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Question: Analyse how a key event in the text positioned you to feel strongly about a character.
Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy elicits negative emotions from the reader. Her character successfully engages the reader, hooking them in and leaving them in anticipation.
Written in 1606 by William Shakespeare, the play was initially written for King James I following the gunpowder plot. The intention was to illustrate how killing the king is not always ideal, which is still relevant today with both royalty and government. The play evokes emotions from its readers, making them feel engulfed by apprehension for each of the individual characters.
Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy unveils her dark ambition, exposing the reader’s foreboding intuition towards her. While reading the letter from Macbeth, she expresses her need to become relentless, exclaiming, “Come to my woman’s breasts, and take my milk for gall.” By using the symbol ‘milk’, the reader can see how the natural sweetness humans possess within their personas is honoured, and by replacing this sweetness with gall, there is nothing but room for sinister thoughts and actions. The foreboding intuition of the reader is enhanced as they wait in uncertainty about her future capabilities. Shakespeare intentionally provides the reader with this moment to highlight the idea of first impressions, as Lady Macbeth’s initial impression was misleading, and in doing so proves the reader’s foreshadowing intuition about Lady Macbeth right.
The play also serves to emphasize the power of appearances, as Lady Macbeth’s ambition has an intense hold on her. She tries to convince her husband, Macbeth, to join her and be her hands, remarking, “Look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under ‘t.” By utilizing the noun ‘flower’, Lady Macbeth’s metaphor becomes easily decodable, as she describes Macbeth’s masked personality as devious and thorned while expressing a gentle and delicate appearance. The harsh reality of her intentions foreshadows her and leads to her eventual downfall. The intention presented by Shakespeare displays the idea of appearance vs reality, as throughout the play Lady Macbeth faces others masking corrupt intentions while presenting herself as a truthful neighbour. This keeps the audience in suspense, as they do not know the outplay of her actions until the end. At the same time, it also serves to emphasize Lady Macbeth’s ambition and desire for power, as the reader is left to question why she would do such a thing. This intentional withholding of information makes the reader even more invested in the plot and eager to see how the story unfolds. It also allows Shakespeare to build a sense of anticipation and suspense; further engaging the reader in the play.
The reader’s scepticism around Lady Macbeth’s deep desire for the power of murder has further negative connotations towards her character during her soliloquy. The scene develops the understanding that Lady Macbeth’s strong hunger to kill can sometimes conflict with her femininity, demanding, “Make thick my blood.” Through the use of the adjective ‘thick’, the imperative itself turns from a simple command to one with an underlying motive. The reader is helped to understand this motive as Lady Macbeth’s internal sanity seeps out, leaving her with nothing but herself and no moral compass. In doing so, Shakespeare highlights the idea of greed, as Lady Macbeth’s decision was driven by her ambition and desire for power rather than any moral code or sense of right and wrong. This creates a strong atmosphere of suspense and anticipation, as the reader is left to wonder what will happen next. Suspense is further heightened by Lady Macbeth’s actions not being revealed until later in the play.
By doing this, the reader’s perception of a character can be impacted by their actions, creating a negative connotation towards the character. This can develop into affecting the setting’s atmosphere as if a character has an ominous aura, the scene will emphasize how the author, in this case Shakspeare, wishes to manipulate the plot. Through this, the reader can either develop more negative emotions towards certain characters or experience new feelings about a character.