Explore how Shakespeare presents the character of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth.
Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a powerful and a sinful character who feels trapped within society’s view of a female. In act 1, Scene 5, Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth describing his encounter with the witches and their predictions. She is given a soliloquy that informs the audience that she is convinced by the prophecies of the witches, but she feels worried that Macbeth is too kind and soft to commit regicide. In order to assist her husband in gaining the throne, she is so tenacious to make herself as powerful as possible to the point where she asks the powers of evil to help her “Come you spirits...Come... You murdering ministries”. Here, when she is behaving like a witch casting a spell, the audience is likely to question whether she’s a witch herself. The repetition of the imperative verb “Come” emphasizes her determination to grasp power by any chance. By aligning Lady Macbeth with witches and referencing supernatural in general, it was intended by Shakespeare to appeal to James I who at the time of the play was a king of England and was famously known for being obsessed with witchcraft that he even wrote a book about it called Demonology. As a result, this would have been shocking to Shakespeare’s audience as they were very superstitious and viewed Lady Macbeth’s actions as a sin.
Moreover, in the Jacobean era, male traits were associated with strength and power. Female traits, on the other hand, were associated with beauty, elegance and fragility. They were also expected to be subservient to men. However, Lady Macbeth’s character breaks all these stereotypes by commanding the spirits to “unsex me here”, so she can get rid of and hide her feminine qualities to become more manly and be able to wield power allowing her to commit evil as her femininity prevents her from getting what she wants. The contemporary audience is more likely to be surprised as Lady Macbeth doesn’t fit the stereotypical woman in a Jacobean society. You might argue that perhaps Shakespeare deliberately used Lady Macbeth in a positive way to show that a dominant woman like Lady Macbeth was seen by a patriarchal society as unnatural and a symptom of an illness.
In essence, Lady Macbeth is portrayed by Shakespeare as someone who would do anything to achieve her ambitions and desires to become powerful.