Lady Macbeth is an insidious and complex character. Throughout the course of the novel, she manipulates her husband, Macbeth, and spurs him to commit his first murder in order for him to ultimately achieve what she believes he deserves. Lady Macbeth is shown to the audience as a loyal wife who wants the best for his husband, but at the same time, she is portrayed as a malicious character from the very beginning of the play. The line between an evil human being, and a scheming witch, is so fine that Lady Macbeth could easily be either.
The fact that the three Weird Sisters’ predictions would not have become true without the supreme influence of Lady Macbeth provokes the thought that perhaps Lady Macbeth is more than an anti-mother and a schemer, perhaps she is a witch. This possibility would also change the nature of the witches from the future-seers they are portrayed as, to merely influencers of a string of events that they plan. In order to differentiate or associate Lady Macbeth with or to the weird sisters, the similarities and differences between Lady Macbeth and the witches must be explored.
Firstly, Lady Macbeth and the witches both call on evil forces at times of need, such as when Lady Macbeth cries Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,(I, 5, 39-40) to discard her feminine traits in order for her to eventually be successful in fulfilling the witches plan by spurring Macbeth to kill Duncan. This invocation signifies a link between Lady Macbeth and the supernatural, or witchcraft, which is utilized by her and the witches.
Soon after the invocation, she questions Macbeths manhood by telling him that When you durst do it, then you were a man/ And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man. (I, 7, 49-51). As Lady Macbeth discarded her womanish traits and understands the true nature of a man, she began to share a certain gender ambiguity with the witches, Banquo observes the genderless appearance in the witches when he proclaims You should be women / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so. (I, 3, 46-48).
If Lady Macbeth had successfully connected with the evil forces in her invocation scene, then both the witches and Lady Macbeth exhibit an androgynous character, although Lady Macbeth only has masculine mental traits, while the witches have a masculine physical appearance as well as mental character. Another common trait between Lady Macbeth and witches is that both are anti-mothers.
The myths of witches throughout history are seen as anti-mothers, and Lady Macbeth reveals this evil characteristic from within herself, and the fact of a previous maternal relationship when she says I have given suck — I would — have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,/ And dashed the brains out! (I, 7, 54-58). This shocking statement shows Lady Macbeth’s evil thoughts, which no mother could have for her child, in turn making her an anti-mother, which would probably have been linked to witchcraft by the original audiences in Shakespeares day, if not by todays audiences.
Parallel phrases with Lady Macbeth and the Weird Sisters are also evident in the play. The witches refer to killing swine (I, 3, 2) early in the play, and Lady Macbeth unknowingly echoes this when she refers to the two chamberlains as in a swinish sleep, (I, 7, 67). The chamberlains are sacrificed by Macbeth, to avoid any fault in their plan for the murder of Duncan. The sacrifice of swine has been known as a common act of mythical witches since before Shakespeares day, and again, links Lady Macbeth to witchcraft.
The use of The aforementioned term (swinish sleep) corresponding with the sacrifice of the men being described as such, would be a hint to the audience of Lady Macbeths witch-like character and would have, once again, have connected Lady Macbeth to witchcraft for the audience of Shakespeares day.
Unlike the witches, Lady Macbeth shows signs of vulnerability and becomes wracked with guilt. This is evident in her sleepwalking scene when she says Out damned spot! Out, I say! (VI, 1, 31) She, at that point in time, was haunted by the sight of blood on her hands and was convinced the blood was still there, showing signs of madness as she becomes mentally unhinged.
Lady Macbeths recollection of Macbeths words after Duncan was murdered also haunted and festered within her as shown when she starts to echo Macbeths statements and fears, when she said To bed, to bed: theres knocking at the gate! (VI, 1, 59) When Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and imagines that she is in hell, as shown by her statement Hell is murky, (VI, 1, 32) she does not appear on stage again and dies offstage.
The two most likely scenarios for her death would be suicide, or an act involving the doctor and/or the gentlewoman, as they were the only people that witnessed the truth about the murders. If suicide was the cause of Lady Macbeths death, as is likely, an even deeper level of guilt is shown and this emotional trauma felt by Lady Macbeth is not felt by the witches. These signs of weakness are contrary to the connection she had with the evil spirits in her evocation scene, and contrary to the behavior of the witches, as they do not feel, or even show any guilt or sympathy.
Despite not having a masculine appearance and showing signs of guilt and weakness, Lady Macbeth has been cleverly portrayed as the fourth witch by Shakespeare. I believe this is so, because, at the time this play was written, links such as the swine description of the attendants and the calling on evil spirits performed by Lady Macbeth would have been blatant parallels and links to witchcraft for the audience in the Elizabethan era, but are perhaps more rarely understood by todays audiences.
This may be because the idea of witches has been dismissed by modern society and their characteristics are not as widely known making those links somewhat outdated. Although Lady Macbeth as the fourth witch seems less believable as a concept today, we must not look at the play as two-dimensional, as it is read today, but instead learn the views of the people of the time when Shakespeares plays were written, after all, Shakespeare wrote about what he knew, and Macbeth was written four-hundred and three to four-hundred and seven years ago.