What is Lady Macbeth's "prayer" to the spirits after she learns that Duncan is coming?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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As soon as Lady Macbeth dismisses the messenger that brings the news of Duncan's impending visit, she delivers one of Shakespeare's most chilling soliloquies. She asks, in short, for the "spirits that tend on mortal thoughts" to "unsex" her, destroying the virtues of mercy, kindness and sympathy that Shakespeare's audiences would have associated with femininity:

...[F]ill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full 
Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood, 
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
...Come to my woman's breasts, 
And take my milk for gall...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!”

This speech, and another one to her husband later in Act I, scene 7, is Lady Macbeth at her cruelest and most ambitious. As soon as she hears that Duncan is on his way, she recognizes what must be done to fulfill the witches' prophecy, and is willing to shed not just her femininity but her humanity in order to do it. She is steeling herself to push her hesitant husband toward what she views as his destiny, not realizing that his actions will destroy the both of them. 


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