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Lady Macbeth; a fiend like queen essay

Updated on July 1, 2011

At the end of the play Malcolm calls Lady Macbeth a `fiend like queen‘. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

It has been said that “Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies: a darkly atmospheric drama of crime and punishment, of temptation, guilt remorse and retribution.” Written in the seventeenth century by William Shakespeare, under the rule of King James I and more importantly, at a time when women were second to men; emerges the controversial character of Lady Macbeth. During the Renaissance era a woman belonged to her father and then to her husband; any man who was manipulated by his wife was ridiculed. This is important in the context of the play as Lady Macbeth was not a passenger throughout this ‘darkly atmospheric drama of crime and punishment’ but rather controlling. This was unconventional and would have shocked the Renaissance audience as women were seen as second class citizens. I am going to discuss the different sides of the argument and then determine from that whether or not Lady Macbeth is a “fiend like queen.”
Lady Macbeth desires to have all femininity removed from her: `Come, you spirits… unsex me’ and `Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall.’ This scene shows Lady Macbeth to have willingly disposed of all emotion and maternity by appealing to the evil spirits. This is further illustrated when she says later on in the play: `I would have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out.’ This callousness and disregard for motherhood during the Renaissance era where conventionally mothering was a woman’s only job shows Lady Macbeth as a “fiend like queen”.
Lady Macbeth is shown after the murder of Duncan as having a guilty conscience: `The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?‘ The guilt turns to insanity shown when it comes to cleaning her hands of blood.’ What will these hands ne’er be clean?’ and `Out damned spot: out I say!’ This is ironic as earlier in the play Lady Macbeth tells her husband after his hyperbolic claim of, `Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No…’ that, `A little water cleanses us of this.’ Shakespeare Water is used as a symbol for religious sanctity and so in the eyes of the audience, Lady Macbeth is shown to be being punished by God as the water cannot cleanse her and so it left to deal with the guilt. The renaissance audience would believe that Lady Macbeth was being punished by God because she helped to kill the ordained king (The Divine Right of Kings - the belief that the monarch’s authority comes directly from God rather than the people). King James; a great believer in the `Divine Right’, as well as the Renaissance audience would therefore recognise someone being punished by God as a fiend like queen.
She is unable to sleep after the murder of King Duncan, `to bed, to bed to bed,’ In the eyes of the seventeenth Century audience, being unable to sleep was a sign of a guilty conscience and a punishment from God. The fact that Lady Macbeth is feeling guilty about the murder shows us she even sees herself wrong doing but carries on with the charade, trying to dismiss the guilt. This shows her to be a `fiend like queen’.
Lady Macbeth is paralleled with the witches throughout the play. `Fair is foul and foul is fair’ uttered by the witches is very similar to the message of ‘look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it’ which Lady Macbeth gives to her husband. This similar use of antithesis shows both to have the same deceitful, twisted morality but also helps the audience to see them as identical. Another trait that both the witches and Lady Macbeth have is that neither of them could do the killing but are able to influence it. `All hail Macbeth Thane of Glamis … Cawdor… That shalt be king hereafter.’ This prophecy of the witches first puts thoughts of murder into Macbeth’s mind: `whose horrid image doth unfix my hair.’ Lady Macbeth is shown to manipulate, as she says: ‘He that is coming must be provided for; and you shall put this great night’s business into my dispatch,’ but she then shows herself unable to commit murder, ‘had he not resembled my father as he slept I had done’t‘. We can see that both Lady Macbeth and the witches do not directly participate in the murder but manipulate Macbeth into doing it for them.
The captain praises Macbeth at the beginning of the play saying, ‘Like Valour’s minion carved out his passage.’ This shows Macbeth as well respected amongst his fellow warriors. Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth by emasculating him, knowing that this will greatly affect him: `And live a coward in thine own esteem’. This spurs Macbeth on because as a warrior he doesn’t want to lose respect. She tells him that: `False face must hide what the false heart doth know’, which shows her as manipulative but is also another use of antithesis. Moreover, Lady Macbeth supplies the dagger and sets it up but could not do it herself: `I laid their daggers ready. Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t’. This obvious likeness between the witches and Lady Macbeth shows her to be a `fiend like queen‘.
Lady Macbeth is trying to help her husband become king: `Yet do I feat thy nature: It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness.’ From this we see that Lady Macbeth fears that Macbeth will not be able to fulfil his ambitions on his own and so devises a high risk plan in order to help and please her husband. Although she wants her husband to fulfil his ambitions, she should encourage him to work his way fairly through the ranks but instead she alone devises a plan involving manipulation, deceit and murder. This shows a twisted morality and shows her to be a `fiend like queen‘.
Their relationship develops into a power struggle as the play developed because at the beginning they are equals as Macbeth calls her: `My dearest partner of greatness’ whereas near the end Lady Macbeth is second to Macbeth, `You know your own degrees, sit down… Lady Macbeth sits on her throne,’ and `Say to the King, I would attend his leisure for a few words’ where she has to ask to see Macbeth. From this change we see that Macbeth has completely taken control and has conformed to general social status at the time. We see this again during the planning: `We will speak further. - Only look up clear: Leave the rest to me.’ Lady Macbeth interrupts Macbeth here which shows there is equality and the `Leave it all to me’ this personal pronoun demonstrates that she is in control. This contrasts with when Lady Macbeth tells her husband not to kill Banquo: `You must leave this’, but he does it anyway. The ambitions of Macbeth that Lady Macbeth wanted to achieve became a reality without her gaining anything. Macbeth took all the glory and became the ruthless killer against her wishes. This means it would be unfair to label as a `fiend like queen’.
Lady Macbeth’s guilt is also shown to have taken over control of her life on other occasions. “I have seen her rise from her bed… all this while in a most fast sleep”, this sleepwalking further highlights the belief that Lady Macbeth is being punished by God as mentioned before. Lady Macbeth’s guilt is concluded with her eventual suicide: “the Queen my lord is dead”. The suicide shows both her insanity that was gradually developing but also shows how the guilt finally took complete control. This is a confirmation that Lady Macbeth is a `fiend like queen’.
These various points showing Lady Macbeth’s temptation, guilt remorse and retribution make a strong argument to agree that she is a `fiend like queen‘.


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