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Lady Macbeth

In Macbeth, the conflation of ambition, political adventurism, and supposedly manly virtue carry profound consequences. As in Julius Caesar, the embrace of irrationality leads to generalized disarray. But irrationality is more willful and self-serving in Macbeth than in Julius Caesar. It is also more concrete, symbolized in Macbeth's connection to the Witches and Lady Macbeth's prayer to the spirits of the underworld. In a betrayal of virtues commonly thought to be feminine, Lady Macbeth becomes an agent of conflation, urging him past the (mere) manly expression of political or social virtue, toward murder. The key scene is I.vii, which not only sets up the conditions for the inciting incident but largely explains why the tragedy itself unfolds. Properly analyzed, it also suggests that the play is not adequately explained in terms of masculine or feminine virtues and their opposites.

A good deal of weight has been laid on Lady Macbeth's abdication of her feminine nature, and as a consequence critics both friendly and unfriendly to Shakespeare's view of women have discussed an undercurrent of misogyny in his work, consistent with the misogyny of the Elizabethan witch hunters and society more generally (Hattaway 122ff; Mullaney 140-5). A feminist interpretation, which accounts for male-female issues as well as the tragic environment of the play, may more satisfactorily explain what drives Lady Macbeth. It may also deepen understanding of Shakespeare's tragic vision in the play.

This interpretation relies in part on an appreciation of virtu, the Machiavellian view of "courage, daring, and skill [as] . . . the law of life" (Crocker xv). Valor, courage, desire, daring--surely these are all consistent with Machiavellian virtu, and all are mentioned by Lady Macbeth in I.vii. But as the scene unfolds it becomes clear that the Macbeth's are not really interested in virtu as such; ambitious as they are, they're interested in more. Lady Ma<...

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Lady Macbeth. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:34, December 06, 2021, from