Values and Beliefs


A Comparison of Macbeth's and Lady Macbeth's ideologies of what a man should be.
Word count: 912, . . By Peter.

Each character in Macbeth is presented with an individual ethical framework, a major part of which is his or her opinions on what is to be valued in a man. Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth with strong convictions of what constitutes manly qualities, while her husband lacks moral confidence. Initially Macbeth possesses his own ideals but near the conclusion of Act 1, discards his morality to adopt the more resolute values of his wife.

In response to Lady Macbeth's accusations that since Macbeth no longer wishes to proceed with their plan to murder Duncan, he is a coward, Macbeth states,

  "Prithee, peace.
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who does more is none."
(Act 1, Scene 7; Lines 45-47)

This clearly shows that he believes a man to be one who does only what a man is meant to do. Anyone who does more than is manly is not a man. Macbeth regards killing the king as going beyond what a man should do, and were he to commit the crime, he would no longer be a man. His wife, however, sees killing the king as increasing Macbeth's manhood rather than nullifying it.

  "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."
(Act 1, Scene 7; Lines 49-51)

To this, Macbeth has no response, and so, Lady Macbeth continues to express her disappointment that he is not absolutely fixed in purpose and, therefore, not manly. She states this in Lines 35-43 and most graphically in the following passage.

  "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."
(Act 1, Scene 7; Lines 54-59)

Lady Macbeth believes that Macbeth is required to complete the scheme that he has started. To give this point great impact, she claims, that had she sworn that she would kill her baby in a most gruesome manner, she would. Likewise, she necessitates that Macbeth keeps his word. This value of being true to one's word has been upheld as a manly value throughout western culture, and was very strongly adhered to by the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. (2001, class notes, Ms Crawford)

  "Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account thy love."
(Act 1, Scene 7; Lines 35-38)
. .
"What beast was't then
That made you break this enterprise to me?"
(Act 1, Scene 7; Lines 47-48)

She draws an analogy between his love for her and his changing attitude towards the murder of King Duncan, and questions his manhood regarding his indecision to kill Duncan. If Macbeth's desire to be king was mere intoxication, she is not to know whether or not his love for her is a passing infatuation, which should not be taken seriously. In order to keep his wife's love for him and prove his manliness, in accord with her values, Macbeth decides to continue with his speculative plan to get the crown. He proves that he was not drunk in his desire to obtain the crown through murder, thus pleasing his wife, and showing that he does love her.

After this point Macbeth submits to Lady Macbeth's wishes and ceases to query the execution of the plan, but asks
"If we should fail?"(Act 1, Scene 7; Line 59) This shows that Macbeth is persuaded by Lady Macbeth's argument as he no longer doubts if he will attempt to kill Duncan, but instead inquires in the context of the imminent occurrence of the event. This shows the bending of Macbeth's, soon to be broken, moral belief of what a man is. According to his first definition of what a man may do,
. . . . . . . . ."I dare do all that may become a man;
. . . . . . . . . Who does more is none.", (Act 1, Scene 7; Lines 46-47)
if he kills the king he is no longer a man. Conversely, according to his new set of values, one who does more than is the accepted standard, and does kill the king, is more of a man than one who does not. When Macbeth exploits his new found values of manhood, he finds that they do not make him more of a man, but rather, a tormented insomniac whose mind is full of scorpions
(Act 3, Scene 2; Line 36) and who believes he would be better with the dead (Act 3, Scene 2; Line 19).

Lady Macbeth believes that manhood can be destroyed by fear, as demonstrated in the next extract, spoken after Scotland's thanes have left the feast at which Macbeth claimed to have seen Banquo's ghost.

  Lady Macbeth, "What! quite unmanned in folly?"
"If I stand here, I saw him."
Lady Macbeth,
"Fie, for shame!" (Act 3, Scene 4; Lines 72-74)

The phrase, "quite unmanned in folly?" is challenging Macbeth's manhood, since what appears to Lady Macbeth and the guests to be nothing, has greatly unnerved him. In this instance, Lady Macbeth's beliefs are again in agreement with the Anglo-Saxon/Viking value that, a man must have "absolute courage against impossible odds" (2001, class notes, Ms Crawford).

While Macbeth does not possess this manly quality at that particular point in the play, it is exhibited in his extreme defiance to the English and Scottish invading force in Act 5, Scene 7.

  "They have tied me to a stake: I cannot fly,
But bear-like I must fight the course. What's he
That was not born of woman? Such a one
Am I to fear, or none."
(Act 5, Scene 7; Lines 1-4)

This short-lived bravery, founded on the misleading information obtained from the weird sisters, soon gives way to admittance of fear, in the following quote.

  "Accursed be that tongue that tells me so,
For it hath cowed the better part of man."
(Act 5, Scene 8; Lines 16-17)

When Macbeth finds that the man he is fighting was not born of woman he admits alarm and loss of of his manly quality. "For it hath cowed the better part of man." (Act 5, Scene 8; Line 17) states that Macbeth's manhood has been made to tremble.

Macbeth's manhood was not founded on good manly values, as due to his minimal integrity, displayed by the corruption of his convictions, his originally honourable ideals amounted to nothing. Although Lady Macbeth's principles were also wrong, by Christian standards, she was of greater integrity than Macbeth, as she adhered to her values until her death. Lady Macbeth, it seems, imposed her ideals on her husband in her hope that he would be her ideal man.