"Starting with this extract explain how far you think Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a powerful woman" [30 marks]
Throughout the dramatic tragedy, "Macbeth" Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a very complex character. At first she seems dominant and power-thirsty but as the play develops, her true weaknesses begin to show. Shakespeare illustrates this in the following ways:
Firstly, in this extract, Lady Macbeth's fearless characteristics are displayed as she calls upon the witches. "come you spirits/that tend on me/unsex me here/and fill me from the crown to the toe, top fill/of direst cruelty". Her daring embrace of the supernatural "come you spirits" displays she does not fear the witches unlike Macbeth. He along with most people during Jacobean times, was still nervous of supernatural power, her fearless behavior signifies the power she already holds. Then, the phrase 'unsex me' is an explicit rejection of traditional female behavior, displaying she believes she musty lose her womanly nature if she is to gain power. her dismissal of the patriarchal society, would have shocked the audience of that time, as at this point, women's only real role was to produce, and care for, children. In fact Lady Macbeth's very unconventional female character would have astonished Jacobean standards. She is given multiple soliloquies- something only male characters were normally allowed and she has the dominant role in her marriage, which would have been unheard of. Additionally, rather than making her appear weak, Shakespeare presents her as smart, cunning and blood-thirsty, and she embraces the occult and villainy in order to achieve her goal. She is so powerful that a Shakespearean audience would view her as unnatural, possibly even supernatural. Some even view her as a fourth witch. Furthermore, the adjective 'direst' highlights the extreme lengths that lady Macbeth is willing to go to in order to become all powerful- she is prepared to kill, with little hesitation, to subsequently become queen
Secondly, later in this soliloquy, Lady Macbeth states that "thy letters have transported me beyond this ignorant present and I feel now the future in the instant". Shakespeare's use of this lexical field associated with time 'future' 'present' and 'instant' exaggerate Lady Macbeth's desperation and thirst for human power. This is furthered through the adjective 'transported' implying that the supernatural prophecies have physically moved her. tis emphasizes the influence that the witches prophecies have had on her. Since hearing them she has gained a need for the ultimate power of queen that the witches spoke of. In addition, the influence that the witches have on her is intensified as she speaks in iambic pentameter herself just as the witches do. This signifies to the audience the significance of her character, and sets her apart from everyone else in the play. It also signposts how much power she has compared to them. Moreover, Shakespeare displays her power through her manipulation of her husband. He does this by adding aspects of the femme fatal archetype to Lady Macbeth's character. she threatens to emasculate Macbeth, and uses her power over him to tp get her won may. Some productions of 'Macbeth' even show lady Macbeth using sexuality and seduction to explicitly manipulate her husband. All of this for her own ulterior motives, and clearly she drives Macbeth to his own death through doing so. Shakespeare seems to be demonstrating the dangers of unrestrained female power and ambition. Additionally. on a deeper level, Shakespeare could have been trying to demonstrate the two characters of Lady Macbeth through he juxtaposition of 'present' and 'future' reflecting the insecure and currently childless wife which she attempts to hide beneath her power and ambition of becoming queen
Finally, later, in act 5 scene 1 lady Macbeth's guilt catches up with her and the weakness that she attempted to hide is revealed. As she attempts to wash Duncan's imaginary blood off her hands, she exclaims 'out damn spot'. The blood spot being described as 'damned' associates with hell. This displays her guilt has overcome her and she fears she will be punished. The religious audience would have viewed it as a punishment sent from god. As well as this it portrays she has lost all composure and rational thought from earlier in the play. Just like Macbeth in act 2 her mind has begun to hallucinate. Its ironic that now she's the one hallucinating but when Macbeth urgently needed to wash his hands she mocked him. now guilt is having the same effect upon her behavior. it also contrasts with her previous comment in =act 2, scene 2 when she states 'a little water clears us of this deed'. the insignificance of the blood in this scene juxtaposes the panic that its causing her now and depicts her ability to repress guilt has vanished and she is now overcome with remorse. it exhibits to the audience that guilt and remorse are the undoing of Lady Macbeth and lead to her eventual death. unlike Macbeth she isn't killed by an uprising; she kills herself. her mind is her enemy. her ambition took her down violent paths that she couldn't cope with, and Shakespeare suggests guilt and regret are the most destructive consequences of that. the insanity and torment she feels at the hand of her guilt is punishment for her villainy.
Overall, I think that Lady Macbeth is weak. despite her best efforts to repress any guilt, eventually her weakness is made clear when she is so full of remorse, that she cant even stand to live.
Any help or advice is welcome, thank you!