Lady Macbeth: Quotes & Character Analysis

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  • 0:02 Character Analysis
  • 1:15 Calculated Ambition
  • 3:12 The Crime Discovered
  • 5:14 Quotes
  • 6:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
Coming from Shakespeare's play 'Macbeth,' Lady Macbeth is possibly one of the most villainous characters in English literature. Little does she realize what her guilty conscience will cost her. In this lesson, we will analyze her character and motivations.

Character Analysis

Ambitious. Manipulative. Evil. These three adjectives can easily be applied to Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. Her lust for power and position drive her to manipulate her husband to murder Duncan, the noble king of Scotland, a close relative.

Lady Macbeth

As the play opens, Macbeth is the thane, or ruler, of Glamis and really is very loyal to King Duncan. In battles against the Norwegians, he bravely proves his worth. This is important because Macbeth changes due to the prophecies of three witches he meets on the way home from battle and the manipulative nature of Lady Macbeth. The witches greet Macbeth, first calling him the thane of Glamis, which he already is, then the thane of Cawdor, a promotion, but finally, the King of Scotland. Aware that the witches are evil, their words seem to hold little worth until Macbeth is told he has, indeed, been promoted to thane of Cawdor! The gullible Macbeth can't wait to write home and tell his wife.

Calculated Ambition

Lady Macbeth first hears of her husband's good fortune in a letter and right at its heels hears that King Duncan is arriving that very night to stay at the Macbeth home. Lady Macbeth has just been thinking that her husband is too weak-willed to seize what she sees as rightfully his, the throne of Scotland. When she hears that King Duncan will be staying in her home, she says: 'Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top - full of direst cruelty' (1.5). In other words, she longs to act like a man and kill Duncan herself. Lady Macbeth goes as far as to invite demons, or spirits, to inhabit her, enabling her to commit this great evil deed.

Macbeth arrives ahead of Duncan, and Lady Macbeth reveals her plan. We wish Macbeth had the backbone to resist his wife, but Lady Macbeth wears the pants in the family, and he agrees with her plan. The scheme is especially shocking because Duncan is a good, decent king. If he, too, were evil, perhaps we could have better understood this coldblooded act. Even Macbeth questions the idea, realizing how much Duncan trusts him as a relative and a host. When he tells Lady Macbeth he has changed his mind, she brazenly accuses him of being a coward and not a man. Because she is so caustic, so beautiful and powerful, the weak Macbeth gives in.

It is decided that a few of Duncan's bodyguards will be blamed after Macbeth uses their weapons to stab Duncan and after Lady Macbeth makes sure they are drunk. After killing Duncan, Macbeth thinks he hears a voice telling him that he has murdered his own ability to sleep. In a daze, he wanders from the scene of the crime with both bodyguards' knives still gripped in his hands. Lady Macbeth once again accuses him of being a coward and returns the bloody knives herself.

The Crime Discovered

Lady Macbeth has successfully manipulated her husband into murdering King Duncan, controlling him by calling him weak and a coward. She has no qualms about grabbing the bloody murder weapons and planting them on the bodyguards. She is cold-hearted and calculating. Almost immediately after the murder, someone knocks on their door! Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's hands are covered in blood, and they must clean up before going to see who it is. It is Macduff, loyal to the king, coming to wake Duncan early to set off on his journey.

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