A-Resource -AQA-GCSE-English Literature

Macbeth Resource-AQA GCSE answer written by Geraldine Rose (English Tutor)

Using the extract (the famous sleepwalking scene) and the Play as a whole, consider how Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a weak character.

BRIEF PLAN-Consider Shakespeare’s message to his audience in this extract and in this Play.

Introduction –Shakespeare’s primary messages-Lady Macbeth’s weakness/downfall in this extract, is the direct result of her crimes-treason and regicide-it is a righteous moral judgment upon her. The Divine Right of Kings has been breached-she has harmed the ‘Lord’s Anointed’-her downfall is underway and her soul is in moral danger.Shakespeare also wanted to please James I and his Jacobean audience (and prove his own loyalty to the King).

Thesis-Yes, Lady Macbeth is presented as weak in this extract because she has been driven mad by the guilt of her crime but earlier on in the Play she is presented as a strong and determined woman.

Placing of extract within the context of the Play-The extract comes just after Macbeth has seen the apparitions-Macbeth’s feelings of invicincibility contrast with Lady Macbeth’s weakness and confusion.

Suggested paragraph templates:

(1) To begin with…-Yes, Lady Macbeth  presented as a weak character in this extract ….

(2) In addition, Lady Secondly is presented as weak in the extract because …

(3) Furthermore, Lady Macbeth’s weakness in the extract is also reflected in Shakespeare’s use of form-prose…

(4) However, although Lady Macbeth is presented as weak, Shakespeare had initially portrayed Lady Macbeth as a strong character and determined character. She takes control of her husband and of the regicide-maybe she was forced to gain power and control in such a cruel way because of the patriarchal society of the day?  Shakespeare’s indirect criticism of patriarchal societies.

(5) In conclusion, Yes, LADY MACBETH is a weak character in this extract but Shakespeare initially presents her as strong. Her weakness & downfall is a just punishment for her crimes-she gets what she morally deserves-King James would be pleased as she broke the Divine Right of Kings.

An Exemplar Essay

In this extract, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a weak character who is facing the moral consequences of her crimes of treason and regicide. However, earlier in the Play, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth in a contrasting light: as strong and domineering. This extract comes just after Macbeth has seen the Apparitions and feels invincible which juxtaposes with Lady Macbeth’s weakness and confusion in the sleepwalking scene. This extract could be said to foreshadow Macbeth’s own downfall because of his regicide.

To begin with, in this extract, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a confused and pathetic figure through the use of dialogue ‘Out, damned spot! Out! Oh Oh Oh’. Here, Lady Macbeth addresses the imaginary spot of Duncan’s blood on her hand and it sets a confusing tone for the scene and the repetitive and confused dialogue reflects Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness. Lady Macbeth’s repeatedly tells the blood to go ‘Out,…Out!’ but the blood won’t go, it is an indelible stain on her soul because of her crime of regicide: killing King Duncan. Lady Macbeth’s triple sigh ‘Oh Oh Oh’ reminds the audience of Macduff’s cry of triple horror when he found Duncan’s body ‘Horror! Horror! Horror!’ Perhaps Shakespeare’s use of triple exclamations emphasised for a Jacobean audience, the true horror of the crime of killing someone Divinely appointed to govern. The Jacobean belief in the Divine Right of kings meant that those who harmed god’s anointed were to be visited by Divine wrath. Shakespeare’s portrayal of the aftermath of the killing would have pleased King James who, at that time, feared for his line and the succession of his throne.

In addition, in this extract Shakespeare uses synaesthesia to reinforce the idea of Lady Macbeth’s weakness and confusion because of her guilt and moral decay. Realising that she cannot wash or will her guilt away, Lady Macbeth cries out that ‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand’, the smell and sight of blood are too much for her. Perhaps Shakespeare’s  synesthetic metaphor, invoking the abundance of ‘all the perfumes of Arabia’, was to deepen the audience’s perception of Lady Macbeth’s inner torture and remorse of soul. Blood is rarely associated with smell and perhaps Shakespeare is implying to the audience that the crime of regicide is so horrific that Duncan’s blood has invaded all her senses. Further, Lady Macbeth’s cry for ‘all the perfumes of Arabia’ echoes Macbeth’s cry after Duncan’s murder ‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/Clean from my hand?’ Shakespeare’s combined imagery of the two spouses trying to wash the blood of their crime away reinforces their joint guilt in the audience’s mind: their souls have been stained by ‘golden blood’.

Furthermore, in this extract, Shakespeare uses form to emphasise Lady Macbeth’s weakness. Here, Lady Macbeth speaks in broken prose rather than in the sophisticated iambic pentametre of her earlier scenes ‘Wash your hands. Put on your nightgown’. Shakespeare’s use of prose perhaps highlights Lady Macbeth’s confused descent into madness or, another interpretation could be that Lady Macbeth has lost her ‘nobility’ of character. Shakespeare, through the use of prose, could be signalling to the audience that Lady Macbeth is now a ‘lowly’ character, a character that can be likened to the drunken porter who also speaks in prose. Shakespeare reduces Lady Macbeth to the lowest class of speech because she has taken part in killing a king and through this, Shakespeare presents a stark warning to the audience about the dangers of harming their king. Further, Jacobean audiences were very conscious of class structure and Shakespeare’s change of speech form for Lady Macbeth’s character would have been keenly noticed by them.

However, it is also worth pointing out that Lady Macbeth’s weakness in this extract may come as a shock to the audience. This is because Shakespeare has initially built her character as a strong and domineering woman who takes charge of her husband on more than one occasion and who takes charge of the murder. Just before Duncan’s murder, Lady Macbeth had called on ‘murdering ministers’ to ‘unsex me here’ so that she herself could kill the king. One wonders if Shakespeare was using Lady Macbeth to critique the patriarchal society of his day, that a woman, to gain power would have to lose her femininity. Lady Macbeth had also taken charge of the crime and manipulated Macbeth into doing her bidding telling him to ‘be the innocent flower but be the serpent under it’. Here,  Shakespeare’s makes allusion to Eve in the Garden of Eden, another strong woman whose lust for power causes her downfall. Eve led Adam into sin just as Lady Macbeth led her husband into it. Adam and Eve both bore a painful punishment because of their crime and the Macbeths also felt the wrath of judgment and endless remorse afterwards too.

In conclusion, although Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a weak character in this extract, in the earlier scenes of the Play she is presented as Macbeth’s equal and his ‘dearest partner in greatness’. Lady Macbeth’s previous actions were not those of a weak woman, she took charge of the murder ‘leave the rest to me’ and even mocked Macbeth’s weakness when he saw Banquo’s ghost ‘o proper stuff!’ . Therefore, Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness during this extract is even more striking for audiences. Contemporary audiences often admire Shakespeare’s use of Lady Macbeth to challenge the gender conventions of his day but, in the end, it is the moral punishment due to regicide that is Lady Macbeth’s downfall and the source of her weakness because she and her husband have harmed the Lord’s anointed temple ‘Murther hath broke ope / The Lord’s anointed Temple’ . Shakespeare holds Lady Macbeth up as a lesson and makes her lose her strength, her power and even her life for the crime.

by Geraldine Rose

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