Macbeth Act 2 Scene 2.
Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy thane,
You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brainsickly of things. Go get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there: go carry them; and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.
Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers: the sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures: ’tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,
I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal;
For it must seem their guilt.
Exit. Knocking within
Despite Macbeth’s murder of Duncan, we recognise his greater complexity and depth of character, and see all too clearly in this exchange, the degrading effect of his wife on their relationship. Her resourcefulness and initiative are presented here as being a seductive, yet reductive aspect of her relationship with her husband. Her apparent skills are revealed to be hollow and lead to the permanent estrangement of the couple, as Macbeth excludes his wife from any more important decisions in the play, perhaps suggesting that he blames his downfall and isolation on the degrading effect of his relationship with Lady Macbeth. This extract explores the dangerous intimacy between Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. Their relationship is presented powerfully here, as Macbeth has just murdered his King and is full of horror and self-disgust, even fear. Lady Macbeth directs her husband to think differently about his crime, through belittling his horror and fear. ‘You do unbound your noble strength to think so brainsickly of things’. Lady Macbeth attempts to alter Macbeth’s remorse through flattery, referring to his ‘noble strength’, where she attempts to restore his self-esteem, even vanity and then to dismiss his horror and fear as ‘brainsickly things.’ Such dismissive language attempts to dilute the impact of Macbeth’s reaction to his murder of Duncan. Her choice of language presents her seeming belief that guilt is wrong, a weakness or illness, rather than any sign of lingering morality on the part of her husband. Macbeth clearly relies on his wife here for direction and support. Yet as I argued at the beginning, such an intimacy is dangerous as her interventions lead to their ruination and others. When Macbeth refuses to be manipulated into returning the daggers to the murder scene, Lady Macbeth inflicts a very disparaging, negative vocabulary on her husband. She belittles him:’ infirm of purpose!’ Here we can see the shift in her relationship. She chastises Macbeth for being weak and thus undermines his masculinity and relationship with her. She takes charge and uses imperatives to seize control of the aftermath of the murder . ‘ Give me the daggers.’ The audience would have been horrified by Lady Macbeth’s domination of her husband here. They would see her commands as both unfeminine and emasculating. Their relationship is uneven and destructive. Lady Macbeth even dismisses the ‘dead’ as being mere ‘pictures’ that only a child would fear. This psychological mistake returns to haunt her later in the play and leads to her eventual suicide. Her strategy of making ‘the grooms’ seem guilty is arrogant and simplistic. Lady Macbeth is seduced here by her own power over her husband and believes mistakenly that her plot will convince others.
Conversely, Macbeth’s apparent weakness in allowing his wife such power in the relationship could be an unconscious strategy on his part, where he gives her the apparent power to convince him to murder, because he needs the chastisement of his wife, whom he knows wants to be Queen as much as he craves the throne for himself.
How to analyse a text quickly!
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