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I.vi.10: “See, see, our honored hostess!” (Duncan).24: “Fair and noble hostess” (Duncan) I.vii.74: “thy undaunted mettle should compose nothing but males” (Mac) II.i.16: “most kind hostess” (Banquo from Duncan).iii.85: “O gentle lady” (Macduff) III.ii.39: “dear wife” (Mac)
.iv.116: “the natural ruby of your cheeks” (Mac) V.i.3—7: “I have seen her rise from her bed, throw her night gown upon her, unlock her closet, take forth paper, fold it, write upon ‘t, read it, afterwards
.19: “fast asleep” (Gentlewoman).21—22: “She has light by her continually. ‘Tis her command.” (Gentlewoman).26—27: “It is an accustomed action with her to seem thus washing her hands.”
.74: “More needs she the divine than the physician.” (Doctor).iii.40: “she is troubled with thick-coming fancies” (Doctor).v.17: “she should have died hereafter” (Mac).viii.70—72: “his fiendlike queen—who, as ‘tis thought, by self and violent
How do you, yourself, resemble the character you play:
Although I did find some similarities between Lady Macbeth and myself, I think it is safe to say that all of these traits are more pronounced in Lady M. The reasons for this are multiple: she is a character in a play, indeed, a Shakespearean character, she has to be larger than life so that her fall is larger than life.
I think I am more like Lady Macbeth than I would like to think. The first similarity that occurred to me is our public personae. It struck me hard because she clings to that image of the perfect hostess even when the world is crashing down around her feet. In the banquet scene there is no way she can believe that the guests will ignore Macbeth’s tirade against an invisible foe and yet she insists they do. The “perfect hostess” is her fail-safe, as the “perfect daughter” is mine. Even though I know very well that no one believes that I am or expects me to be the perfect child to my parents. Yet, in situations where I am uncomfortable I go into perfect child mode. How would my mother expect me to behave in this situation? Now, Lady’s expression of this is very different than mine. She is the leader, the center of attention, and controls the space;
whereas, I behave and become submissive to the crowd. But it is the idea of safety in a well-known persona I understand.
Another shared trait involves our hesitation to show emotion. I understand her desire to remain composed, especially in public situations. Again, she likes control and emotions are difficult to control. Like Lady M, when I feel that the emotion will not come out in the proper way or in front of the proper people I will restrain those emotions or at least the outward display of those emotions—the tears, the laughter, the screams of anger, etc. She takes it a step farther, into an area I don’t understand, later in the play. In Act Three she hides her emotions from Mac. I understand that to be hiding emotions from the person she loves and trusts most—a good friend or family member. She has very specific reasons for doing this, but it still makes little sense to me outside of the confines of the play.
Lady M is often thought to be a very tall, statuesque woman, but no mention is made of this in the text. In fact the only reference to her physicality comes from her in the sleepwalking scene. She says, “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” (V.i.50). I believe this Lady has a big personality, a big will, and is big in many other ways, but as I am not a tall or statuesque woman, I latched onto the “little hand” line. Like Lady Macbeth, I am energetic, “mouthy,” and other things packed into a tiny frame. I think she is thought of as a woman physically dominant over Macbeth because the readers may feel uncomfortable with Lady M being stronger mentally, emotionally or in will power than Macbeth seems to be. I don’t believe that Shakespeare gives us any indication that Mac fears that Lady M will strike him, nor does she make physical threats against him. She only uses words. She is a little lady with a big mouth. I think I often fit that description.
The Lady and I share the wretched characteristic of cracking under pressure. Like the Lady I talk to myself and lose precious sleep when stressed. I sometimes feel like I have lost my mind when I have been in highly stressful situations for a long period of time. If ever I conspired with my husband to kill a powerful person, and then my husband ignored me and went off on some maniacal killing spree, I believe I am the type of person who would revert into my own world of muttering, hand rubbing, and possibly suicide. I can see that happening to a person with my delicate sensibility.
One last trait we share is willfulness, sometimes called stubbornness to the untrained eye. Once we get something in our head we cannot, or will not shake it.
How do you differ from the character you play:
The differences are vast. Lady Macbeth’s mind goes immediately to dark, dark places. She considers no choice before the murder of King Duncan. And she does not pray to God for strength when she needs it; she asks to be filled “from crown to toe” with “direst cruelty (I.v).” She doesn’t think of a less painful way (like poison) to kill Duncan—she thinks of a violent and bloody murder. She even tells Mac they could do anything to Duncan’s sleeping body. Her mind is much darker. This works its way through the play. She says it would be better to be dead than to be frightened of being found out (III.ii). She becomes caught in this darkness for the sleepwalking scene (V.i).
She says, “Hell is murky.” Lady Macbeth feels as though she can speak about this with authority.
Speaking with reason and intent is another huge difference between the Lady and me. While I tend to speak whenever something pops into my head and on topics that I probably have no business speaking of, Lady Mac does not speak without reason. As seen in the previous section “What your character says about herself,” Lady M doesn’t talk much about herself as a person, but rather as a performer of specific acts. She says “I have done” such and such, or “I will” do such and such. She speaks of action. And unlike other famous characters in Shakespeare who talk of action, she actually does these things. She does conspire to kill. She does smear the grooms with blood. For this reason, I believe that anything she says she will do—i.e. kill a child if she had so sworn, could and would get done if the opportunity presented itself. She does not make empty threats or promises. Her word is truth without compromise.
One huge difference between Lady Macbeth and me is her ability to separate from people. Lady Macbeth treats people however she needs to in order to get the task done.
The thanes are well-loved until they say the wrong thing and then we hear, “Get out now!” I don’t believe she knows anything about any of the servants in the house, nor does she care. I don’t consider this an admirable quality, but it is her.
Social (Lady Macbeth):
As I have mentioned, Lady Macbeth is very aware of herself in groups. I believe that she doesn’t ever worry about doing something “wrong.” She would never accidentally pick up the wrong fork, use incorrect grammar, or say anything slightly offensive. And yet she watches herself. She is constantly aware.
Lady Macbeth doesn’t participate in social activities, she leads them. She is a hostess. Twice in this play, she hosts an event in her house—the King’s visit and the banquet. Although both end badly, I get the feeling that things do not usually turn out this way at her parties.
She is the leader of the group, but never quite a part of the group. She is there to guide the group from place to place, but she always seems disconnected. I say this hesitantly for though I feel that she is disconnected, I think that she plays the game so well that others would not say that. I think they would call her the life of the party, the gracious hostess. But she does not let herself be a part of the fun. She must control it.
Lady Macbeth’s feelings toward the servants, messengers, etc. are that they are the help. They are there to serve a purpose and either they are efficient or they are not. I don’t think she thinks much of them beyond that point.
Marriage (Mrs. Macbeth):
The Macbeths are in love—deeply and physically in love. Macbeth looks to Lady M for help with big decisions. They talk about the future and what they want from it. It is crucial the audience doesn’t question their love. The crisis for Lady is that Mac continues making decisions without her. Lady Macbeth is second only to Macbeth in stage time during the first three acts of the play and then she disappears. Mac no longer consults her. She has been dismissed. The last time we see her she has lost her control, he composure. This loss of herself comes from guilt, yes, but I think she would have been able to handle the guilt with the support and love of the man she loves. Instead, he tells her not to worry about things—to continue being a good hostess. I think the shock of his affront is too great for her at a time when she is starting to feel haunted by guilt.
I think the importance of the Macbeths relationship cannot be emphasized enough, especially when talking about Lady M. Macbeth has both Lady Macbeth and Banquo as confidants, but Lady M doesn’t have anyone besides Mac. As an actor, that is a wonderful gift. She can only express her emotions to Mac. All other encounters are businesslike and formal. We only hear what she is thinking when she is alone or speaking to Mac. He is all that she has to keep her human and he deserts her, at least in her mind. He dismisses her and doesn’t want her around. He no longer needs her counsel.
Because she only opens up when alone or to Mac, we can trust that what she says in those moments is true. As far as I can see, she never lies when talking to Mac. She certainly hides information or truth when talking to Duncan, the thanes, etc., but not with Mac. She needs him in many ways, including as her confessor.
Femininity (the Lady):
Because this production wasn’t based in a specific time period, I did not do a lot of actual “period” or “style” research. I did employ views that I believe were at work in Shakespeare’s world and therefore are inherent in the text. Most of these are beliefs dealing with a woman’s role. The idea that women are not equal to men and do not have the same privileges. Lady M believes just as strongly in these roles. She believes in them so much that she calls out to dark forces in the world to take her femininity from her. She is in a world where a woman has no claim to the throne because she is a woman.
I did not dwell on the fact that the historical Lady Macbeth had a claim to the Scottish throne, but it certainly informed my choices. She wants the throne. That is something that informs her decisions, even in her choice of husband. This is not to say she chose Mac because he could get the throne, rather his desire to hold that power was attractive to her.
Internal (sleepwalking Queen):
I have touched on some of the reasons I believe that Lady M snaps as she does, but I wanted to explore some of these ideas more fully. She talks mainly of Duncan’s murder and Macbeth’s fear of committing it. She feels guilty. She will not sleep without a light by her, she sleepwalks, and spills her mind as she does so. Her guilt is obviously about the murder of Duncan, but there are also hints that she is guilty about making Mac do it. Even as she sleeps, she relives the moments she chided his weakness. She cannot shake the sight or smell of the blood, just as she cannot shake the sight of Macbeth’s refusal to murder Duncan and her insistence that he do so. Even in this sleeping state she knows nothing can be done. They have reached the throne and cannot escape the consequences of their actions.
Ambition: to be queen, to have power, to control those around me Will: believing it makes it so, action, strength of mind Control: of body, of emotions, of people around me Sensuality: smells—the blood; tactile sense—Macbeth’s face, Duncan’s hand,
One element of characterization that I have focused on is physicality. This is partially because of the way in which this show has been put together, but more because of what I believe is the clearest expression of who Lady M is to me.
My physical life includes absolute knowledge of where I am moving and why.
Control over tiny details of what is visible to the crowd. The only tic that I cannot control is the rubbing of my left hand when I am in an extreme emotional state, including anger, stress, and uncertainty.
August 28, 2004: So this is the unofficial beginning of my thesis. I thought maybe I could cheat my brain by getting a habit started before the actual project begins. So this will not be the interesting stuff. I am in the memorization and research phase of the work. Now is the question time. Who is this woman? What can I bring to this role that will make her mine and different? What drives her? You know... the easy questions.
We do not officially begin rehearsals for almost three weeks. I am excited enough about this project to work on my journal really early. Daily entries may not come for awhile, but they are coming.
*-- SITI Co. member, co-member, or affiliate **-- LSU Faculty member ^-- LSU MFA III class All remaining actors are LSU undergraduates.
August 30, 2004: Today I found Michelangelo’s Dying Slave. This image seemed a very good image for the sleep walking scene. I found it while reading Camille Paglia's
Sexual Personae. She says of the sculpture: