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In her notes she says, “[Macbeth] can’t face things and talk of ‘em. She can talk and plan but shd (sic) not be able to do, so easily.” She wrote to another friend at the beginning of rehearsals saying, “I rather anticipate folk will hate me in it.” Her new understanding of Lady M was still scheming and ambitious, but very feminine (in her own notes she underlines “very” and “feminine” double and triple times). Terry chose to be a devoted wife who did not know her husband well enough to see the evil that existed inside of him. Quite aware of her own weaknesses, she calls for help in the famous “unsexing” speech.
Terry made the choice that Lady M’s faint in Act II scene iii must be real. She says, “Strung up at first she relaxes when all seems safe and they swallow her husband’s masterly excuse.” Though many scholars believe the faint is to take focus off of Macbeth’s murder of the grooms, Terry’s choice was that Lady M has an emotional release; and in exhaustion, faints. This faint allowed the audience to believe more freely that Lady M, unlike in Ms. Siddons’ performance, has some touch of frailty that could grow into the hysteria seen later.
Some clues from the text which lead to the interpretation of a loving and devoted
These references show a Lady Macbeth who cares deeply about her husband and sees not only his strength but some of his weaknesses as well (i.e. “without the illness” and “art thou afeard.”) She is concerned with his well-being (“you do unbend your noble strength”) and with his public personae (“Question enrages him.”) The text Ms. Terry may have focused on could lead to a woman who sees the struggle her husband is about to undertake. I do evidence that she has weaknesses. She says in Act II scene ii lines 11—12, “Had he not resembled my father… I had done’t.” I agree that it is a mistake to not make their love very real. My problems are again many.
Ms. Terry was extremely worried about the audience liking her. Because of this she found a new level to Lady M that is often overlooked by actresses, but I think by making her ambition only for her husband she becomes less interesting. How many people are giving enough to kill a king in their home? And would Shakespeare write a woman so loving that she calls on demons and loses her mind? I believe also that playing so much on her frailty discounts all of the strength she does possess. She challenges his manhood. Is this the act of a loving and devoted wife who wants only for her husband’s happiness? Does the promise of bashing the brains out of a child come from a frail woman who is blinded by love of her husband? Terry gives us a side of Lady M that seemed lacking in Siddons’ interpretation, but by pushing her too far in the other direction Terry undermines what is clearly written by Shakespeare. He gives us a woman who begs for cruelty and then uses it against the man she loves. She is a woman whose desire for power leads her to plot a murder of a king in her own home. Terry’s view, though valid in many ways, erases the complexities of Lady Macbeth that intrigue the audience.
In 1978, Dame Judi Dench played Lady Macbeth opposite Ian McKellen. Her most notable choice was to be Macbeth’s equal. She neither dominated him nor submitted to him. And like many Lady M’s before she clearly loved Macbeth. Critics have said of her RSC performance, Dench transforms “from cold, malevolent she-devil to sadly broken, guilt-ridden madwoman.” While calling upon evil forces to come to her aid she shows a little bit of humanity by getting frightened of what she is asking. Ms.
Dench’s Lady M has been called a “barometer of guilt.” Macbeth’s (as well as her own guilt) are played out more in her actions than in those of her husband. She inhabited the choice that they are in this deed together.
Some textual references to this choice are:
As his equal she is able to see what he may be unwilling to do, she steadies herself to be his support. Dench may have latched on to Lady M’s references to “us” and “we.” After the deed is put into motion, she speaks in terms of their togetherness. Lines such as, “These deeds must not be thought after these ways; so it will make us mad (2.2.37—38),” and the previously mentioned, “A little water clears us of this deed.” My problem with Dame Dench’s choice is that she didn’t seem to use Lady Macbeth’s ambition as fully as it seems to exist in the text. She wants power. She does love her husband very much and is willing to help him, but when he refuses to go any further her desire for the throne wins over her love for her husband. She forces him to go through with the murder. She chides him and calls his manhood into question. She does not say to him, “Honey, I love you, and if you think it is best to back down, I’m with you.” She tells him to buck up and give her what he promised her. She certainly wants him there. He is not just a means to an end. But she will not let him break his promise.
She wants to be in power. They are equals, I think Dench is right in that choice, but she is adamant about one thing and that is becoming queen.
The next bit of research I obtained is the critical analysis of Lady Macbeth made
by several Shakespeare scholars. My main resources were Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare:
The Invention of the Human and Jan Kott’s Shakespeare Our Contemporary. I also pulled from dramaturgical references to Raphael Holinshed from Holinshed’s Chronicle and stories of the historical Macbeth. I have pulled certain bits of information that I found informative in shaping the role of Lady Macbeth for the purposes of this production.
Harold Bloom in The Invention of the Human brings up idea that informed and even translated directly into the creation of my Lady Macbeth. One common idea he presents is that Macbeth is her second husband. He claims that Macbeth is dependent on Lady Macbeth. I do believe that in many ways he is dependent. He comes to her first with the witches’ promise. He is lead by her insistence of their steps to power. His dependence on her also allows for a greater sense of loss for Lady M when he starts to exclude her from plans. If, after the murder, he no longer needs her, the steps to her decline seem clear. She has gone from his trusted, needed advisor to a wife who is purposefully being left out. Bloom refers to Lady Macbeth as “pure will.” The lack of will that Macbeth seems to have succumbed to is what makes Lady M so necessary to him, particularly early on. She lets her desire to be queen drive her and her husband to regicide in her home. It seems that Macbeth could not have gotten to that point by himself. He says that he had been honored and it wasn’t yet time to give up those honors, even though she is suggesting greater honors. The main ideas I took away from my reading included that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are the happiest couple in all of Shakespeare. He calls them, “…persuasive and valuable personalities, profoundly in love with each other.” This statement particularly informed my choices for Lady Macbeth. In this case, the idea that they loved each other seemed more useful than the idea that she was a mother figure for Macbeth, or that she needed him to achieve her political goals, or that it was a lust/sex based relationship. That being said, I do believe there are clear moments when each of these ideas are present. She has to scold him at times for being afraid and for getting upset. She does send him to bed, like a mother, after the disastrous banquet. Her need for Macbeth as her way into power is obvious in that she cannot gain power as a woman without a man. She needs to be married to man who can get her to the top. I believe she got lucky with a powerful man whom she also deeply loves. The idea of them as a sexual couple will lead me into the next author whose work influenced my choices for Lady Macbeth, Jan Kott.
In Shakespeare Our Contemporary, particularly the chapter entitled “Macbeth, or Death-Infected,” Jan Kott discusses a Lady Macbeth who is the man in the relationship.
He sees her charge to murder as “…a confirmation of manhood, an act of love.” Kott talks about two people who are “sexually obsessed with each other” but who have suffered a “great erotic defeat.” While I do not know what textual evidence he has for this, besides the strong sexual language of their first meeting and the constant attacks on Macbeth’s manhood, I think the idea is a usable one. I put to use the idea that Lady Macbeth finds some kind of sensual gratification in the enacting of this murder. Also, I thought of times where Lady M does step up and become the “man.” She often puts herself in the position of power, telling Macbeth to “leave the all the rest to me,” manipulating him into agreeing to murder when he is clearly against it. On the other hand, I think there are times that she is just as obviously the devoted wife—she is the hostess and the first face for the guests to see, uses her womanhood against him just as easily as she challenges his masculinity, “I have given suck…” Shakespeare often used source material from Holinshed’s Chronicle. The two stories he pasted together to create Macbeth were the stories of Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan and the story of Donwald, a man who killed a king at the insistence of his wife. The Chronicle said of the character that would be Lady Macbeth, “[She] lay sore upon him to attempt the thing, as she that was very ambitious, burning in unquenchable desire to bear the name of queen,” and also, “Donwald thus being the more kindled in wrath by the words of his wife, determined to follow her advice in the execution of so heinous an act.” As mentioned earlier, I believe the ambition that Lady Macbeth has to be queen is very obvious. She will not back down from this task for even a moment once she gets it into her mind; and she belittles and bothers Macbeth until he gives his word that the deed will be completed. The idea of ambition engulfed my Lady Macbeth.
The historical Lady Macbeth is a woman named Gruoch—Scottish women didn’t actually take the name of their husbands. It is known that this woman had a son by a first marriage. Unlike in Shakespeare’s telling, this son lived to adulthood and actually held the throne for a short period of time before being killed. The real “Lady Macbeth” killed her first husband. Gruoch actually had a claim to the throne, or she would have if she were a man. She was the granddaughter of King Kenneth III (a direct descendant of Kenneth MacAlpine the first king of the Scots) which would, if she were a male, have given the same right to the throne as Duncan and Macbeth.
As Bloom states, it is understood that Lady Macbeth was previously married and had a child; I did therefore chose to make these part of my Lady M’s past. I did not choose the idea that I had killed my first husband. Or even that I had commissioned his murder. I chose instead that he had died on the battlefield. The idea for Duncan’s death would be the first time she had ever really considered murder. Susan and I talked briefly of the idea that Macbeth had killed Lady’s first husband, but I think again, it is more powerful if the first non-battle related murder committed by Mac at the behest of Lady is Duncan’s. I have also heard the idea put forth that Lady had killed her own child.
Although I think she is hardcore, the idea of her killing a child, her own, seems ridiculous. There is nothing to be gained by making this choice. Her statement that she would “while it was smiling in my face, /Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums /And dashed the brains out” had she so sworn seems to have less violence if she is in the habit of killing children for no reason. I decided that her child had died naturally at a very young age—only days old.
The remainder of the analysis will be focusing on decisions I have made based on the previous material, textual support, and imagination.
Lady M is married to a thane in good standing with the King. He is a war hero.
She is very much in love with him. They even think in similar ways. She is very ambitious. Lady Macbeth is a great hostess—she sends her servant to give tending to a messenger, she tells Duncan that all preparations were done three times to be sure they were right. Banquo sends word to Macbeth that Duncan called her “most kind hostess (2.1.16).” She is extremely strong in will. Lady M is fixated on masculinity, finds femininity a flaw. Although she can plan things, she doesn’t always plan practically (as in the murder). This lack of practical planning also gives away a lack of experience when it comes to murder. Lady Macbeth sometimes bullies her husband into doing things. She hides her emotions extremely well. Because of her ability to withhold emotion and her utter control, she tends to work well under pressure—e.g. the king showing up unexpectedly, a husband losing his head at a state dinner. Lady M seems to have some reason to doubt the capabilities of her soldier husband. She believes strongly in fate and “metaphysical aid.” She eventually loses her marbles. She commits suicide after having been involved in committing regicide.
What your character says about herself:
I.v.27: “valor of my tongue”.41: “unsex me here and fill me from to toe top-full of direst cruelty,”.56—57 “transported me beyond this ignorant present, and I feel now the
.64—65: “his two chamberlains will I with wine and wassail so convince”.78—80: “Who dares receive it other as we shall make our griefs and clamor
II.ii.1: “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold”.12—13: “Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t.”.59—“If he do bleed, I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal”.68—69: “My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white.” III.iv.8: “my heart speaks they are welcome” V.i.42: “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”.50: “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
What other characters say of your character:
I.v.11: “my dearest partner in greatness” (Macbeth in letter)