Lady Macbeth quotes – Key lines for studying Shakespeare’s Macbeth in KS4 English
In the first of a new series unlocking Shakespeare’s characters for GCSE students, Helen Mears highlights lines to remember when discussing the woman behind King Duncan’s murder…
- by Helen Mears
Although she actually appears in around a third of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth’s influence looms large across the text.
She is shown as a strong and ruthless woman, with vaulting ambition and courage, able to push her husband, ‘brave Macbeth’ to do anything for her (including murder Duncan), yet she ends the play, and her life, as a broken figure, destroyed by the guilt she has fought so hard to suppress.
The character frequently appears in exam questions, often based on the range of her influence upon Macbeth or the presentation of her as a ‘fiendlike queen”.
As one of Shakespeare’s most powerful and active female characters Macbeth’s ‘dear wife’ provides rich material for essay responses.
Lady Macbeth quotes
“Come you spirits, That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.”
(Act I, Scene V, lines 38-9)
Although oft-quoted, this can be used to kick-start an intriguing discussion over the difference between Lady Macbeth and the Weird Sisters. Just as they do in their Witches’ Prophecy, Lady Macbeth also calls on evil spirits – it is only the matter of social class that separates them?
“And when goes hence?”
(Act I, Scene VI, line 58)
This subtle and apparently innocuous response to Macbeth’s statement that Duncan is to stay in their castle is a signal to Macbeth that she is thinking exactly the same thing that he is about the opportunity that this visit brings him.
“Look like th’innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t”
(Act I, Scene VI, lines 64-5)
Another much used quotation, but less well-known is that it refers to a medal James I had struck after the thwarting of the Gunpowder Plot – the head side features a flower and the underside a serpent. This adds more depth to the contextual historical links the play has.
“What beast was’t then, That made you break this enterprise to me?”
(Act I, Scene VII, lines 35-6)
Here Lady Macbeth begins the fierce attack on Macbeth’s masculinity that will batter him into changing his mind over his decision not to kill Duncan.
The key point in this quotation is that it marks the point at which she no longer uses the intimate ‘thou’ with her husband, but the more distant ‘you’ – the first sign of a break in their relationship.
Free Shakespeare posters for your classroom
Whether you’re reading Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello or The Tempest, decorate your classroom with these colourful quote posters for students to explore.
“Tis the eye of childhood, That fears a painted devil.”
(Act II, Scene II, lines 64-5).
After calling Macbeth a coward before the murder, she accuses him of acting like a child after it.
“What’s to be done?”
(Act III, Scene II, line 45)
In contrast to her earlier scenes with Macbeth in which she dominated and drove their conversation with long, complex speeches, in this scene she is reduced to short sentences comprised of monosyllabic words. She is losing control of him and he no longer confides in her.
“Yet who would have the thought the old man to have so much blood in him?”
(Act V, Scene I, lines 35-7)
A rare hint of compassion from Lady Macbeth, an unconscious moment that shows her guilt and regret at their actions and perhaps a subtle link back to her statement in Act 2 that ‘Had he not resembled, My father as he slept, I had done’t.” (Act II, Scene II, lines 14-5).
She speaks in prose in this scene, slipping from the iambic pentameter of earlier in the play. Prose was traditionally used in the Elizabethan era to express madness; the ordered structure of the iambic rhythm is broken down by the troubled mind of the speaker.
Helen Mears is an English teacher, who sits on the education committee of the British Shakespeare Association.