The concept of marriage is typically accepted as a cooperative separation of power. However, in Justin Kurzel’s film adaptation of Macbeth, power constantly shifts between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth– thus displaying different moments in time in which one character holds power over the other. Originally, Lady Macbeth uses verbal language techniques to control the relationship she has with her husband, then further uses this control to convince Macbeth to kill King Duncan. After this, Macbeth begins to spiral into insanity, causing Lady Macbeth to lose control over him as he refuses to respond to reason as a result of both his madness, as well as his unpredictable explosions of emotion. This is seen through Kurzel’s use of auditory techniques.
The battle for control of ends as the pair’s relationship begins to deteriorate, with both characters experiencing separate yet similar forms of mental instability, which is reflected by Kurzel’s use of visual costuming strategies. In the beginning of the film, Lady Macbeth uses persuasive language in order to manipulate Macbeth, thus displaying her power and dominance in their relationship. Along with utilizing these tools, Lady Macbeth also plays with the idea of cowardice in order to display her disappointment at his inaction, therefore successfully convincing Macbeth to carry out the murder of King Duncan after he has doubts. Such persuasive language can be seen first when Lady Macbeth states, “Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem, letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’…” (Kurzel, 0:28:25 – 0:28:34). Within this passage, Lady Macbeth is beginning to take advantage of her close connection to her husband– she knows him well enough that by doubting his courage, both his own depiction of masculinity and his personality is being questioned – and threatened – at the idea of exhibiting cowardice.
Lady Macbeth further continues on to imply that he was only a man when he dared to complete the task of murdering King Duncan. However, it becomes apparent that as his wife, Lady Macbeth understands him better than any other, and therefore has the tools to craft her language accordingly in order to manipulate him. Her continued verbal persuasion transcends to a new level when she begins to appeal to Macbeth’s emotions, coercing him to carry out the task of murder – a mutiny against their king. She uses the words, “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.” (Kurzel, 0:29:06 – 0:29:26). Here, Lady Macbeth is also sharing a part of herself – of her previous vulnerability to appeal to her husbands compassionate and nurturing side, before she dives into using strong emotive language to contrast the previously peaceful image that had been established in both the audience’s, as well as Macbeth’s mind. This unsteady, yet effective, shift between calm and violent language depicts how powerful Lady Macbeth has become.
Therefore, Kurzel’s Macbeth effectively displays Lady Macbeth’s repeated use of persuasive language to dominate and control her husband. Macbeth’s descent into moral decay leads to an unintentional gain in power within his relationship with his wife. Macbeth begins to hallucinate as his mind struggles to cope with the trauma and stress of his betrayals – the murders of both his King and his best friend. The decomposition of Macbeth’s sanity is captured through Kurzel’s continuous use of diegetic and non-diegetic auditory techniques. During the dinner party scene, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth present themselves as king and queen after they are coronated. Here, the news of Banquo’s death and Fleance’s escape reaches Macbeth’s ears – from the murderer he sent to complete the job – and Macbeth then begins to hallucinate, seeing the ‘ghost’ of Banquo. From here, Kurzel’s use of sound techniques becomes clear– the room goes silent, with only the diegetic sounds of Macbeth’s footsteps echoing through the air. Even though the room is full, nobody else makes a single sound. Then, eerie, single-noted and almost silent background music begins to filter through the scene as the characters continue to speak their dialogue over it (Kurzel, 1:00:41 – 1:02:00). These sound strategies – specifically the single-noted background music – places an emphasis on the desolate, horror like atmosphere that is created within the scene, therefore providing the sense of importance that it plays in the overall storyline.
The dialogue between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth enables the story to move forward and also illustrates the couple’s interactions, which becomes particularly important to observe as the shift of power is occurring. Macbeth is only able to return power to himself when he loses his mind — meaning that he is not actually benefiting from the switch of control. Rather, Lady Macbeth is at a disadvantage due to her losing control. This can be indicated primarily by the fact that in his madness, Macbeth is unable to be reasoned with, and instead drifts into a constant state of paranoia. Thus, Lady Macbeth loses control over Macbeth as his mind begins to degrade into insanity. The final movement of power in Kurzel’s film adaptation of Macbeth occurs as a result of the separation of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, indicating that neither has power over the other in the end. Both characters experience contrasting feelings of insanity, which suggests that they are experiencing the final stage of their previously close relationship, however, they both reflect each other in their insanity, as depicted through the visual costuming techniques skillfully used by Kurzel.
Lady Macbeth’s internal madness is signified by the last scenes we see of her alive. After a monologue in which she talks to her dead child, the image changes to display her in white clothing, walking towards the three witches and appearing utterly isolated amongst the barren surroundings of their original home (Kurzel, 1:19:46 – 1:23:18). This clip acts as a visual indicator of the separation that Lady Macbeth is experiencing from her husband. Despite this, the clip also shows the similarities she shares with Macbeth. More specifically, surrounding the idea that both characters are experiencing contrasting forms of insanity. Macbeth loses his last connection to sanity within the scene in which he preps for the final battle – seen drinking (presumably alcohol) and going through movements with his sword. Here we see Macbeth in purely white clothing – almost an exact masculine replication of the garment that Lady Macbeth was wearing when delving into her own delirium (Kurzel, 1:18:20 – 1:18:39). Costuming as a visual technique is used to appeal to the symbolic side of the strain that the characters are experiencing, and their collective vulnerability can be seen in both of these respective segments of the film. The use of white clothing is symbolic of light, purity and innocence. It represents Macbeth and Lady Macbeth being ‘stripped down’ to their last defenses, or alternately, realising the cruelty of their actions in killing King Duncan, and thus experiencing the desire to repent.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth appear completely absorbed in their own struggles as a result of the position that they had put themselves in; neither is thinking of the other while they are engrossed in their individual forms of insanity. Lady Macbeth had abandoned hope of restoring her husband, and Macbeth had forgotten his wife in the face of his deteriorating mental condition. Neither Macbeth or Lady Macbeth maintain power over the other in the end of Kurzel’s Macbeth due to the degradation of their relationship. As expressed, the relationship dynamic of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in Kurzel’s Macbeth is continuously thrown out of balance as power shifts between the two characters. Originally, Lady Macbeth maintains control over her husband through verbal manipulation techniques. Macbeth’s descent into insanity then leads to an unintentional gain in power within his relationship with his wife, as depicted through the use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound. In the conclusion of the film however, it becomes apparent that neither character holds dominance over the other due to their similar, yet divided, forms of mental decay– which is represented by symbolic costuming techniques. These factors all indicate that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship was condemned to fail from its establishment.