Lady Macbeth

10 Great Shakespeare Soliloquies: Lady Macbeth

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02.09.2021

We asked an expert panel to cherry pick some of their favourite soliloquies. Here’s the second from their bunch of 10 classics.

Compiled by Andy McLean

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Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 5)

If there was any doubt about the depths of Lady Macbeth’s depravity, those are swept away in her soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 5. The words she unleashes conjure up a heady mix of ambition, violence and supernatural malevolence.

“She’s basically doing the Shakespearean equivalent of psyching herself up in front of a mirror like people do before a prize fight or a TED talk or a stand-up gig,” says researcher and writer Rebecca Huntley. “It’s a fascinating contrast to the ball-busting tongue lashing she gives her husband when he starts to have second thoughts before the murder of Duncan.”

Huntley first read the soliloquy as a teenager and, even then, she recalls “the irony struck me that Lady Macbeth is asking to be made strong by becoming more manly. She is asking the spirits to replace her breast milk for gall. Whereas in fact she clearly wore the pants in the relationship at that point. Maybe Macbeth should have wished to be more like her?”

Here’s Lady Mac’s soliloquy in full:

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief. Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
To cry “Hold, hold!”

Teachers: Check out Macbeth: The (Socially Distanced) Rehearsal, a one-hour video for classrooms.

How to talk about climate change in way that makes a difference by Rebecca Huntley is available now in all good bookshops.

To be continued…

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