Question: Is Lady Macbeth's swoon, on hearing of the murder of the grooms, real or feigned - and the grounds of your opinion?
Answer: We can readily understand how, upon a first reading of the play, having nothing upon which to base an opinion save Lady Macbeth's preceding words and conduct, one might think this swoon feigned, and but another exhibition of that presence of mind and determination of will by means of which she had succeeded in screwing her own and
her husband's courage to the "sticking-place," which had
not abandoned her during the murder scene (at first reading
one might easily overlook the single unmistakable touch of weakness shown in the words, "Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done it,"), which had enabled her to take back the daggers and gild the faces of
the grooms with blood, when the "infirm of purpose" refused to do it, which even that terrible task could not
destroy, since, upon her return, hearing the knocking, she
remembered at once that to be found fully dressed would
show them to be watchers. But, having gone through the
play and heard Lady Macbeth's troubled sigh
"Naught's had, all's spent;
Where our desire is got without content"
(III. ii. 4-7); having observed her in the short scene with
Macbeth after the banquet; and especially in the sleepwalking scene, we are satisfied that the swoon on this occasion
is real. Some one very appositely suggests that, had Lady
Macbeth adopted this artifice as a means of further averting
suspicion, she would, without doubt, have fallen when Duncan's murder was announced to her. The effect would have
been greater, and, moreover, knowing nothing of the murder
of the grooms, she could not have anticipated this further
opportunity. And just here, it seems to us, lies the explanation of this unexpected exhibition of weakness. She knew
all about Duncan's murder and was on her guard, but this other was a thing thoroughly unexpected, for which, consequently, she was not prepared, and her nature gave way under the shock. May it not be, too, that her woman's
heart felt even then that the husband, who so lately had
leaned upon her entirely, in doing this deed without consulting her, was drifting away from her?
How to cite this article:
Bowman, N. B. Shakespeare Examinations. Ed. William Taylor Thom, M. A. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1888. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth/examq/mfour.html >.