She’s defeated Iago, King Lear, Marc Anthony, and now the great Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. So you better vote for her or get the hell out of her way.
Lady Macbeth is not to be trifled with. A commanding woman overflowing with passionate energy, Lady Macbeth is the hottest embodiment of ambition known to literature. LM is usually depicted as a sexy vixen, a ruthless shrew, and even a deeply devoted wife (see Dame Judy Dench’s nuanced performance here: ACTIScVII. No matter the interpretation, her ambition and lust are insatiable, which makes for a deliciously thrilling and visceral play.
Be honest, now. If you thought only about her commitment, razor sharp focus and unbound resourcefulness, she would impress you. If you considered her healthy sexual appetite and her charm, you’d envy her. If you pondered her keen wit, mastery of words and powerful imagination, you’d be in awe – then probably you’d run for your life. AS John Kollmer aptly states: “Lady M has that special brand of psycho going on that is both sexy and scare-me-out-of-my-wits creepy.”
Lady Macbeth is one half of the original power couple: she and General Macbeth (the Thame of Glamis) seems to have it all. They are established, admired, and filled with a fiery love for one another. Lady Macbeth has been married before, and even had a child (who is implied dead). Though no more information is giving about her past, we wonder: what happened to the child? How did s/he die? Why don’t they have children now? Who was Lady Macbeth’s first husband, and when did Macbeth enter the picture? There is a fountain of unknown information about Lady M – making her all the more mysterious.
What we know for sure is that she and Macbeth have no children. While this gives them more time for their hot romance, it also means that they wonder about their legacy.
Enter the witches and their intriguing prophecy. Macbeth feels the urge in his heart to pursue the throne but hesitates; reaching out to the one person he trusts and admires the most. The letter arrives, and Lady Macbeth – knowing his ambition and adding in her own – double downs. In a twisted act of loyalty to husband, she aligns herself with the witches as she invokes evil spirits:
“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!”
This is it, people – this is the moment. In the future people will use the term “Lady Macbeth” to imply the most fiendish, selfish and horrific bitch one can imagine. But it’s in this moment that we see her for what she really is: otherworldly. Lady Macbeth reaches beyond herself to embrace her most wickedly aggressive nature so as to realize greatness for her and her man. Not afraid to turn the gender tables, her call to fill her breasts with gall and make herself more masculine was in Shakespeare’s day exceptionally perverse. Basically, this woman invented the phrase: by any means necessary.
To frighten us even more is the method with which she convinces Macbeth to kill King Duncan: she holds him to his promise:
From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem…
When you durst do it, then you were a man…
She calls him a coward, a term no Shakespearean man could handle hearing from anyone – much less a woman, and even less from a woman he loves and desires! She gruesomely continues to profess that she would rather smash her own child’s brains than break a promise to him:
I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the Babe that milks me,
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this.
Her words simultaneously inspire and terrify. Most of all, they prove effective:
If we should fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.
With these words Mackers is back on track, and the regicide is a go. Lady Macbeth waits for him, and then returns to the scene of the crime to replace the bloody daggers. The regicide is complete. Easy.
Not so fast. Heavy is the head that wears the Scottish crown.
Extraordinarily smart about the present moment, LM is woefully ignorant of the future. She didn’t realize that this one desire would cost the lives of so many more people – including Banquo and MacDuff’s family (“The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?”). Most of all, she didn’t factor in that while the extra boost of evil enhanced her, it altered the very DNA of her husband. First he is no longer her partner in crime, keeping her ignorant of his actions (“Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chick,/ Till thou applaud the deed.”) She is no longer his confidant, and he is no longer her soul mate. Ay, there’s the rub. While he has fully embraced the dark side, Lady Macbeth experiences arguably the most haunting, tortured and phantasmagorical scenes: her famous moment by candlelight where even sleepwalking she tries to cleans Duncan’s blood from her hands.
Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!…Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him….What, will these hands ne’er be clean?
It is all too much for the Scottish Queen to bear, and so she commits suicide – and unlamented by her now evil husband.
Many commanding, ambitious, and lustful women would come after Lady Macbeth – but none would compare in smarts or complexity. This role has challenged the ideas of love, power, sex, masculinity, femininity, ambition and devotion. For her unbelievable journey and her contribution to powerful women everywhere, Lady Macbeth deserves your vote.