The Dead Butcher and His Fiend-Like Queen.
Ambition is a quality within every human, however it sometimes drives people to partake in totally unnatural actions. As illustrated in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, some forms of ambition can push people into becoming a person very sinister and evil. The ambition which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth encounter within Shakespeare’s play not only drives them to become ruthless killers, but is the cause of the two characters meeting their demise. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth turn away from the honest and gentle people they once were and instead become “the dead butcher and his fiend-like queen.” ( V, sc viii, 69)
The “fiend-like queen” or Lady Macbeth, is first seen in the play just after receiving a letter from her husband. This letter was the start of her demise and first presents the change in Lady Macbeth. Only moments after reading the letter, Lady Macbeth learns that the king himself will be staying with her and Macbeth in their castle that evening. At this time she already begins thinking of Duncan’s murder as seen when she comments, “The raven himself is hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan…and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty.” ( I, sc vi, 38-43) At this point she goes to the extent of planning the murder of Duncan and already prepares to assume full responsibility of the murder. During this moment of the play, Macbeth also appears and the influence Lady Macbeth has over him is clearly seen. She refers to Macbeth as a “coward” ( I, sc vii, 43) which in turn shows the ambition Lady Macbeth has for her husband to gain the crown. Clearly Lady Macbeth’s words and actions towards Macbeth have the affect she wished because Macbeth did end up murdering his own king.
Although some may see Lady Macbeth as inhumane, surprisingly she shows signs of kindness and care in some of the most unanticipated points within the play. After all of the preparations have been made to carry out the death of Duncan, Lady Macbeth ponders on killing Duncan herself but humanly tells Macbeth she can not do it because “he resembled my father as he slept.” (II, sc ii, 12-13) Clearly a softer, woman like side of Lady Macbeth is present here, unlike what she asked for by asking the spirits to “unsex” her (I, sc vi, 41) Even just after the murder occurs, Lady Macbeth shows her compassionate side towards Macbeth by attempting to calm his nerves and even manages to bring a bit of humor and irony in to the situation by saying “These deeds must not be thought after these ways: so, it will make us mad.” (II, sc ii, 32) Lady Macbeth’s attempts to console her husband after so vile a deed are accented when she herself also laces the guard’s daggers with blood and then plants them on them. By doing this she fulfilled her plan of framing Duncan’s guards for the murder as seen when she says “his spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt of our great quell.” (I, sc vii, 71-72.)
The morning after the murder, Lady Macbeth exclaimed “What, In our house?” (II, sc iii, 86) when Macduff announced the news of the king’s death. This fake exclamation is clearly done to draw all of the suspicion away from her and her husband. She takes this “acting” even further when she finds out that Macbeth has himself killed the two guards. Lady Macbeth faints and cries “help me hence, ho!” (II, sc iii, 117) She is then carried out, thus successfully getting every person present the morning after the murder to believe she and her husband had no involvement with the murder. Quite an actress!
As the play continues, Lady Macbeth remains strongly in control and manages surprisingly well every possible problem which arises which could show her and her husband’s guilt. Perhaps the greatest illustration of this is the banquet scene which Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost. As all nobles of Scotland look on, Macbeth shouts at a ghost which only he himself sees. In an honest effort to cover up her husband’s strange behavior, she attempts to explain to the nobles that “this fit is momentary; upon a thought he will again be well.” (III, sc iv, 55-56) One must notice she is quick to conceal the real meaning behind these “fits” of her husband. Ironically, as Macbeth becomes deeper and deeper engrossed in his madness, Lady Macbeth begins to set step upon the verge of insanity. Although Lady Macbeth once jokingly remarked to her husband “These deeds must not be thought after these ways: so, it will make us mad.” (II, sc ii, 32), in reality it is these deeds which do ultimately lead Lady Macbeth into the madness along with her husband. Lady Macbeth is now beginning to change from her controlled, calm self to a panic driven lunatic. She begins to hallucinate like Macbeth did but instead sees blood upon her hand which she is unable to rinse off. “Yet here’s a spot.” ( V, sc i, 30) Although Lady Macbeth is once seen as a strong character, she becomes reduced to the point of embarrassment because of the conscience which she does possess within her. In fact, her conscience plays such a great role within her that she eventually kills herself because she is unable to rid herself of the “damned spot.” ( V, sc i, 34)
Macbeth is a strong soldier who possesses a good conscience but loses it due to his wife’s pressure. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is seen as “…brave Macbeth” ( I, sc iii, 16) and “a worthy gentleman!” ( I, sc iii, 24) However, the courage and honestly which Macbeth possesses soon becomes tarnished due to the blind following of the witches predictions and his most noted fault, ambition. Macbeth’s curious nature leads him to the witches which present him with two strange prophesies; one of them is Macbeth being named king. As a result, the witches have planted a seed within Macbeth’s mind which he later takes action upon. After returning home from the battle with Norway, Lady Macbeth wastes no time urging Macbeth to kill Duncan and take the throne. “Oh never shall sun that morrow see!” (I, sc vi, 61) Although Macbeth’s ambition for the throne is far less than his wife at this point in the play, he still has a strong conscience. This is evident by his hallucinations of the dagger “Is this a dagger I see before me…I have thee not yet I see thee still” (II, sc I, 33-35) and later the ghost of Banquo. Even after he kills Duncan, his conscience makes him become extremely paranoid. “Whence is that knocking? How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?” (II, sc iii, 56-57) This is the first step of Macbeth’s turning into a monster.
After only one murder, Macbeth wastes no time or thought in killing others to make sure his evil deed stays secret. His actions take a turn for the worst when he spontaneously stabs the guards who were the “murderers” of Macbeth and even sinks as low as to kill the innocent family of Macduff, whom Macbeth sees as a threat. Macbeth even kills his best friends Banquo because he fears that Banquo’s children will become kings of Scotland as the witches prophesied. All of these actions which Macbeth undertakes show his insecurity which has now become present within him.
As the play progresses, Macbeth continues to spiral down into the hole of evil until the end of the play. At this point he comments to himself “. . .and that which should accompany old age, as honor, love, obedience, troops of friends . . . ” (V, sc iii, 24-25) indicating he wishes for a normal life where he could live to his age with honor and dignity. However, because of all the past sins which he has committed he will be unable to do so. Even when he hears of his wife’s suicide, Macbeth comments, “she should’ve died hereafter.” (V, sc v, 17)
Macbeth’s character is seen to be very strong physically yet extremely weak mentally, this is the weakness which causes his downfall. In addition to his mind, it is his never-ending ambition and his blind trust of the witches prophesies which ultimately change Macbeth from what he once was to the monster he had become.
Over the entirety of the play the changes in morals, personality, and confidence within Macbeth and Lady Macbeth can clearly be seen as a result of their ambition for the crown of Scotland. Lady Macbeth, first presented as strong and able to commit murder, eventually went insane due to her guilty conscience and killed herself. Macbeth on the other hand, went from a sincere, conscientious person into a maniacal monster which no one could control. Thus they well deserve the title Malcolm appoints them at the end of the play: “the dead butcher and his fiend-like queen.” (V, sc viii, 69)