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I would like some clarification and suggestions for acting the part of Lady Macbeth as...

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rileynowak | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 29, 2011 at 2:30 AM via web

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I would like some clarification and suggestions for acting the part of Lady Macbeth as she receives the letter in Act I, Scene v of Macbeth.

I've switched schools mid-semester and am without a group for a project. The teacher, who I've also found out is the drama teacher, gave me one of Lady Macbeth's soliloquies, Act 1, Scene 5, where she reads the letter ("They met me in the day of success . . . To have thee crown'd withal.")

I understand the motivation and and the purpose of the part; I understand the character. I just really want to nail this part. I love drama. I started a drama club at my old school, and I don't want my new teacher to underestimate me next year in drama. He already seems a little unsettled that I was ready to do the project at all.

I've got the costume in the bag. I'm looking for blocking help or any creative ideas about portrayal of emotion. As well, when she says "Thou'dst have, great Glamis, that which cries, 'Thus thou must do' if thou have it..." (same scene) is she describing the crown, the murder, or both?

I'm so excited, but I'm nervous and looking for some input from another person. Thank you!

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 29, 2011 at 11:56 PM (Answer #1)

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First, I must say I really admire your scholarship and your dedication to excellence. These are fine characteristics in a student, and I'm sure your drama teacher will soon realize what a prize he has in you! That said, let me see what I can contribute to your cause.

Let's look at the particular lines you mention:

Thou'dst have, great Glamis,

That which cries "Thus thou must do" if thou have it;

And that which rather thou dost fear to do

Than wishest should be undone.

To interpret this passage, consider it in the context of the scene. Lady Macbeth obviously is set on fire with ambition when she reads the letter. Then she starts assessing her husband's character, which she knows very well. She knows he will want the crown, but she also knows that his nature is full of "the milk of human kindness," which will make it difficult for him to do what must be done to become king quickly ("to catch the nearest way.") This observation makes it clear that she is already thinking in terms of murdering Duncan. Macbeth will want to be king, but he will not want to commit murder.

Now to the lines in question. In them she is still analyzing Macbeth's nature; also, she may be rationalizing what she already knows she will do--push him into murdering Duncan. She is saying that Macbeth will not want to kill Duncan and that he will be afraid to do so, but that once he follows through, he will not be sorry and will not wish his actions "undone."

As for portraying her in terms of her emotions, as she reads the letter, she would probably feel a growing sense of excitement as she begins to realize what it says and what possibilities it suggests. Notice her first reaction after finishing the letter:

Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be

What thou art promised.

Her mind is made up instantly and there is no reservation: Macbeth will become king. The following line begins her evaluation of his nature and makes it clear that she will not wait for his destiny to arrive; she will see that it happens now.

In blocking, there are three shifts that occur within the scene:

  • There is a natural break between her finishing the letter and responding to it.
  • Then there is a second emotional break between stating that Macbeth "shalt be" what he is promised and her concerns about his personality. This one is signaled by the word "yet."
  • The third emotional shift occurs when she says "Hie thee hither" and  lays out her intentions to override Macbeth's anticipated hesitation and disabuse him of "[a]ll that impedes thee from the golden round (the crown)."

From the time she reads the letter until she concludes her soliloquy, Lady Macbeth's mind moves through several stages of comprehension and decision making, and her emotions change with each realization. This is a very dynamic soliloquy. I hope this helps, and good luck to you!

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