Lady Macbeth, the Bad-Ass Bitch

Having read Macbeth many times before, I am still drawn to Lady Macbeth. Macbeth, a play that deals with the dark roads of ambition, has perhaps one of the most ambitious female characters in Shakespeare, if not in drama as a whole. Lady Macbeth not only encourages her husband to kill Duncan, she literally plans it, and executes half of it. Her great speech “unsex me” in Act I, scene V, deals with her plotting, manipulations, and plays into Act II, scene II, where she is clearly in control over her husband, who is drawn into the madness of the act he has just committed. When confronted by her husband’s fear, she yells at him, and basically tells him to man up. Macbeth is emasculated by his wife by her strength in comparison to his refusal to finish the deed and lay the daggers with them men they wished to frame. By literally taking the knives from him, removing the phallic objects from his hands, Lady Macbeth takes away his power and masculinity in the scene.
It is interesting that, as the play continues, the madness the Macbeths experience, manifests itself in two opposing ways. In one sense, the maddest we see Macbeth act is in the first couple of scenes after he murders Duncan, he proceeds to sober up. While he continues with mad decisions, his actual behavior is no longer extreme, like seeing daggers and the ghost of Banquo. Lady Macbeth, however, seems to become more physically and emotionally mad as the play progresses. She is first to cover up the murders, her husband’s delusions, and play hostess, but by the end her madness manifests itself in sleepwalking, and obsessive washing of hands that are only stained in the figurative sense. In this way, Lady Macbeth contains her wits longer, eventually falling into madness, where as Macbeth falls into madness, and ends up being consumed by madness immediately, and never recovers from the madness, but rather adopts it into his regular decision making.
I would be loath not to mention the various ways these two characters can be interpreted on the stage. Having seen several productions, and eagerly awaiting the campus’s production next semester, it is fascinating how the dynamic between these two characters changes with every interpretation. I have seen minx-like Lady’s, who seduce their husbands, or domineering women who batter the Macbeths into action. Even the physical size of actors come into play, because if you get a skinny, scrawny Macbeth, it feminizes the role already, and Lady Macbeth’s manipulations are easier believed, and become less frightening. On the other hand, with a strong, soldier of a Macbeth, the power which Lady Macbeth holds Macbeth can become either forced by the text of the script, or completely chilling and utterly terrifying to watch play out on stage. It all depends on the performance of the actress playing Lady Macbeth.
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3 thoughts on “Lady Macbeth, the Bad-Ass Bitch

  1. SamAdler

    I really like how you focus on the dynamic between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It is obvious that she wears the pants in the relationship but I like how you say she literally takes his privates away when she takes the swords. I also find interesting the idea of lady Macbeth being played as the seductress. I always picture her just powering her way through, and badgering her husband into action, but to have her lure him there is interesting and creates a new more feminine dynamic of power.

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  2. Nicole Wissler

    I like the note you make about Lady Macbeth. I too think highly of her in the play and her ability to talk Macbeth into killing King Duncan. It says a lot about her character, not only is she a mass manipulator but she is a woman! How awesome is that, that finally a woman is listened to and even trusted to make the heavy decision to kill the king. Although I do not think she is cool because of the fact that she is going to murder the king but for once a man is listening to a woman for her thoughts. A lot can be said about this womanly touch for mischief in this play. I would compare the actions of Lady Macbeth to those of the three witches. Macbeth also takes the time to listen to these three and take what they say into account. Since Macbeth is the only one who is the one listening to all four of these women, which could also be saying something for him. Maybe he is so set on being king and his greed is on the verge of overload he will listen to just about anyone who puts those plans into action. I would have to say touché to the ladies here for finally speaking their mind and being in control of the men, or should I say man, for a change!

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  3. kateconti

    She is SUCH a bad ass! I have never read Macbeth but now I finally understand what all the fuss is about. Lady Macbeth is another one of Shakespeare's undeniably intense and genius female characters. She is the evil entity in the household and behind the king. She seems to get what she wants and plays the role of the ultimate politicians wife. As the new Queen stands proudly next to her husband and king it is hard to imagine that she had conjured up a plan to leave a man in cold blood. Would Macbeth be as vile if he were not married to Lady Macbeth? Would the murder of Duncan ever of happened? I wonder how female audience reacted to the character of Lady Macbeth when the play first came out. She is empowering at the same time she is horrendous. She is a woman who knows she lives in a mans world with little rules and even less discretion. Lady Macbeth uses her husband as a tool to get what she wants.

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