Are a person’s actions borne out of their nature rather than circumstances in which they find themselves? It is a question that has existed since the start of humanity, with some arguing that people are born with a certain nature and character, and therefore cannot change, while others contend that a person’s nature does not matter as much as how they react to circumstances and the environment around them.
Shakespeare engaged this question through his character Lady Macbeth in his play Macbeth. Lady Macbeth certainly reacted to her particular circumstances, but were her actions due to her inherently foul or evil character, or did the opportunity to seize power corrupt her fair nature? Although Lady Macbeth was initially the fair wife of Macbeth, her ambition coupled with opportunity led her to conspire and help execute murders until she realized how she had become foul.
After Lady Macbeth read her husband’s letter, she soliloquized, “Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear and chastise with the valor of my tongue all that impedes thee from the golden round which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have thee crowned withal. ” This shows that Lady Macbeth was initially the fair wife of Macbeth through her devotion, loyalty, and love for Macbeth. She wanted to help him succeed and even drives his ambitions to be king. She wanted to fulfill the prophecy for Macbeth to be king, and desired to remove any fears that may stand in the way of Macbeth becoming king.
Even if it was by treachery and unethical means, Lady Macbeth wished for her husband to be happy and to get what he wanted. This quote has also been interpreted that she merely wants power for herself, and she was only manipulating her husband for her own selfish gain. However, her ambition was for her and Macbeth to be happy. Rather than lust for power, her ambition was out of allegiance and commitment to her husband. Lady Macbeth’s ambition led her to persuade Macbeth to kill Duncan. Macbeth had decided not to kill the king, but when he told Lady Macbeth this, she was upset.
She asked when Duncan was leaving, and Macbeth replies that he was leaving the next day. Lady Macbeth exclaims, “O, never shall sun that morrow see… which shall to all our nights and days to come give solely sovereign sway and masterdom” (1. 5. 70-81). This shows the beginning of her transformation from fair to foul because her ambition is stronger than her desire to stay fair. She changed fickle Macbeth’s mind once more and is the true mastermind behind the murder of King Duncan. She realizes that she is more ruthless and ambitious than her husband, so she frequently manipulates him by questioning his manhood.
At first, all she wanted was for Macbeth to be happy, but soon, she desired the power herself as she began becoming fouler. After she dispelled any of his hesitations, she used him for her own ambitious desires. Rather than going from being fair at the beginning to foul at the end, some people may think that Lady Macbeth was always foul from the beginning, and that she did not develop it over time. However, instead of it being a fundamental piece within her personality, her cruelty appears in the desperation of the moment.
She is easily more overcome with guilt than Macbeth even though she was the one pushing him on. Macbeth felt immediate remorse, but Lady Macbeth’s guilt built up slowly and gnawed at her until it was too much too ignore. By that time, her cruelty became a part of her personality, and she realized she had become foul. Lady Macbeth slowly slides into madness and guilt from participation in the murders. After Duncan is slain by Macbeth, he is panicking. Lady Macbeth urged, “These deeds must not be thought after these ways. So, it will make us mad” (2. . 49-50). This shows that Lady Macbeth is feeling the repercussions of taking someone else’s life. Even though Macbeth is not really listening, she is revealing some guilt and insanity that she is feeling. At the beginning of the book, she had been ambitious and willing to do whatever it takes. She had been willing to be “unsexed” and have masculine determination invested in her, but after she got what she wanted, the guilt started to overcome her. Soon after, the guilt crept over her until it ended up driving her insane.
While Macbeth was screaming about how his hands were stained with guilt, Lady Macbeth came back from replacing the murder weapon back with the late king’s guards. She quipped, “My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white” (2. 2. 64-65). This shows that she was as equally guilty as Macbeth because she planned the murder, and she even tampered with the evidence. She was ashamed of her guilt and thought Macbeth should be too. Even though she was trying to be strong, Lady Macbeth felt the guilt tugging at her.
She mocked her husband by saying he should be ashamed of his weak heart, but she feels the same way. Soon after, the guilt crept over her until it ended up driving her insane. While she used to ridicule her husband’s hesitancy to take life, Lady Macbeth had destroyed her sanity by disrupting her true, more sensitive nature. While she is sleepwalking, she is overheard by a doctor and a gentlewoman. In her sleep, Lady Macbeth admitted loudly, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! —One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky! —Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard?
What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? —Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him” (5. 1. 34-39). This proves that her subconscious is truly full of guilt as she reveals so many of her well-guarded secrets without knowing it. It also reveals that the weight of the guilt is too much for her mind to handle and that her cruelty is not her basic nature, but released on instinct in the hopelessness of the situation. The readers can understand her better and maybe even sympathize with her.
While at first it seemed that Lady Macbeth was cruel and manipulative, if one looked deeper, they would find that her story is a tragedy. Her guilt leads her to madness which causes her to commit suicide. After Macbeth is assassinated and Malcolm is crowned king, it was implied when Malcolm announced, “his fiendlike queen, who, as ‘tis thought, by self and violent hands took off her life” (5. 8. 80-82). This illustrates that her ambition led her to become foul. When she realized what she had become, she was overcome with guilt. She could not cope with the guilt, so she ended her life.
Lady Macbeth started as fair in the beginning of this play, but she ended up foul due to her ambition for power. This ambition, which started as an ambition to support her husband, turned into a lust for power for herself. Due to her circumstances in which she found herself, the opportunity for power corrupted her fair nature, causing her to go to lengths of pure evil by committing murder. After looking at Lady Macbeth’s actions, the reader can conclude that they were borne out of circumstances at first, but began to become her nature. She realized what had happened to her: she had become foul.