Nov. 18th, 2018
Act I, Scene V, ll. 36-52. Prior to this scene, Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, had encountered the three witches in a prophetic greeting which exclaimed a trio of accomplishments. Thane of Glamis; Thane of Cawdor; King of Scotland; He was said to soon hold each of these ranks. With Glamis naturally in place, Macbeth had his uncertainties with what was to come.
Unexpectedly, King Duncan names Macbeth Thane of Cawdor, giving him confidence in what the Weird sisters proposed. Lady Macbeth, being the shadow speaking in this soliloquy, gets word King Duncan will be visiting their home and knows this is their time to make fate happen. She delivers a speech asking the spirits to give her the strength to commit the deed knowing her husband, Macbeth, is far too kind and good-mannered to do so. Completely in iambic pentameter, Lady Macbeth sparks the plot of continuous murder.
Silence. The importance of this speech is made clear immediately, Shakespeare begins with a pause. This allows for her audience to fully engage before she starts. “The raven himself is hoarse/ That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan/ Under my battlements”. The raven being a messenger of death automatically insinuates her desire for death to come in the near future. Saying it is “hoarse” gives me a sense that she is unsure of how exactly she wants the murder to be done, but she has a rough idea of what she wants to happen. Using personification to give the raven human-like qualities, she directs this death to Duncan and his ‘fatal entrance’, expressing that he will ‘croak’ upon the visit to their home. Metaphorically, the raven brings news of The Kings visit and of his upcoming death.
The next sentence is when we learn she is speaking to the (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”. She refers to the spirits as ‘you’, which asserts their dominance over her and her knowledge of that. Although she doesn’t directly say what kind of spirits she is referring to, we can assume they are negative ones with the previous diction she has used. She credits the spirits with taking care of, or ‘tending to’, these murderous designs she has compiled in her head. As one would speak a prayer, Lady Macbeth proceeds to ask the spirits to ‘unsex’ her. She wants her feminine qualities to be exchanged with cruelty from head-to-toe. The connotation received when speaking this sentence aloud directly correlates with the words on the page. The ‘s’ sound reiterates the cynical aspect Lady Macbeth clearly alludes to it with words like, ‘spirits’, ‘thoughts’, ‘unsex’, and ‘direst’. The sentence is meant to be emphasized on that specific consonant to keep the creepiness alive.
The speech rambles on, “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”. Again, we hear the repetition of the letter ‘s’ to ensure the audience knows there is something wicked happening. Lady wants her blood to be thick, thick enough that the guilt inside of her can’t run through her veins and let remorse seep into her heart. She also asks that nobody or nothing restrain her from her mission she has planned. I think she knows she should feel guilty, but she is doing her best to distract herself from letting it overcome her. The reference to blood is frequently stated. It can often be used to show guilt, with Lady Macbeth especially, she asks the spirits to ward away any feelings of pity using her blood. She is willing to become someone she isn’t with the thought of power in mind.
“Come to my woman’s breast/ And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,/ Wherever, in your sightless substance,/ You wait nature’s mischief”. Asking for her milk to be swapped with gall is a bold statement. Still speaking to the spirits referenced in line 38, now murdering ministers, she announces that she is well aware of the fact they are invisible, yet manage to make their way into all natural disasters. I reckon she was a mother herself at one point, considering she has milk in her breasts. WIth that being said, it takes a strong woman who once fed her own child with that milk to allow it to be taken from her in exchange for cruelty. It’s like removing her motherly and nurturing traits in a quite symbolic way. Keeping the trend of constant ‘s’s going, it would be nearly impossible to read these lines without a cynical lense at all.
“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!’”. There is no ignoring that 3 sentences from this single soliloquy begin with ‘come’. It seems as if she is summoning the spirits when she starts her phrases. ‘Come’, such a simple, one syllable word that is demanding and equally apprehensive. She can ask all she wants, but the response is yet to be known. Night is normally associated with evil, not coincidentally, most scenes in Macbeth take place at night. Lady Macbeth asks the agents of murder to bring darkness to cover up the deed she intends to commit, so much so that heaven and hell won’t even know about it.
Silence. A time where the audience can let the words they just heard sync in. And then “Great Glamis, worthy Cawdor!”. Lady Macbeth ends with these words. A short phrase that is sparked by Macbeth’s entrance. It is brilliant because it expresses her evil thoughts that translate into her sane self for a moment when her husband enters. The transition in attitude she makes shows just how spastic she actually is. As she is thinking about where they will end up (King of Scotland), she doesn’t outwardly express it immediately. It is simply, where he used to be, ‘Glamis’, to where he is now, ‘Cawdor’, only to prepare him for where he will be, ‘King’. Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy reveals and highlights what the entire plot has in store in the most beautiful way possible.