This Lady Macbeth character analysis introduces one of Shakespeare’s best female villains and asks if her presentation is misogynistic.
Lady Macbeth Character Analysis
Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most infamous female characters because she exerts a great deal of influence over the events of the play and is the main instigator in the plot to kill the king.
In many respects, Lady Macbeth is a classic femme fatal. She is more ambitious and power hungry than Macbeth, her husband, and when he tries to back out of the murder she has plotted, she calls his manhood into question.
A Misogynistic Character?
This presentation of Lady Macbeth has attracted accusations of misogyny from critics because the women in the play (Lady Macbeth and the witches) are manipulative and evil. Lady Macbeth is equally as ambitious as her husband but is unable to take action herself – perhaps because of the social constraints of the time. She therefore cajoles her husband to act on her behalf.
Masculinity is defined in the play by ambition and power – two qualities that Lady Macbeth possesses in abundance. By constructing the character in this way, Shakespeare challenges our preconceived views of masculinity and femininity. But what exactly was Shakespeare suggesting? On one hand it was a radical idea to present a dominant female character, but on the other hand she is presented negatively.
Lady Macbeth’s guilt soon overwhelms her. She has nightmares and tries to wash the blood from her hands. By the end of her life, guilt has replaced her incredible ambition in equal measure. We are lead to believe that her guilt ultimately leads to her suicide.
Lady Macbeth is therefore a victim of her own ambition – and also possibly of her sex. As a woman, she is not resilient enough to deal with such strong emotions, whereas Macbeth fights on to the very end despite his misgivings.