Is Lady Macbeth a fiend like queen like Malcolm suggests? What do you think?
**This essay was done after a lesson on developing my own personal voice. So although the structure isn’t so much back and forth as usual, there is still AO3 by developing my OWN personal voice as well as giving some alternative interpretations within my own argument.
Lady Macbeth- a “fiend like queen?” I love this picture, although it seems a tad bias considering the essay title!
It is no wonder that Malcolm’s appellation reveals Lady Macbeth as a “fiend like queen” and her husband, Macbeth, “the dead butcher.” After all, it is Lady Macbeth who goads on the death of his father, King Duncan. More importantly, it is the deceptively satanic queen, and the falsely labelled “butcher” that ultimately jeopardise Malcolm’s rightful descending title of “King.” Thus, Malcolm’s epithet appears fully justified; but perhaps in retrospect, Lady Macbeth’s character is far from the one-sided, villainous connotations that a “fiend” entails. Despite appearing to completely transgress against social convention through rejecting her maternal instincts; Lady Macbeth’s sudden expression of humanity and protection of her husband, allow us to conclude that Lady Macbeth is not merely just a “fiend like queen.”
Lady Macbeth is presented as purely fulfilling the role of a loyal wife. Through commanding her husband imperative verbs such as “sleep,” “wash [your hands]” and “speak not,” she associates herself with the comforting gestures a mother offers a child. By ordering Macbeth to complete these actions, Lady Macbeth is in actual fact protecting him from the guilt and insanity that blood is often associated with, seen through many parts in the play. Lady Macbeth has no doubt that her husband has good intentions, rightfully so, she questions Macbeth being too “full of th’ milk” of human kindness” to murder. It could then be argued that Lady Macbeth is weary about the sight of innocent blood on Macbeth’s hands having the potential to remind Macbeth of his own humanity, and thus Macbeth could potentially rethink his (already uncertain) decision to murder the king, therefore by asking Macbeth to “get” some water to “wash this filthy witness from [his hand]” Lady Macbeth is simply encouraging Macbeth to avoid the possibility of hindering his own position as “King.” Additionally, the banquet scene in Act 3 scene 4 further expresses this view of Lady Macbeth as a maternal and supportive figure, rather than an inhumane “fiend.” Also visually presented in the 1978 version of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth appears to shield her husband, scolding guests “Goodnight!” whilst ordering her husband to “speak not; I pray you”: Lady Macbeth is defensive over her husband, and strongly protects himself from tarnishing his professional image as “King” in which case, the supernatural sightings of Banquo’s ghost would have lead the guests to label Macbeth as ‘mad’ rather than a ‘noble’ King. Despite some views that might believe that Lady Macbeth is selfishly manipulating Macbeth in order to make herself queen instead of wanting the best for her husband, the evidence suggests that the loss of her child that she has “given suck” forces the mourning queen to channel her maternal grievance into an overwhelming pursuit into making Macbeth king. It is then reasonable to argue that Lady Macbeth transgresses beyond traditional “ambition” due to the inconsolable loss of a child, and as a result: wanting to fully pursue the role of a supportive and encouraging mother by using her husband who similarly possesses qualities reminiscent of a child such as vulnerability and indecisiveness and thus Lady Macbeth automatically falls into playing the more controlling, motherly role.
Whilst Lady Macbeth is certainly seen as the catalyst stimulating the death of King Duncan, Banquo, Macduff’s family and Young Siward, the distressed queen’s sudden instances of humanity can neither be ignored. Lady Macbeth cannot merely play a “fiend” due to the satanic and inhumane connotations the term implies. Fiend, being one that lends itself to the characteristics of the Devil, does not certainly express the same feelings of guilt, madness and a conscience in the same way Lady Macbeth does. Unusual, for the once decisive woman, Lady Macbeth’s character presents a side of humanity to the audience: by expressing that she would have murdered Duncan “had he not resembled [her] father whilst he slept.” Ironically, the ‘former’ Lady Macbeth was seen to “shame” wearing a pure heart, considering emotion as a form weakness in Macbeth, and therefore the character is projected as contradicting herself whereby Shakespeare is able to emphasise her humanity in this scene. Ironically, by Lady Macbeth showing a flaw in her emotionless exterior by controverting herself, Shakespeare allows this event to stand out amongst the deceptively evil behaviour of Lady Macbeth in previous acts: this quote is then pivotal in marking the progression of a ‘transformed’ Lady Macbeth, apparent from the downward spiral into madness from here. However, it could also be argued that Lady Macbeth is far from morally humane or even transformed in this scene. Some may say that despite an instance of humanity, the idea that Lady Macbeth goes on to “gild the faces of the grooms withal” shortly after, presenting Lady Macbeth as still very much tactical and satanic enough to frame two innocent guards. Despite this however, Lady Macbeth could be seen as trying to avoid acknowledging the degree of her evil, revealed by consoling Macbeth “these deeds must not be thought(…)it will make us mad” thus: Lady Macbeth is only able to frame the innocent guards not because she is a “fiend” but because the character is prevented from facing the reality of her actions and therefore stripped from the ‘reality check’ often needed to provoke remorse.
It is unreasonable to conclude any character that allows their guilt to completely consume them, resulting in death, a “fiend like queen.” Lady Macbeth is merely used as tool to provoke disruption in the narrative of Macbeth as a matter of coincidence, whereby her actions of humanity and remorse are much more suitable to describe the Queen. To conclude, through her instances of conscience, Lady Macbeth is far from the demonic connotations the term “fiend” entails.