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So what happened to Lady Macbeth’s child?
There have been several theories as to what happened with Lady Macbeth’s child. Firstly that indeed the Macbeths lost a child or that perhaps Lady Macbeth had been married before and had a child which died, or that she had somehow acted as a wet nurse earlier in life, but the latter two scenarios seem unlikely.
We know Lady Macbeth had a child because when she is trying to persuade Macbeth to kill Duncan she says “I have given suck, and know How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me”.
Lady Macbeth’s baby is a subject that has puzzled Shakespearean scholars for decades.
Clearly, sadly, the child must have died as there is no mention of a child anywhere else in the play. We know that at the time Shakespeare was writing, infant mortality was sometimes as high as 50% with disease having no respect for social status. Shakespeare himself suffered the death of his only son Hamnet at the age of 11.
Did the bereavement suffered by Lady Macbeth turn into ambition and destructiveness?
Did she decide to grab an alternative future happiness by swapping her “milk for gall”? Her assertion that she would rather have “pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, and dashed the brains out” seems a rather shocking reversal of maternal instinct.
Of course, this lack of parenthood affects Macbeth and his ambitions.
He and Banquo have been told that although Macbeth will be king, Banquo’s sons will become kings and indeed will be “greater” than Macbeth. This prophecy leads Macbeth to realise that Banquo’s descendants will be the benefactors of the heinous crime he has committed. It’s all down hill from there on. Macbeth embarks on a path of destruction that ends in his own demise.
Had the Macbeth’s child lived…
A very different story would have been told – or, in fact, there would not have been much of a story to tell!
As far as Shakespeare himself is concerned, he had four grandchildren who all died without heirs, so there are no direct descendants of his line today as indeed there are none of Macbeth’s’.