Comparative Essay #2

Compare and Contrast Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in terms of ambition, action and subsequent destruction

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most tragic works. Known as one his last four great tragedies, this play has been read and performed throughout the English-speaking world. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, although their characters may seem similar, they are in fact different in many aspects. The once noble Macbeth, as he was known before he walked down the dark path, was in the end a cold, heartless murderer who neither deserved nor desired life. Lady Macbeth did influence her husband, though her evil persona was greater even than Macbeth, near her end she did show some redeeming traits. Through ambition, action and subsequent destruction, this essay will prove their difference.

Both Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s ambitions were great. However each had their own limits and beginnings. Macbeth’s ambition, while one of his fatal flaws as a tragic character, did receive a slow start. During the first couple acts his dependence on Lady Macbeth and her ability to motivate him was great. The lady comments here that her husband is too weak to strive for the crown.
...yet do I fear thy nature

It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,

Art not with ambition... (Act 1, Scene 5, Lines 16-19)

Nevertheless, after becoming king, his ambition takes on a life of its own as he struggles to keep his power. Once this point had been reached, everything he sees as a threat, he removes. Lady Macbeth on the other hand had an iron will and a steadfast drive to begin with. She was the dominant one within the couple for much of the beginning. Once again however, with the attainment of the crown there is a change; her ambition for more slowly dies as she is satisfied with her accomplishments. But she suspects and believes that Macbeth maybe doing more than is necessary to keep the crown.

Macbeth And make our faces Vizards to our hearts,

Disguising what they are.

Lady Macbeth You must leave this (Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 33-35)

She is attempting to deter him from committing anymore unnecessary evils. Her ambition for more is now gone and in its place seems to be a desire for peace.

Their actions also contribute much to the definition of their character, as do their thoughts. Macbeth had a huge hand to play in all three of the great crimes in the play. The first, being the murder of Duncan, was committed with the poisonous influence of his lady. Macbeth’s guilt and regret is evident after the killing.

To know my deed, ‘twere best not know myself.

Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou could’st!
(Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 73-74)

Even so, his conscience does not stand in the way of the last two crimes, the killing of Banquo and the slaughter at Macduff’s castle. The murders are ordered with a cold heart; his ruthlessness is now clear and so are his enemies. Lady Macbeth was the leading player during Duncan’s murder. Her staunchness to the dreadful deed was overwhelming. She accused Macbeth of cowardice and faithlessness when he doubted their success.
...Art thou afeard

To be the same in thine own act and valour

As thou in desire? Wouldst thou have that

Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,

And live a coward in thine own esteem? (Act 1, Scene 7, Lines 39-43)

Yet Lady Macbeth seems to have a change in character as the play progresses. Her once evil thoughts are replaced by thoughts of entertaining her guests at the banquet. She has no part in Banquo or Lady Macduff’s assassinations. During her last scene while in her sleep walk she says, "no more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that." (V. i. 43-45)

Both Macbeth and his lady faced the same fate of death, but how it came and how it was administered are different. In the final scene we see Macbeth as what can be described as a man fighting out of desperation. Nonetheless, there is no doubt the courage he demonstrates is as real as his expected death. He has relinquished his trust in the witches and now he fights against his destiny. Though his ruthlessness,