Shakespeare's Characterisation of Lady Macbeth

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Shakespeare's Characterisation of Lady Macbeth

In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as a complex character and is

used to fluctuate drama levels according to her choices and her

unpredictable way of thinking. As the play progresses, Shakespeare

employs Lady Macbeth's character to keep the audience constantly

engaged by provoking strong emotional responses to her actions through

shocking language and dramatic tension.

Macbeth was written by Shakespeare during 1606 to 1611. At this time,

James I was on the throne. James I was highly superstitious, and in

1604 introduced a law that any person practicing witchcraft would be

executed. The play was most likely to have been performed in front of

the King. This may be the reason why Shakespeare has used witchcraft,

because it would have been able to induce optimum fear and drama into

the play for this specific audience, thus validating the king's


The Christian religion of the time considered that the monarch was

chosen by God. This was known as 'the Divine Right of Kings'. Due to

this ideology, the death of King Duncan in the play would have been

going against God's will. This would make the murder even more

horrifying for the audience as it would be defying God's laws.

Shakespeare manipulates and distorts the ideas held about women from

the very beginning of his play. In the early 17th century, women were

thought of as lower than men, and unable to be cruel or calculating;

they were expected to be good natured and agreeable. Shakespeare

contorts this view with most of the few women in his play. He opens

Macbeth with three witches. These women do not conform to the


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...d structurally. Shakespeare can let her guilt

override her, and cause her to become ill and die.

Throughout the play until her death, Lady Macbeth reveals the many

sides of her character. When the audience is first introduced to her,

she is seen as murderous, calculating and highly ambitious; yet, as

the play develops she exposes a more feminine and humane side. Her

complex character and strong ambition drive the play forward, giving

rise to dramatic tension and engaging the audience's imaginations

through the imagery, language and emotion of her role. The audience

will wonder whether she, indeed. is wholly evil. The audience will

feel mixed emotions at her death, as, although she could be portrayed

as 'evil', they will feel sympathy towards her because they have seen

her downfall and witnessed her guilt consume her.
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