In the play, Lady Macbeth fits into the historical context as she fulfils her role as that of a hostess. At the time of Macbeth, women were expected to play the role of a hostess in their homes. We discover Lady Macbeth enacts the role of a hostess very well as she receives praise and compliments from Duncan:-
“Fair and noble hostess…” [Act One Scene Six Line 23]
There is definite irony in this situation. She is respected by Duncan but Lady Macbeth has plotted his murder.
We first encounter Lady Macbeth when she is reading the letter from Macbeth, describing his meeting with the witches. Lady Macbeth’s first words are:-
“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be…” [Act One Scene Five Line 14]
At this early stage, we come across Lady Macbeth’s objective to be crowned Queen, but this drive is not supplied by the sole purpose of having such a title; it is based on support and love for Macbeth. Lady Macbeth also exposes her evil intentions in order for her plot to prosper:-
“That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan…” [Act One Scene Five Line 38]
This is Lady Macbeth’s plot to murder Duncan, but she has an obstacle in her path, her husband, Macbeth. Lady Macbeth knows her husband well and is aware of his limitations, she feels Macbeth may be too kind and gentle to murder:-
“Yet do I fear thy nature:
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness…” [Act One Scene Five Line 15]
This is unusual as women were generally and stereotypically seen as being nurturing and gentle at the time.
To combat her husband’s kind nature, she finds methods to manipulate him:-
“That I may pour my spirits in thine ear…” [Act One Scene Five Line 25]
While her husband has his limitations, Lady Macbeth also has a restriction, her feminine nature. If it were not for her femininity, she would be able to go through with the murder herself:-
“That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here…” [Act One Scene Five Line 40]
She then calls on “murdering ministers” to divest herself of her feminine nature. This desire to be associated with “murdering ministers” links Lady Macbeth with the Witches, as they are both now affiliated with evil. Another connection Lady Macbeth has with the Witches is her eagerness to become sexless, just as the Witches are. Externally, the Witches have female appearances but they lack the traits of women, such as being maternal, caring and loving. Lady Macbeth wants to become like them in order to be able to fulfil her aim of killing Duncan.
After discussions between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth take place on the topic of the murder, her fears about her husband’s weakness have firmed up. Lady Macbeth possesses little faith in her husband and it is clearly displayed. One way she goes about convincing Macbeth to act is that she exploits and manipulates him, such as testing his love for her:-
“Such I account thy love…” [Act One Scene Seven Line 39]
She also questions his courage and manliness:-
“Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour…” [Act One Scene Seven Line 39]
Lady Macbeth is practical in her actions and unconcerned for her husband’s free will. He carries out the murder.
This shows a vicious and evil side to Lady Macbeth. We are shown this through the graphic language and imagery used in the following quotation:-
“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…” [Act One Scene Seven Line 55-58]
The similar imagery here, affiliates Lady Macbeth with the Witches:-
“Finger of birth-strangled babe,
Ditch-delivered by a drab…” [Act Four Scene One Line 30-31]
Lady Macbeth is cunning and devious in her methods while planning this murder. It shows that she is extremely confident and ambitious. She conceptualizes the plan to drug the guards:-
“When Duncan is asleep,
his two chamberlains
Will I with wine and wassail so convince…” [Act One Scene Seven Line 61-64]
While we encounter Lady Macbeth’s facade of cunning and obscenity, she also displays signs of humanity. It is Lady Macbeth’s humanity which prevents her from murdering Duncan herself, as Duncan “resembled [her] father” as he slept.
The murder has been committed, but Macbeth returns with the daggers used in the murder:-
“Why did you bring these daggers from the place?” [Act Two Scene Two Line 45]
Yet again, Lady Macbeth shows her practicality and relieves the situation by returning the daggers herself. Lady Macbeth shows courage and strength to remedy the mistake.
There is use of irony when Lady Macbeth says:-
“A little water clears us of our deed…” [Act Two Scene Two Line 64]
Lady Macbeth believes that the water will wash away the deed but is not aware that it will not wash away the guilt. This is prophetic as later on, Lady Macbeth is tortured by an imaginary spot a blood of her hand during her sleep.
Lady Macbeth faints at the news of Duncan’s death,
“Help me hence, ho!” [Act Two Scene Three Line 120]
Which leaves us pondering, whether her fainting is real or feigned.
Later, Lady Macbeth and her husband are preparing for a banquet. During the preparation, it is revealed that Macbeth wants to see Banquo dead. Macbeth hires murderers to carry through the task. At this point, we see a turning point in drive and control in the couple:-
“Be innocent of the knowledge, dear chuck…”[Act Three Scene Two Line 45]
Macbeth now wants to continue murdering those who are threats to his crown while Lady Macbeth is completely unaware of this. This is the beginning of her demise.
We, again, see Lady Macbeth taking upon herself the duty of making excuses for her husband in Act Three Scene Four. When Macbeth suffers from the apparition of Banquo’s ghost:-
“Thou canst not say I did it. Never
Thy gory locks at me.” [Act Three Scene Four Line 50-51]
She momentarily gains control of the situation, as her explanation towards her guests defends her husband:-
“Sit,worthy friends. My lord is often thus,
And hath been from his youth: pray you, keep seat.” [Act Three Scene Four Line 53-54]
Lady Macbeth’s actions in this situation are not for the purpose of masking Banquo’s death of which she is unaware. Her actions show us that she is protective of her husband.
“Stand not upon the order of your going,
But go at once.” [Act Three Scene Four Line 118-119]
Lady Macbeth dismisses her guests, which highlights that she is level-headed, quick thinking and calm. Whilst her husband continues having delusions, perhaps his conscience playing tricks on him, Lady Macbeth maintains a calm exterior, leading us to believe that she is also calm inside. This is extremely striking because of the stark contrast between both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s way of dealing with the crime they have committed. Lady Macbeth appears to keep her emotions suppressed, leading us to believe that she doesn’t feel any remorse for the situation.
However, in Act Five, it is now clear that the guilt of Duncan’s death is now consuming Lady Macbeth. Her mental and physical health appears to be deteriorating as she begins sleepwalking. During her sleepwalking, the doctor and the gentlewoman observe her repeatedly attempting to rid a stain from her hand. This is the sign of her repressed guilt and sleepwalking is an outlet for Lady Macbeth to release what she is bottling up inside.
Lady Macbeth begins talking in her disorder during the night, as she does she reveals information about those who have been murdered:-
“The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?” [Act Five Scene One Line 43]
The doctor views this as insanity and puts it down to her talking nonsense, but this “nonsense” has a hidden meaning and contains knowledge of the murders. Her ramblings remind us of the incantations of the Witches. This is Lady Macbeth’s final physical appearance in Macbeth as we hear of her suicide in Act Five Scene Five.
Lady Macbeth was a victim of her own repressed guilt and her fierce ambition.
To conclude, I believe that Lady Macbeth was indeed a lady of remorse. Whilst her composure and calmness in every difficult situation made it seem like she felt no guilt or regret for her actions, her sub-conscience proved otherwise indeed. Lady Macbeth was simply an incredibly strong character who was able to keep her feelings concealed but that was not to say that they weren’t affecting her in any way.