Lady Macbeth in Macbeth
Lady Macbeth is even more ambitious and ruthless than her husband. As soon as an opportunity to gain power presents itself, she has a plan in mind. She uses her influence to persuade Macbeth that they are taking the right course of action and even takes part in the crime herself.
For a while she is able to suppress her actions but eventually she becomes unable to deal with the guilt of what she has done. She becomes unable to sleep, and mentally unstable, eventually dying in tragic circumstances.
Social and historical context
In both Shakespeare's time and in the time when the play takes place, women had a much lower status than would be the case today. Wives were little more than the property of their husbands and had no legal rights. Their main purpose was to have children and support their menfolk. Lady Macbeth appears to be a much more feisty character with ambitions and desires of her own; these are characteristics that could imply a lack of femininity. It is worth remembering that in the original performances of the play the part of Lady Macbeth would have been played by a man and this would have helped to emphasise the character's masculine qualities.
Analysing the evidence
What are we told here about Lady Macbeth's character?
How to analyse the quote:
"Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here And fill me from the crown to the toe topfull Of direst cruelty: make thick my blood. Stop up th'access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between Th'effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts, And take my milk for gall, you murd'ring ministers, Wherever in your sightless substances You wait on nature's mischief." (Act 1 Scene 5)
How to use this in an essay:
Lady Macbeth has just learned her husband's news about the Witches' predictions and that King Duncan will be staying with them that very night. In a scene of shocking ambition she calls upon the powers of evil to assist her ('Come, you spirits' / 'Come ... you murd'ring ministers'). In this respect she is very much like the Witches casting a spell to summon up evil spirits. She feels that the most important thing for her to achieve is her 'fell purpose' and will stop at nothing to accomplish this. She even wishes to remove her own feminine qualities ('unsex me') and trade 'remorse' for 'direst cruelty'. All of this would have been doubly shocking to Shakespeare's original audience because it was spoken by a woman.