5th November 2018

practice exam

2015 paper: Question 1

Describe at least one important relationship in the written text(s).

Explain how this relationship positively or negatively influenced one or more characters.

In the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, the author uses the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to show the effects of a toxic relationship on the physical and emotional wellbeing of characters in the play. He does this by showing his audience how Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth, negatively influence eachother and others around them through their ambition. His intention with this is to discourage his audience from unhealthy relationships, by demonstrating to them the dire consequences of such engagements.

The main character in the play is Macbeth, who is a very diverse and intriguing character. One of the things that makes him so intriguing is his relationship with his wife, Lady Macbeth. Their relationship can best be described as toxic, for it is often Lady Macbeth who leads Macbeth to do some of his more questionable deeds such as killing King Duncan. When Lady Macbeth finds out about the witches prophecy that Macbeth will be King, her own ambition takes over, but she has doubts about Macbeth’s willingness to seize the opportunities presented to him. She says “yet I do fear thy nature; it is too full o’ the milk of human kindness.” In saying this Lady Macbeth is accusing Macbeth of not being manly enough to kill the King and take his place. This then progresses into Lady Macbeth questioning her husband’s manhood to his face which leads to Macbeth being pushed into doing something he may not have otherwise done, if it had not been for his wife’s scathing remarks. After he kills Duncan, Macbeth expresses guilt about the murder to his wife who responds by saying “my hands are of your colour but I shame to wear a heart so white.” In saying this Lady Macbeth is calling her husband a coward, for white is a colour that represents cowardice. This led to Macbeth suppressing his guilt and continuing on his dark path, fuelled by his wife’s ambition as well as his own. At the end of the play Macbeth dies, and when he dies he is not in a good state of mind. He says things like “life is but a tale, told by a fool, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” With this quote the full extent of his depression is exposed and we see how his dysfunctional relationship with his wife has made him lose everything. Shakespeare is showing how Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s relationship caused Macbeth’s ultimate deterioration over the course of the play in the hope that he will be able to discourage all members of his audience from being trapped in such a predicament.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship also had a negative effect on Lady Macbeth. At the start of the play Lady Macbeth seems to feel no remorse for the bad things she and her husband did, but near the end of the play we see that she has in fact been gravely affected by her actions. She appears as being very sick in mind and gets up in the night in an apparent daze, she tries for hours to wash non-existent blood off her hands, saying “Out, out damned spot! Out I say!” The blood however is not entirely imaginary for she does have the blood of Duncan, Banquo and everyone else her husband has killed on her hands because it was she who pushed Macbeth to do the things he did. The connection between Lady Macbeth’s relationship with Macbeth and her demise is strengthened by the fact that his guilt infected her, causing her insanity. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red.” In this quote Macbeth is saying that should he try to wash his hands in the ocean he would turn all the seas red with his guilt. This metaphorically informs the reader of the infectious nature of Macbeth’s guilt and how this penetrated Lady Macbeth’s mind. The guilt that she is feeling leads to Lady Macbeth losing her mind and subsequently ending her own life. Shakespeare chose to portray Lady Macbeth’s end in this way to draw the audience’s attention to the unpleasantness that shadows a toxic relationship, with the hope that he will be able to stop any of them from making the same mistakes that she did.

Other characters that were negatively affected by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship were Duncan and Banquo. This is because they both end up dead. Macbeth kills them both! This seems quite odd when you take into consideration that both Duncan and Banquo were very dear friends of Macbeth. What would compel a man to kill his own friends? The reason for this is Macbeth’s relationship with his wife – Lady Macbeth. 
When the concept of murdering Duncan first occurs to Macbeth he says “stars hide your fires let light not see my black and deep desires”. With this we see that Macbeth is ashamed of his thoughts because he knows that they’re bad, so he is trying to prevent God from seeing his unrighteous speculations. He would not have gone through with his plan had it not been for Lady Macbeth telling him he should. This, therefore, resulted in the gruesome deaths of Duncan and Banquo. Shakespeare chose to make these characters die the way they did with the intention of helping people to realise that it is bad to associate with people who are involved in a dysfunctional relationship. 

In the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare a lesson is taught to the audience through the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Their relationship is fuelled by misplaced ambition and unhealthy desire which leads to the unfortunate demise of many characters including both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth themselves. Shakespeare’s intention with showing the negative effects of this couples interactions is to display to his audience how bad it is to be a part of a toxic relationship for it only leads to unhappiness and pain for those involved and all whom they love.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. You’ve handled a difficult question very well. You’ve used effective quotations and explained your ideas with nuance and clarity.

    You probably won’t get this question in a future exam – but if you did, you might want to simply concentrate on the single relationship between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. Her initial unequivocal attitude vs his initial equivocation – to the end where she is consumed with guilt and dies, and where he maintains an increasingly forceful sense of his right to the throne, until her death where he falls into despair.

    That’s enough changing in a relationship for a university thesis!

    You’re exactly on the right track.

    CW

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