A Consideration of Plot and Character: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in Act I, Scene 7 Essay

Agonised and overwhelmed with indecision, Act 1, Scene 7 finds Macbeth vacillating aloud and alone within his castle’s walls. This nobleman is contemplating the murder of Duncan, his kin and king. After declaring he would rather have the assassination completed, Macbeth then acknowledges, ‘But in these cases We still have judgment here; that we but teach Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return To plague the inventor’ (1, 7, 7-10). This concern does not erupt from guilt or the weight of moral trespass, but over concern that they might share the same fate, as ‘this even-handed justice Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice To our own lips’ (1, 7, 10-12).

Yet this terrible act will do more than transgress the responsibilities to family and ruler—Macbeth is hosting Duncan, and as such has a heightened responsibility towards him. ‘As his host, Who should against his murderer shut the door, Not bear the knife myself’ (1, 7, 14-16). Although he realises all this, Macbeth is more poetically concerned about the reverberations the assassination might hold for him. ‘Duncan Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office, that his virtues Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against The deep damnation of his taking-off’ (1, 7, 16-20). Macbeth knows this is a good king, he comprehends he is only acting out of personal avarice and, ethical failures aside, he realises this act is implicitly wrong. However, there might be serious personal repercussions to the murder, costs he is not prepared to pay.

At this juncture Lady Macbeth enters, wanting to know why her husband is not with the king. He directly states, ‘We will proceed no further in this business’ (1, 7, 32). Predictably, his wife does not approve, and sees this indecision as cowardly. ‘Art thou afeard To be the same in thine own act and valour As thou art in desire?’ (1, 7, 40-42) He wants the crown but is unwilling to dirty his hands to achieve it. ‘Wouldst thou have that Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem’ (1, 7, 42-44). Pushing and insulting, Lady Macbeth will not be hindered by her husband’s reluctance.

When he claims to be simply acting within the limits of a man and no more, she uses the theme to further insult and pressure him back on course. Innately understanding that her husband’s qualms do not erupt from moral misgivings, she invokes his ambition. ‘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’ (1, 7, 51-53). If he would only dispatch Duncan, Macbeth would be advancing himself as a man. Additionally, although she is only a woman, she would not hesitate to act. ‘I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this’ (1, 7, 58-61). This woman would beat an infant to pieces if she said she would—so why would Macbeth falter in killing the man between him and the throne?

Displaying the ethical failings that got him into the plot to begin with, Macbeth simply asks, ‘If we should fail?’ (1, 7, 61) His wife is ready for this indication that he is returning to her position and declares, ‘But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we’ll not fail’ (1, 7, 64-65). She will ply Duncan’s companions with wine until they pass out, so there should be not difficulties before or after the event. ‘What cannot you and I perform upon The unguarded Duncan? what not put upon His spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt Of our great quell?’ (1, 7, 73-76). So not only will Macbeth face no risk during the act, but he will have two men to blame for the crime as well.

Convinced they will get away with the crime, she finally succeeds in putting him back on her course. In admiration for her man-like steeliness, he declares, ‘Bring forth men-children only; For thy undaunted mettle should compose Nothing but males’ (1, 7, 77-79). Macbeth wonders if framing the servants will be received, and his wife firmly answers, ‘Who dares receive it other, As we shall make our griefs and clamour roar Upon his death?’ (1, 7, 83-85). With this he is resolutely back on the course of assassination, and they leave to return to the dinner. Lady Macbeth has triumphed completely.
Although this scene is brief, it effectively develops these characters. Macbeth is unsure about the murder, primarily because he fears he will not escape retribution. Although he considers the obligations to kin, king and guest, it is in relation to how he might pay for transgression of these. True ethical or moral consideration does not enter into the matter. Despite his professed change of heart, he allows his wife to turn him back to slaughter in three turns of speech. Moved by personal ambition and desire for power, ironically Macbeth is ruled by his wife.

This commander of her husband is a fierce creature indeed. Perhaps the most memorable part of her dialogue is her vivid description of being willing to smash apart an infant’s skull. Fierce, determined and set on her husband’s ultimate advancement, Lady Macbeth ensures his participation by appealing to all his personality flaws. She is more masculine in her bellicose determination than her own husband, and distinctly overpowers his final wavering. Erupting horribly from the page, she is a frightening woman capable of almost anything to advance her own cause.

If it were not for her verbal performance in this key scene, Duncan would have lived. Not only does Act I, Scene 7 advance the plot of this tragedy, it reveals a disturbing yet engrossing interaction between this husband and wife. Macbeth, despite his elevated status as part of the nobility, still longs for a throne that is not his, while his wife is willing to twist that ambition to fulfil the bloody agreement. In less than one hundred lines, Shakespeare captures a forceful moment that further develops two distinct and supremely flawed characters.

A Consideration of Plot and Character:
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in Act I, Scene 7