She, too, is in process. She changes with each performance.
“I could never relate any of my characters with my own life because we’re not the same person. I need to find everything I will need in the character. If it’s not there, then I will create it.”
- Marianne Cotillard describing her performance of Lady Macbeth to Time Magazine. Click here.
Lady Macbeth is a central character in William Shakespeare's play, Macbeth. She is the wife of Macbeth and plays a significant role in the play's plot.
At the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth is depicted as a ruthless and ambitious woman who encourages her husband to pursue the throne of Scotland. She convinces Macbeth to kill King Duncan and take the crown, stating that it is his destiny to rule. Lady Macbeth is shown to be incredibly manipulative and controlling, urging Macbeth to take actions that he is initially hesitant to do. However, as the play progresses, Lady Macbeth begins to unravel. She is plagued by guilt and cannot rid herself of the images of the murders she and her husband have committed. Lady Macbeth's descent into madness and guilt is a significant aspect of the play, and her character serves as a commentary on the corrupting nature of power and ambition.
The Becoming of Lady Macbeth
BBC Arts and Ideas
A Process Reflection
characters can change, too.
I don't like villains in plays or films or books. They are evil.
But I often wonder if their presentation might not be a little too simplistic, if they don't deserve a little slack. And I also wonder if, over time, they might change. I'm not talking about the people who perform them; I'm talking about the characters themselves. Aren't they more than appears on the script? Can't they, too, become more?
I want to talk about the creative transformation of Lady Macbeth as she is performed in a contemporary setting. Listen to the podcast on BBC below. It shows how she is changing even today. Or being changed by those who perform her.
I best proceed with a discussion of performing Lady Macbeth in film or on screen. In herself, Lady Macbeth is an idea. Acting is performing this idea and making her real: using the body, voice, and emotions to convey her imagined thoughts, feelings, and actions. Acting begins with an act of empathy: imagining her point of view and performing it. As performed, Lady Macbeth becomes what Whitehead calls a proposition: a lure for feeling with power of her own. This feeling, this lure, is not Mariann Cotillard, the actor who portrays her in the image above; it is Lady Macbeth as performed by Mariann Cotillard. Lady Macbeth has integrity or independence of her own, as a possibility.
Or consider the five actors who communicate Lady Macbeth sleepwalking in the video below: Mariann Cotillard, Jeanette Nolan, Judith Anderson, Francesca Annis, Judith Anderson, and Judi Dench. Theatre and film are their contexts. They are professional actors. Each interprets Lady Macbeth in a unique way. The integrity of Lady Macbeth can only be presented through human actors; otherwise it remains real, but unactualized. The actors bring the idea into actuality. Of course, acting is not limited to actors. It can occur in other settings, in politics for example. Politicians can have in their minds certain characters they want to portray in the world, and they can then perform the ideas, especially when media are present. This does not mean they are deceptive. They are not ‘pretending.’ Instead, they may they believe that they are the very characters they present; they may not even know they are acting. Still, they carry an idea in their heads of who they want to present to others, and they are, in this sense, acting. People who know them in other contexts realize that they are putting on an act. To repeat: the character an actor presents, whether in art or politics, is more than the actor. The character has reality of its own. In Whitehead's language, it is "real" even if not "actual." That is, real as a possibility. In Whitehead's thought a person can be a possibility even if not an actuality.
Most characters are multivalent, as is Lady Macbeth. She has been described as a resolute seductress, an ambitious manipulator, and a fiendish madwoman. Many of descriptors match stereotypes of women in patriarchal societies. However, as a character, she can have other, more admirable qualities which are now recognized by women critical of those stereotypes. Listen to the BBC interview. Who a character is depends, not on how she is interpreted and received. Her identity is in process, relative to the historical circumstances at hand.
Part of this creative transformation occurs through actors and playwrights who add to the characters they receive in scripts. A character is not an actual person but rather an idea, a real possibility, about an actual person. The actor adds to the idea. No good actor simply "follows the script."
And, let it be emphasized, no actor performs alone. An actor depends on the director, the staff, the set, the other actors; the other actors are, in Whitehead's words, the "many" who "become one" in the actor’s performance. Acting is both unique to the actor and utterly dependent on others. Acting is relational; even politicians depend on their marketers.)
Is there a spiritual component in acting? Yes, at least from a Whiteheadian perspective. In Whitehead's philosophy every moment of experience begins, not only with influence from the past and the body and the environment and other people, not only with whatever capacities for creativity and empathy we might have in ourselves, but also with an inwardly felt lure from the divine. This lure is a possibility for becoming something concrete, something actual, in the present moment. It is, in Whitehead's words, "the best for the situation at hand." We may respond to it, hide from it, modify it, or amplify it. It is God inside us.
In performing for films, theatre, and television, actors need to be attuned to this lure. It is that within them which empowers them to, as it were, become the character they wish to become in the circumstances at hand. To become Lady Macbeth.
In the case of Lady Macbeth, the actors do not become villains, if we deem Lady Macbeth a villain; but they present the villain to the world so that audiences can see what it’s like to be a villain or, for that matter, a madwoman. If they are good actors, we end up "understanding" what it might be like to be inside the villain or madwoman's skin, and we cannot but help sympathize just a little. In process theology, God is said to be a "fellow sufferer who understands." One function of acting at its best is to help us understand, too.
Actors can also contribute to the creative transformation of characters, such that our very idea of them changes. Even villains can be transformed; they can become new. Nothing, nothing at all, is entirely fixed by its, his, or her past. That includes Lady Macbeth.
Jay McDaniel, 3/19/2023
The Sleepwalking Scene: Five Versions
"The sleepwalking scene in Macbeth is one of the most famous and memorable scenes in the play. It occurs in Act 5, Scene 1 and is often referred to as Lady Macbeth's "sleepwalking scene." In the scene, Lady Macbeth is seen sleepwalking and talking to herself, reliving the events of the murder of King Duncan. She is holding a candle and washing her hands, trying to rid them of the imaginary bloodstains that she believes are still there. As she sleepwalks, Lady Macbeth reveals her guilt and remorse over her part in the murder of King Duncan. She speaks of the blood on her hands and of the fact that no amount of washing can cleanse her of the guilt she feels. She also references other crimes she and Macbeth have committed, including the murder of Banquo and the attempted murder of Fleance." (YouTube)
Come, you spirits.
"Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here" in Act 1, Scene 5 of William Shakespeare's play "Macbeth." In this scene, Lady Macbeth is reading a letter from her husband, Macbeth, that describes his encounter with three witches who prophesized that he would become King of Scotland. Lady Macbeth fears that her husband may be too weak to take the necessary steps to seize the throne, and she calls upon evil spirits to give her the strength and ruthlessness to help him achieve their ambition. (chatGPT)
LADY MACBETH 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-ful Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood; Stop up th' access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between Th' effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts, And take my milk for gall, you murth'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!' (1.5.38–54)
Lady Macbeth: An Undoing
Lady Macbeth: A Movie
Dmitri Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Op. 29 (Russian: Леди Макбет Мценского уезда, romanized: Ledi Makbet Mtsenskogo uyezda, lit. 'Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District') is an opera in four acts and nine scenes by Dmitri Shostakovich. The libretto, jointly written by Alexander Preys and the composer, is based on the novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov.
Dedicated by Shostakovich to his first wife, physicist Nina Varzar, the roughly 160-minute opera was first performed on 22 January 1934 at the Leningrad Maly Operny, and two days later in Moscow. It incorporates elements of expressionism and verismo, telling the story of a lonely woman in 19th-century Russia who falls in love with one of her husband's workers and is driven to murder.
Some Lady Macbeth Quotes
"Out, damn'd spot! out, I say!"
This line is spoken by Lady Macbeth as she sleepwalks and tries to wash an imaginary bloodstain from her hands, symbolizing her guilt over her role in the murders committed by her and her husband.
"Yet do I fear thy nature; it is too full o' the milk of human kindness"
Lady Macbeth expresses her concern that her husband, Macbeth, may not have the ruthlessness necessary to seize the throne.
"What's done cannot be undone"
Lady Macbeth reflects on the irreversible consequences of their murderous actions.
"Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it"
Lady Macbeth advises Macbeth to appear harmless and virtuous, while secretly plotting to achieve their goals.
"Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we'll not fail"
Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to be brave and resolute in their plan to kill King Duncan.
"All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand"
Lady Macbeth laments the guilt and shame that she cannot wash away, even with the use of fragrant oils and perfumes.