Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it.
Spoken by Lady Macbeth in response to reading Macbeth’s update letter, describing all the witches’ prophecies and recent promotion, Lady Macbeth is basically saying here that Macbeth is too weak, too kind, too empathetic to be ambitious. There’s no doubting Lady Macbeth’s character - when it comes to being ruthless she’s the queen.
Key to this conversation is the idea that Lady Macbeth inherently links being ambitious to “The illness [that] should attend it.” (1.5.20) Basically, she believes that to be ambitious, one must lose their sense of morality in order to achieve it. Perhaps this is her greatest flaw, since while it’s true that one must be willing to sacrifice in order to achieve great and ambitious goals, one does not necessarily need to become a monster in order to achieve ambitious goals.
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
Keep in mind that this quote is just one part of Lady Macbeth’s extremely powerful soliloquy. This famous line, “unsex me here,” is part of Lady Macbeth’s solo stage time where she revs up to get ready to help her husband fulfill his prophecy. It goes to show how dedicated, focused, and ambitious Lady Macbeth can get in pursuit of her goals. She calls upon spirits to remove her femininity so that she may become more powerful and stern in behavior to get what she wants. This speaks to the dichotomous view of gender in Shakespeare’s time when women were officially classified as weak and frail. For the audience Shakespeare was writing for, Lady Macbeth would have been seen as an anomaly among women, which makes her stand out from the other women in Shakespeare’s plays. Read the rest of her soliloquy where she discards her gender and weaves in themes of darkness and blood to get a better understanding for how powerful she really is.
There are many different versions of Shakespeare’s works throughout the world, and different versions sometimes interpret dialogue line numbers differently. At Nerdstudy, we follow the Folger version of Shakespeare’s works, which may be different from the version you are using. Always make sure that you refer to your instructor’s recommendations about which version of the play you’re using in class and whether they will grade you based on accuracy of line numbers for essays, tests, and assignments. Folger Digital Texts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.