In Macbeth it almost seems to be a disease, which affects a person, making him act like a child of darkness. It spreads from one to another, leaving its last victim with is self-torment. But people react differently to illnesses. This is the role reversal which happens between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth throughout the course of the play. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth encounters three strange sisters, who tell him that he will become Thane of Cawdor and then King.
After the first prophecy occurs, Macbeth seems to contract this disease: “I am Thane of Cawdor. If good, why do I yield to that suggestion/ Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair/ And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,/ My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,/ Shakes so my single state” ( I, iii, 133-136;139-140). Macbeth’s fears of these thoughts show that he is still good, since he can realize its gravity, but some evil has already influenced him. In fact, he has started thinking of killing his King, and he yields to these thoughts. But he is struggling against this wickedness within him, like when he says: “If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me,/ Without my stir” ( I, iii, 143-144).
This proves that he is still in control of himself and of his actions and he hopes he will not have to do anything to become King. Still he is afraid of these evil suggestions, and most of all, he is afraid that others might see them: ” Stars, hide your fires,/ Let not light see my black and deep desires” ( I, iv, 50-51). He is afraid that light, representing the Holy Grace, might reveal to everybody the evil he sees inside of him. But it almost seems that this evil, which is affecting his thoughts, is convincing Macbeth to stay away from the light, which could reveal to Macbeth what is happening to him and help him fight it.
Lady Macbeth contracts this disease too, but her reaction is completely different. As soon as she finds out that, according to the witches’ words, Macbeth will become King, her ambition and desires give free way for the illness to take over. Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me, from the crown to the toe, topfull 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 breast, And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers, ( I,v, 35-43).
This shows that their reaction to this disease is completely different. Macbeth fights against it, her wife instead, calls upon evil and welcomes it into her. The fact that she wants to exchange the milk in her breasts, which comes from the gift of birth, for an acid, shows how this disease is killing all her mother’s instincts. When Macbeth comes back to his castle and tells his wife that Duncan will be coming, Lady Macbeth immediately sees the opportunity, which is presented and tries to convince his husband that they must kill Duncan and she tells him she would take care of how, since his husband is not capable of now.
Macbeth, though, is still struggling against the evil inside him. His fears of what Lady Macbeth wants him to do, and the fact that Duncan has always been good to him, seem to convince him not to go through with the deed: ” We will proceed no further in this business. / He hath honored me of late, and I have bought/ Golden opinions from all sorts of people,” ( I, vii, 31-33). After a while, though, Lady Macbeth ’s evil persuades his husband to perform it, but then she says: “Had he not resembled/ My father as he slept, I had done’t” ( II, ii, 13-14). Here we see how Lady Macbeth is actually the opposite of Macbeth.
At the beginning of the play, Macbeth appears to us as a good person, even though he shows some signs of wickedness in his thoughts. While Lady Macbeth, instead, is very wicked, but now she shows a human emotion that wasn’t evident before, showing that there is some good, even if small, in her. After killing Duncan, Macbeth is completely torn apart from his fears and sense of guilt: ” I’ll go no more. / I am afraid to think what I have done,/ Look on’t again I dare not” ( II, ii, 50-52). He commits the murder but forgot to leave the daggers, and now he’s afraid to go back and look at what he’s done.
But after becoming King Macbeth disease grows and transforms his fears, making him stronger in evil: “To be thus is nothing;/ But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo/ Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature/ Reigns that dauntless temper of his mind,/ There is none but he/ Whose being I do fear” ( III, i, 48-51;54-55). Banquo was present when the witches foretold Macbeth’s future; they even told him that his descendants would be Kings, and Macbeth suspects Banquo knows he has killed Duncan. So he plans to kill him and his son, Fleance. By now he doesn’t need his wife’s support anymore, she is even ignorant of his husband’s plan.
Lady Macbeth, instead is growing weaker and weaker. She is not happy as a queen and the evil, which is inside her and gave her the strength to act without emotions is leaving her with her guilt and self-torment: “Naught’s had, all’s spent,/ Where our desire is got without content. / ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy/ Then by destruction dwell in doubtful joy” ( III, iii, 4-7). She says she would prefer death, to a life with no hapiness and full of fears. After Banquo’s death, Macbeth realizes that he has gone too far: “I am in blood/ Stepped so far that should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er” ( III, iv, 136-138).
Like Lady Macbeth before, now he too is completely under the influence of his illness. Even though he has the chance to go back, although it would be as hard as to go on, he decides, nevertheless, to continue his tyranny. Macbeth then goes to talk to the three witches again, who invoke three apparitions. Each one tells him one thing: 1) Beware Macduff; 2) None of woman born shall harm Macbeth; 3) Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him. Even though he feels a lot safer from what he has heard, he still fears Macduff. Here Macbeth changes again.
He loses any type of hesitation he had before and becomes even more ruthless. In fact after finding out that Macduff has fled to England he decides to kill his family: ” The castle of Macduff I will surprise, / Seize upon Fife, give to the edge o’the sword/ His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls/ That trace him in his line” (IV, i, 150-153). This strange disease seems to have drained him of all human emotions. It has a similar effect to Lady Macbeth too, like when she says: “I would while it was smiling in my face,/ Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums/ And dashed the brains out” (I, vii, 56-58).
The disease’s evil has demented their minds at a point where they are willing to kill innocent women and children for their purpose. They do not feel any pity, just an insatiable thirst for blood. While Macbeth’s disease makes his hate and fear grow stronger, Lady Macbeth’s is consuming her. She sleepwalks and talks about Duncan’s murder in her sleep. She does not have the strength to fight the evil, she now finally realizes, she called upon. She tries to find some comfort: “She has a light by her continually” (V, i, 16).
She hopes that this light, which represents the power of goodness, might fight the evil that is making her crazy and purify her sins. But by now it is too late and her fears, sense of guilt, and trouble mind will lead to her suicide. This last event does not have any effect on Macbeth’s behavior, though. He acts indifferently as if nothing happened: “She should have died hereafter,/ There would have been a time for such a word” (V, v, 17- 18). It seems as if the life of his beloved, who even gave him the evil courage to start the bloodshed, means nothing to him.
He is only concerned with his own well being. At the end of the play, Macduff fights Macbeth, who is still influenced by evil. Even though Macbeth knows that he is the one that will kill him, he refuses to yield to the rightful king and is slained by Macduff. The role reversal between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth happens gradually. Macbeth, who appears to us as a just man, is the first who is contracted by this disease and its affects are shown as the first signs of wickedness influence his thoughts. At first he tries to banish these evil thoughts away resisting with his mere will.
But this illness slowly alters his will and mind, while the evil inside of him grows and becomes stronger. Lady Macbeth, instead, is completely taken over by it as soon as she contracts it. But she is too weak to support the full force of it, and its consequences, allowing the evil to consume her from within. She strives to make her soul as innocent as possible, running away from the wicked person she once was. But trying to make herself innocent only increases her self-torment for what she has accomplished. Even though they react differently to this disease, their fate is the same, by their own hand or by someone else’s, death.