Top 10 Greatest Women in Shakespeare – Number 1



We asked an expert panel of actors, directors, writers and fans to pick their favourite female characters in Shakespeare. Today we reveal the number one.

Compiled by Andy McLean

  1. LADY MACBETH (Macbeth)

Deceptive, determined and dangerous – Lady Macbeth is the ultimate femme fatale. Her name came up again and again among our expert panel.

Actor and writer Kate Mulvany, who played Lady Macbeth in 2012, loves the character for her contradictions: “She is bold but broken, hilarious but heartbreaking, grief-stricken but godless. She has a way with words that could flay a soldier – and does. And she makes us love her, even when we shouldn’t. She’s the kind of person I’d want to hang out with even though I know she’s a bad influence!”

Social researcher Dr Rebecca Huntley adds: “Lady Macbeth is the original great woman behind the not so great man. She’s evil but she owns it.” And Brendan P Kelso, author of the Shakespeare For Kids book series, enthuses: “They could’ve almost called the play Lady Macbeth. There are other great female characters out there but Lady Macbeth is the true mastermind.”

Actor and writer Jada Alberts says that there is much more to Lady Macbeth than simply being evil: “She is clearly the driving force behind Macbeth’s willingness to act and her ambition is almost solely focused on him. There is proof in this by just how many times she refers to herself in comparison to her husband.”

In her wake, Lady Macbeth leaves a trail of nagging questions, says Alberts: “Does grief play a role, the loss of a child? What does the throne mean to her and why? When she is Queen, does she feel any satisfaction? I think the most interesting question of the play is: What does Lady Macbeth want?”

Shakespeare Magazine editor Pat Reid sums it up thus: “Lady Macbeth is such a pivotal character, and delivers so many infamous lines – it’s always surprising that her part is actually relatively small. She takes a dark delight in language, and there’s something very appealing about that. She commits evil crimes, and yet we sympathise with her because she’s ultimately driven mad by guilt. Simply put, Lady Macbeth is a great role (but not a great role model).”

See the list of fabulous females, numbers 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6 here.

See the list of fabulous females, numbers 5, 4, 3, and 2 here.