Macbeth is a Scottish tragedy written by William Shakespeare in 1606. The play was written with the king of England, James I, in mind, as it was composed just three years after he succeeded to the throne. Lady Macbeth is the wife of Macbeth. The play sees her through a journey from being a strong, if slightly ruthless, woman to deteriorating into a guilt induced state of madness. Although her tragedy is great the play is still called 'Macbeth' and not 'The Macbeths.' This could be due to the fact that although her role is vital it is also supplementary to the work of the witches.
In her first appearance Lady Macbeth is presented as a loving wife, "My dearest partner of greatness." Not only does Macbeth love her but he views her as his equal. This is unusual for a married couple at the time and a contemporary audience would not expect this relationship. Men were often seen as the dominant partner, and although the church encouraged affection between the couple, often the woman's family arranged their marriage whether they loved each other or not.
Through Lady Macbeth's character a theme of ambition is evident. This ambition parallels to that of her husband. "When Duncan is asleep, his two chamberlains will I" She urges him to act upon his ambitions and in doing so she obtains her goal to be queen. This does not match the contemporary audience's expectations as women were expected to be wives and mothers rather than act upon ambitions for social positions.
Another theme Shakespeare presents through Lady Macbeth is the supernatural. This is evident through her instant belief in the witches' prediction, "These weird sisters saluted me and referred me to the coming on of time." This belief would not seem silly to an Elizabethan audience as witches was not a topic taken lightly by them. It was a fascinating subject for scholars and those who considered themselves to be up-to-date thinkers, such as James I, who wrote a book of witches.
In act 1 scene 7 we see a shocking cruelty in Lady Macbeth. She talks of killing her own baby if she had promised, "dashed the brains out, had I so sworn." In Shakespeare's time women were expected to take great pride in childbearing as children were believed to be blessings from God. And so, Lady Macbeth's behaviour would have horrified the audience, mothers especially.
There is a consistent subject of what femininity and masculinity is in the play and Lady Macbeth dwells on both. Firstly, she asks evil spirits to "unsex" her and take her "milk for gall" so that she may be "filled from crown to toe top-full of direst cruelty" to help commit regicide. She, like the contemporary audience, seems to associate passive and gentle behaviour with femininity. They would not believe women capable of murder and so they would agree that to do this Lady Macbeth must be unsexed.
In contrast to this Lady Macbeth's view of masculinity is that of ruthlessness and bravery. When faced with Macbeth's unsure conscience...