There are very few women in the play Macbeth. There are the three witches, (or weird sisters), Lady Macbeth and Lady MacDuff all of whom are manipulative scoundrels.
We’re first introduced to three witches Referred to as:
“So withered and so wild in their attire,
That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ Earth,” (1.3.40-41) and
“You should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.”(1.3.46-48)
They are so ugly they don’t look to be part of this earth and they have beards yet call themselves women. We only know these are women because they call themselves women. We know they are not visions of Macbeth’s imagination because the vision is shared with Banquo. “What are these” (1.3.37) Banquo asked Macbeth. We don’t know if the witches are merely predicting the future or if they are appalling catalysts in the unfolding events. Weather they plan the fate by planting the idea or are simply stating the future, the witches are manipulating Macbeth.
Then we are introduced to Lady Macbeth who, after reading a letter from Macbeth about the prophecy, states:
“Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way” (1.5.14-16)
Lady Macbeth is worried that her husband is too kind to fulfill the prophecy in the quickest way (murder). While devising the plan to kill King Duncan, Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to “unsex me” (1.5.39) so she has the strength of a man to do what she needs to do to kill the king. When Macbeth sounds like he might back out of the murder plan, Lady Macbeth tells him:
“I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.” (1.7.54-59)
She would rather take her nursing infant and bash it’s brains out than go back on her word as he is about to do. When Macbeth has committs the murder and can’t face it Lady Macbeth tells him to think of the dead as pictures (not real bodies) and only children are afraid of pictures.
“The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures. ‘Tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil.” (2.2.51-53)
Then she proceeds to plant the bloody knife for him so the plan isn’t ruined. What a great woman to stand behind her man like that…. She really goes out of her way to manipulate Macbeth and push him beyond his comfort zone.
The next woman we meet is Lady MacDuff. She is told that her husband has run off and immediately jumps to conclusions “What has he done to make him fly off the land?” (4.2.173) and tells their son “Sirrah, your father’s dead.” (4.2.30) Lady MacDuff has a redeeming feature though. She defends her husband by not giving away his location tot he murderer “I hope, in no place so unsanctified / Where such as thou mayst find him.” (4.2.81-82) This defense makes me wonder why she was manipulating her son in the first place. Was she just preparing him for what she thought was imminent? Was that just a way to try to protect her son? Was her initial assumption made in disbelief?
Of all the women will any prove to be a decent human being with feelings and morals? Lady MacDuff might change or reveal some more evidence that she is a decent person but the witches and Lady Macbeth don’t seem to be capable of human emotions and there’s only one act left to change.