Many of William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan tragedies often have elements of fiery love affairs coupled with the somberness of violent death. The transformation of the mindset of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth take place within this format of love and its parallel of death. As the story of Macbeth unravels, Shakespeare sets the stage for the reversal of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s mentality: Macbeth goes from a content and cautious noble to a bold power hungry killer, while Lady Macbeth goes from an eager domineering wife to a scared guilt ridden wreck. In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is a courageous soldier, fresh from the field of battle; this is his sole unchanging characteristic. This is shown in the opening scene when the sergeant states “I must report they were as cannons overcharged with double cracks, so they double redoubled strokes upon the foe” (151, 37-39). This is shown even as Macbeth realizes that he may die: “I’ll fight till from my bones my flesh be hacked.” (209, 33-34). Also at the beginning, Macbeth shows a certain submissive nature to his wife. When Lady Macbeth chides him for being a coward, Macbeth offers no rebuttal; it must be remembered that this is at time when women were considered subservient to men. Speaking of Lady Macbeth, one should note the adoration which Macbeth treats his wife. He loves her enough to kill at her behest. To Lady Macbeth’s request for the death of Duncan Macbeth responds “I am settled, bent up each corporal agent to this terrible feat.” (164, 78-79). Lady Macbeth begins as a domineering wife, who not only insults her husband, but then order’s him to do her bidding “But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail.” (163, 60-61). Macbeth will not hold to any of his more innocent charms nor Lady Macbeth any of her commanding charms. For reference sake, let’s propose that the middle of the play begins with Macbeth’s order of death for Banquo. By this time, Macbeth has lost fear of capture and comes to see murder as a necessary tool to preserve his throne. He also begins to become the dominant half of his marriage, telling Lady Macbeth “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck” (181, 45). While he may no longer fear capture, he does still fear the moral implications. During the feast to celebrate his crowning asking, Macbeth begins to show signs of mental instability: Macbeth sees banqou’s bloody ghost sitting in his chair and begins ranting. By this time, Lady Macbeth is now submissive to the will of her husband as seen when she inquires of Macbeth’s knowledge of Banqous’ death and is placated by Macbeth. Also, Lady Macbeth seems happy and content with their new, ill-gotten, riches and doesn’t conspire to shed more blood to secure or gain wealth.
By the end of the play, acts four and five, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have completely reversed the roles each held at the beginning and middle of the tragedy. Macbeth has become entirely ruthless, to the point of ordering the death of McDuff’s family (children and wife). He has become disillusioned with his power, and believes himself invincible exclaiming, ” Our castles strength will laugh a siege to scorn.” Also, Macbeth cares little for the death of his wife seeing it as more of an inconvenience than a loss: ” she should have died hereafter; there would have been time for such a word. Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow,” (212, 17-19). Just prior to her death, Lady Macbeth is insane with guilt over the death and destruction she has caused. During her last delirious episode before death, she goes so far as to see the blood stains of those she has been the death of, upon her skin. Thus the reversal of roles is complete. Throughout the story of Macbeth, Shakespeare swaps the mentality of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth: Lady Macbeth goes from being ruthless to being helpless, while Macbeth transforms from a reluctant killer to a remorseless murderer. The eloquent execution of this is done with the masterful skill Shakespeare seems to have put into all of his works.