The biblical story of the fall of man has been studied for thousands of years. Many scholars have concluded that the serpent was culpable for Adam and Eve’s transgression. Without the serpent’s persuasion, Adam and Eve might never have tasted the forbidden fruit. However, others maintain that Eve is responsible for man’s fall; not only was she too weak to resist temptation, but she also caused the downfall of Adam. Shakespeare seems to agree with this interpretation. In Macbeth, he cleverly portrays Lady Macbeth as an Eve who leads Macbeth into damnation.
Lady Macbeth first arrives on stage alone, and proceeds to give a chilling soliloquy. In an apostrophe to Macbeth regarding his foretold ascent to the crown, she declares “Yet do I fear thy nature, it is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way.” This statement implies that Lady Macbeth wants Macbeth to attain the crown immediately, and to seize it by unscrupulous means.
Still within the same soliloquy, she entreats Macbeth: “Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear and chastise with the valor of my tongue all that impedes thee from the golden round…” The imagery of Lady Macbeth pouring her spirits into Macbeth’s ear evokes the scene of the serpent whispering in Eve’s ear. The word “tongue” emphasizes the image of a serpent flicking its tongue into Macbeth’s ear. Thus, Shakespeare depicts Lady Macbeth as both the serpent and Eve, eliminating the possibility of transferring the blame from Lady Macbeth to a serpent which tempts her.
When Lady Macbeth asks Macbeth when King Duncan will leave their castle, he replies “Tomorrow, as he purposes.” She assures him: “O, never shall sun that morrow see.” From this interchange, Macbeth clearly did not plan to murder Duncan, at least not that very night.
Instead, Lady Macbeth is the one who passionately insists upon it. She even requests Macbeth to “put this night’s great business into my dispatch,” accepting complete responsibility for the deed; and she entreats him to “look like th’ innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.” Using this simile, Shakespeare again alludes to the biblical serpent. Although Lady Macbeth directs this advice to Macbeth, she ironically describes herself. Alas for Macbeth, he cannot penetrate his wife’s beauty to perceive the wickedness that slithers underneath.
Later that night, while Duncan is eating dinner, the Macbeths discuss their plan to murder him. Macbeth asserts that “we will proceed no further in this business.” He whole-heartedly opposes the plan. However, Lady Macbeth will not relent. She first ridicules Macbeth’s womanish fear, and then describes to him how she will drug Duncan’s guards, after which: “What cannot you and I perform upon th’ unguarded Duncan? What not put upon his spongy officers…?” During Lady Macbeth’s lengthy and manipulative speech, Macbeth responds with comparatively few words. Shakespeare’s decision to give Lady Macbeth disproportionately more lines reinforces Lady Macbeth’s role as the instigator and Macbeth’s role as a passive participant. Her words overwhelm his both literally and figuratively, and he finally succumbs to the flower’s beauty and the serpent’s charms.