Macbeth Act 3 Scene 4: How is the relationship been Macbeth and his wife presented? (Select which word fits your interpretation most effectively).
The extract opens with Lady Macbeth condemning/humiliating/reprimanding/desperately questioning her husband’s almost hysterical behaviour when he believes he is looking on the ghost of Banquo. ”Are you a man?” . This frantic question is delivered through the use of the aside and this adds to the dangerously intimate/secretive/vengeful/recriminatory nature of the privately whispered challenge. This question reminds the audience of Lady Macbeth’s favourite/preferred/recurring/humiliating strategy for dealing with her husband’s anxieties, for she undermines Macbeth’s masculinity and courage yet again through her barbed/pointed/cruel/desperate/callous question “are you a man? “which seems to suggest he is not a ‘man’, but a coward.
From early in the play we have witnessed Lady Macbeth’s emasculating attacks on her husband, when he falters in his bloodthirsty ambitions. What is ironic, is that the audience knows that Macbeth has secretly ordered the murder of Banquo, and that Lady Macbeth is in ignorance of her husband’s machinations. This reveals their growing estrangement/separation/isolation/lack of intimacy which will lead ultimately to suicide for Lady Macbeth and to a gruesome end for Macbeth himself.
Macbeth retaliates immediately and claims his very humanity is challenged by the vision ‘which might appall the devil”. The oxymoronic language adds nightmarish drama to the scene, for how can the devil be appalled by anything? And the audience might appreciate the added irony that in murdering both his King and best friend, Macbeth has degraded/reduced/diminished himself to the point that he and the devil are interchangeable.
At this point of the play Macbeth is clearly in denial of his guilt, even though the hallucinations he suffers reveal his repression is failing to keep his guilt under control. The scene is highly charged as the interaction between the couple and the ghost of Banquo takes place before the audience on stage, gathered to celebrate Macbeth’s Kingship. The audience in the theatre are thus watching the watchers on stage watch Macbeth, and this strangely voyeuristic scene, creates a scene of exceptional tension/drama/intensity/energy as well as giving representation to the volatile/dangerous/compelling/unsettling intimacy that exists between Lady Macbeth and her husband.
Perhaps this is the scene (which demonstrates Lady Macbeth’s improvised resourcefulness yet again) also reveals the seeds of her own downfall as the sensitivity and imagination of Macbeth are scorned/trivialised/mocked/dismissed as being merely ” a woman’s story” once again returning to her technique of emasculating/humiliating/undermining her husband’s male potency as a means of protecting herself from detection. This choice of words ironically foreshadows her own story of guilt later in the play when she becomes obsessed with wiping away the evidence of her bloody guilt from her hands, rather like Pontius Pilate after he betrayed Christ.
Lady Macbeth’s failure to acknowledge Macbeth’s sighting of Banquo, makes Macbeth even less likely to confide in her and brings their relationship to the brink of ruin. She prides herself on her practicality/rationality/resourcefulness and her improvised salvation of the scene in front of guests, actually fails to convince the attendant nobles of their innocence.
Macbeth’s continuing conversation with the ghost, externalises the events of the play and his choice of language seems unsettling because it talks in disturbing/visually unnerving/ spiritually unsettling terms about the horrific reappearance of the dead from “charnel houses and our graves“. The audience both within and without the play would feel the nightmarish aspect of the drama becoming even darker, outstripping the repugnant effect of even the dismal witches in the opening scene. The marriage of the Macbeths seems bitter and full of latent recrimination; their passion sacrificed to their murderous ambition and unsatiated greed.
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