Lady Macbeth: from Ambition to Madness

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About this sample


Words: 1147 |

Pages: 3|

6 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2021

Words: 1147|Pages: 3|6 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2021

Many believe that in order to become the person whom they wish to be, they must change their The play Macbeth by William Shakespeare explores the idea that an individual is often unable to stray from their fundamental character despite their desires for change. This idea is specifically developed in the characterization of Lady Macbeth through the play. In the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth wants to be ruthless in the pursuit of her ambition for Macbeth to become king, however, as the story progresses, she slowly slips into a madness that is driven by the guilt that she feels from the deadly acts she has participated in.

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In the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as the individual who pushes Macbeth to complete murderous deeds in pursuit of her own personal fulfillment and desires, she seems more ambitious than Macbeth as she begins planning Duncan’s murder right after she recieves the news of Macbeth’s prophecy of becoming king. She is shown asking spirits to “unsex her here and fill her from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty” (Act 1 Scene 5) so that she will be evil and have the mental strength to push Macbeth to kill Duncan because she knows that he lacks the courage to do so. While Lady Macbeth seems ruthless and cruel in the beginning of the play, this scene is significant because it presents Lady Macbeth as someone who requires her feminine qualities of benevolence and sympathy as well as her morals to be taken away from her in order for her to become the evil and cruel person whose ambition is stronger than their moral compass. This is important in showing Lady Macbeth’s fundamental character because a person who is ‘born’ evil would not need to ask for their morals to be taken away like Lady Macbeth. When Lady Macbeth shares her plans of Duncan’s murder with Macbeth he is appalled and immediately begins to fear the even handed justice that would be the consequence of his actions, he later decides that he will not murder Duncan because he was a faultless king. This angers Lady Macbeth and she expresses that she would “pluck her nipple from a baby’s boneless gums and dash the brains out” if she had previously promised to do so, in this scene, Lady Macbeth is able manipulate Macbeth by questioning his masculinity. She also discloses her plan of action to Macbeth. Eventually, Macbeth is convinced gives in to Lady Macbeth’s proposal and decides that he would assassinate the King in order to prove that he is a man. While Lady Macbeth seems to have the ambition and the strength of a man in the beginning of the play, her facade begins to crumble after the murder of Duncan.

Lady Macbeth is anxious when waiting for Macbeth to return from murdering Duncan, she imagines that Macbeth is murdering Duncan in that very moment. Not long after, she hears the cries of Macbeth and she worries that he has woken the guards and was thus unable to follow through with the murder. In her fury, Lady Macbeth reveals that if “Duncan had not resembled her father as he slept” she would have been the one to kill him. This is a critical line as it suggests that Lady Macbeth is not the strong, apathetic individual she sought out to be in the beginning of the play as she feels weakness when faced with murdering someone who resembles her father. This demonstrates that Lady Macbeth’s emotional connections to others is a crucial part of her character that grounds her and prevents her departure from her fundamental beliefs and morals, thus, revealing that Lady Macbeth is a principled character whose decisions and actions are driven by burning ambition. When Macbeth arrives after he has murdered Duncan, he is horrified by what he has done and his inability to face the reality of the crime he has committed is revealed when Macbeth rejects Lady Macbeth orders to return to Duncan’s chambers to cover up the scene of the muder. It is Lady Macbeth who returns to the scene of the crime. Macbeth’s apprehension and remorse leads him to believe that even “all great Neptune’s ocean” can not clean him of the deed, however, Lady Macbeth tells him that “a little water clears them of this deed”. This line is ironic because, as the audience will soon learn, Lady Macbeth will never be able to wash the blood of murder from her hands.

As the end of the play approaches, Lady Macbeth begins her slow slide into madness. As the gentlewoman and doctor observe her peculiar actions in her sleep, Lady Macbeth has become accustomed to washing her hands, never quite able to wash all of the blood off. This shows a shift in Lady Macbeth’s character as she had previously told Macbeth that a little water will be able to wash away their deeds. In her unstable mental state, Lady Macbeth also confesses to the murders of King Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff’s castle and stating that “what’s done cannot be undone”. This scene sets the stage for Lady Macbeth’s tragic death as her guilt and remorse has replaced her previous ambition to an equal extent, further demonstrating Lady Macbeth’s inability to endure the ruthless acts she has partaken in due to her principle morals and knowledge of the discrepancy between right and wrong. It becomes evident in this scene that Lady Macbeth is incapable of managing these emotions as her fundamental virtues and ideas of morality hold her back from achieving the ruthlessness she so desperately wanted to acquire in the beginning of the play. The suicide of Lady Macbeth indicates that she is greatly overwhlemed by what she has done and is, ultimately, unable to truly become the person she wanted to change herself to be.

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When Lady Macbeth is first introduced to the audience, she is a character who is, seemingly, even more cold-blooded and relentless than her husband and asks the “murd’ ring ministers” to remove her feminine qualities to make her cruel. However, as the play moves forward, Lady Macbeth begins to show hint and weakness due to her underlying morality and is, eventually, unable to cope with her emotions, and wanders the castle in her sleep, constantly trying to wash the blood from her hands and confessing to the murders she and her husband have committed. The development of Lady Macbeth’s character in Macbeth demonstrates how an individual is unable to compromise their fundamental beliefs and morals even in the pursuit of their desires. Lady Macbeth’s ambition appears to be the driving force of her desire to become evil, ensuring that nothing can prevent her from allowing her husband to fulfill the prophecy, however, as demonstrated through the development of her character, the only thing holding her back, is her own self.

Works Cited

  1. Shakespeare, W. (2003). Macbeth. Washington Square Press.
  2. Bloom, H. (2004). Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Riverhead Books.
  3. Hazlitt, W. (2018). Characters of Shakespear's Plays. Franklin Classics.
  4. Kliman, B. (2014). Macbeth. John Wiley & Sons.
  5. Pearson, E. J. (2010). Lady Macbeth: A Psychological Analysis. JSTOR, 20(1), 69-84.
  6. Rosenberg, M. (2010). Lady Macbeth as the Fourth Witch. In Macbeth: New Critical Essays (pp. 143-165). Routledge.
  7. McEachern, C. (2018). Lady Macbeth: A Critical History. Cambridge University Press.
  8. Seaton, R. (2007). Macbeth: A Guide to the Play. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  9. Crawford, A. (2005). Lady Macbeth's "Unsex Me" Speech: Shakespeare's Source Material. Shakespeare Quarterly, 56(3), 375-383.
  10. Jankowski, T. (2017). Lady Macbeth: An Icon of the Early Modern Period. Polish Journal for American Studies, 11(1), 69-82.
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Lady Macbeth: From Ambition To Madness. (2021, November 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
“Lady Macbeth: From Ambition To Madness.” GradesFixer, 10 Nov. 2021,
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