In Act 1, scene 5 of William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, Lady Macbeth meditates on a letter she has just received from her husband. In this letter, he tells her of good fortune that has recently come his way – fortune than has confirmed prophecies he has received from witches. Lady Macbeth is glad of her husband’s new status and positions, but she worries that her husband is not ambitious enough to want to take definite steps to become king – another bit of good fortune apparently promised by the witches:
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,
And yet wouldst wrongly win . . .
Two good thesis statements might be derived from this passage. The statements might involve the following kinds of arguments:
- that although women were often expected during Shakespeare’s time to be modest, humble, and obedient, Lady Macbeth is actually one of the most explicitly and relentlessly ambitious of all the characters Shakespeare created. She is a woman who defies the stereotypes of her culture, which assumed that most women were (or should be) unambitious.
- that Shakespeare makes it clear that although the witches have prophesied Macbeth’s rise in status and power, their prophecy does not predetermine that rise. In other words, Macbeth has the free will that would make it possible to behave virtuously, whatever the witches have predicted.
I think you have a good start there. A thesis statement should be direct and clear, and to the point. You have the beginning of a good thesis statement because you have made an argument about Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. You just need to go one step further and explain.
I would add to this thesis statement with an explanation of why their relationship deteriorates. Here is an example:
In Macbeth, the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth deteriorates as the play progresses because after she pushes him to kill Duncan, he becomes more and more violent.
Consider the conversations between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. He writes her a letter, but when he meets her face to face all she can talk about and think about is how he is going to become king. She does not listen to him when he seems to talk himself out of killing Duncan because the king has done nothing to deserve it. Macbeth tells her they will “proceed no further in this business” because the promotion is enough.
Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress'd yourself? Hath it slept since?(40)
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? (Act 1, Scene 7, p. 23)
When Macbeth asks her what should happen if they fail, certainly a reasonable question, she scoffs at him again.
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we'll not fail. (Act 1, Scene 7, p. 24)
She is basically telling him as long as he is brave he will not fail. She is completely dismissing his justifiable concerns. With him pushing her on, he can do nothing put go through with the plan.
Unfortunately, Lady Macbeth has unleashed a force she cannot control. She does not want him to kill Banquo or Macduff’s family, and in fact does not know he is going to do this. She goes mad with guilt, and kills herself. Macbeth’s reaction? “She should have died hereafter” (Act 5, Scene 5, p. 84).
Macbeth goes on to make a beautiful, if not dismal, speech about how life is meaningless, but he does not properly grieve for her. The two have been separated, and the gulf between their emotional states is too wide.