Macbeth

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Lady Macbeth Character Analysis

Macbeth's wife. Unlike her husband, she has no reservations about murdering Duncan in order to make Macbeth King of Scotland. She believes that a true man takes what he wants, and whenever Macbeth objects to murdering Duncan on moral grounds, she questions his courage. Lady Macbeth assumes that she'll be able to murder Duncan and then quickly forget it once she's Queen of Scotland. But she discovers that guilt is not so easily avoided, and falls into madness and despair.

Lady Macbeth Quotes in Macbeth

The Macbeth quotes below are all either spoken by Lady Macbeth or refer to Lady Macbeth. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Ambition Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Macbeth published in 2003.
Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts! unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall.
Related Characters: Lady Macbeth (speaker)
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 1.5.47-55
Explanation and Analysis:

After learning that King Duncan will remain at the castle for the evening, Lady Macbeth plots his demise. She asks for fortitude in renouncing any human compassion in order to best carry out the deed.

Much like Banquo, Lady Macbeth believes that supernatural forces have a corruptive effect on human nature. She believes they “tend on mortal thoughts” and will fill her with “direst cruelty.” Yet whereas Banquo made this point in order to avoid those effects, Lady Macbeth fully embraces the depravity. Indeed, she uses a series of commands in order to demand being overtaken by them. The implication is that Lady Macbeth wishes to act entirely cruelly, but her natural human disposition will prevent her from doing so.

To make this point, Lady Macbeth focuses on images relating to female fertility and more generally to bodily functions. That she implores “unsex me here” indicates that she sees her gender as preventing her from carrying out her vile purpose; while “take my milk for gall” similarly involves a desire to give up something feminine nurturing (mother's milk) for something destructive and acidic (gall). Repeated references to the body further show her to be renouncing not only womanhood but humanity altogether—as if she desires to be a supernatural entity like the witches who could then act without moral scruples. In wishing to give up her humanity, this passage thus paradoxically affirms Lady Macbeth's sense that there is in fact an inherent goodness to human nature and specifically human biology. At the same time, it shows that humans see in the supernatural a corruptive route away from goodness—which they may flee (as Banquo does) or full-heartedly embrace.

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Look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under it.
Related Characters: Lady Macbeth (speaker), Macbeth
Page Number: 1.5.76-77
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Macbeth entreats her husband to kill Duncan that night. She recommends he act secretively and strike out violently.

These lines return the text to the theme of appearance versus reality. While Macbeth still remains uncertain about whether he wishes to deceive and kill Duncan, Lady Macbeth is fully committed to the cruel idea. She thus sees duplicity as the best route to achieving her evil ends. She contrasts a passive image of “innocent flower” with the active corruption of “the serpent,” much like the witches mixed up “fair” and “foul” in the tragedy’s opening scene. For her, however, this distinction does not express a general predicament, but rather becomes a specific strategy to gain political power.

Referencing a serpent is also an allusion to the Biblical scene in the Garden of Eden, in which a snake tempts Eve and leads to humanity's expulsion from paradise. This Christian reference is especially evocative considering Lady Macbeth’s engagement with supernatural paganism: just as she has summoned the aid of fiends, Lady Macbeth symbolically asks her husband to strike out against Christian ideals—to play the role of a Biblical villain.

Act 1, scene 7 Quotes
Macbeth: If we should fail.
Lady Macbeth: We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we'll not fail.
Related Characters: Macbeth (speaker), Lady Macbeth (speaker)
Page Number: 1.7.68-71
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Macbeth continues to convince Macbeth that they should kill Duncan. When he wonders whether they will actually succeed, she argues that with sufficient fortitude they will certainly triumph.

The first two lines in this passage are halting and uncertain. Macbeth begins a hypothetical clause—“If we should fail”—but does not successfully finish it; while Lady Macbeth offers the similarly half-formed question “We fail?” In contrast to these fragmented construction, she opts for an aggressive command—“screw your courage”—and acerbic claim: “we’ll not fail.” Bravery and adherence to one’s goals, in her opinion, will ensure success.

Their exchange insinuates two diverging views on human destiny: Whereas Macbeth attributes success to the whims of fates and prophecies, Lady Macbeth believes that humans themselves can select their own destiny. Her command “screw your courage to the sticking-place” implies that sufficient bravery will ensure success regardless of any external influence. Between these two characters, then, Shakespeare defines a spectrum of human relationships to destiny and personal agency—in which some attribute success to personal prowess while others see it as being out of one’s own hands.

Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Nought's had, all's spent
Where our desire is got without content.
Related Characters: Lady Macbeth (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.6-7
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Macbeth ponders why she continues to be dissatisfied with her existence. She acknowledges that she has had complete success in her endeavors but somehow remains vexed.

These lines reveal a sharp change in Lady Macbeth’s disposition. Whereas before, she believed completely that ambition (and the murder of Duncan) would generate positive results, here she concludes just the opposite. “Nought’s had, all’s spent” must be taken metaphorically—because Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have in fact achieved their goal of becoming king and queen—to refer to their contentment and emotional stability. But now she states that the trade-off of political power in exchange for "content," which we can take to mean "guilt-free contentment," wasn't at all worth it.

Beyond revealing a growing dissatisfaction in Lady Macbeth, this passage makes a broader claim on the trappings of power and fame. Lady Macbeth points out that the status she had pursued does not in fact grant her happiness, but rather has brought her into greater misfortune. Thus Shakespeare uses her psychological anxiety as a way to illustrate the self-defeating natures of avarice and desire.

Act 5, scene 1 Quotes
Out, damned spot! out, I say!
Related Characters: Lady Macbeth (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sleep
Page Number: 5.1.37
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Macbeth has taken to sleepwalking. One night, she wanders and rubs her hands while saying this line.

We see here the extent to which guilt has crippled Lady Macbeth and disrupted her ability to live a normal life. Saying this line while trying to wash her hands shows that while she earlier believed that she could simply wash her hands clear of Duncan's blood, that in fact she could not psychologically escape that blood at all. She obsessively repeats the action, believing that the “damned spot” that morally implicates her has refused to disappear. In this way, the play makes clear that the guilt that first caused Lady Macbeth to question her contentment has now caused her to enter a full-blown psychosis.

The text also returns to its ever-pressing concern of illusions and false appearances. Whereas Lady Macbeth was able to remove the physical blood from her hands after the murder, she remains unable to do away with its metaphorical counterpart. Much like Macbeth saw a hallucinatory knife before the murder, she visualizes non-existent blood after the deed has been completed. Although we might be likely to write these images off as false apparitions, one should also note the significance of their psychological reality. That is to say, although the “spot” is not palpable to anyone else, it is indeed a honest “fair” expression of Lady Macbeth’s guilt. Shakespeare’s work thus presents illusions as having their own kind of unique reality, a reality founded in the inner workings of the mind.

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Lady Macbeth Character Timeline in Macbeth

The timeline below shows where the character Lady Macbeth appears in Macbeth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 5
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
At Inverness, Lady Macbeth reads a letter in which Macbeth tells her of the witches' prophecy. Lady Macbeth worries... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
A servant enters with news that Duncan will spend the night, then exits. Lady Macbeth says Duncan's visit will be fatal, and calls on spirits to "unsex me here… and... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Macbeth enters, and says Duncan will spend the night and leave the next day. Lady Macbeth says Duncan will never see that day. She counsels Macbeth to look like an "innocent... (full context)
Act 1, scene 6
Manhood Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth warmly greets the King and the thanes, though Macbeth is nowhere to be seen. (full context)
Act 1, scene 7
Ambition Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth enters, asking where he's been. Macbeth tells her they won't murder Duncan. She questions his... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Macbeth asks what will happen if they fail. Lady Macbeth assures him they won't fail if they have courage. She outlines the plan: she'll give... (full context)
Act 2, scene 1
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Offstage, Lady Macbeth rings the bell to signal that Duncan's attendants are asleep. Macbeth goes to murder Duncan. (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
Violence Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth waits in agitation for Macbeth to do the deed. She comments that had the sleeping... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth soothes him and tells him to wash his hands, but notices he's still carrying the... (full context)
Violence Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth returns, her hands now as bloody as Macbeth's. But she's calm, and identifies the 'mysterious'... (full context)
Act 2, scene 3
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...and Lennox ask what happened, then run to Duncan's chamber. Banquo, Malcolm, and Donalbain wake. Lady Macbeth enters, pretending not to know what happened, and expressing horror when Macduff tells her of... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...he was so furious that they had murdered the Duncan that he couldn't control himself. Lady Macbeth faints. (full context)
Act 3, scene 1
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Macbeth enters, with other thanes and Lady Macbeth . He asks Banquo to attend a feast that evening. Banquo says he will, but... (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Ambition Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
After sending a servant to fetch Macbeth, Lady Macbeth , waits, and muses that she has what she desires but isn't happy. (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth reminds him to be "bright and jovial" at the feast. Macbeth tells her to act... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth calls to Macbeth and asks him to return to the feast and sit. But Macbeth... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth tells the thanes not to worry, that since childhood Macbeth has suffered fits. She pulls... (full context)
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
The ghost reappears and Macbeth, terrified, starts shouting at it. Lady Macbeth tries to play down her husband's strange behavior. The ghost again disappears. Macbeth is amazed... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth : "Blood will have blood" (3.4.121), and asks what Lady Macbeth makes of the fact... (full context)
Act 5, scene 1
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
...A doctor and a gentlewoman wait. The gentlewoman called the doctor because she has seen Lady Macbeth sleepwalking the last few nights, but she refuses to say what Lady Macbeth says or... (full context)
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Lady Macbeth enters, holding a candle, but asleep. Lady Macbeth keeps rubbing her hands as if to... (full context)
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
The horrified doctor and gentlewoman watch as Lady Macbeth then relives conversations with Macbeth after the murder of Banquo and hears an imaginary knocking... (full context)
Act 5, scene 3
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
He asks the doctor about Lady Macbeth , then commands that the man cure her. In an aside, the doctor says that... (full context)
Act 5, scene 5
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
...lack of fear. Suddenly, a woman cries out. Seyton investigates, and returns with news that Lady Macbeth has died. Macbeth gives a speech about life: "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps... (full context)