Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time,
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting I dare not wait upon I would,
Like the poor cat i’th’adage?
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none.
This extract explores the reaction of Lady Macbeth to her husband’s decision not to kill King Duncan towards the end of Act One. Ironically, Macbeth’s conscience and integrity, are belittled by his wife as drunken bravado, false posturing and delusion: ‘ was the hope drunk wherein you dressd yourself? ‘ Lady Macbeth’s dismissive tone and language, ‘hope drunk’ use sustained personification to mock Macbeth’s ‘sickly’ change of heart: ‘ it wakes…so green and pale’. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband’s fear of impotence, and his emotional dependency on her, through her suggestion that his newborn, moral behaviour is unmanly and feminine: ‘green…pale‘ This is ironic, as she is taking the masculine position in dominating her husband and this would have disturbed audiences of the time as she has usurped her husband’s role in their marriage just as he will usurp the King in Act two.
I find this exchange unnerving as Macbeth’s decency and integrity are cunningly read by his wife as symptoms of his weakness and failure as a husband and man. She brutally denigrates Macbeth’s love for her making it clear (and ironic), that their marriage and love are linked to murder and that only violence can prove their love.’ From this time such I account thy love.’ This denigration of his love is designed to hurt Macbeth as he is clearly dependent upon his wife for affection. She cements her dismissal of Macbeth’s manliness with her explicit use of the word ‘ coward’ which she says is all he will be when he reneges on his promise to kill Duncan. Murder has become a test of romantic commitment. Killing consummates love according to Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth’s retaliation underlines the impact of his wife’s chastisement: ‘ I dare do all that may become a man‘. Macbeth dangerously accepts his wife’s translation of ‘man’ linking it to violent masculinity and aggression, forgetting that manliness is linked to humanness too. This obliteration of man’s humanity is only challenged later on in the play by Macduff after he is informed of the deaths of his wife and children on the orders of the ‘manly’ Macbeth. Macduff demands of Malcolm that he should be able to ‘ feel’ and grieve as a man and that this involves the full expression of emotion. Macduff’s definition of being a ‘man’ brings change to the nihilistic values of the play.
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