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Goode, B. (1963). How Little the Lady Knew Her Lord: A Note on Macbeth. Am. Imago, 20(4):349-356.

(1963). American Imago, 20(4):349-356

How Little the Lady Knew Her Lord: A Note on Macbeth

Bill Goode

Misogynists have been delighted with the traditional analysis of Lady Macbeth, variously seen as “the real cause and agent of tragedy” and as a resolute, “unsexed” manipulator of an heroic but weak-willed husband. The much maligned Lady, too, shares this misconception of herself and her lord.

Lady Macbeth: Yet do I fear thy nature.

It is too full o' the milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,

Art not without ambition, but without

The illness should attend it. (Act I, Scene V)

And of herself, “unsex me here,/ and fill me, from the crown to the toe, topfull/ of direst cruelty!”

In a world of misunderstood husbands and wives, none had the tragic splendor or consequences of Lady Macbeth's faulty intelligence. Othello misjudged Desdemona, but his misassessment was not a generous one. Lady Macbeth, however, ascribes to her lord the qualities of mercy and compassion which she confounds with weakness. But the evidence of the play suggests that she is manipulated by her husband, sustains him in crisis, is discarded and ignored in subsequent plans and, finally, when Macbeth is told of her death, he replies casually, “She should have died hereafter…” A solemn contrast to the often held conviction that she was the prime mover in the dramatic action.

If

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