For Macbeth, violence is simply a part of the job when it comes to fighting for his country. A good day for him would mean having his enemy’s head fixed upon a stake at the end of battle (Shakespeare 131). With all that he knows about warfare, breaking another person’s moral character wouldn’t be enough to drive him mad–he is closer to madness than most people realize. In fact, some people may only need a push to send them over the edge into violent tendencies.
Macbeth’s journey to his demise began when the witches prophecied that he would be king. “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” (I. iii. 50). This one line is all it took for Lady Macbeth and her husband to begin devising a plan to murder Duncan so that Macbeth could take his place as king. From this point on, there is no turning back for either of them.
Some scholars, such as Marina Favila, agree that Lady Macbeth and the witches had a significant impact on Macbeth. This is because “Macbeth embraces mortal thoughts, magical thoughts” which led him to “kills and kills again” (Favila 1). I believe that these “thoughts” were planted by the weird sisters and encouraged by Lady Macbeth. She knew of his susceptibility to violence (Favila 1).
She does this by challenging his manhood, “Yet do I fear thy nature/ It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness” (I.v.17-18). By doing this, she almost dares him to prove his masculinity and capability to lead through bloodshed as a warrior should.
In a letter to his wife, Macbeth shares the experience he had with the weird sisters. He happily tells Lady Macbeth about “what greatness is promised thee” (Shakespeare 18). His immediate thought was not plotting to kill the king to take the crown. Usually when someone uses word promise it refers to a future event; however, it is Lady Macbeth who immediately thinks about an alternative wayto get crowned–a way which involves “mortal thoughts”.
The dictionary defines scorpions as “a person or thing that causes trouble or annoyance”. In this context, a mind full of scorpions refers to a person who is constantly thinking about negative things and plotting to do evil deeds. This definition suits Lady Macbeth perfectly because she is always thinking about how to kill the king and take the crown, causing trouble for everyone around her.
Macbeth eventually succumbs to his wife’s wishes and murders King Duncan. He is immediately filled with regret and has nightmares about the murder. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, seems to be unfazed by what they have done. She is able to sleep soundly and does not have any regrets. This difference in reaction to the murder could be due to the fact that Lady Macbeth has a mind full of scorpions while Macbeth does not.
The tragedy of Macbeth is a result of Lady Macbeth’s Scorpio mind. She is always thinking about how to kill the king and take the crown, causing trouble for everyone around her. If it were not for her, Macbeth would not have murdered King Duncan and all the events that followed would not have happened. The tragedy could have been avoided if only Lady Macbeth had a different mindset.
Due to Macbeth’s prolonged exposure to death and destruction, his journey towards psychopathic tendencies is much more believable. According to the National Institute of Health, “impulsive aggression and behavioral disinhibition are prevalent among many psychiatric disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder” (Anderson and Kiehl). Consequently, it can be suggested that the underlying cause behind Macbeth’s mental capacity was due to post-traumatic stress.
In the play, we see how this assertion is plausible when Macbeth is unable to cope with the death of his best friend Banquo. Instead of grieve, he projects his anger and frustration onto those around him. For instance, he snaps at his wife for no apparent reason and even murders a group of men who were completely innocent. This type of impulsive behavior can be linked back to the types of disorders that are brought on by post-traumatic stress.
While it cannot be said definitively that post-traumatic stress was the root cause of Macbeth’s mental state, it is certainly a possibility given what we see in the play. It is clear that the death and destruction he witnessed took a toll on his mental stability, and eventually led to his downfall. If anything, this shows how even the strongest of minds can be broken by exposure to too much violence.
Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, reveals strong psychopathic tendencies. These include: “manipulativeness, cunning, lack of empathy, shallowness, impulsive behavior, and aggression” (Anderson and Kiehl). We see these in her speech after reading Macbeth’s letter aloud. She says,”I may pour my spirits in thine ear; and chastise with the valour of my tongue”, which showcases her intent to manipulateMacbeth using aggressive language (Shakespeare 19).
Lady Macbeth also has a lack of empathy, which she shows when Macbeth is talking about Duncan’s murder. “I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself / And falls on th’ other” (Shakespeare 32-35). Macbeth is worried about killing Duncan and his humanity is still intact at this point, but Lady Macbeth has no problem with it and she tries to convince him that he is just being sentimental.
Lastly, Lady Macbeth is shallow because all she cares about is power and being queen. In her speech after reading Macbeth’s letter she talks about how she would give up anything to be queen. “I have given suck, and know / How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me: / I would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums” (Shakespeare 21-24). She is willing to kill her own baby for power, which shows that she does not have a maternal instinct like most women.
A mother disciplines her disorderly child in the same way that Lady Macbeth prepares herself mentally before welcoming back Macbeth. She essentially prays for herself to be filled with “direst cruelty” and “stop up th’ access and passage to remorse” (Shakespeare 20). When Macbeth has second thoughts about killing Duncan, it’s Lady Macbeth’s response that shows her true nature.
She immediately goes into a speech about how his manhood and honor will be forever questioned if he does not go through with the murder. By saying this, she is threatening his masculinity, something that was very important to men in Shakespearean times. She continues to gaslight Macbeth by telling him that the daggers he is seeing are merely a figment of his imagination. She does all of this because she wants power and she knows that she can only get it by being married to the king.
When Macbeth finally kills Duncan, Lady Macbeth’s first instinct is to frame the guards for the murder. When that doesn’t work, she tries to wash the blood from her hands. But no matter how much she scrubs, the blood won’t come off. This is a clear symbol of her guilt. She is so consumed by it that she eventually goes mad and dies.
Macbeth is not without blame either. He is just as responsible for the murders as Lady Macbeth is. He allows himself to be manipulated by her and he succumbs to his own ambition. In the end, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are destroyed by their own hubris. Their tragic downfall is a result of their ambition and thirst for power.