Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s Failed Relationship
When you think about Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship, the saying “partners in crime” comes to mind. The two protagonists work hand in hand to ensure that their wellbeing is looked out for. Amidst all the challenges they go through, they always have each other’s back. However, like all other relationships, Macbeth and his wife are not immune to the normal challenges that partners go through. What starts out as a strong union between the two protagonists ends in complete disarray.
We initially get the real picture of what their relationship looks like in Act 1 Scene 5, when Macbeth sends his wife a letter detailing the occurrence with the witches. It becomes obvious first that they have an honest relationship with no secrecy. Macbeth shares everything with his wife and even asks her to rejoice in the knowledge that great things have been promised to her.
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He does not ask her to be happy for him, but rather for herself because of the role of the queen she is bound to take, if he ascends to power. He understands the equation of a marriage and knows that there are various elements within it, which when separated the union ceases to exist. The letter is full of warmth symbolizing a man who loves and misses his wife.
Based on her response however we realize that Lady Macbeth is the controlling type. It becomes apparent that the two lie in different spectrums of the behavioral scale. They are polar opposites when it comes to their characters. While Macbeth is honorable, loyal and kind, Lady Macbeth is ruthless, deceptive and manipulative and will do anything to achieve her desires.
She knows her husband lacks the necessary drive to get the coveted position of a king. Although she is not particularly fond of her husband’s misgivings, she still accords him the love and respect he deserves from his wife. Upon his arrival from the battlefield, Lady Macbeth runs to her husband embraces him and kisses him passionately.
She knows her husband’s affection towards her and uses this weakness manipulatively to her advantage. She asks her husband to approach life in a deceitful way and to dupe every one of his true intentions. She tells her husband to “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it”. We can see from this point that Macbeth is the domineering figure, based on the way Lady Macbeth approaches him. She is persuasive, using her loving charm and kisses and carefully choosing her words lest she offends him.
However when Macbeth begins showing signs of weakness and is giving excuses as to why he should not kill the king, Lady Macbeth changes her stance from being a persuasive and loving wife to officious, threatening and critical of her husband. It is here that we realize that Lady Macbeth is the one who calls the shots.
She has the last say in this relationship. It is ironic that she asks gods to “unsex her” and fill her with cruelty from top to toe and be like men, when it is her female traits that make her husband gain the throne. She knows how to manipulate her husband. By questioning his masculinity, Macbeth’s ego is bruised and he easily executes his wife’s plan to prove that he is not a coward.
The strength of a relationship is tested when a couple goes through some form of hardship. After they successfully murder the king, Macbeth and his wife enter into a trial period. Lady Macbeth proves beyond doubt that she is a “ride or die” type of woman and will do anything to protect her husband. When Macbeth murders King Duncan, he is so overwhelmed with guilt that he forgets to sneak the daggers into the chamberlains’ room. This obviously angers Lady Macbeth, but she decides to do it herself and frames the chamberlains for the murder of the king.
Another example that shows her unwavering commitment to her husband is when Macduff becomes too inquisitive about the king’s murder. He is not easily convinced about Macbeth’s explanation as to why he murdered the chamberlains. Lady Macbeth comes to his rescue, pretending to be so overwhelmed with grief that she faints. This commotion distracts everyone including Macduff and they decide to attend to her.
After Macbeth becomes king, he starts becoming distant from everyone including his wife. He knows that getting the throne was the easy part, staying on the throne was the tricky part. He is especially threatened by Banquo, who is “lesser than him, but greater” according to the witches’ prophecy. All his effort to ascend to power would be fruitless, if the throne would befall on Banquo’s descendants. He therefore plans to secretly murder him and his son, Fleance.
The rift between Macbeth and his wife probably begins in Act 3, Scene 1. He plans the murder of Banquo and his son without her inclusion or input into the matter. Lady Macbeth’s loyalty to her husband would not have allowed her to do anything in secrecy without consulting him. He on the other hand has become distant from his wife. Though he seeks her comfort whenever he is down, he does not create much time for his wife. She has become a lonely woman yearning for her husband’s attention. She begs him not to hide away with his sad thoughts, but to share the burden with her and she will help him carry the yoke.
The roles have now reversed. Lady Macbeth is no longer the tough woman she once was, while Macbeth is now the opposite of what he was from the start. His cowardice has now been replaced by ruthlessness that has made him embrace the darkness. He is now in control and his wife is no longer his accomplice. At the banquet, when Macbeth completely loses himself when he sees the ghost of Banquo, it is Lady Macbeth who tries to save the situation. She still yields to her husband’s will and shows unwavering loyalty to him.
Their relationship is by now on a downward spiral. Their love is more of an act to impress the guests. We see the last bits of her authoritarian nature at the banquet when she tries to secretly coerce her husband to be manly and act civilized in front of their guests, but to no avail. It is now crystal clear that Macbeth has no form of respect for his wife. When Macbeth goes on and on rumbling about Banquo’s ghost, Lady Macbeth is forced to send away all the dignitaries at the banquet. This is a clear sign that she still cares for her husband and will do anything to protect him.
To add salt to injury, Macbeth would rather consult the dreaded witches than face his wife, who seems more astute to that treacherous lifestyle. She would have offered him better advice than the cryptic messages he receives from the witches that he obviously misinterprets. For instance, the witches inform him that “none of woman born” will harm him. Macbeth believes that he is invincible based on this hidden message. He later learns that the witches meant that the person who will overthrow him will not have a normal birth, but a caesarian type of birth. This eventually turns out to be Macduff, whom the witches warned him about.
With her husband out of her life, Lady Macbeth becomes completely depressed. And in this state of isolation, she is overcome with guilt. Unable to bear the burden of her guilt, she becomes mentally unstable. In her sleepwalking incidences, she tries to wash her hands, but she cannot. It is ironic that she starts behaving exactly like her husband. She is seeing visions and is openly confessing of her devious deeds in front of the doctor. During this trying time, Macbeth does not care about his wife. He only orders the doctor to cure her of her illusions. He does not take her wife’s condition seriously and is only concerned about safeguarding his kingship.
The queen eventually succumbs to her own madness by committing suicide. Shockingly, Macbeth does not go into any form of mourning, as a normal loving husband would do. He only mutters about life being “a flickering candle” and “a series of phases”. The connection that they once shared with his wife is now nonexistent. But, through his speech we learn that he has completely lost meaning in life. He has lost a valuable ally, even though he does not want to admit it. Eventually he loses against the English army.
Macbeth in this play proves that brawn and brains seldom seek refuge in the same place. Although he was very strong and brave, he lacked the ability to think. Lady Macbeth provided that. She complimented him, where he was weak. The combination of their abilities enabled them seize power quite easily.
However, when Macbeth started undermining his wife, his downfall was imminent. We see both of them succumbing to their weaknesses, as soon as they started operating separately. The relationship of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth highlights how a strong and loving relationship can be easily disrupted, if forces of evil are introduced into it.