Be an Expert in Lady Macbeth
by Jesse Loren
Here’s how to be an expert in Shakespeare in two minutes. Shakespeare: poet/playwright from Renaissance, added umpteen words to the English language, solidified the English literary tradition and the Globe Theater, and wrote kick-ass comedies and tragedies. Midsummer Night’s Dream and Comedy of Errors: comedies. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar: tragedies.
Macbeth, the Scottish play, is the tragic tale about turning over the natural order, murdering the king, and the hell that breaks loose until the natural order is fixed. The super monster lady that persuades Macbeth to kill the king (in their own house) is Lady Macbeth. She is one of the most feared and least understood characters in literature. Foget about the three witches, Lady M is the biggest witch of all.
Lady M is Gorgon-like, yet not as powerful. Murderous, and yet not capable of sealing the deal. She is ominous enough to persuade her heroic husband to kill the king with his own hands. Yet, how does she do it? Lady Macbeth is a power hungry, emasculating wife who ruthlessly denounces all human kindness and persuades her husband to “man up” and kill the king. When he does it, she will acknowledge him as a man.
There are many good reasons not to kill the king. It is wrong to murder, King Duncan is an honored guest, and he is their kinsman and their king. These are very compelling reasons. And she persuades him to do it.
After the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth begins to splinter. First, she says she would have killed King D herself but he looked too much like her father. This line is hard to believe. Only a few hundred lines before that she was declaring that she would pluck her own toothless baby from her nipple and bash its brains if she had sworn to do it. Really? She has no heirs. This seems foolish.
On the other hand, she gives a prime example of rhetorical persuasion. This example is hyperbole. It’s straight up propaganda. If she was a circus show she would directly bark, “Macbeth will not be a man until he murders the king. I on the other hand would murder my own babe if he asked me to!” What question does this beg? If you were a man, (like me) you would do it. Rhetorically, not only is she a woman, she is a man.
Is her propaganda effective? Absolutely. Macbeth murders the king.
After the murder, Lady M can’t clean her hands. She becomes OCD and washes her hands in a repetitive frenzy. “Out, out damn spot” she exclaims.
Her cracked behavior makes me wonder what is cracked inside her. Why would she be so bothered by blood? Is this true to her character? It is no mystery that women deal with gouts and gouts of their own blood. Considering the fictional time period, Lady M was menstruating long before Tampax, Kotex, Stayfree pads, or any store bought sanitary device. For all we know she harvested moss and made a sponge out of it, washed it as needed with her own hands and reused it. She should be used to blood. “Out damn spot” should have been something trifling to her.
Perhaps it is specifically the power women have being connected with the twenty-eight day moon cycle combined with bleeding for five days and not dying like a hunted animal that provides the animal power for Lady Macbeth against her warrior-hunter husband. After all, he had just gutted a man from knave to chops before writing her a letter. Yet Lady Macbeth psychologically overpowers him.
Lady Macbeth’s true character is invincible. She is both woman and man with a mysterious calling card. She bleeds monthly and doesn’t die. She has the capacity to create life in her own body and has the will to dash the baby’s boneless gums out, had her husband merely asked.
Lady Macbeth is more than a woman, she is a monster. But this monster serves the psychological need for the time period. She goes against nature willingly, but the cracked psyche of her being murders sleep, dreams, and her own ability to continue as a character. What could Shakespeare possibly do with her?
Shakespeare had to kill her. Lady Macbeth had to die to serve the same writing impulse as Thelma and Louise. Strong women in stories have to die in order for society to continue as we know it.