Lady Macbeth has the ability to manipulate her husband with ease, and she uses this to pursue her own agenda and achieve her ambition. Lady Macbeth will let nothing get in the way of her achieving her desire of status and power. This is evident when she commits terrible crimes so that she gets what she wants. Lady Macbeth’s cruelty is shown most clearly when she tries to summon spirits to fill her with “direst cruelty” so that her human compassion won’t prevent her from carrying out her murderous plans. However, as the play goes on she becomes remorseful for her cruel actions as she accepts her guilt and it drives her insane. Eventually leading her to commit suicide because she can no longer live in the knowledge of what she has done.
Lady Macbeth can be seen as an intelligent character who is often covering her husband’s mistakes. Upon seeing Banquo’s ghost Macbeth behaves strangely talking to the ghost which nobody else in the room can see, but Lady Macbeth thinks quickly on her feet and says her husband is ill and needs rest. In addition to this, upon hearing of Duncan’s murder Lady Macbeth faints, this could be a clever distraction away from her husband’s suspect speech. However, Lady Macbeth is arguably using the stereotype of women being weak at that time by pretending to be shocked to conceal her true cruel nature. Furthermore, it is Lady Macbeth who formulates the plan to frame Duncan’s servants for the murder, showing a cunning plan alongside heartless thinking.
The guilt that Lady Macbeth expresses comes towards the end of the play when she realises the magnitude of her actions. Upon realising her guilt, Lady Macbeth becomes disturbed and she begins sleepwalking because her mind is so affected by her guilt that she struggles to sleep. The doctor calls Lady Macbeth’s behaviour a “perturbation in nature”. The guilt Lady Macbeth feels encompasses everything she does as she tries to wash off the metaphorical blood on her hands in her sleep, her guilt becomes so extreme that it causes her to enter a state of psychosis. Lady Macbeth’s guilt consumes her and the isolation from her husband, as Macbeth distances himself and carries out his own agenda alone without the involvement of his wife, results in her being unable to live what she has done causing her to commit suicide.
At the time which Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, women were seen as very passive and weak due to their femininity. However, Shakespeare challenges this idea with Lady Macbeth rejecting her femininity, this is shown where she asks the spirits to “take my milk for gall”. Lady Macbeth never actually directly kills anybody because she doesn’t possess the powerful trait of violence which men stereotypically possess, however she uses the non-violent trait of manipulation to devastating effect. This indicates that the female non-violent traits can be just as powerful as the violent traits of men. Despite rejecting her femininity, Lady Macbeth still has a soft side as she says that she would be unable to murder Duncan since he reminded her of her father. Thus indicating that she isn’t as cold-hearted as she is presented.
The ambition of Lady Macbeth greatly surpasses that of her husband’s, Lady Macbeth uses her intelligence to manipulate her husband to kill Duncan so that she can realise her personal ambition of reaching power and status. Lady Macbeth is very willing to act upon her ambition with ruthless intent, Lady Macbeth is the one who plans the murder of Duncan and criticises her husband’s lack of ambition referring to him as a “coward”. Lady Macbeth asked the spirits to “unsex” her because she believed that no ordinary woman would be able to plan such a murder. As a result, she asks the spirits to fill her with the “direst cruelty” so that she has no obstacles in her way that would prevent her from realising her ambition.