Lady Macbeth

So Who is Lady Macbeth?

Lady Macbeth on white background

We think we know.

“She’s that one who made her husband murder a king isn’t she?”

It is the answer we’ve heard from a number of young people about to embark on the study of Macbeth at school. Lady Macbeth is, of course, one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s characters, probably his most famous female character, ahead of Cleopatra, Juliet or Ophelia.

“She’s another Lady Macbeth.” It’s an accusation levied at many an ambitious or evil woman who drives her husband to greater office or even to murder for ambition, status or political gain. Lady Macbeth is the reference point for a woman who chooses a dark and wicked path, made all the more appealing, if she is beautiful or ‘fair is foul’. Men have been known for their evil deeds from the Romans and Greeks through Herod, Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler to Slobodan Milošević and Saddam Husain, to name but a few. Yet when it is a woman who, full of the direst cruelty, commits such crimes we are both fascinated and appalled.

Others believe her to be ‘misunderstood’; that ambition was not her driving force and she only did what she did because of her passionate love for her husband and to support his tyrannical ambition rather than her own evil wants.

Yet others have taken the view it’s the loss of the child that has created such a hole in her life and by becoming queen she will find a purpose again and this is her motivation for assisting her husband in taking the action of killing Duncan. Historically, Lady Macbeth had one son, Lulach, by her first husband and this son survived to follow Macbeth on the throne until killed by Malcolm.

So, who is she?

To find out, we must look at the play, Macbeth, and conduct a detailed analysis of Lady Macbeth as written about her in the text. This means dividing the text up, cutting it up into sections (not literally) for any reference to her and anything she says about herself or others. From this we can come to some conclusions about adjectives that describe her character and outline our conclusion about her as a result of this in depth reading.

It is then possible to take this analysis and delve deeper into the character of Lady Macbeth, using the method called ‘EXPLORING CHARACTER’ invented by Lloyd Trott of RADA, a method described as a gym for the imagination.

But first, the play.

Macbeth was written by Shakespeare in 1606. With utter brilliance, he dramatically combines several topical events and beliefs in early Jacobean history into this enduring play whilst, at the same time, incorporating a theme that is as relevant today as it was 400 years ago; Ambition.

In some ways Shakespeare’s play can be regarded as a propaganda piece designed to satisfy his royal patron, James I & VI after the near success of the gunpowder plot. Although Shakespeare retains many of the events from Holinshed’s Chronicles, he distorts much of what Holinshed had to say about Macbeth – and indeed, Lady Macbeth is only mentioned once, on page 269 of the Chronicles where he writes;

“The woords of the thrée weird sisters also (of whome before ye haue heard) greatlie incouraged him herevunto, but speciallie his wife lay sore vpon him to attempt the thing, as she that was verie ambitious, burning in vnquenchable desire to beare the name of a quéene.”

However, like all good storytellers, it was not Shakespeare’s intention to try to reconstruct the truth about Scottish history. His aim must have been to write a first–class play, a work of fiction, and like all story–tellers he took liberties with the so–called “known facts” of history to heighten dramatic effect.

Read a full account of Lady Macbeth and her background in Living with Lady Macbeth and The Witches —HERE

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