Act 1, Scene 5: Lady Macbeth

Scene 5 of Act 1 in Macbeth may be the most popular scene of Shakespeare's play, which is interesting since it focuses on Lady Macbeth instead of Macbeth (after whom the play is named).

This scene is the first time we meet Lady Macbeth. She is reading a letter from her husband, which informs her of the witches’ prophecy. She then launches into two breathtaking soliloquies, one mainly about her husband’s nature (1.5.15-30) and one mainly about her own (1.5.42-58). The scene ends with the arrival of Macbeth.

This scene has two main functions: to deepen our understanding of Macbeth’s character, and to introduce Lady Macbeth, so that we recognise the influence she will have on Macbeth’s decision to kill Duncan. Just as Act 1, Scene 3 showed us the difference between Macbeth and Banquo, this scene shows us the difference between Macbeth and his wife. We will now take you through Lady Macbeth’s two soliloquies in turn.

In her soliloquy on Macbeth’s nature (1.5.15-30), Lady Macbeth demonstrates that she knows her husband well. Speaking as if her husband were there, she says: “yet do I fear thy nature;/ It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness.” (1.5.16-17). To her, it is not a good quality in a man to be full of compassion and humanity - it makes him weak. Later in the play she builds on this as she continually blames her husband for being cowardly.

She does admit that Macbeth is ambitious: “thou wouldst be great;/ Art not without ambition, but without/ The illness should attend it.” (1.5.18-20). The problem is that Macbeth - on top of being too kind - does not have the necessary negative qualities (“illness”) to make ambitions become reality.

The final lines of this soliloquy reveal vital information about Lady Macbeth’s own character:

Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid do...

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