Humanities › Literature Lady Macbeth Character Analysis Shakespeare's Most Treacherous Female Villain Fascinates Readers Share Flipboard Email Print Johann Zoffany/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain Literature Shakespeare Tragedies Shakespeare's Life and World Studying Comedies Sonnets Best Sellers Classic Literature Plays & Drama Poetry Quotations Short Stories Children's Books By Lee Jamieson Theater Expert M.A., Theater Studies, Warwick University B.A., Drama and English, DeMontfort University Lee Jamieson, M.A., is a theater scholar and educator. He previously served as a theater studies lecturer at Stratford-upon Avon College in the United Kingdom. our editorial process Lee Jamieson Updated February 04, 2019 Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most infamous female characters. Cunning and ambitious, Lady Macbeth is a major protagonist in the play, encouraging and helping Macbeth to carry out his bloody quest to become king. Without Lady Macbeth, her husband might never have ventured down the murderous path that leads to their ultimate downfall. In many respects, Lady Macbeth is more ambitious and power-hungry than her husband, going so far as to call his manhood into question when he has second thoughts about committing murder. Sexism in 'Macbeth' Along with being Shakespeare's bloodiest play, "Macbeth" is also the one with the greatest number of outright evil female characters. Chief among them are the three witches who predict Macbeth will be king and set the play's action into motion. Then, there's Lady Macbeth herself. It was unusual in Shakespeare's day for a female character to be so boldly ambitious and manipulative as Lady Macbeth. She's unable to take action herself, perhaps because of the social constraints of the time, and must persuade her husband to go along with her evil plans. Masculinity is defined in the play by ambition and power, two qualities that Lady Macbeth possesses in abundance. By constructing the character in this way, Shakespeare challenges our preconceived views of masculinity and femininity. But what exactly was Shakespeare suggesting? On one hand, it was a radical idea to present a dominant female character. But on the other hand, Lady Macbeth is presented negatively and ends up killing herself after experiencing what appears to be a crisis of conscience. Lady Macbeth Character Description and Guilt Lady Macbeth’s sense of remorse soon overwhelms her. She has nightmares and in one famous scene (Act 5, Scene 1), appears to try to wash from her hands the blood she imagines has been left behind by the murders. Doctor:What is it she does now? Look how she rubs her hands.Gentlewoman:It is an accustom'd action with her, to seem thuswashing her hands. I have known her continue in this a quarter ofan hour.Lady Macbeth:Yet here's a spot.Doctor:Hark, she speaks. I will set down what comes from her, tosatisfy my remembrance the more strongly.Lady Macbeth:Out, damn'd spot! out, I say! — One; two: why, then'tis time to do't. — Hell is murky. — Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, andafeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call ourpow'r to accompt? — Yet who would have thought the old man tohave had so much blood in him? By the end of Lady Macbeth's life, guilt has replaced her incredible ambition in equal measure. We are led to believe that her guilt ultimately leads to her suicide. Lady Macbeth is, therefore, a victim of her own ambition — and also possibly of her sex. As a woman in Shakespeare's world, she is not resilient enough to deal with such strong emotions, whereas Macbeth fights on to the very end despite his misgivings. The treacherous Lady Macbeth both defies and defines what it means to be a female villain in a Shakespeare play.