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Change is typically seen as the act in which someone or something is made different. In ‘Macbeth’ Shakespeare presents how horrific events, such as the murder of Duncan, lead to a change in Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare presents how Lady Macbeth begins the play as powerful woman who later begins to regret her actions and lose all her power. Throughout the play, she harbours a lot of guilt and remorse which ultimately leads to her suicide at the end of the play.
Shakespeare initially presents Lady Macbeth as a headstrong, ambitious woman who is willing to doom her soul for power. In act 1, Lady Macbeth calls on evil spirits to “unsex her” by taking her “milk for gall” and filling her with “direst cruelty”. Shakespeare may be suggesting that being female makes you weak and therefore Lady Macbeth commands the ‘sprits’ to ‘unsex’ her, so she can rid herself of her female traits so she can be more male and thus powerful enough to commit evil. Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that Lady Macbeth is a powerful woman who is trapped within societies view of a female as, in Shakespearian times, there were associated male traits (strength, aggression, and powerfulness) and female traits (gentleness and sensitivity). Shakespeare highlights the ease in which Lady Macbeth calls upon these spirits, suggesting she is connected to the supernatural and therefore an evil character as, to a Jacobean audience, this would have been seen as a shocking and unnatural act against God. Lady Macbeth asks to be further transformed, asking ‘her ‘milk’ to be taken for ‘gall’. Lady Macbeth would rather have her life-giving breast milk replaced with a vile substance that brings bitterness and death. In a sense, she would like to become death incarnate. In addition, Lady Macbeth thinks that making herself more male and transforming her fluid to poison will make her more prone to killing, thus making her a powerful threat. Lady Macbeth, moreover, wants to make herself even more powerful by invoking the spirits to ‘make thick [her] blood.’ As blood, veins, arteries, and the heart make up the circulatory system, they act as a symbol of one’s sensitivities and empathy for others. By asking for her blood to be thickened, Lady Macbeth asks to become less sensitive and more remorseless, thus making her more resolute in her schemes to kill. Whilst Lady Macbeth could be perceived as a powerful woman for acting upon her ambition, perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that Lady Macbeth is not truly powerful due to her femininity which ultimately weakens her and prohibits her ability to be truly powerful to begin with.
However, Shakespeare presents how Lady Macbeth slowly begins to lose power as the play progresses. After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth slowly begins to lose the need and interest for Lady Macbeth and begins to take matters into his own hands, telling her to “be innocent of the knowledge dearest chuck" when planning his next murder. The loss of interest removes Lady Macbeth’s access to power and eventually begets her demise. The adjective “innocent” is almost ironic as the audience knows Lady Macbeth is far from innocent. However, is reflects Macbeth's wish for his wife to be uninvolved in the plot, perhaps in order to protect her. Alternatively, he may no longer want his wife to have any power and control over him and, therefore, no longer confides his plans to her. Even the use of the pet name “chuck” suggests that Macbeth no longer sees Lady Macbeth as his equal partner in crime due to his informal language. This contrasts to earlier in the play when Lady Macbeth appears to be the one in control in their relationship, as she manipulates Macbeth into committing regicide and plans the murder of Duncan. Now, she is left forgotten by Macbeth and had her access to power removed. In Jacobean England, a woman could not fulfil her own ambition and was often constrained by societies expectations of women as gentle and innocent. Therefore, women must achieve power through the men in their lives, meaning that if Lady Macbeth no longer has power over Macbeth, she can no longer fulfil her ambition. Shakespeare may be showing how power can be fleeting and is often reliant on others. Perhaps he is suggesting that those who rely on others for power are not truly powerful as their control can be taken away.
Shakespeare presents how Lady Macbeth drastically changes towards the end of the play as she becomes consumed by guilt and descends into hysteria. In this extract, Shakespeare highlights Lady Macbeth’s madness through the use of hyperbole where she frets that “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”. Lady Macbeth believes that she can still smell Duncan’s blood on her hands which suggests that the smell has penetrated her skin and become a part of the biology of her hand. Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that Lady Macbeth will never be free from her sins and that Duncan’s murder will forever be on her hands and on her conscious. The verb “sweeten” suggests that her hand is dirty and corrupted by her horrific actions, and no amount of “perfume” can conceal her sins. Lady Macbeth continually washes her hand crying “out damned spot! Out I say!” which contrasts to earlier in the play when she claims that a “little water” would wash away Duncan’s blood and her sins. The repetition of “out” and the use of exclamations highlights Lady Macbeth’s hysteria at this point in the play, unlike her pervious calmness after killing the King. Similarly, she constantly carries a candle with her suggesting she is clutching onto the last bits of light in her life. Candles and light have connotations of peace and purity suggesting Lady Macbeth is clinging onto her previous innocence and peaceful state of mind. Shakespeare presents the stark contrast between this and the beginning of the novel where lady Macbeth asks to be “cloaked” in darkness which shows how, whilst she once embraced evil, she now clings onto goodness. The difference in character highlights Lady Macbeth’s drastic change from the beginning to end of the play. Lady Macbeth committed regicide and therefore disrupted the great chain of being when killing King Duncan, which not only goes against the monarchy, but also goes against God. Religion was of utmost importance in Jacobean England and therefore Lady Macbeth’s act against God would have been seen as horrific and unforgivable. Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting that those who disrupt natural order will be condemned to madness and even eternal punishment in hell. Shakespeare punishes the character of Lady Macbeth for her sins and therefore warns the audience not to go against God or they will be condemned to a similar fate.
In conclusion, lady Macbeth is initially presented as a strong, self-aware, powerful character who slowly begins to lose their power which inevitably leads to her death. Shakespeare is warning the audience not to chase power as doing so will never be fulfilling. Shakespeare punishes Lady Macbeth’s greed for power by condemning her to madness. Overall, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a character who changes from the beginning to the end of the play due to her overwhelming guilt.