Lady MacBeth is one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most intriguing female
characters. She is evil, seductive, and witch-like all at the same time. However, during the
play we see her in two different ways. At the time when we first meet her, she is a brutally
violent, power wanting witch, and later on she turns to a shameful suicidal grieving woman.
At the beginning of the MacBeth, Lady MacBeth is very savage and vicious. She
thinks nothing of killing King Duncan. She has no sense of what is wrong and right, and
believes that it is perfectly moral to do the deed of murder. She states that to not go
through with the deed would be horrible to yourself, and that you would be a coward in
your own eyes.
“Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem’st the ornament
of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem,”
She states that if she was MacBeth and did not jump at this perfect opportunity, that if a
child, being fed at her breast, where as Duncan is, king, she would tear it from her and
“dash’d the brains out” to have the opportunity MacBeth does. This shows how mad and
sadistic she was. She had absolutely no self-conscience, and thought nothing about the
wrong they were soon to commit.
Later on, after the murders, she, unlike MacBeth, still shows no signs of a
conscience. She is very cool and collected, while MacBeth hallucinates and goes
temporarily mad. Lady MacBeth on the other hand, takes everything calmly. She takes
the daggers back to the King’s room, smears blood on the drunken guards, and attempts to
destroy all evidence of MacBeth ever being there. She knows what needs to be done and
does it without any hesitation or fear.
However, it is later on in the story, that it is revealed to us that Lady MacBeth’s
conscience is strong. When sleep walking one night, Lady MacBeth (seemingly somewhat
insane) begins blabbering about spots of blood on her hands.
“Out damned spot! out, I say! One; two: why, then ’tis time
to do’t Hell is murky! Fie, my lord – fie! a soldier and
When at first she believes that “a little water clears us of this deed”, and now she can smell
the blood on her hands still, and “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand”. She now realizes the consequences of what she has done. She knows that the sin
will be on her soul forever, and that nothing will be able to cleanse it. She realizes “What’s
done cannot be undone”.
But this can not be redemption. She has done the deed and must expect the
consequences. Her wrong doing has been too much, she has committed the mortal sin.
Though she now realizes it (even this is skeptical, since she was sleep-walking at the time),
she has still the deed on her soul. It can never be totally cleansed, therefore Lady MacBeth
can never have total redemption.
Lady MacBeth is a complex character. She is seen as two totally different people
as the play progresses. At first, she is crazy about getting the power of the King. She is
brutish and sadistic in both the things she says and does. But as the play progresses, she
begins to understand the consequences of her actions, and goes slightly mad from these
thoughts. She can never be totally redeemed of her mortal sin, and realizes this. It is
perhaps this, that gives her the most redemption of all.