Characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the Play Macbeth by Shakespeare

Last Updated: 27 May 2023
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How far do you think that Macbeths and Lady Macbeths ambition near the beginning of the play brings them the rewards they wish for, later in the play? You should refer closely to the words and actions of both characters.

Macbeth and his wife are portrayed as cunning and ambitious characters at the beginning of the play. and their ambition allows them to achieve their primary goal of becoming King and Queen. However, we see that it is this ambition that leads to their downfall later in the play, when they realise that wearing borrowd robes is not as rewarding as they had expected.

Macbeths ambitious character is evident very early in the play the fact that he starts on hearing the Witches prophecies suggests a sense of guilt, as if he has contemplated becoming King before the idea was voiced by the Witches. He is keen to hear more of this strange intelligence, so it is possible that Macbeths ambition was not instigated by the Witches, but was present in his mind prior to the meeting on the heath. However, while he is fascinated at the prospect of becoming King, he believes he lacks the courage to murder Duncan to gain the crown the thought of it is enough to unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs.

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Lady Macbeths first appearance on stage portrays her deviousness and ambition. Macbeth writes only to inform her of his meeting with the Witches - in no way does it suggest murder, yet she immediately assumes it is necessary. She calls on the spirits to unsex her, so that she is incapable of feeling guilt or any other womanly feelings, but only direst cruelty and great ambition, through which she must chastise Macbeths doubts out of him.

Lady Macbeth herself knows how ambitious Macbeth is: Thou wouldst be great, yet she fears that he does not have the illness that should accompany this ambition, so that he may seize the nearest way. It is because Macbeth is too full o the milk of human kindness that she feels she must goad him and manipulate him into doing the deed. He thinks he is being too ambitious, like a horse trying to oerleap a jump. Lady Macbeth manages to persuade her husband by challenging his manhood, implying that he is a coward.

After the murder, Lady Macbeth, who does not let her conscience stand in the way of her ambition, is calm and practical. While Macbeth is already suffering from the guilt of his actions:

I am afraid to think what I have done;

she only emphasises the need to keep to the original plan, and scolds her husband, taking his guilt as a mere sign of cowardice. Her control and her cool are driven by ambition, her desire for power. Lady Macbeths way of coping with the guilt is to avoid thinking about it. Otherwise, it will make us mad.

By Act Three, however, Macbeth seems to have recovered not content with being King, he realises that:

To be thus is nothing:

But to be safely thus.

He feels that his position is worthless unless it can be secured for his own descendants. Macbeth chooses to ignore the Witches prophecy of Banquos children becoming Kings. His decision to murder Banquo and Fleance is perhaps a turning point in the play, as it shows just how much more ambitious Macbeth has become up until now, he has always been forced into action by his wife, but he isolates her from this new plot, keeping her innocent of the knowledge. In the end the reward of being safely thus is never achieved. Fleances surivival rankles Macbeth, who, as a result, feels cabind, cribbd, confind, bound in fears and doubts.

In Act three, Scenes two and three, we start to see the effects on Macbeths mental wellbeing as a result of his own ambition and that of Lady Macbeths. She notes that:

Noughts had, alls spent. Where our desire is got without content.

Their main reason for trying to take the throne was to satisfy their lust for power, and to enjoy being in such respected positions. However, they remain in a constant state of restless ecstasy, a sense of unease Macbeth appears to be almost envious of Duncan, who, after lifes fitful fever sleeps well, while his own mind is full of scorpions.

In an attempt to cheer up her husband, Lady Macbeth says:

Things without all remedy

Should be without regard.

However, the appearance of Banquos ghost in the following scene, and Macbeths terrified reaction to it show just how much his ambition led to this guilt that is tormenting him. He would rather face the rugged Russian bear, the armd rhinoceros or the Hyrcan tiger than to have to face this horrible shadow. The ghost ironically occupies Macbeths seat as his descendants will Macbeths throne: push us from our stools.

By Act five, however, we see a dramatic role reversal Lady Macbeth, once strong in character and dominant over Macbeth, is now a broken woman, reflected in her disjointed, rambling sentences. Her earlier dismissive comment, a little water clears us of this deed is ironic, as she futilely attempts to wash the blood from her hands:

all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.

While it is Lady Macbeth who scolded Macbeth for dwelling on the past, whats done cannot be undone, she is now suffering from her own sense of guilt for murdering Duncan and unleashing the tide of evil from within her husband. The ambition that once drove her towards achieving their goals has eventually driven her to suicide.

Macbeths and Lady Macbeths ambition also leads to the breakdown of their relationship in Act one, Macbeth affectionately refers to his wife as his dearest partner of greatness, yet he hardly reacts to the news of her suicide in Act five. She is able to be reassuring when he is tormented by his guilt, yet Macbeth can only say she would have died hereafter in response to her death. Their ambition initially brings them closer together, but as Macbeth strengthens in evil resolve, he becomes more self- absorbed in his own role.

Instead, Macbeths reliance on the Witches becomes greater he takes their words at face value, and does not realise that they have already deceived him with honest trifles, having taken advantage of his ambition earlier. Macbeth only realises he was being too ambitious when it is revealed that Macduff was not strictly of woman bom. Then he fully comprehends the ambiguity of the Witches words, meeting his death at Macduffs hands as a result of his over-ambition.

At the start of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a brave and loyal character, and his wife as dominant but determined. However, by allowing their ambition to suppress their good qualities, they become known as a tyrant and his fiend-like queen. Macbeths ambition gains him the throne, but instead he loses love, friendship, respect, and in the end his life.

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Characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the Play Macbeth by Shakespeare. (2023, May 27). Retrieved from

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