Exemplification Essay on Lady Macbeth's Power in William Shakespeare's Tragedy 'Macbeth'

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‘Macbeth’ is a catastrophe which was written by one of the most notorious playwrights in history. Shakespeare wrote ‘Macbeth’ in 1606, but it took place in the 11th century. He wrote it for the pleasure of King James I and his royal court who ruled over medieval Scotland. The play features themes of betrayal, which is ironic because King James was the victim of a potential gunpowder plot one year prior. King James loved the supernatural element, which subsequently adds to the storyline. It’s apparent that women were powerless, vulnerable and inefficient in the 11th century, but were they really?

Lady Macbeth uses her power to manipulate Macbeth: “Your face, my Thane, is a book where men may read strange matters”. This simile refers to Macbeth’s guilt. It reflects on how easily Macbeth’s emotions can be detected and how it can damage their right to the crown. In the 16th century men were considered weak if not emotionless; Lady Macbeth worries about this because she knows he has to be resilient and ruthless to take and maintain the power of having the crown. People wouldn’t want him to be their king, their leader, if he knows empathy and kindness. Lady Macbeth is ambitious and uses her passion of greed and superiority to coach Macbeth: “Look like th’ innocent flower”. This metaphor shows how Lady Macbeth needs her husband to dissimulate his evil and profess his purity. Shakespeare maintains the theme of innocence to show the audience how Lady Macbeth coerces and manipulates her husband. The power dynamic is reinforced when a ‘fragile’ woman can dictate her husband, a ruthless warrior.

Lady Macbeth asserts dominance, she decides Duncan must die, “It is to full o’ th’ milk of human kindness”, Lady Macbeth is overjoyed that her lust of power will be fulfilled when her husband is crowned King of Scotland. Although she is reluctant of her husband’s ‘kind nature’. To encourage him she torments and bullies Macbeth into committing the act. Shakespeare is reinforcing the theme of violence and gender roles; Lady Macbeth is driven by her ambition whilst Macbeth is too compassionate. This highlights the contrast in their characters and the incompatibility of their relationship. The Elizabethans believed God had a social order for everybody, the ‘Great Chain of Being’ and kings were put on the throne by God himself. Lady Macbeth uses her hunger for superiority to disrupt this by causing a menacing society. The disruption of such nature foreshadows the downfall of Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth uses her soliloquy to reveal her true intentions, “smoke of hell” and “direst cruelty”, she uses evil imagery to portray the plague of sinister intentions on her mind. These thoughts control and keep Macbeth’s love. She calls for hell to provide her protection. Shakespeare reveals to the audience her true lust for evil. She does this to connect to the darker part of herself, revealing the power of her character. This relates to the supernatural element of the 17th century: women with power were condemned as witches if they didn’t obey men’s dominance or mastery. Shakespeare is implying she is a witch to the audience to show her complete control. Lady Macbeth’s speech relates to the witches who told the prophecy, “Come thick night”, she uses imperatives to insinuate she’s casting a spell, this reinforces Lady Macbeth’s power due to her link to evil, unnatural spirits. This also suggests that her control of her husband could reside from a darker nature.

Lady Macbeth calls upon spirits, “Come you spirits…Unsex me here”, the symbolism of gender roles is heavily implied; this is her vivid way of asking to be stripped of feminine weakness and invested with masculine revolve. She doesn’t want to be a woman, as she views women as ‘weak’ and ‘useless’. Lady Macbeth pleads with the spirits for her deepest desire of dominance and chaos to be fulfilled. She is revolted at being obedient, mindless and pure, whilst she dreams for her husband’s sense of ruthlessness and mercilessness. In the 27th century, witchcraft was a dire sin; this explains her disparity for control and high class. Women were perceived as cunning, fragile and prone to temptation, although she mourns to be cold, ruthless and cruel. The prefix ‘un’ represents her regret of being born a woman, so she can't rule herself. She is limited and is calling upon supernatural forces to remove her femininity, which would emphasize her power.

Lady Macbeth uses her emotional authority to control Macbeth: “Was the hope drunk, Wherein you dressed yourself”. Shakespeare uses personification for Lady Macbeth to question Macbeth’s ability and impulse to act upon the prophecy on drunk confidence. She believes he is too weak to commit such a duplicitous act; his morals override his passion for power. Lady Macbeth is aware of this which prompts her to use her intelligence to patronize him to provoke him into a reaction of rage. Macbeth finally succumbs to killing King Duncan after he feels pressured by Lady Macbeth as he sees this to win over her love, although she continues to emasculate him; this is ironic as Macbeth is known as the ‘Thane of Cawdor’, a ruthless warrior, however his wife must coerce him to commit an act of violence. In the 17th century, a husband was supposed to be the ‘head of a marriage’. Lady Macbeth defying Macbeth would be ridiculed and mocked. A wife was often subject to the demands of her husband, and this relates to the play of Macbeth as the power dynamic is shifted because of Lady Macbeth’s power of persuasion and dominance over Macbeth, which urged him into committing the heedful act of killing King Duncan.

Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth: “From this time I account thy love”. Lady Macbeth emotionally blackmails Macbeth by withdrawing her love. Shakespeare’s use of emotive language exhibits Macbeth’s emotional persona and how he relies on his wife’s emotions to feel whole. He is desperate to impress her in return for her love and affection, which he longs for. Lady Macbeth is aware of her husband’s dependence on her love, which encourages her to thrill herself by bullying and torturing her husband, which gives her excitement due to the weakness he displays. This allows the audience to understand the complexity of Lady Macbeth’s character. During his reign, King James I was plotted against Guy Fawkes, who intended on committing an act of treason; this correlates to Macbeth as he is being heavily influenced to go through with the ultimate murder of his king. Lady Macbeth intimidates his character by attacking his role as a man. She manipulates and exploits his kindness to please her. She states Macbeth will be “so much more the man”, this has a double meaning: he will be more of a man, but also have the authority figure of a king and a leader. She does this to flatter him and make him envisage the life of power he could have. His lack of awareness to Lady Macbeth’s manipulation proves she is responsible for his actions, which reinforces her power in their relationship.

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Lady Macbeth’s power starts to spiral. “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck”, Shakespeare uses this term of endearment which reveals to the audience how Macbeth is increasingly becoming even more evil and inhumane. He tells her to be “innocent of the knowledge”, which upsets her because she was the intelligence of the plan of killing King Duncan, and now Macbeth is excluding her. She’s starting to become the ‘inferior’ woman that the 17th century standardized. It makes it clear to the audience that there has been a power shift as Macbeth starts to become more callous and patronizing her, but also showing love and affection. This now refers to the common relationship a man and woman had in the 17th century, but also comments on how Macbeth gradually grows tyrannical and sadistic, which now contrasts over Lady Macbeth’s hold over him as he becomes emotionally independent and detached from her. Macbeth is about to become king, which is relevant to the problematic succession of King James I. His claim to the throne was challenged, which foreshadows how Macbeth will have a complication with his right to the throne. This suggests to the audience Macbeth will meet his demise for treason (as did Guy Fawkes.)

Lady Macbeth uses her verbal power to insult Macbeth’s masculinity: “What, quite unmanned in folly?”. Lady Macbeth uses a rhetorical question to mock Macbeth. She intimidates him by questioning his masculinity to provoke him into being submissive towards her. She makes him question his manliness, which leads him to conceal his emotions and eventually lose empathy. This is ironic because Lady Macbeth says earlier in the play, “Unsex me here”, she wants Macbeth to be stripped of his gender role just as she pleads to be. She degrades him to fulfil her longing regret of being born a woman; she feels like she should be stronger and the only way to achieve that is to verbally abuse Macbeth and make him feel inferior to her. This conveys the lack of emotions within their relationship, which leads the audience to believe their relationship is no longer about love and is only a business arrangement. This is seen through how they communicate and the lack of empathy they have towards one another, they do not consider how each other feels, which is the cause of their deteriorating relationship and their growth of madness. In the 17th century, women were viewed and the weaker sex, and they were seen as 2nd class although mentally strong and resilient. Lady Macbeth so then degrades Macbeth verbally to tear down his self-esteem, she is jealous of his strength and power as a man. Their relationship overthrows the standards of their time; a woman being superior to a man was unheard of. She uses her manipulation to pick apart Macbeth’s kindness and corrupt his character, which gives her a thrill of dominance.

Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as powerful. “You lack the season of all natures, sleep”, this metaphor is used by Lady Macbeth to dismiss Macbeth’s declining mental health. She tells him to “sleep it off”, she uses his growing madness to her advantage as she knows he is more vulnerable. She sees this as an opportunity to control him as Macbeth’s ability to function starts to decrease. Shakespeare uses a theme of guilt when Macbeth is worrying as his wrongdoing starts to engulf him. In the 17th century, mental health was seen as taboo, if Macbeth were ‘mad’ his subjects would perceive him as weak and infirm. Lady Macbeth is not concerned for Macbeth’s health; she is concerned about his ability to rule. This emphasizes that her priority is her potential power not her husband.

Lady Macbeth’s power is declining, she carries a candle, “light by her continually”, she has a fear of the dark. This is ironic as in Act 1 Scene 5, she welcomes the darkness, “come thick night”, the metaphor of darkness is used to show how she concealed her guilt. This now contrasts with how she didn’t emphasize her husband’s guilt and how she is now turning ‘mad’. She believes ‘night’ (fear) is following her which represents her conscience of overwhelming guilt. She isn’t aware of sleepwalking, which references how she isn’t aware and in control of her own life. She lives in constant fear of culpability and starts to display affections of remorse. She engulfs herself with endless light to wash away her responsibility, which is ironic because in Act 1 she tells Macbeth to “wash away his sins”, she now starts to understand the importance of her actions. This displays the consequences of the ‘Great Chain of Being’ being disrupted, Macbeth is now on the throne which is unnatural. The repercussions are Macbeth is driven by madness which ultimately leads to chaos and death of their entire kingdom. This also references how Guy Fawkes was put to death for attempting to interrupt the ‘Great Chain of Being, this signifies the importance in the 17th century and how defying God would end in dire consequences. As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship crumbles, they grow weaker as the power dynamic shifts towards Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth has a mysterious death. “The Queen, my lord, is dead”. Lady Macbeth dies off stage, which portrays an anti-climax scene, which represents the inconsequential role that she now plays in Macbeth’s life. She is no longer crucial to his plot for success. In return, he dismisses her death, “she should have died hereafter”, he blames her death on ‘bad timing’ and does not show any forms of grief which conveys his feelings of vexation and distress which she inflicted upon him; this also represents his greed for power and his narcissistic traits that have been uncovered from his emotional damage. Macbeth’s feelings alternate between arrogance and despair, which validates that Lady Macbeth’s manipulation has emotionally scarred him; and so, his feelings grow numb and meaningless towards her. Macbeth’s lack of emotion also refers to his lack of emotion towards himself, which foreshadows his downfall due to his lack of self-control. Macbeth is now addicted to the power that he holds and is ready to eliminate anybody who threatens it. It is implying that Lady Macbeth has committed suicide when Malcolm declares that she died by “self and violent hands”. She was burdened with the guilt of morally corrupting her husband and does not believe that her sins could be salvaged, hence she resorts to the only comfort she can seek, death. Shakespeare is communicating with the audience that justice has been achieved. In the 17th century, suicide was one of the most treacherous acts an individual could ‘commit’ since it was taking away life that God had gifted. This emphasizes the colossal amount of guilt that latched upon Lady Macbeth. The weakness of her character has been portrayed through her failure to achieve total superiority and her reaction of jealousy to her husband’s increasing power and influence.

Lady Macbeth can be considered one of many Shakespeare’s notorious tragic heroes – she is a strong, ambitious character who reigned in a high social class and ranked over many as Queen. Her reckless abuse of power and compulsion of Macbeth led to her downfall. Lady Macbeth originally was not born into ‘noble heritage’, although married into her rank of ‘Thane of Cawdor’. Once her rank in society was established, she felt her lust and addiction for supremacy; this explains her intemperate outbursts towards Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is a chief character who had a distorted perception on reality and was blind to the consequences of her grim actions. Once she recognizes her mistakes, her guilt buries her in a state of hysteria, insanity, and instability. The ‘Great Chain of Being’ can finally be restored as her death has balanced out the scales of nature that she once upset. She begins to feel guilty for her actions which inevitably lead to her death. Her death has fulfilled her role of one of Shakespeare's tragic heroes. The audience begin to emphasize with her as she arouses pity from her madness and regret from her sinful actions.

Ultimately, Lady Macbeth is a mysterious, complex character who held a peculiar amount of power for a woman of the 11th century, fiercely dominating over her husband. She neglected Macbeth’s feelings, which resulted in the emotional damage of Macbeth; this adds to the change and parallel of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s characters. At the beginning of the play, she is cunning and manipulative, although contrastingly grows into a fearful and fragile woman. Lady Macbeth’s cruelty is representative of the general wickedness found throughout the entire play. She is one of the most necessary and influential characters who instigated a series of irreversible events which overthrew a whole generation of potential royals to satisfy her intense cravings of domination. Overall, Lady Macbeth is a powerful character who bullied to please her desires of lack of gender, manipulation, and exploitation. She failed to consider the consequences that eventually resulted in her madness, insanity, and death.

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Exemplification Essay on Lady Macbeth’s Power in William Shakespeare’s Tragedy ‘Macbeth’. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/exemplification-essay-on-lady-macbeths-power-in-william-shakespeares-tragedy-macbeth/
“Exemplification Essay on Lady Macbeth’s Power in William Shakespeare’s Tragedy ‘Macbeth’.” Edubirdie, 19 Sept. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/exemplification-essay-on-lady-macbeths-power-in-william-shakespeares-tragedy-macbeth/
Exemplification Essay on Lady Macbeth’s Power in William Shakespeare’s Tragedy ‘Macbeth’. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/exemplification-essay-on-lady-macbeths-power-in-william-shakespeares-tragedy-macbeth/> [Accessed 23 Apr. 2024].
Exemplification Essay on Lady Macbeth’s Power in William Shakespeare’s Tragedy ‘Macbeth’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Sept 19 [cited 2024 Apr 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/exemplification-essay-on-lady-macbeths-power-in-william-shakespeares-tragedy-macbeth/
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