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lady macbeth guilt essay

How is Guilt Presented in Macbeth?

lady macbeth guilt essay

Hi Mr Salles, I’m a new subscriber but using your articles and YouTube videos I recently scored 26-27/30 on a Macbeth essay, the text I struggle with the most. So I’d just thought I share it for any feedback.

The question was on guilt, the extract was Act 5 Scene 1 - Lady Macbeth sleep walking.

The Essay on How Guilt is Portrayed (27/30)

Throughout the tragedy “Macbeth”, William Shakespeare constantly references guilt, its nature and focus constantly shifting. It enacts the role of a moral compass allowing the audience to establish the difference between good and evil - which the lack of guilt comes to represent. Through his intertwining of the motifs of guilt, Shakespeare crafts a complex character arc for Macbeth as well as Lady Macbeth who partake in regicide- a grave sin.

The extract clearly portrays guilt through Lady Macbeth, who uses the motif of blood to portray her guilt. Through her exclamation of “ all the perfume of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand ” she portrays the weight the metaphorical blood has on her conscience, which entices the idea of guilt. The use of the hyperbole establishes her changed attitudes, as she had previously manipulated Macbeth though phrases such as “ a little water clears us of this deed ”, a euphemism for the regicide that had not affected her then but seems to now. The description of “ perfumes of Arabia ” can also connote wanting to be cleansed of sins, such as through religious sacraments such as anointing, which is done with oil. The perfume she mentions may not presents just the fragrance which will give her temporary salvation from the memory but rather her wanting redemption from God through undergoing a holy sacrament such as the anointing, which will rid her of the guilt she harbours due to the regicide plaguing her mind.

The audience at the time would have been aware of the gravity that disruptions to the Great Chain of Being had, which was a direct opposition of God, meaning Shakespeare’s religious allusion was intentional to show Lady Macbeth’s growth and how guilt has impacted her morality. While previously she called on “ spirits who tend on mortal thoughts, ” she now seeks God, portraying her guilt as a catalyst for her change. The fact she says the statement while sleep walking could also connote that it’s not intentional, while she acted in a way that a likened her to the witches, she is human and therefore a product of God’s creation, so will ultimately seek him out.

However, through her unrest, it’s clear that she has strayed too far from God due to her aid in Duncan’s regicide. Perhaps Shakespeare attempts to reinforce his allegiance to the Great Chain of Being and the divine right of kings, portraying it as God’s will. Following the gun powder plot, Shakespeare’s loyalty was questioned, allowing the assumption that his play was an ode to King James, not only as a form of flattery but also to reinstate to others that he criticised those who strayed from social norms, portraying their suffering through guilt and moral decline.

Earlier in the play, guilt is also portrayed through Macbeth’s initial reaction to committing regicide, when he begins to hallucinate, stating “ is that a dagger I see before me? ” The use of the rhetorical question makes it seem as those his thoughts are exposed, showing vulnerability. Possibly Shakespeare comments on Macbeth feeling lost, due to having committed a grave sin and in turn straying from God, who acted as a moral compass for him previously. The use of this highlights to the audience the impact that God has on morality. And how interacting with the supernatural has caused Macbeth to lose that, in turn following through with this malicious plan, an insidious plot of the Witches who plant the seeds for Macbeth’s ambition.

However, religious allusions are constantly threading into the play, such as when Macbeth states that Duncan is “ silver laced golden blood ”. At face value the use of “silver” and “gold”, which are precious metals, can connote his value to the nation while also portraying him as pure, due to the unreactive nature of the metals. The comparison of them together can highlight the difference in value that Macbeth and Duncan had as rulers, with Duncan portrayed by the more expensive metal “gold”.

Alternatively it can be interpreted as alluding to the betrayal of Jesus, who Judas betrayed for “silver” coins. England being a religious country would have realised the association, leading to Macbeth indirectly admitting the betrayal of not only Duncan, but also God. He betrayed the king who considered him his “kinsman” for power. His realisation portrays his indirect guilt, which seems to disappear as he turns more power hungry, following his id rather than his superego. Once he strays from God, he becomes primal and instinctive, showcasing to the audience that he exhibits animal like behaviour, indicating that he has rejected God, becoming like the animals who do not posses a conscience and act on instinct, portraying his moral decline through the fact he lacks guilt

Furthermore, Macbeth’s initial lack of guilt when killing the “traitor” Macdonwald, portrays that morality, and in turn guilt, is dictated by societal norms. When defending his country, Macbeth sees the killing of Macdonwald as necessary and as an honour. Despite the brutal violence of “ unseamed him from the nave to his chop s”, he’s still honoured as “ Brave Macbeth ”.

This is similar to how Macduff is honoured when killing Macbeth- the lack of guilt from both men representing that guilt is fueled by the superego. This highlights how Scottish warrior culture had a skewed sense of morality, making susceptibility to violence and manipulation, such as by the Witches and Lady Macbeth, more likely due to a lack of stability in beliefs.

The cyclic structure employed by Shakespeare also dictates that this is continuous, highlighting that the lack of guilt these men feel is dictated by society and leads to corruption due to their increased hubris, which in many cases is their hamartia. Perhaps this is Shakespeare’s comment on society, illustrating that the values they hold are transient and do not hold any value. Through this it can be interpreted that Shakespeare implores the audience to use their conscience as a moral guide rather than other influence, which through the use of Scottish warrior culture shows that guilt is subjective.

Perhaps Shakespeare also aims to educate society on the fact that violence breeds more violence. Such as shown through Macbeth committing regicide which lead to him experiencing the same thing, a warning to King James, that his violence towards the traitors of the gunpowder plot will result in increased violence towards him.

Ultimately, guilt is presented as subjective, adapting to suit the morality of the characters as they progress through the play. The tragedy comes to represent the effects of the supernatural, portraying how they impact the guilt that’s felt by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who throughout the play take many forms. He shows that power is transient and that righteousness ultimately prevails. Various religious references allow the audience to learn a lesson from the mistakes of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

I’ve had to make a few grammatical changes to the essay which is still, in places, confusing. However, I can see how an examiner could give this 27 marks, like Amelia’s teacher did.

I don’t have time to mark this, but Tilf.io will do it instantly.

The final mark is still under development. I’m much more interested in the feedback on how to improve.

Mr Salles Teaches English is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts which help you get top grades, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

This is a strong opening paragraph that establishes the theme of guilt in 'Macbeth' and its role as a moral compass. You've effectively introduced the concept of regicide and its significance within the play. At the top of the level, consider exploring the contrast between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's experiences of guilt in more depth to enhance your analysis.

The extract clearly portrays guilt through Lady Macbeth, who uses the motif of blood to portray her guilt. Through her exclamation of “all the perfume of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” she portrays the weight the metaphorical blood has on her conscience, which entices the idea of guilt. The use of the hyperbole establishes her changed attitudes, as she had previously manipulated Macbeth though phrases such as “a little water clears us of this deed”, a euphemism for the regicide that had not affected her then but seems to now. The description of “perfumes of Arabia” can also connote wanting to be cleansed of sins, such as through religious sacraments such as anointing, which is done with oil. The perfume she mentions may not presents just the fragrance which will give her temporary salvation from the memory but rather her wanting redemption from God through undergoing a holy sacrament such as the anointing, which will rid her of the guilt she harbours due to the regicide plaguing her mind.

Your analysis of Lady Macbeth's guilt using the motif of blood is insightful, and you've made a good connection to religious symbolism. To improve, try to link back to the question by discussing how Shakespeare explores guilt through these motifs, rather than just describing them.

The audience at the time would have been aware of the gravity that disruptions to the Great Chain of Being had, which was a direct opposition of God, meaning Shakespeare’s religious allusion was intentional to show Lady Macbeth’s growth and how guilt has impacted her morality. While previously she called on “spirits who tend on mortal thoughts,” she now seeks God, portraying her guilt as a catalyst for her change. The fact she says the statement while sleep walking could also connote that it’s not intentional, while she acted in a way that a likened her to the witches, she is human and therefore a product of God’s creation, so will ultimately seek him out.

You've provided a thoughtful consideration of the historical context and its impact on the audience's understanding of guilt. However, aim to integrate this analysis more seamlessly with the exploration of guilt in the play to strengthen the connection to the question. (My note - Tilf.io doesn’t understand the last sentence of this paragraph - neither do I),
This paragraph offers a clear understanding of the thematic implications of guilt and its relation to the divine right of kings. To reach a higher level, consider discussing how Shakespeare's portrayal of guilt serves to explore broader themes within the play, such as ambition and power.

Earlier in the play, guilt is also portrayed through Macbeth’s initial reaction to committing regicide, when he begins to hallucinate, stating “is that a dagger I see before me?” The use of the rhetorical question makes it seem as those his thoughts are exposed, showing vulnerability. Possibly Shakespeare comments on Macbeth feeling lost, due to having committed a grave sin and in turn straying from God, who acted as a moral compass for him previously. The use of this highlights to the audience the impact that God has on morality. And how interacting with the supernatural has caused Macbeth to lose that, in turn following through with this malicious plan, an insidious plot of the Witches who plant the seeds for Macbeth’s ambition.

Your examination of Macbeth's hallucination and its connection to guilt is well done. Try to delve deeper into how this moment reflects the play's overall exploration of guilt and its consequences for Macbeth's character development.

However, religious allusions are constantly threading into the play, such as when Macbeth states that Duncan is “silver laced golden blood”. At face value the use of “silver” and “gold”, which are precious metals, can connote his value to the nation while also portraying him as pure, due to the unreactive nature of the metals. The comparison of them together can highlight the difference in value that Macbeth and Duncan had as rulers, with Duncan portrayed by the more expensive metal “gold”.

The religious allusions in your analysis are effective, but the connection to the theme of guilt could be made clearer. Focus on how these allusions contribute to Shakespeare's exploration of guilt and its impact on Macbeth's psyche.
You've identified Macbeth's changing perception of guilt effectively. Enhance your response by discussing how this evolution in his character reflects the play's broader themes and Shakespeare's exploration of guilt.

Furthermore, Macbeth’s initial lack of guilt when killing the “traitor” Macdonwald, portrays that morality, and in turn guilt, is dictated by societal norms. When defending his country, Macbeth sees the killing of Macdonwald as necessary and as an honour. Despite the brutal violence of “unseamed him from the nave to his chops”, he’s still honoured as “Brave Macbeth”.

This paragraph shows an understanding of how societal norms influence perceptions of guilt. To improve, consider how Shakespeare uses these norms to explore the theme of guilt in a more nuanced way. (My note - if Tilf gives me a bit of advice I don’t understand or is vague, I simply ignore it - this is one such).
Your discussion of the cyclic structure and its relation to guilt is a good point. Further develop this idea by examining how Shakespeare uses this structure to comment on the nature of guilt and its societal implications.
The connection between violence and guilt is an interesting point. Expand on this by discussing how Shakespeare uses the characters' experiences to explore the cyclical nature of violence and guilt.
In your conclusion, you've summarized the subjective nature of guilt in the play. To enhance your conclusion, reflect on how Shakespeare's exploration of guilt contributes to the play's tragic impact and the lessons it imparts to the audience.

Mark: 21 - 24 (this is a beta feature and mark may not be very accurate)

My Note: If 27 is the correct mark from a senior examiner, 24 would still be allowed by another examiner.

Overall feedback: Your essay demonstrates a thoughtful and developed consideration of the theme of guilt in 'Macbeth'. You have used a range of references effectively and shown clear understanding of the text and its context. To further improve, ensure that your analysis consistently links back to the question, exploring how Shakespeare uses guilt to develop characters and themes throughout the play. Additionally, consider the implications of guilt on the play's structure and the audience's perception.

What went well: You have effectively used textual references to support your interpretations and have shown a good understanding of the historical and religious context of the play. Your analysis of the characters' experiences of guilt is detailed and well-explained.

Even better if: To achieve a higher level, ensure that your analysis is consistently focused on the question, exploring the theme of guilt in relation to the play's broader themes and character development. Additionally, consider the structural elements of the play and how they reinforce the exploration of guilt.

My Thoughts

I’ve divided some of Amelia’s longer paragraphs to make more paragraphs.

This means Tilf.io can give more specific feedback. I don’t disagree with any of the feedback it gives. The final Even Better If is especially helpful.

However, it does mean that you have to pick and choose which feedback is most useful to you. Looking at the final EBI is a great way to do this: which small changes will lead to this big change?

If you don’t want so much feedback, just paste in your work using fewer paragraph breaks.

Mr Salles Teaches English is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts which help you tet top grades, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

lady macbeth guilt essay

Could you please make some prediction videos for Romeo and Juliet 2024. Also I would be very grateful if you could share model grd 9 essays for R & J on your substack, beacuse there aren't that many resources. I have your R & J ultimate rev guide but i need help writing essay.

Thanks a lot.

Ready for more?

lady macbeth guilt essay

Lady Macbeth as Powerful

The essay below uses this simple structure:, an introductory paragraph to summarise an answer to the question, one paragraph about the extract, one about the rest of the play, one about context., lady macbeth:, the raven himself is hoarse, that croaks the fatal entrance of duncan, under my battlements. come, you spirits, that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full, of direst cruelty. make thick my blood., stop up the access and passage to remorse ,, that no compunctious visitings of nature, shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between, the effect and it come to my woman’s breasts,, and take my milk for gall , you murd'ring ministers,, wherever in your sightless substances, you wait on nature’s mischief. come, thick night,, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,, that my keen knife see not the wound it makes,, nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, to cry “hold, hold”, starting with this speech, explain how far you think shakespeare presents lady macbeth as a powerful woman., write about:, how shakespeare presents lady macbeth in this speech, how shakespeare presents lady macbeth in the play as a whole., the essay below is written using a simple structure:, an introductory paragraph to summarise an answer to the question., one paragraph about the extract., one about the rest of the play., before you read the answer below, why not have a think about how you'd answer this question. i've highlighted the quotes i'd write about - do you agree or would you focus elsewhere also, which sections from the rest of the play would you focus on and what contextual factors influenced lady macbeth's presentation, most importantly, though, have a think about how you'd write that opening paragraph - answer the question in two or three simple sentences., an example answer, during the majority of the play, lady macbeth is presented as being a powerful woman who defies the expected gender stereotype of the caring, soft, gentle female. by the end of the play, however, she kills herself as she discovers that although she can order the rest of the world around, she cannot control her own guilt, right at the opening of this speech, lady macbeth makes her position known when she describes “my” battlements. the use of the possessive pronoun emphasises that she thinks of the castle walls as being her own. she follows this by calling “come you spirits.” the use of this magic spell has two effects on the audience: firstly, she is calling for dark magic to come and support her. this would have reminded the audience of the possibility that she was a witch and had all the evil powers connected with them. also, she is using an imperative here: “come you spirits.” she’s not asking them but telling them. this shows that she expects even the supernatural world to answer to her demands. one of the things she demands is that they “stop up the access and passage to remorse.” this means that lady macbeth doesn’t want to feel any regret for what she is about to do, which would make her powerful. she is no longer going to be slowed down by feelings of compassion or care in her pursuit of power. finally, she says that the spirits should “take my milk for gall.” here, she is asking that her own milk be turned to poison. this suggests that she is turning something caring and supportive into something deadly, giving her even more evil powers. also, milk is pure white and suggests innocence and purity so lady macbeth is asking that what is innocent and pure about her gets turned into something deadly. throughout this speech lady macbeth sets herself up as being someone very powerful, who is able to control even the spirits., her power continues throughout the play. lady macbeth suggests the murder and talks macbeth into it – showing that she is powerfully persuasive. she also plans the murder, showing that she is intelligent as well. she also stays calm under pressure, such as when macbeth arrives with the daggers from the murder scene but lady macbeth returns them to the scene so that they don’t get caught. she is also able to manipulate macduff when she faints in shock after they discover duncan’s body. you could easily argue that lady macbeth’s ambition was more powerful than macbeth’s, and that the murder wouldn’t have ever happened with her involvement. she is determined to become powerful and will stop at nothing to get it. at the end the play though she is caught sleepwalking, and she confesses to all that they’ve done. this is interesting, however, as while she is sleep-walking she is not in control of herself so she is not really aware of what she’s doing. it could be the case that lady macbeth herself never felt guilty, though she couldn’t hide her real feelings from her dreams. in the end, she dies. malcolm claims that she killed herself quite violently, but since it happens off-stage we cannot be sure. what is clear is that although she could push macbeth around, and trick macduff, and even order the spirits to do her bidding, she couldn’t order the blood off her own hands., shakespeare presents a very powerful female character in lady macbeth, and although this would have been quite radical for people in jacobean england there were other powerful, female role models to choose from: bloody mary or queen elizabeth are good examples. this play, however, was written for king james who had just taken the throne of england, and james was not a fan of queen elizabeth – who had killed his mother, mary queen of scots (and he might not even have been a big fan of his mum, because she married the man who killed his dad) as a result, james would have enjoyed seeing this powerful woman become such a villain and then getting punished for her crimes..

No Sweat Shakespeare

Lady Macbeth Character Analysis

Lady Macbeth is possibly Shakespeare’s most famous and vivid female character. Everyone, whether they have read or seen the Macbeth play , has a view of her. She is generally depicted in the popular mind as the epitome of evil, and images of her appear over and over again in several cultures. She is usually portrayed in pictures as something like a Disney character, a cross between Cruella DeVille and the wicked stepmother in Snow White.

Although she has some of the most bloodthirsty lines in Shakespeare she is not quite Cruella De Ville or the wicked stepmother. The response she gets from the male characters suggests that she is a young, sexually attractive woman and, indeed, in her effort to influence Macbeth, she uses every method at her disposal, including the employment of her sexual charms.

She is usually depicted as a strong, tough woman and, in her drive to induce Macbeth to murder King Duncan, she appears to be that, but, having succeeded, it does not take long for her to crumble and break down, destroyed by guilt, and she ends up committing suicide.

Shakespeare does not have any evil characters. What he has are ordinary human beings, like you and me, placed in situations that challenge and test them. Some of them, like Iago in Othello , have personality defects, but that’s rare in Shakespeare and it’s not the case with Lady Mcbeth.

The challenges that Shakespeare presents his characters with generates different responses from different people. Lady Macbeth’s challenge is that she discovers that her husband has been tempted by an encounter with three witches to do something about their prediction that he will become king. She knows that the king would have to die for that to happen. When she gets a message that King Duncan plans to spend the night with them at Glamys Castle it seems to confirm the thought that they would have to kill him and that this was their once in a lifetime opportunity. That’s the situation into which she has been thrust.

She is as ambitious as Macbeth but she knows that for all his bravery in battle, all his soldierly and diplomatic qualities, he is basically much too soft –“too full of the milk of human kindness” – to take advantage of the opportunity. She makes up her mind to make him do it.

And she is right about his lack of resolve – they talk it over and he tells her that he just can’t do it. She goes into high gear and virtually holds his hand through it. One of her strongest qualities is persistence and she shows it here. Macbeth hesitates, equivocates and falters but she holds firm. She argues the case, she mocks him, bringing his manhood into question, she appeals to his sense of loyalty to her, she takes him to bed, and she finally prevails.

Macbeth kills Duncan in his sleep and from that moment their marriage begins to fall apart. They each fall into their own guilt-trip and hardly speak to each other. As king, Macbeth fears his political enemies and embarks on a reign of terror while Lady Macbeth stays in bed, unable to sleep, having nightmares when she does manage it. While walking and talking in her sleep she gives the game away about what they have done and sinks into a moral, physical and spiritual collapse. When Macbeth is on his last legs, with the rebels closing in, he gets the message that she’s dead. At that point, he says he doesn’t have time to think about it. “She should have died hereafter,” he says. Their partnership in this murderous enterprise has destroyed their marriage.

The promise of strength that we see in her at the beginning of the play is an illusion. What we are seeing is naked ambition and a willingness to act on it without having the resources to deal with the consequences. We see how guilt can eat up your soul and destroy you. We see how hollow ambition is, both in her journey and Macbeth’s. (Read the most  significant Macbeth ambition quotes .)

Character attributes

Some significant character attributes of Lady Macbeth are:

  • Controlling – she understands that her husband doesn’t have the savageness required to murder the king of his own accord, so she manipulates him. She plans out the murder, then takes control of events when Macbeth loses his mind.
  • Cruel – she is a violent, cold-blooded character who is happy to scheme the murder. She ridicules Macbeth when he doesn’t agree to participate in her violent plans.
  • Two-faced – she welcomes King Duncan like a friend whilst at the same time planning his murder. She also advises Macbeth to be two-faced.

Erika Sunnegårdh playing Lady Macbeth stands on stage in a blue dress holding a large axe

Erika Sunnegårdh as Lady Macbeth

Top Lady Macbeth Quotes

“I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness

( act 1, scene 5 )

“To beguile the time, Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye, Your hand, your tongue; look like th’ innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t.”
“ The raven himself is hoarse That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan Under my battlements”
“Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
“Would’st thou have that Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem, Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,” Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage? “

( act 1, scene 7 )

“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 And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this.”
“ Out! damned spot! “

( act 5, scene 1 )

Read more Lady Macbeth quotes .

See All Macbeth Resources

Macbeth | Macbeth summary | Macbeth characters : Banquo , Lady Macbeth , Macbeth , Macduff , Three Witches | Macbeth settings | Modern Macbeth translation  | Macbeth full text | Macbeth PDF  |  Modern Macbeth ebook | Macbeth for kids ebooks | Macbeth quotes | Macbeth ambition quotes |  Macbeth quote translations | Macbeth monologues | Macbeth soliloquies | Macbeth movies | Macbeth themes

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One of my favourite story this is????❤️

alisha

amazing helps me so much

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when was thhis posted

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Common Questions About Lady Macbeth

Is lady macbeth a true story.

Although Shakespeare used the names of real historical people in writing Hamlet, the events of the drama are mostly made up. So in that sense, Lady Macbeth is not a real character. There was an 11th-century Scottish king named Mac Bethad Mac Findlaich . Presumably, he had a wife but we know nothing about her.

What kind of character is Lady Macbeth?

Lady Macbeth is ambitious. She is manipulative and uses several techniques of a skilled manipulator to entice Macbeth into the murder of Duncan. Usually thought of as a hard, ruthless woman, she is, in reality, soft. Not long after the murder, unable to cope with her guilt, she falls apart and loses all sense of herself.

What happens to Lady Macbeth?

Lady Macbeth tries to prop her husband up as he descends into a guilt-ridden hell but she soon falls victim to the same condition. Her whole life literally becomes a nightmare, in which she relives the event that has brought her condition about. Her life becomes unbearable and she commits suicide.

Who does Lady Macbeth kill?

Lady Macbeth does not personally kill anyone. She conspires in the murder of the king, Duncan, though, and actively encourages Macbeth to kill him. It is Macbeth who does the actual killing. Lady Macbeth plays no part in the many further killings that Macbeth engineers. Soon after the killing of Duncan the two don’t even talk to each other.

What made Lady Macbeth go crazy?

Lady Macbeth is partly responsible for the kind of killing that was taboo in Mediaeval Scotland – murdering one’s king, murdering one’s relative and murdering a guest in one’s house. In killing Duncan the couple did all three. She begins to have nightmares about the murder and, in particular, the blood on her hands, which she can’t get rid of no matter how hard she scrubs. That drives her to suicide.

How does Lady Macbeth feel after the killing of Duncan?

Once Duncan is killed Lady Macbeth is pleased that her ambition to be the wife of a king has been achieved, but that feeling very soon turns sour as guilt begins to eat away at her. She then she has feelings that she can’t live with, and ends up killing herself (one of 13 suicides in Shakespeare’s plays ).

Is 2016 film Lady Macbeth based on Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth character?

No. Lady Macbeth is a 2016 British film based on Nikolai Leskov’s novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District , and starring Florence Pugh.

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The Theme of Guilt in "Macbeth"

The bloody dagger is one manifestation of the Scottish king's remorse

Francesco Zuccarelli / Wikimedia Commons 

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One of Shakespeare's most famous and fearsome tragedies, " Macbeth " tells the story of the Thane of Glamis, a Scottish general who hears a prophecy from three witches that he will one day be king. He and his wife, Lady Macbeth, murder King Duncan and several others in order to fulfill the prophecy, but Macbeth is wracked with guilt and panic over his evil deeds. 

The guilt Macbeth feels softens the character, which allows him to appear at least slightly sympathetic to the audience. His exclamations of guilt before and after he murders Duncan stay with him throughout the play, and provide some of its most memorable scenes. They're ruthless and ambitious, but it's their guilt and remorse which are the undoing of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. 

How Guilt Affects Macbeth — and How It Doesn't

Macbeth’s guilt prevents him from fully enjoying his ill-gotten gains. At the start of the play, the character is described as a hero, and Shakespeare persuades us that the qualities which made Macbeth heroic are still present, even in the king's darkest moments. 

For example, Macbeth is visited by the ghost of Banquo, whom he murdered to protect his secret. A close read of the play suggests that the apparition is the embodiment of Macbeth’s guilt, which is why he nearly reveals the truth about King Duncan’s murder.

Macbeth's sense of remorse is apparently not strong enough to prevent him from killing again, however, which spotlights another key theme of the play: a lack of morality in the two main characters. How else are we expected to believe Macbeth and his wife feel the guilt they express, yet are still able to continue their bloody rise to power?

Memorable Scenes of Guilt in Macbeth

Perhaps the two best-known scenes from Macbeth are based on a sense of dread or guilt that the central characters encounter.

First is the famous Act II soliloquy from Macbeth, where he hallucinates a bloody dagger, one of many supernatural portents before and after he murders King Duncan. Macbeth is so consumed by guilt that he's not even sure what's real:

Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

Then, of course, is the pivotal Act V scene where Lady Macbeth tries to wash imaginary bloodstains from her hands. ("Out, out, damned spot!"), as she laments her role in the murders of Duncan, Banquo, and Lady Macduff :

Out, damned spot! Out, I say! — One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky! — Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? — Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.

This is the beginning of the descent into madness that ultimately leads Lady Macbeth to take her own life, as she cannot recover from her feelings of guilt.

How Lady Macbeth’s Guilt Differs From Macbeth's

Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind her husband’s actions. In fact, it could be argued that Macbeth’s strong sense of guilt suggests that he would not have realized his ambitions or committed the murders without Lady Macbeth there to encourage him.

Unlike Macbeth’s conscious guilt, Lady Macbeth’s guilt is subconsciously expressed through her dreams and is evidenced by her sleepwalking. By presenting her guilt in this way, Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that we are unable to escape remorse from wrongdoing, no matter how feverishly we may try to cleanse ourselves. 

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Shakespeare: Model Answers ( AQA GCSE English Literature )

Revision note.

Nick

  • Model Answers

Below, you will find a full-mark, Level 6 model answer for a Shakespeare essay. The commentary below each section of the essay illustrates how and why it would be awarded Level 6. Despite the fact it is an answer to a Macbeth question, the commentary below is relevant to any Shakespeare question.

As the commentary is arranged by assessment objective, a student-friendly mark scheme has been included here:

when techniques are explained fully and relevant to your argument

Model Answer Breakdown

The commentary for the below model answer as arranged by assessment objective: each paragraph has a commentary for a different assessment objective, as follows:

  • The introduction includes commentary on all the AOs
  • Paragraph 1 includes commentary on AO1 (answering the question and selecting references)
  • Paragraph 2 includes commentary on AO2 (analysing the writer’s methods)
  • Paragraph 3 includes commentary on AO3 (exploring context)
  • The conclusion includes commentary on all the AOs

The model answer answers the following question:

image-merged-model-answer-shakespeare-master-aqa-gcse-english-literature

Level 6, Full-Mark Answer

Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a female character who changes dramatically over the course of the play: she changes from a ruthless, remorseless woman who is able to manipulate her husband, to one that is sidelined by Macbeth and, ultimately, totally consumed by guilt. Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that unchecked ambition and hubris, particularly for women, have fatal consequences.

Commentary:

  • The introduction is in the form of a thesis statement
  • It includes a central argument based on my own opinions
  • "Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a female character who changes dramatically over the course of the play"
  • "she changes from a ruthless, remorseless woman who is able to manipulate her husband, to one that is sidelined by Macbeth and, ultimately, totally consumed by guilt."
  • It acknowledges Shakespeare as an author making deliberate choices and conveying a message:
  •   "Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that ..."
  • It includes modal language to show a conceptualised approach

Lady Macbeth’s strength – and ability to command and manipulate those around her – dramatically diminishes from the first time the audience sees her, in Act I, Scene V, to the last time, here in Act V, Scene I. The first time she is presented to the audience, Lady Macbeth is presented as a very untypical woman: far from being a dutiful and subservient wife, she is shown to be plotting on Macbeth’s behalf, speaks of him disparagingly (she worries he is too kind to carry out her plan), and is presented as having power over both Macbeth and her surroundings. This dominance can be seen in her use of imperatives, both when she is directing Macbeth to disguise his true intentions to Duncan (and be a “serpent underneath”), and later, more forcefully, when she orders Macbeth to “give” her the daggers. This shows that Lady Macbeth has almost assumed the dominant position in their relationship, and taken on the typically ‘male’ characteristics of authority and strength (whereas Macbeth’s “kindness” can here be seen as a sign of weakness). However, there is an irony in Shakespeare’s use of imperatives later in the play: in Act V, Scene I, Lady Macbeth is shown to have lost her power to command those things around her and her use of imperatives (“Out, damned spot! Out, I say”) speaks more of abject desperation than her authority. She has lost the power to command her husband, her surroundings and even her own mind. Shakespeare could be suggesting that the unusual power dynamic presented at the beginning of the play is unnatural, and that, as a woman, Lady Macbeth would never be able to maintain this type of authority without succumbing to madness.

  • The paragraph begins with a topic sentence
  • Topic sentence directly addresses the question (the “change” the character undergoes)
  • Topic sentence has a narrower focus than the thesis statement
  • The whole paragraph is related to the topic sentence
  • The paragraph includes at least one reference to the extract
  • The paragraph includes multiple references to the rest of the play
  • All references are linked to the question and support the argument of my topic sentence

Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a character whose self-control and authority over her own mind evaporates by Act V. We see this in the repetitious and fragmented language Shakespeare has her use in this scene. The repetition of several words and phrases (“to bed”; “come”; “O”) shows a character who is not in control of her own thought processes and has lost agency over her own mind. Shakespeare emphasises this by using contrasting verse forms for Lady Macbeth as the play progresses. Initially, she uses the order and authority of blank verse, which reflects her own power and control. However, in this scene, Lady Macbeth does not use the regular or ordered language of blank verse, but rather the disordered form of prose. This reflects both her loss of status and power (prose is often used by commoners in Shakespeare’s plays), but also her own mental illness. Indeed, the description of her having a “disease” in this scene is ironic, since earlier in the play she describes Macbeth as “brainsickly” and “infirm”: it is now she who is the weaker of the two. Perhaps Shakespeare uses this role reversal once again to suggest that women assuming positions of dominance is unnatural and may lead to mental decline.

  • The analysis provides evidence for the points in the topic sentence (all evidence relates to Lady Macbeth’s mental state)
  • Whole-text analysis of Shakespeare’s methods, not just focused on the extract
  • Not just analysis of Shakespeare’s language, but also of form
  • The analysis includes other wider choices made by Shakespeare: 
  • Characterisation
  • All analysis is explained fully in terms of the question and my own argument
  • The analysis explained in terms of Shakespeare’s overall message

Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a character who loses her resolve over the mortal sin of regicide as the play progresses. Initially, Lady Macbeth is presented as a character who believes that both she and her husband will be able to evade the typical consequences of committing a crime – the murder of a king – that would have been seen as truly heinous. Not only is it a crime punishable by death, but the religious consequences would be dire: eternal punishment in Hell. Shakespeare presents her as acknowledging the seriousness of the crime in Act I, Scene V where she references Heaven and Hell prior to the murder of Duncan, but she believes, arrogantly, that she is strong enough to evade capture, as well as cloak herself from feelings of guilt and remorse. Her hubris is also shown later in the play, after the regicide has been committed, when she tells Macbeth that “a little water clears us of this deed”, implying that it will be straightforward to escape the psychological impact of committing a mortal sin. However, by Act V, Scene I Lady Macbeth is shown to have completely lost her resolve, and is haunted by those psychological impacts: she sees blood, which symbolically represents guilt, on her hands, which she cannot wash off. Indeed, later she states that Duncan had “so much blood in him”, an admission that a little water could never have cleansed the guilt from her conscience (“what’s done cannot be undone”). This irony is highlighted again by Shakespeare when Lady Macbeth states that “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”, the hyperbole emphasising the enormity of her crime. Shakespeare could be suggesting that no one can escape the psychological and theological consequences of regicide. Indeed, the Doctor states that he has never seen anyone in Lady Macbeth’s state die “holily”, echoing Lady Macbeth’s own earlier reference to Hell.

  • Does not include any irrelevant historical or biographical facts
  • All context is linked to the topic sentence (“loses resolve over the mortal sin of regicide”) and the argument as a whole
  • All context is integrated into analysis of Shakespeare’s methods
  • Understanding contextual ideas and perspectives provides additional insight into my main argument
  • Context is sometimes implied, rather than explicit. This still shows sophisticated awareness of ideas (here about religion and Hell)

In conclusion, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a female character who changes from a character who assumes dominance over her husband and her surroundings, to a woman who loses all agency. Moreover, initially, Shakespeare presents her as a character who seemingly has the mental fortitude to deal with the mortal sin of regicide with a clear conscience, but this mental strength also evaporates. Shakespeare could be issuing a warning to those people who believe they can escape the psychological and theological consequences of sin, especially if they are women who assume an atypical and unnatural position of power.

  • The conclusion uses keywords from the question
  • The conclusion links to the thesis
  • The conclusion sums up more detailed arguments outlined in the topic sentences of all paragraphs
  • It also gives a fuller understanding of Shakespeare’s intentions, based on ideas explored in the essay

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Author: Nick

Nick is a graduate of the University of Cambridge and King’s College London. He started his career in journalism and publishing, working as an editor on a political magazine and a number of books, before training as an English teacher. After nearly 10 years working in London schools, where he held leadership positions in English departments and within a Sixth Form, he moved on to become an examiner and education consultant. With more than a decade of experience as a tutor, Nick specialises in English, but has also taught Politics, Classical Civilisation and Religious Studies.

Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Macbeth Guilt — The Effects Of Guilt On Macbeth And Lady Macbeth

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The Effects of Guilt on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

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Published: Jan 12, 2022

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lady macbeth guilt essay

IMAGES

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  5. The Effects Of Guilt On Macbeth And Lady Macbeth: [Essay Example], 1287

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  6. Top-Level GCSE Model Macbeth Essay on Theme of Guilt

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  6. A5 S1 31-60: Guilt catches up with Lady Macbeth

COMMENTS

  1. The Guilt of Lady Macbeth

    The Guilt of Lady Macbeth. Macbeth is a play full of dishonest deeds. Most of these deeds are brought up by power, hunger, and greed. In the end these deeds led to mostly death. In the first act Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to kill King Duncan. Macbeth finally gives in and kills Duncan, which at first makes Lady Macbeth happy.

  2. Grade 9 Macbeth Essay Question Model Answer

    Annotated Macbeth Grade 9 essay. Shakespeare presents guilt through the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to explore the terrible mental, and ultimately fatal, consequences of their sinful actions (AO1). The act of regicide is such a religiously appalling act that Macbeth feels intense guilt immediately after committing the murder of King ...

  3. AQA English Revision

    When it comes to guilt, Lady Macbeth comes up most often. She starts the play being adamant that she will feel no regret - she's the classic image of the psychopathic killer. ... This is a completely reasonable question and if you're going to mention this idea in an essay you should really look at this. Without being able to ask Shakespeare ...

  4. How is Guilt Presented in Macbeth?

    The Essay on How Guilt is Portrayed (27/30) Throughout the tragedy "Macbeth", William Shakespeare constantly references guilt, its nature and focus constantly shifting. It enacts the role of a moral compass allowing the audience to establish the difference between good and evil - which the lack of guilt comes to represent.

  5. Theme Of Guilt In Macbeth: [Essay Example], 986 words

    The theme of guilt in Macbeth is further reinforced by the portrayal of the witches and their manipulation of Macbeth's psyche. The witches' prophecies and manipulative tactics serve to fuel Macbeth's ambition and ultimately lead him to commit the murder of King Duncan. However, their influence also plays a significant role in exacerbating ...

  6. Lady Macbeth's Guilt in Shakespeare's Macbeth

    Finally, Lady Macbeth's guilt causes her to feel powerless and eventually leads to her tragic end. The guilt that she experiences eventually becomes too great for her to bear, which leads her to end her life. Her suicide is a tragic outcome of the guilt that she experiences and is a clear indication of how the consequences of one's actions can ...

  7. AQA English Revision

    The essay below is written using a simple structure: ... she cannot control her own guilt. Right at the opening of this speech, Lady Macbeth makes her position known when she describes "my" battlements. The use of the possessive pronoun emphasises that she thinks of the castle walls as being her own. ... Lady Macbeth suggests the murder and ...

  8. Lady Macbeth: Analysis Of Lady Macbeth's Character ️

    Lady Macbeth is possibly Shakespeare's most famous and vivid female character. Everyone, whether they have read or seen the Macbeth play, has a view of her. She is generally depicted in the popular mind as the epitome of evil, and images of her appear over and over again in several cultures. She is usually portrayed in pictures as something ...

  9. PDF AQA English Literature GCSE Macbeth: Themes

    Guilt, Innocence, & Paranoia. unchecked, amoral ambition that causes their fall from grace, it is their guilt and paranoia that breaks them. Without guilt, they wouldn't be driven insane by their deeds. Without paranoia, their murder spree might have begun and ended with Duncan's death. subject when 'Macbeth' was first being written and ...

  10. Depiction Of Guilt And Madness Of Lady Macbeth In ...

    The essay does a good job of exploring the theme of madness and guilt in Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's play, Macbeth. The essay has a clear introduction and conclusion, and it is well-structured. The essay uses synonyms effectively and avoids the word "provides." The essay has a good flow of ideas and a clear focus.

  11. PDF Esha Manjal LADY MACBETH essay

    This projects the inability of even nature to battle with the crime that Lady Macbeth is associated with: the crime of regicide. The depth of her crimes is also reiterated through this scene, as the focus often shifts from her recounting Duncan's murder, to Banquo's murder, to Lady Macduff's murder. This reiterates the intensity of the ...

  12. Guilt in Shakespeare's "Macbeth"

    The Theme of Guilt in "Macbeth". The bloody dagger is one manifestation of the Scottish king's remorse. One of Shakespeare's most famous and fearsome tragedies, "Macbeth" tells the story of the Thane of Glamis, a Scottish general who hears a prophecy from three witches that he will one day be king. He and his wife, Lady Macbeth, murder King ...

  13. Macbeth Critical Essays

    Macbeth's. Topic #3. A motif is a word, image, or action in a drama that happens over and over again. There is a recurring motif of blood and violence in the tragedy Macbeth. This motif ...

  14. PDF Six Macbeth' essays by Wreake Valley students

    s on transfers all that built-up rage into it. Lady Macbeth is shown by Shakespeare to be strongly emotional, passionate and ambitious; these act almost as her ham. rtias leading to her eventual suicide in act 5. Shakespeare's specific portrayal of Lady Macbeth is done to shock the audience, she. is a character contradic.

  15. Exploring themes of guilt and remorse in Macbeth

    Guilt in Macbeth best manifests itself in Lady Macbeth's mental deterioration. In act 5, scene 1, Lady Macbeth believes that she has literal blood on her hands when she says: Out, damned spot! Out ...

  16. Analysis of How Shakespeare Presents Guilt in The Play "Macbeth"

    In addition, Shakespeare presents guilt, and development of it, through the character of Lady Macbeth. Initially, she feels no remorse or guilt. In Act 2, scene 2 of Macbeth, Shakespeare writes, 'My hands are of your colour, but I shame to wear a heart so white'. Lady Macbeth is unapologetically impenitent, advising Macbeth to be the same.

  17. How is the theme of guilt explored in act 5, scene 1, of Macbeth?

    Share Cite. In this scene, Lady Macbeth reveals her guilt through her actions while she walks in her sleep. The scene opens with one of Lady Macbeth's servants consulting a doctor about the ...

  18. The Guilt of Lady Macbeth Essay

    Open Document. The Guilt of Lady Macbeth Shakespeare's "Macbeth" holds many hidden themes within its already exuberant plot. The first of these surrounds the murder of Duncan and the role that both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself played. However, the true guilt of the murder can fall on either character. Although Macbeth physically committed ...

  19. Macbeth Guilt Essay

    Popular Macbeth Guilt Essay Topics Character Analysis. Analyze the evolution of Macbeth's guilt throughout the play. Write a narrative from Macbeth's perspective, exploring his feelings of guilt after each murder. Compare the manifestations of guilt in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Describe the psychological effects of guilt on Lady Macbeth.

  20. Shakespeare: Model Answers

    Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a female character who changes dramatically over the course of the play: she changes from a ruthless, remorseless woman who is able to manipulate her husband, to one that is sidelined by Macbeth and, ultimately, totally consumed by guilt. Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that unchecked ambition and hubris, particularly for women, have fatal consequences.

  21. Lady Macbeth: a Psychological Analysis

    Lady Macbeth is a complex and multifaceted character whose psychological motivations and actions are deeply rooted in the societal and gender dynamics of her time. Her ambition, guilt, and descent into madness are all manifestations of the complex interplay between her internal desires and the external expectations placed upon her as a woman.

  22. The Effects of Guilt on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

    The essay provides a satisfactory introduction to the topic of the effects of guilt on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. However, there is a lack of coherence between paragraphs and the essay's conclusion is abrupt. The use of synonyms for the word "provides" is adequate, but the word choice in other areas could be improved to create more dynamic ...