10 Great Shakespeare Soliloquies

Lady Macbeth



When we asked an expert panel to select their top soliloquies, one married couple kept creeping into the discussion: the Macbeths. Today, we explore Lady Macbeth’s coup de grace.

Compiled by Andy McLean

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9. Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 1)

Rather than giving Lady Macbeth her own death scene, Shakespeare gives her something better – a soliloquy to die for. There are two other characters onstage, who occasionally interject with horrified commentary, but Lady Macbeth isn’t aware of their presence. For her, this is one long, dark soliloquy. Bell Shakespeare’s Head of Education, Joanne Erskine, explains why it’s so special:

“This is an incredible use of a soliloquy, where someone is not in control of their thoughts. Lady Macbeth’s words show us how her mind is unravelling – her words are fragments and grisly flashbacks of her story.”

The language is in striking contrast to that of the ambitious, calculating Lady Macbeth we met at the start of the play. “It shows us how far she’s fallen,” says Erskine. “She’s alone, she’s scared, and she’s lost her mind. The next time we hear of her, Lady Macbeth has died.”

Here's Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, without the interjections:

Yet here’s a spot. Out, damned spot! Out, I say! – One, two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t. – Hell is murky! – Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier and afeard? – What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? – Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? – The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now? – What, will these hands ne'er be clean? – No more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that: you mar all with this starting. – Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh! – Wash your hands, put on your nightgown, look not so pale. – I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried; he cannot come out on’s grave. – To bed, to bed! There's knocking at the gate: come, come, come, come, give me your hand. – What's done cannot be undone. – To bed, to bed, to bed!

To read about other soliloquies in our series, see the Bell Shakespeare blog.

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

To be continued…

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