To answer this question I am going to study and analyse the text thoroughly to determine whether I agree or disagree with Malcolm’s statement. I will do this by looking at both sides of the argument and by concluding with my own opinion based on the evidence I will present. Another word for fiend is monster. A monster is generally considered to be inhuman and Lady Macbeth does show inhuman qualities throughout the play but towards the end of the play she changes. When she first enters the play in act one scene five, where she reads a letter from Macbeth, he refers to her as his- “Dearest partner of greatness”.
For women in medieval, eleventh century Scotland this would have been very uncharacteristic: a women’s place would have been in the home and generally they wouldn’t have had political opinions or ambitions and would not have been equal to men. Even when the play was written in the eighteen hundreds, women were viewed as inferior to men. The role of a woman is epitomised in Lady Macduff. She is soft, domestic, child bearing and feminine. She doesn’t have any political opinions or ambitions, unlike Lady Macbeth. The comparison between the two wives shows us how and why Lady Macbeth sacrifices her femininity and why she did so.
She doesn’t just want her husband to become king but she wants to become Queen. Shakespeare was quite sexist and had a hatred for woman which shows in some of his plays, so maybe he is saying that Lady Macduff is what a woman should be and Lady Macbeth is not. Lady Macbeth is very ruthless and “fiend-like” in the way she goes about it. She even says, “unsex me here” this is from her second soliloquy in Act One scene five. This is basically saying make me a man, or at least make me equal to a man. She appears to have no conscience at the start although she does develop one as the play goes on.
She has no remorse for the people she kills directly or indirectly. Her two soliloquies are very important in judging her character. In her first soliloquy she receives a letter from Macbeth, which informs her of his encounter with the witches. Towards the end of Act One scene five, Macbeth arrives home, but in front of him he sent a messenger telling Lady Macbeth of the King’s coming that night. She wastes no time in thinking up a plot to murder him that night in their castle. She is clearly the driving force behind Macbeth’s ambition and is showing “fiend-like” qualities here in her plans.
Macbeth is Duncan’s loyal subject and has just been promoted for his bravery and loyalty in battle. So her actions highlight her greed and ambition in that nothing is ever enough. In Act One scene, seven Macbeth’s soliloquy reflects that he could still desire to be a loyal subject, but is torn between loyalty and ambition. However Lady Macbeth changes what is Macbeth’s perception of what is manly. She changes bravery, daring and loyalty to a man being almost a killing machine with no remorse only ambition. She does this by saying, “When you durst do it, then you are a man”.
Clearly her perception of what being a man is, or what sort of man her husband should be, is someone who will do anything to make himself bigger, stronger and more powerful. Lady Macbeth then uses a slightly different tack; she uses shock tactics to demonstrate how she feels about following through with the murder. She brings to mind the most grotesque image she can think up. She said she would take a child, hers, and “while it was smiling in my face… and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done this”. By saying this Lady Macbeth reveals a new side to her audience.
Perhaps Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had had a child, “I have given suck”; this may bring back painful memories for Macbeth. She uses this shock tactic against him to catch him off-guard. This is a horrible thing to do to Macbeth and in effect it puts a seal on the audience’s perceptions of her (she is evil and she will stop at nothing). She is very fiend like her in the sly way she gets rid Macbeth’s concerns and guilt. What she meant by killing her child like this was to show her strength of conviction and willingness to carry out her word “had I so sworn to you (Macbeth)”.
It appears to have worked, and Macbeth falters saying, (indicating a change of heart) ” If we should fail? ” Lady Macbeth has now re-engaged him, and Macbeth is curious again. She shows her strength of conviction by almost mocking him in saying “We will fail? “, “Screw your courage to the sticking place – and we’ll not fail”. Believing she now has Macbeth onboard she now continues with the plan. She will make Duncan’s guards’ drunk and she and Macbeth will commit the murder, leaving the guards to take the blame for it. The audience cannot help but realise that the plan is ruthless and cowardly.
Lady Macbeth has thought this through thoroughly and has made her plan as foolproof as possible. She has reconfirmed Macbeth’s original intentions, but in the back of his mind Macbeth will still know that what he is doing is wrong. She used his moral weaknesses, exposed by his underlying ambition, to change his mind, again showing “fiend-like” qualities. On the other hand in Act One, scene seven, she shows us that she knows how to cajole her husband into action, and to suppress his worry, which would be a very helpful quality in a Queen, as her husband the king would often need moral support.
Although in this case it is negative because she is emotionally blackmailing him into going through with the murder, it could be said that it shows us she is totally on her husband’s side, and knows what is best for him in terms of ambition and advancement. She assures him that she will not force him to take sole responsibility for the murder by constantly referring to “the guilt for our great quell” and saying “we’ll not fail”. The use of the words “our” and “we’ll” tells us that she would stick with him no matter what and she won’t abandon him if the plan goes wrong.
However she refers to his courage, showing that he’ll be committing the deed not her. However soon enough there are flaws in what Malcolm said about her being a “fiend like Queen”. So far in the play Lady Macbeth has been a strong character with no weaknesses but now we are starting to see cracks appear in this hard exterior. She cannot be the ruthless monster that she seeks to be; she cannot escape from the inevitable human traits of regret or conscience. The thing that alerted me to this was her almost immediate change from the one who was spurring Macbeth on to the one that needed spurred on.
In act two scene two she says, “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold”. She was referring to the alcohol used to get the guards drunk, which she is using to keep her spirits up and her mind focused and willing. This helps prove that she wasn’t inhuman and she does have feelings. Lady Macbeth acts almost schizophrenic when she goes to sleep, indicating a struggle within her between good and evil. She complains about invisible spots of blood on her hands, and tells herself to wash them off.
This could be seen as the real Lady Macbeth trying to forget about the murder, she shuts it off in her conscious mind so when she goes to sleep she is troubled by her conscience and guilt in her subconscious mind. Early in the play she says to Macbeth “a little water clears us of this deed”, when juxtaposed with the sleepwalking scene we can build up a clear image of Lady Macbeth’s conscience. Her guilt could show however that she does have Queen-like qualities, which could also help prove the latter part of Malcolm’s description correct.
Also when Duncan arrives at her castle she is very welcoming and courteous, offering to do everything that the King wants, “in every point twice done and then done double”. This is exactly how a Queen would be expected to welcome someone, and is not how you would expect a murderess to greet someone. In conclusion I do agree with Malcolm’s statement because Lady Macbeth shows great evil and little remorse throughout the play, it is only towards the end of the play that she starts to develop human qualities and ceases to be a monster but by then it is much to late.
Shakespeare wanted us to sympathise with her. The brilliant phrase “look like the innocent flower, be the serpent under it” shows us her fiend-like tendencies and slyness. In Roman Polanski’s film of the play Macbeth, he takes the text literally and has Lady Macbeth played by an innocent flower (soft and beautiful), which is an interesting way to perceive the play as most productions have a dark evil actress playing the character of Lady Macbeth.
Although towards the end of the play when her possible schizophrenia emerges, we discover she is living two lives, that she isn’t completely ruthless and she does show some guilt just in strange ways. However overall I do agree with Malcolm’s statement that Lady Macbeth is a “fiend-like Queen”, in the way she went about becoming Queen and in the way she ruled, even if it was only for a brief period.