Today seems apropos for Shakespeare’s great speech about women’s empowerment–or lack thereof.
It’s easy to cast Lady Macbeth as a supreme villainess, and that’s what so many scholars and directors have done over the centuries. But think of when Shakespeare wrote the role of Lady Macbeth: women were property, not even allowed to act on stage–a boy had to speak Lady Macbeth’s lines. But by the time of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s writing had matured, and he began to give us women’s roles that probably shocked some of his Elizabethan theatre-goers.
And so we have Lady Macbeth, who first spoke on the stage of the Globe Theatre, but still speaks to us today: She came to life in a universe where all power sat in the laps of men. Hers was a profound desire for empowerment, and the only way she could express it was a yearning to unsex herself–that is, make her masculine. Of course that is not how we’d prefer to think of it or express it today–but in truth, isn’t that what our world still forces women do?
…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 murd’ring 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!”
–from Macbeth, Act I Scene v
The image is of Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth from the 2015 film version.