Friday, March 16, 2012

Lady Macbeth -- a man playing a woman becoming a man?

Sometime around the Sixth Century B.C., when theater was ritualized, women were banned from the stage and were almost universally prohibited from performing in Western Europe until 1660.  So Lady Macbeth, like all the great Shakespearean roles, was written for a man.

In one of her most dramatic moments, Lady Macbeth pleads, "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!"suggesting that cruelty and "thick blood" are characteristics only attributable to a man.

In order to spur her husband to bloody murder, she must become the man within her and eschew her softer instincts lest he be inclined to be somewhat womanlike and consequently afraid of action.

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!'

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