In this compare and contrast essay, the characters of The Tragedy of Macbeth, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth shall be discussed. William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Macbeth revolves around Macbeth’s quest to become king. Also central to the play is Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s wife. In the play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth murder the King of Scotland, Duncan, so that Macbeth can assume the throne. They also commit other murders in order to maintain hold of the throne and neutralize resistance. In the end, although both characters achieved their goal of becoming king and queen, have been overcome by their intense guilt and fall to their respective deaths. Lady Macbeth serves as a foil character to her husband Macbeth in many ways.
The play started with Lady Macbeth scheming and already unearthing her cunning side. Right from the beginning, Lady Macbeth was painted as a strikingly smart and ambitious woman who would most likely do anything to achieve the witches’ prophecy: that her husband be named king. She also feels like her husband does not have the stomach to endure what is needed to be done in order to get the crown even though Macbeth had already experienced battle himself. Macbeth is seen by his wife as soft and kind that he is unable to do what is necessary to become king.
This character analysis on the leads of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth shall prove that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are similar in their ambition but differ in their character, courage, and resolve. Macbeth, although ambitious, suffers from self-doubt which impairs his strength of character and resolve. Whereas Lady Macbeth is confident and ruthless in her ambition and therefore appears more powerful than Macbeth. Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Macbeth explores the tension between power and gender roles. This is most apparent in the contrast between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
Comparison of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
The story of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is wholly about human nature and tendencies one faces when faced with the opportunity to gain power. While taking the same path, the two characters in The Tragedy of Macbeth face different endings altogether. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s similarities are striking and their differences even more so. The play depicts just some of the possible changes a person may go through in the chase of a horrible ambition that is highly likely to change their lives for good.
Similarities Between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are ambitious by nature. As a general, Macbeth is successful in the battlefield. At the start of the play, he won battles for King Duncan and was named thane of Cawdor. Macbeth’s ambition to become king was provoked by the three witches’ prophecy that he himself will someday become king. With this goal in mind, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are united to the point where their thoughts are similar to each other even in silence. Lady Macbeth, herself, is driven by her desire to be named queen. Together, they conspire to achieve the goal of becoming royal by murdering King Duncan.
While both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are ambitious, they are both constrained by a factor that is beyond their control. On one hand, for Macbeth, his ambition is being restrained by his conscientiousness and self-doubt. Prior to his murder of King Duncan, Macbeth hesitated numerous times. Macbeth, even though he has already experienced battle, is a kindhearted person, and for which his own wife persecutes him for being so. Because of kindness, his ambition is being compromised.
On the other hand, for Lady Macbeth, her ambitiousness is held back by her femininity. As a woman, she is constrained by social customs from pursuing her ambitions for society believes that a woman is to be feminine and soft. Therefore, is unable to commit such brutal acts. She herself believes that she alone cannot make her plan to ascend to royalty to fruition; she believes that she needs her husband’s manly strength to complete the mission. As a result, she has to rely on her husband to materialize her plans and actions. Even if both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth possess great ambition to become king and queen, their supposed flaws are enough to hold them back from finishing their plan alone.
Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are deeply invested in each other. They are indeed true partners who are truly in love with the other. Even if Lady Macbeth sometimes points out her husband’s fears that seem cowardly, Macbeth still addresses his wife with love and adoration. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are invested in each other and it is shown in the way they executed the plan to take the throne. However, they both faced grave consequences due to their actions as both have lost their love and their life.
Throughout the play, it was established that Lady Macbeth has an iron will, and this is what made it possible for them to become royalty. She is very dedicated on crafting her plan and achieving it in order to make her husband and herself royalty as quick as possible even on the consequence of having her husband kill the current king to be able to take the throne. However, by the close of the play, it becomes evident that Lady Macbeth is just as susceptible to guilt as her husband. Lady Macbeth slips into madness—she sleepwalks through the castle and attempts to wash away the invisible bloodstain on her hands. In the end, she is unable to cope with the guilt and kills herself.
Like his wife, Macbeth is also plagued with guilt. He sees ghosts of the people he killed and fluctuates between moments of depression and fits of fevered action. Following the plan concocted by his wife, he kills people that are obstructing their way from fulfilling the three witches’ prophecy. At the end, when English armies stormed his castle, Macbeth happily fights them to his death. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were driven to madness and eventually to their deaths by the intense guilt they feel because of killing Duncan and others.
Differences Between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
The main difference between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is rooted in their genders. Macbeth, being male, is powerful in the exterior. He is a general who has been successful in the battlefield, but he lacks strength of character. Macbeth truly wants the throne, but he worries about and hesitates murdering King Duncan. He is not ruthless enough to do what it takes to get what he truly desires. However, he is also not strong enough to oppose his wife when she pushes him to commit the murder. So, when she questions his masculinity for being cowardly, he yields and commits the murder against his will.
In contrast to this, Lady Macbeth, who believes she is constrained by her femininity, understands that her true power lies in her will. She relies on traditionally “feminine” ways of achieving power – through manipulation. Her strength lies inside, in her iron will. So, when Macbeth hesitates to commit the necessary murder, she utilizes her will to overpower his. Because Lady Macbeth does not have power in society, she relies on her own inner strengths to achieve her ambitions. Lady Macbeth’s resolve is much stronger than Macbeth’s because this is her only source of power. In contrast to this, Macbeth has experienced power being attributed to him so he does not have inner strength to support him.
Lady Macbeth is seen as a woman with monstrous intellect that is the complete opposite of Macbeth’s brawns. Unlike Lady Macbeth, Macbeth does not resort to scheming and talking his way out of something. His way of resolving the repercussions of their actions is through the use of his strength. As he is superstitious, his imagination tends to run wild and he succumbs to it. Lady Macbeth on the other hand, has a clear head that is devoid of such superstitions that Macbeth believes in.
Their respective deaths also demonstrate their characters. Whereas Lady Macbeth took charge of her destiny even as she descended to madness by committing suicide, Macbeth remained passive. When the English army came to his castle, he fought them recklessly. He did so not because of his ambition to hold on to the throne but because he believed he will remain victorious due to the prophecy that he is meant to be king.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth share an ambitious nature, however they are polar opposites in terms of character, courage, and resolve as demonstrated by the character analysis above. The differences are rooted in their genders—Macbeth being male and Lady Macbeth being female. Due to these differences, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are also foil characters of each other, the contrast of which highlights the differences between the genders during the time, which is way before the rise of feminism and the Time’s Up Movement.
While Macbeth is powerful as a male, he lacks the willpower to pursue his ambitions or make a decision not to do something. Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth has strong willpower to compensate for her lack of power as a female in society. These two characters’ similarities and differences make for a strong commentary on the tension between gender and power and the extent one is willing to go through for the sake of obtaining power.
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Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. Ed. E. K. Chambers. Toronto: Morang Educational Co., 1907. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2013. < http://shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth/macbethdifferences.html >.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy Of Macbeth. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. http://shakespeare.mit.edu/macbeth/full.html