In William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, the two main characters Macbeth and Lady Macbeth encounter a situation that further changes the characters perspectives on things. Some may argue that through the course of the play, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth “switch roles.” Macbeth started off as a kind, nobleman who was proud of his role as the Thane of Cawdor. Which he was later assigned by King Duncan for killing MacDonald, a traitor.
While Lady Macbeth started out as dominant and evil, later she realized her mistake as guilt overpowered all other emotions. Lady Macbeth felt the guilt Macbeth had felt before and after executing the plan to kill King Duncan. During the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth tries to drive Macbeth towards his own destruction by trying to convince her “weak” and “unmanly” husband Macbeth to kill King Duncan and take over the throne.
She said to him, “Wouldst thou have that/ Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life/ And live a coward in thine own esteem,” (1.7.45-47). Lady Macbeth is calling Macbeth a coward for not wanting to kill Duncan.
She is trying to mock his decision in hopes that it might push him into killing Duncan. She wanted the witches prophecies to come true to the point where she’d do anything to be crowned as queen. Even if it meant making Macbeth do the dirty work of murdering Duncan with her plan. On the other hand, Macbeth also wished for the prophecies to come true, but he wanted someone else to do the dirty work. Macbeth first started feeling his guilt kick in, after he had killed Duncan and returned back to Lady Macbeth. He told her one of the servants muttered in their sleep saying, “God bless us” while the other replied saying “Amen.” Macbeth said to Lady Macbeth, “But wherefore could not I pronounce “Amen”? I had most need of blessing, and “Amen” Stuck in my throat” (2.2.
31-33). Macbeth couldn’t say Amen even when he desperately needed God’s blessings because ending the prayer would result with him lying to God that the servants will be spared from the murder accusations, but really his wish was only for him to be saved. The word Amen holds a symbolic meaning since you use it to end a prayer. Since Macbeth had just committed a crime asking for anything afterwards would be held as a sin. Which is why Macbeth with heavy guilt was not able to say Amen especially since he had fresh blood on his hands.
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth “switched roles” as shown in this instance where she said to herself in worry, “Nought’s had, all’s spent/ Where our desire is got without content/ ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy/ Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy” (3.2.6-9). Lady Macbeth and Macbeth had put in a lot of time and effort to get this far and for Lady Macbeth to finally be queen.
But with word going around about who could have committed this murder. Lady Macbeth wasn’t enjoying being queen. Instead, she says being in Duncan’s position would’ve been better off since she wouldn’t be surrounded by guilt and anxiety. Since Lady Macbeth has never felt guilt of any sort due to her just getting what she wanted. She wants to be in Duncan’s position to get rid of these complex emotions. Lady Macbeth once again shows guilt and fear as anxiety further exceeds to the point at which she starts sleepwalking.
As she was sleepwalking, she ended up spilling all the truth out to not only the Gentlewoman who has heard her confessions from the past times Lady Macbeth has sleepwalked, but even to the doctor. She does so by saying, “Wash your hands/ Put on your nightgown/ Look not so pale/ I tell you yet again/ Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on’s grave” (5.1.56-58). Lady Macbeth has had lack of sleep ever since Macbeth murdered Banquo. Guilt and anxiety of being caught has been eating away at her mind which has caused her condition to turn to this.
She sleepwalked and confessed her deepest secrets to which point even Gentlewoman said, “I would not have such a heart in my bosom for the dignity of the whole body” (5.1.45-46).
Even the Gentlewoman did not want to be in Lady Macbeth’s position since she was going through too much to cover up this crime at which she couldn’t even sleep without having her heart and soul rested on the murder. From the beginning of when Lady Macbeth was informed about King Duncan’s arrival she had said to herself, “Make thick my blood/ Stop up th’access and passage to remorse” (1.5.41-42). She had asked to be able to not feel remorse yet here she was not being able to enjoy being crowned queen and not being satisfied with what she wanted so badly.
All she feels is remorse from her and Macbeth’s deeds to wishing to be in Duncan’s position or sleepwalking while spilling her confessions of the crime. At the end both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth “switched roles” as one started off as a noble man while other as a greedy woman who just wanted her needs fulfilled. But once a series of events took place such as King Duncan’s, Banquo’s and MacDonald’s deaths both the characters handled the situation differently. Macbeth continued to kill as guilt and fear of being caught overpowered him while Lady Macbeth couldn’t stop remorsing about her and Macbeth’s evil deeds. The reasons given above were some of the many reasons these two characters “switched roles” in my eyes.