in prose with Lady Macbeth being the only major character in Shakespearean tragedy to make a last appearance "denied the dignity of verse." According to Bradley, Shakespeare generally assigned prose to characters exhibiting abnormal states of mind or abnormal conditions such as somnambulism, with the regular rhythm of verse being inappropriate to characters having lost their balance of mind or subject to images or impressions with no rational connection. Lady Macbeth's recollections – the blood on her hand, the striking of the clock, her husband's reluctance – are brought forth from her disordered mind in chance order with each image deepening her anguish. For Bradley, Lady Macbeth's "brief toneless sentences seem the only voice of truth" with the spare and simple construction of the character's diction expressing a "desolating misery."
Analyses of the role
Lady Macbeth as anti-mother
Stephanie Chamberlain in her article "Fantasizing Infanticide: Lady Macbeth and the Murdering Mother in Early Modern England" argues that though Lady Macbeth wants power, her power is "conditioned on maternity", which was a "conflicted status in early modern England." Chamberlain argues that the negative images of Lady Macbeth as a mother figure, such as when she discusses her ability to "dash the brains" of the babe that sucks her breast, reflect controversies concerning the image of motherhood in early modern England. In early modern England, mothers were often accused of hurting the people that were placed in their hands. Lady Macbeth then personifies all mothers of early modern England who were condemned for Lady Macbeth's fantasy of infanticide. Lady Macbeth's fantasy, Chamberlain argues, is not struggling to be a man, but rather struggling with the condemnation of being a bad mother that was common during that time.
Jenijoy La Belle takes a slightly different view in her article, "A Strange Infirmity: Lady Macbe.... Discover the Alex Lukeman popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Alex Lukeman books.