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Act I, Scene 7
The scene opens with the solitary Macbeth wrestling with his thoughts of murdering the king, and he seems to be losing to his conscience. He is bothered that Duncan is his kinsman and that the execution would take place at Inverness when he should be serving as the king's kind host. He also reckons with Duncan's virtues: his kindness and his success in his position. He knows that the people support Duncan and will weep his loss. He ends his soliloquy by stating that only "vaulting ambition" makes him consider the evil deed; he has no complaint against the king, which makes the murder seem doubly vile to him. He is obviously vacillating between good and evil.
Then Lady Macbeth enters and complains to Macbeth that he has foolishly left the king at dinner. Macbeth's answer to her is a total shock, for he says, "We will proceed no further in this business." His wife unmercifully attacks his weakness saying that he is a fearful coward, a seeming ironic statement since Macbeth is an honored and valiant warrior who has just come from his ultimate victory. But it is obvious that his wife's words have affected him. He tries to protest by saying, "I dare do all that may become a man; who does do more is none." This answer causes Lady Macbeth to issue a new tirade against him. When Macbeth questions her about the possibility of failure in the deed, she laughs and says, "We will not fail."
She then proceeds to tell her husband how Duncan will be murdered and how she will make his two chamberlains appear to be guilty. She will get the guards drunk with wine, and Macbeth will stab Duncan while he is unguarded. Then they will smear the king's blood on the innocent chamberlains. Macbeth, against his better judgment, agrees to the plan saying, "I am settled and bend up." In other words, he gives in to the evils of his wife rather than listening to the counsel of his conscience. Macbeth ends the scene by saying, "false face must hide what the false heart doth know," a statement which serves as a flashback to Duncan's original statement about not being able to identify a traitor by his face.
This important scene further develops the characters of Macbeth and his wife. The reader sees the basic traits of kindness and loyalty in the husband as he argues with himself against murdering the king. He is also capable of dealing with reality and truth, for he knows that only his lust for power makes him even contemplate the murder of a kind and popular king. In the middle of the scene, it appears that Macbeth's good conscience will prevail, for he decides not to go through with his plan and tells his greedy wife that the murder is off. He has made his decision for several reasons. He truly sees Duncan as a good king and kinsman; he is fearful of the results of the murder, knowing the citizens of Scotland love and honor their king; he is also afraid that he and his wife may not be successful in culminating the plan, and the results of failure would be disastrous. His conscience also tells him that he will be forever plagued with guilt and will forfeit heaven if the murder occurs.
Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, displays no virtue or goodness, but becomes the personification of blatant evil and greed in this scene. When she hears of her husband's decision to call off the murder, she attacks his masculine ego, calling him weak and unmanly. She will not accept any of his excuses or procrastination. She is committed to the murder, eager to accomplish it quickly, and infatuated with being married to a king with its attendant power. She has "given suck and knows how tender 'tis to love the babe," but she would dash its brains out, if necessary, in order to obtain her goal. Only an extremely sick female could envision killing her own child, and yet she says she would gladly do it in order to become queen. At this point, Lady Macbeth appears devoid of emotion, "unsexed" as she had hoped. But the evil wife wins her battle. At the end of the scene, Macbeth recaptures his manhood in the eyes of his wife by again agreeing to the murder. The irony is that he has be come very unmanly and weak by capitulating to his manipulative wife.
This scene, like those before it, further develops the tensions between good vs. evil and appearance vs. reality. Macbeth almost allows his evil plans to be destroyed by his good conscience, but his wife's total depravity is too strong for him to overcome. In this scene, goodness loses to evil. The appearance to the world is that Lady Macbeth is a gentle, mild female married to a strong, unswerving warrior. In realty, it is Lady Macbeth who is the stronger one, but stronger in evil and greed. The scene also reinforces the urgency of time seen throughout the play. Lady Macbeth is in a hurry and pushes the action forward with firm resolve, refusing to let her husband relax and enjoy being Thane of Cawdor or procrastinate about the king's execution. She wants her crown NOW!