William Shakespeare, renowned English poet, playwright, and actor, once said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” In Shakespeare’s tragic play Macbeth, the physical and psychological effects of political ambition for one’s own gain are depicted throughout the plot. In this literary tragedy, Macbeth, who is the prevailing protagonist finds himself in devastating circumstances through a series of unfortunate events. Macbeth degenerates from a revered and respectable general to an apprehensive tyrant. His ambition leads to regicide and the murder of his friends and loved ones, which ultimately shows detrimental to his reign. Though he is a suitable archetype of greed and overambition, Macbeth is influenced by his malicious surroundings. His ambition was exploited by Lady Macbeth’s devious character and her mental taunting of Macbeth. As Macbeth was a noble Thane in Scotland, he was corrupted by his environment and Lady Macbeth’s cunningness and deceptiveness to commit heinous crimes throughout the plot of Macbeth.
Throughout literature, Lady Macbeth has been perceived as a figure of almost peerless malevolence, by readers and well-read critics alike (Gilbert). She acted as one of Shakespeare’s most famed and fearsome female characters. As Lady Macbeth was initially introduced in the text, she was already plotting the murder of the noble King Duncan of Scotland to secure the throne for her husband and herself, portraying her superior strength and ruthlessness from the onset. In scene five of act one, upon receiving a letter from Macbeth telling of the royal prophecies from the three witches, Lady Macbeth states, “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…” (Shakespeare 1.5.22-25). Knowing of Macbeth’s lack of cruelty, Lady Macbeth summons him to come to her as she will “pour her spirits” into him. In other words, she plans to make use of her cunning deceptiveness to persuade Macbeth to commit the ‘necessary’ evil for the crown. Further depicting Lady Macbeth’s cold ambition, Shakespeare writes, “I would have dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this,” (Shakespeare 1.7.64-65). Shakespeare paints a powerful image as to show the extent Lady Macbeth is willing to go to reach her ill-intended desires. Macbeth, being a vulnerable man who is blinded by his royal aspirations, concurs the murder of Duncan and applauds his wife’s suggestion. If it were not for Lady Macbeth’s stir, Macbeth most probably would have not committed the murder than lead to his ultimate demise.
As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth pursue their unrightful positions on the throne, they act violently and mercilessly to protect the said security of the crown. In efforts to further manipulate her husband to commit atrocious murders, Lady Macbeth questions Macbeth’s manhood. Lady Macbeth goes to say, “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,” (Shakespeare 1.5.41-45). Here, Lady Macbeth wishes that she herself could be “unsexed,” and dehumanized in a way, as she desires to rid of her identity. She wishes to throw out her femininity for the sake of her aspirations, which further shows her ability to drive Macbeth to make impetuous decisions. Shakespeare suggests that stripping her of her womanhood, which is usually associated with gentleness, allows her to perform acts of great violence, which is associated with masculinity (SparkNotes Editors). Naturally, women are more inclined to act empathetically, often with good willed intentions. Lady Macbeth’s wanting to rid of her womanliness further alludes to her lack of sympathy and innate nurturing. A literary critic wrote, “She exhibits a compelling drive that moves her forward as a character and moves her husband’s actions in order to achieve greatness at whatever costs,” (Garcia). Macbeth, although wanting the prophecy of becoming king to come true, lacks the enthusiasm his wife possesses, to commit the murder. Lady Macbeth urges Macbeth to act on his desires or he will think of himself as a coward.
Lady Macbeth’s supposed power over Macbeth portrays the odd nature of their relationship and marriage. Clearly, Lady Macbeth does not fit the typical description of the wife of a man in a position of power, especially in the given time period and setting. As a literary critic wrote, “Shakespeare’s gender-bending of Lady Macbeth’s character allows her to interrupt the societal restrictions placed upon women if nothing else than within the realm of her relationship,” (Garcia). Her masculine characterization and the nature of their relationship is telling of the peculiarity of the situation as a whole. Evidently, Lady Macbeth is unlike the women of her time, as she has the upper hand in her marriage and greatly influenced her husband’s thoughts and actions. Macbeth attests to this as he refers to her as his “dearest partner of greatness” (Shakespeare 1.5.10). Here, Macbeth acknowledges his wife’s intellect, strength, and passion. Evidently, Macbeth is aware of the power that Lady Macbeth wields and her influence over him because he does not hesitate to seek her insight. Likewise, Lady Macbeth is aware of her influence over Macbeth as she says, as previously stated, she will “chastise Macbeth with the valor of her tongue” (Shakespeare 1.5.24). This apparent common understanding shows Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s cooperation in the pursuit of power, despite it being pursued through untraditional, matriarchal means. Lady Macbeth acts not only as Macbeth’s loving wife and partner in crime, but the instigator behind his murderous actions. Macbeth’s recognition of this further shows his wife’s ability to sway his thought process and inclinations.
Opponents may argue that Macbeth destroyed himself by his own wicked and selfish ambitions. In the expedition of the play, Macbeth encounters three witches who prophesized that he will rise as the Thane of Cawdor and eventually, the King of Scotland. Though one can argue that Macbeth grew obsessive of the predictions, the witches’ insight alone did not tip Macbeth’s hand towards murder. Initially, Macbeth was startled and fearful of the witches’ prophecies but, he soon came to terms with their proverbs and decides to leave it to fate, as he states, “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir,” (Shakespeare 1.3.155-157). Being a honorable man, Macbeth initially had no intentions of taking the crown through unsolicited means. Nevertheless, upon Lady Macbeth receiving news of the prophecies, she was quick to concoct a plan to fulfil her husband’s alleged fate. Utilizing her seductive ways and sense of false confidence, Lady Macbeth manipulated her husband into killing the King and subsequently, other innocent individuals to fulfil her power-hungry appetite. As Macbeth claimed he would not stir with his fate, he clearly had no intentions to kill King Duncan, being his loyal subject, relative, and host. Lady Macbeth, however, manipulates Macbeth into crowing him as King for he had a seed of ambition planted by the witches which was watered and grown by Lady Macbeth; she says, “fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have thee crowned withal,” (Shakespeare 1.5.26-27).
In addition to the belief of Macbeth’s acting alone, opponents may also argue the fact that Lady Macbeth only encouraged her husband’s murderous behavior for he had already schemed to kill the king. However, it is evident that Lady Macbeth played on his ambitious nature and resorted to attacking his ego by calling him a coward and enquiring his masculinity. Being his wife and “partner in greatness”, she was well aware of Macbeth’s vulnerability and how exactly to steer him in her favorable direction. By criticizing his manliness, Macbeth felt determined to prove himself, as he responds, “I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none,” (Shakespeare 1.7.51-52). Here, Macbeth declares that he will commit the murder of King Duncan, as a man would, to prove himself to Lady Macbeth. This behavior is related to that of many criminals. As read in a book of criminology theory, referring to gang violence, “Status was gained in part of proving oneself in these ways assaulting others,” (Cullen 305). Similarly, Macbeth wanted to gain status in Scotland, as he yearned to be the King, by any means necessary, though it would cost the innocent lives of his loved ones. Lady Macbeth’s taunting of Macbeth led to a series of murderous unfortunate events, and eventually, their ultimate demise. Evidently, Lady Macbeth acted as more of a support system for her husband through his tyranny, for she prompted his ill compassion for power and bloodlust.
Throughout the plot of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth’s influence on her husband is manifested in her calculating persuasion of committing odious crimes for a greedy position of power. By demonstrating her influence and ambition, she becomes the driving force behind Macbeth and his vicious exploits in the quest for power. Her masculinized features allow her to exert dominance and lead Macbeth towards her personal desires – ultimately, the throne. Though some may argue that Macbeth acted alone in the numerous murders he committed, it was Lady Macbeth’s convincing nature that propels Macbeth to victory and, in the end, tragedy. Evidently shown throughout the course of the play, Shakespeare was correct in saying, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Though the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, it has become known that over ambition for a position of power is a fatal flaw that will ultimately lead to one’s mental and physical destruction.