Nagging wife of a villain does not even begin to describe this character. This lady is just as crazy as her husband (if not more so). Not only is she supportive of his ambitions, but she helps him to achieve them. She might even turn out to bethe leading force behind her husband.
Whether it's lying to cops, disposing of a body, or helping her husband overcome any uncertainty about carrying out his Evil Plan, she'll do it. She might even push him to do it. She'll take charge if she has to. When she takes charge, she may turn to be such a good villain that the audience will wonder, "Why is she with this guy? She could have just done X by herself!" In the end that is not the case. If she doesn't get herself killed (or outrightkill herself out of guilt like her namesake), it is inevitable that something will happen to her so that she can no longer upstage her husband.
Keep in mind that it's not completely necessary for this character to be the wife of the villain. She could just be his lover, and in some cases she could instead be his mother, sister, or even just a close female friend. The important part is that this character is Always Female, is sentimentally close to the villain in some way, and is either his partner in crime or uses diverse persuasion methods to nudge him towards the dark side.
The real Lady Macbeth was probably nothing like this, but historical records are few. The only things we absolutely know about her is that her name was Gruoch, Macbeth was her second husband, and she had one son from her first marriage. We do know that she didn't nag him into killing a wise old king in his sleep, though; the real Duncan was younger than Macbeth and a worthless wastrel, and Macbeth killed him in a fair fight in battle.
Compare The Man Behind the Man (or the Woman, as the case may be), Evil Chancellor, God Save Us from the Queen!, Dark Mistress (where the relationship is less equal), Unholy Matrimony.
While this trope has some degree of reality, please refrain from adding Real Life examples. As stated elsewhere, calling real people villains is asking for trouble.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Doctor Ritsuko Akagi from Neon Genesis Evangelion fits into this one, although she wasn't married to Gendo. Most notably, she created the Rei clones that were central to Instrumentality. However, she's not completely straight as she is being manipulated by Gendo Ikari instead.
Yui Ikari, the ACTUAL wife of Gendo Ikari may or may not be one depending on how you interpret her and how much of the plot was actually because of her all along.
Leda in Casshern Sins falls squarely in this trope, goading Dio to take his place as the king of robots.
Empress Marianne vi Britannia turns out to be one in Code Geass.
Mrs. Rara of Dual acts as this. Her husband is struggling to be a competent scientist. She coerces him and their daughter to become evil, eventually taking over the reins.
Both Kiyomi Takada and Misa Amane sorta aspire to be this for Light in Death Note, due to their interest in Light Yagami and their Yandere qualities. It goes badly for both of them: one is told "You Have Outlived Your Usefulness" by Light himself, the other commits suicide after his death.
Though a mother rather then a wife, in fact she killed her husband, Lady Calcula from the I, Davros audio fits the trope to a t. She uses all of her political savvy, and frequently plain old murder to ensure Davros reaches a position of power. She even has the distinction of becoming the first complete, albeit terminal, Dalek.
Helen Heyer of V for Vendetta, married to Conrad, the head of the Eye (the fascist Norsefire regime's video surveillance department). In her brief appearance early on, she seems to be nothing more than a catty high-society woman. Later, however, as the Leader becomes mentally incapable of running the country, Helen shows her true colours as a savvy and ruthless manipulator who, having gotten the submissive Conrad his current position, now schemes to have him become Leader, albeit in name only: "I'm going to be like Eva Peron," she vows. In the end, after the regime has completely collapsed, she's reduced to homelessness and trading sexual favours for basic life necessities.
System Restore features this in the second chapter. Following their discovery of a very strong motive, Pekoyama encourages Kuzuryuu to seriously consider killing somebody. Even though the rules of Monobear's Deadly Game state only one person can 'graduate', she really wants him to win, even if it means sacrificing herself. Unfortunately for her, someone overhears and decides to eliminate her before she can convince him to act.
Lady Kaede from Akira Kurosawa 's Ran is basically Lady Macbeth married to King Lear's son. She's a major reason that Kurosawa's ending is significantly more tragic than Shakespeare's.
Asaji from Throne of Blood, which is a Setting Update of Macbeth. In some ways, she's even more evil than the original, implying to her husband that if he doesn't kill the daimyo first, the daimyo will kill him, and even distracting the guards.
At the end of Mystic River, Annabeth, wife of Jimmy Markum, is revealed to be this. She comforts and encourages Jimmy to be proud of killing the wrong man for the murder of his daughter. She even goes so far as to blame the man's wife for the mistake.
Sarah (played by Bridget Fonda) in A Simple Plan plays this role for the protagonist, Hank (Bill Paxton).
In Scotland Pa., based upon the source of the Trope Namer, Pat McBeth (Maura Tierney) naturally acts in this capacity for her husband, Joe (James LeGros).
The Master has Lancaster Dodd's wife Peggy. Despite giving the air of the perfect 50s submissive housewife ideal, she is frequently shown cajoling her husband into taking drastic and immoral actions. If one sees the obvious subtext of Dodd's movement as the Church of Happyology, then Peggy represents its most immoral deeds such as aggressive smear campaigns and "disconnection".
Jezebel. Her husband, King Ahab, is described in The Bible as Israel's most morally bankrupt king, but she was even worse. Making this Older Than Feudalism. At least, western European feudalism.
She was from another country, and believed in a different god, so she had all the Jewish priests killed...hmm...that sounds familiar.
Codex Alera has Lady Invidia Aquitaine, to her husband High Lord Aquitainus Attis. But it turns out their relationship is actually much more complicated than that, Attis is smarter than we thought, and their goals may not be all that compatible...
The Cursors even had a betting pool going: "Which one will win when they finally try to kill each other?" She won, and true to the trope, ends up getting killed within the same book.
Carlaze—who turns out to be at fault for just about the entire recent crisis—in Troika.
Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate is the scheming wife of a senator (who's basically her puppet) in the original novel and first film adaptation, made in 1962. The expy of Joe McCarthy, John Iselin, frequently complains about the rhetoric he's been given to read to the senate with its ever-changing total "Communists" in government. (This is especially hilarious given McCarthy's same inconsistencies.) Actually, it's at the insistence of his wife, Eleanor, who is thinking ten steps ahead and knows the press will keep asking "how many Communists" rather than "are there Communists." Eleanor plans to rule through her henpecked husband once he hijacks the Presidency.
In the 2004 adaptation, Eleanor is a Senator herself. However, she is still stymied by the boy's club in Washington, and decides to groom her son for the Presidency.
From A Song of Ice and Fire, we have Selyse Florent, Stannis Baratheon's wife can be seen this way. She brings the priestess Melisandre and the religion of R'hllor to Dragonstone and urges her husband to fully utilize her powers in his struggle for the Iron Throne. Melisandre also acts as a more successful version of this.
I, Claudius gives us Livia, wife of Emperor Augustus and the Manipulative Bitch who essentially becomes the Woman Behind The Man by killing all the people that he won't to ensure that her descendants inherit the empire. Clearly one of the bad Claudians.
24: Sherry Palmer has often been compared to Lady Macbeth and is a semi-example of this trope, trying to convince her idealist husband to do whatever is necessary to secure the presidency; but only so that she can be the First Lady. During its Golden Age, Television Without Pity nicknamed her "Lady MacPalmer" or "Lady Mac".
Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined): There's a reason that Ellen Tigh was given the Fan Nickname of "Lady McTigh" - she regularly used alcohol, nagging, and what we'll politely term "feminine wiles" to goad her husband, Colonel Saul Tigh, into making some of the Worst. Decisions. Ever. While she didn't quite have a Karmic Death - it was too heartwrenching to be Karmic, as she was poisoned by Saul on (valid) suspicion of being a Cylon collaborator. Double irony points as 1) she did it for him, and 2) Saul and Ellen are both big damn Cylons ANYWAY - she was still one of the most unashamedly manipulative characters on the show.
Boardwalk Empire: Gillian Darmody spends much of the second season pushing her son into some truly reprehensible actions. Her Moral Event Horizon comes when she talks Jimmy into letting a hit on Nucky go through, even though Jimmy is very much opposed to the idea and begs to be allowed to change his mind.
Criminal Minds: When an episode deals with a killing couple, like in "Mosley Lane" or "The Thirteenth Step", generally the female UnSub fits this trope. Although in some killing couples the wife has to act like this to stay alive, giving her sadistic husband other targets than herself.
Stahma. When Datak is upset that their son is dating the daughter of his rival Rafe McCawley (who's also a racist), she manages to calm him down and feels the two should get married. She points out how this would make them family, and points out that mining is a dangerous job, and if Rafe McCawley and his remaining son were to suffer an accident of some sort, then it would only be right of them to help Christie with the sudden burden of running an entire mining operation.
Nolan: I've had my eye on the wrong snake. You're the dangerous one.
Fittingly, she's played by Jaime Murray who played Lila on Dexter.
Dexter: Lila West spends most of her screen time doing her very best to become Dexter's very own Lady Macbeth, even going so far as to blow up Sgt. Doakes instead of rescuing him, just to protect Dexter from being discovered as the Bay Harbor Butcher, as well as to save him the trouble of doing it himself.
Doctor Who: In the serial The Tomb of the Cybermen, Kaftan fills this role expertly, supporting, encouraging, and enabling her Nietzsche Wannabe hubby Klieg at every turn, and even supplying her own badass minion, Toberman.
Game of Thrones: Despite being a male character, Ser Loras Tyrell essentially fulfills this trope by planting the idea into Lord Renly Baratheon's head that he should be king.
Holocaust: Marta Dorf, wife of SS officer Erik Dorf, in this 1978 miniseries.
House Of Cards UK: Elizabeth Urquhartnote Who's role is basically that of a modern day Lady Macbeth, who conspires with her husband to lie, backstab and manipulate others into servitude. She helps her husband not only to make him prime minister, but also to better her own status as first lady. Despite the manipulative affairs Francis engages in, she loves her husband deeply (mainly because she helps plan the affairs in the first place).
Law & Order: Criminal Intent: There was a sister Macbeth who wanted her brother to take over a tiny African country (they're the children of said county's king) by blowing up their parents and killing the detectives' boss, who had gone undercover to expose their weapons dealing. Oh, and her brother's white, American girlfriend had to go, and since he was dragging his feet about it...
Lois and Clark has Mindy, a dumb-as-bricks nurse who wound up marrying her patient, the crime lord Bill Church. It soon becomes clear, however, than Mindy has been puppeteering her hubby from the beginning, and she eventually takes over the entire mob.
Oz: Spoofed. The prisoners put on a play of Macbeth, and when rehearsing the scene where Lady Macbeth is pushing her husband to shank kill Duncan, get rather annoyed over Macbeth's lack of balls.
Revolution: Julia Neville, who in episode 8 suggests to her husband that he might make a better ruler than the unstable Monroe.
Many adaptations of Macbeth play with her personality, in that while she is usually portrayed as scheming and manipulative, Roman Polanski's version is affectionate and meek, though no less culpable in the deed. Orson Welles' version has Lady Macbeth as simply a terrified accessory to Macbeth's desire to be king all along, and as their relationship plays out, there is even implication that he's been abusing her. One of the great things about the character is that her lines can be performed with so many different inflections and subtexts that any one of these interpretations could fit.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Though Mrs. Lovett never actually marries Sweeney Todd, Sweeney wouldn't have gotten as far as he did without her, as she was the one who came up with the idea to bake his victims into pies.
In Richard Wagner's Lohengrin, the easily led Friedrich, Count of Telramund, is induced by his wife, the pagan sorceress Ortrud, to accuse the heroine Elsa of murdering her brother (whom Ortrud herself has turned into a swan), and then later to attack Elsa's husband and champion, the eponymous Grail knight. She's a bad lady.
Hamlet himself wonders in-universe whether or not she is this, before deciding that even if it's true she's his mom and he should be focusing his hate on Claudius instead.
Mme Thernardier of Les Misérables is this to M. Thernardier, with generally hilarious results.
In Overlord, there are two possible 'Mistresses' you can pick up. The first one is practically the antithesis of this, trying to convince you that helping people might benefit your plans for world domination. However, if you 'trade up' for her Evil Sister, Velvet, you've got a bona-fide Lady Macbeth for your castle. While it's not like you need the encouragement, it's always nice to have a dame who can appreciate good evil.
In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Kyrie is eventually revealed to be this to Rudolf in Episode 7, and is capable of extreme coldness and ruthlessness when it comes to helping her husband. She's even willing to kill for him and abandon her daughter if he dies because she's not longer of any use.
It isn't immediately obvious by a long shot, but Hate Plus gives a patient, plotting example in Oh Eun-a, a seemingly-minor character who turns out to have complicatedmotivations for providing and facilitating the plans of her despotic lover. True to form, she's even rendered emotionally vacant (and thus, a non-agent) by the end of the plot.
Vriska in Homestuck towards her Masochism Tango partner Tavros. At least, she fancies herself as this, but since she is, for the most part, terrible at manipulating people, she ends up more as a particularly psychotic Toxic Friend Influence - the only person she can manipulate is Tavros, and despite her influence over him she can't make him kill her when he needs to as part of her plan to Come Back Strong.
Interestingly, the actual Lady Macbeth who appears is absolutely nothing like the trope. Of course, Macbeth in this version is an Anti-Villain at worst (being based more on the historical figure than the character).
Heck, Demona tries to marry Macbeth later on. (long story.)
Interesting thing here: According to Weisman, there was a story idea of his where—through magic—much of the cast did an presumably abridged version of the play, with Macbeth as the himself, and Demona as the Lady.
Played with in Demona's relationship with Thailog; Goliath originaly assumes she's playing this role for him, since she's an established villain while he's a clone who's only evil because he was programmed that way... but it turns out he knows full well what she is, and is manipulating her rather than the other way around. In fact, it's ultimately established that Demona has at least some genuine feelings for Thailog, but he never sees her as anything but a tool.
Icy in Winx Club is this to Tritannus. While they're not married, they quickly fall in love with each other after meeting in prison. She is a massive influence on him, and without her Tritannus probably wouldn't have tried or had the necessary power to attempt to conquer the Magic Dimension. She has more experience in the evil department, so while he has more power, she assists in directing the next phase of their plan.