“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts! unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty; make thick my blood, stop up the access and passage to remorse, that no compunctious visitings of nature shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between the effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts, and take my milk for gall.“ Act 1, Scene 5
Explanation: Lady Macbeth begins to plot Duncan’s downfall as she learns that he is visiting the castle for the evening. To carry out her plan, she calls upon evil spirits to help her because she recognises that she possesses human compassion which will prevent her from fulfilling her plan. In order to eliminate her human compassion, Lady Macbeth calls upon the spirits to fill her with “direst cruelty”, this indicates that she wishes to be overtaken by the spirits and deprive herself of her human compassion so that she can be filled with pure cruelty in order for her to achieve her ambition. Furthermore, Lady Macbeth perceives that her gender will also prevent her from being able to enact her plan. Shakespeare focuses upon images of female fertility in this instance where Lady Macbeth pleads with the spirits to “unsex” her and “take my milk for gall”. These quotes illustrate that Lady Macbeth is willing to give up her feminine and nurturing traits to become evil. Additionally, Lady Macbeth’s renouncement of the body shows not only a rejection of womanhood but also of humanity itself, indicating that she wishes to remove herself from humanity and rather become a supernatural entity who can act without the burden of a moral conscience.
“Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.” Act 1, Scene 5
Explanation: Lady Macbeth is persuading her husband to kill Duncan that night by being discreet yet brutal. This quote highlights the importance of good against evil in Macbeth. This theme is shown through the contrasting imagery of the flower and the serpent, the flower presenting peaceful connotations and the serpent being evil and brutal. The imagery of the serpent is a Biblical reference to the serpent in the Garden of Eden who tempts Eve and results in humanity entering disharmony. The same idea is exemplified in this quote, whereby Lady Macbeth is tempting her husband away from his strong moral conscience to act evilly in the name of personal ambition.
“But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.” Act 1, Scene 7
Explanation: Lady Macbeth perseveres in convincing her husband that he should kill Duncan and claim the throne of Scotland. Macbeth remains unsure about the plan at this point, but Lady Macbeth questions her husband’s masculinity through aggressive commands and calling him to show his courage which seems to have gone astray. Lady Macbeth is convinced that courage and following their ambition will give them the desirable result. Lady Macbeth believes that no external influence can prevent them from succeeding in their plan if Macbeth shows his courage, indicating that she believes that they can carve their own destiny.
“Nought’s had, all’s spent where our desire is got without content.” Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation: Lady Macbeth’s ambition of killing Duncan and her husband gaining the throne of Scotland, resulting in her becoming Queen, has been realised. Yet she remains dissatisfied with her existence. Prior to the plan being carried out she perceived that achieving her ambition would result in complete contentment, but in actual fact, the very status that she strived to achieve is what has made her the most unhappy. This sheds some light onto the idea that happiness cannot be achieved through fame and status, Lady Macbeth points out that the status she pursued has granted her more misfortune than happiness. Thus, Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth to illustrate the danger of desire.
“Out, damned spot! out, I say!“ Act 5, Scene 1
Explanation: Lady Macbeth’s unhappiness and guilt of her actions has driven her to insanity and stopped her from living an orderly life as she sleepwalks while rubbing her hands, as if to wash them, saying this line. This quote indicates that Lady Macbeth is attempting to wash Duncan’s blood off her hands, illustrating that she cannot escape the guilt of her actions. The fact that she cannot wash off the “damned spot” shows that she cannot remove the guilt from her as it permanently plays on her mind. This guilt which she was originally able to ignore has resulted in a complete psychological breakdown. The theme of reality against appearance is highlighted here, while Lady Macbeth was able to physically wash her hands after the murder, she is unable to mentally rid herself of her guilt and the metaphorical blood. Despite the blood being non-existent to any onlooker of this scene, to Lady Macbeth, it represents a unique reality of her conscience as her guilt is very much real and is being manifested through the blood on her hands.