Lady Macbeth is a key character in the play. She is a sturdy, determined woman and a loyal wife to her husband, Macbeth. She is a powerful influence on him and is a key figure in all of his deeds. Although Lady Macbeth is a very obsessive, manipulative woman she does change completely. Lady Macbeth dies a venerable, insane old woman in contrast to her sane, commanding character at the start of the play.
In Act 1: Scene 7, we see Lady Macbeth in a very controlled, persuasive role.
When Macbeth announces his definite decision, “We will proceed no further in this business:” Lady Macbeth manages to reverse it. She insults him and is furious at his decision. She persuades him to commit the murder. This shows that she is an authoritative and manipulative character.
“When you durst do it, then you were a man;”
Lady Macbeth insults Macbeth’s man-hood; this hurts Macbeth because he is a valiant soldier who commits himself to proving his man-hood constantly, especially to his wife for whom he feels so compassionate about. She said this as she knew it would get to Macbeth. I feel that this insult was the most abusive to Macbeth. I think this is what altered his decision. This shows that Lady Macbeth is a very intelligent, gritty woman.
When Macbeth asks, “If we should fail?” Lady Macbeth answers in a bemused way, “We fail?” This shows how determined this woman is, she hasn’t even considered failing and is puzzled at the idea. Also if she is so convinced they will not fail, Macbeth might be encouraged and think twice about his decision.
In contrast to Act 1: Scene 7, in Act 5: Scene 1 Lady Macbeth shows sign of insecurity and mental illness. She is unrecognizable from her past appearances in the play. In this scene we see an insight into her mind and discover she is not that authoritative, unwavering woman we thought she was.
She enters with a taper, giving signs that she is afraid of the dark. She claims,
“Hell is murky!”
This shows that she has given up. Hell is a certainty; it is definite in her eyes. Maybe she would have told this to Macbeth. It goes to show that she as accepted her deeds and is prepared to take the consequences. The fear of going to hell may have been a reason for her insanity.
“Here’s the smell of blood still: all the perfumes of
Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! Oh! Oh!”
Lady Macbeth has lost control of her thoughts and senses. She can no longer keep her worried mind at rest and speaks out her secrets, in her sleep, to a couple of guests. Guilt has driven her to this insecurity. Her ambition has faded and she has slowly sunk away to madness. All of this is very different from the harsh, resolute women in Act 1: Scene 7.
We know Lady Macbeth is insane when we hear her tell her deepest secret on stage. She no longer has control on her speech.
“Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”
She is, of course, talking about the murder of King Duncan. In Act 1: Scene 7 Lady Macbeth would not have even thought of speaking these words to anyone other than her husband. In public Lady Macbeth is supposed to “look like th’innocent flower,” This is another example of her loss of senses. There is no blood on her hand, but she sees and smells blood on her hands. She can’t escape the consequences of this deed and may well have driven her to insanity.
From these two scenes Lady Macbeth has done a complete turn-around. When we see Lady Macbeth in Act 5: Scene 1 she is completely different from any other time we have seen her on stage. I think Lady Macbeth is the character that changes the most. She changes from a blood-thirsty witch to an insane, venerable old woman.