Lady Macbeth and Me

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Helen Baxendale as Lady Macbeth

I’m reading  Macbeth (again) and I find myself fascinated by the character of Lady Macbeth. What is it that drives her? On the surface you could say ambition, but that seems far too simplistic to me.

Browsing the Internet, she is described as “one of Shakespeare’s most famous and frightening female characters, “the most evil character in Macbeth,” and one who “suppresses her instincts toward compassion, motherhood, and fragility — associated with femininity — in favour of ambition, ruthlessness, and a lust for power.”

Now, I don’t want to go Freudian and psychoanalysis the intentions of a fictional character, but I think that her drive and ambition have an actual cause behind them. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. Although she is often portrayed as being middle age, Lady Macbeth was more likely to have been in her late teens. As the daughter of a Scottish noble, she was a bargaining chip from day 1 of her existence. She was probably married off to Macbeth to assure an alliance for her family.

As we can tell from the play, she certainly was intelligent. In the time that she lived, though, women received little to no education. On a day to day basis, the most demanding activity was probably deciding what color tablecloth  to use. And yet, her position and that of her husband depended on a delicate game of politics.  She knew that had the wit and the brains to battle in the political arena. Because of her gender, though, she could not.

On a more personal level, you have to wonder what her marriage was like with Macbeth. Did they love each other? Was it a one -sided relationship? If so, for who? And there’s the whole “I have given suck and know How tender … ’tis to love the babe that milks me..” (Yeah, I know. That quote is followed by a statement about killing the infant if she had promised to. But that’s not what I’m getting at right now!) This statement implies that Lady Macbeth has, at one point, given birth to a child. However,  the Macbeth family is not portrayed as having any children (No, I don’t think she murdered her baby! Read the parenthesis above). Was there an early death of a child? How did that shape LM and her relationship with her husband?

Overall, I believe that Lady Macbeth was responsible for her own choices and actions.  However, I don’t think that she is the kind of character that you can take at face value. She has more depth to her than simply being a vixen, inducing Macbeth to murder, and then going mad. She was a person, not a archetype villain in some vaudeville production.

What do you think of Lady Macbeth?

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