Could you do a language analysis of the Lady Macbeth quote ''unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty''? I am unsure of the true underlying meaning. Many thanks.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Let's look at the context of this line. In act 1, scene 5, Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband, telling her of the events we witnessed in the previous scenes: Macbeth met three witches in the woods, and they hailed him as Thane of Glamis (which he is), Thane of Cawdor (which he becomes), and king hereafter (prophesying a future crown for him). As soon as she finishes reading, a messenger tells her that King Duncan will be coming to her castle tonight. The messenger leaves, and she speaks the following famous lines:

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!'

The raven croaking the "fatal entrance of Duncan" shows us what Lady Macbeth is scheming. She is ambitious, and wants her husband to become king as the witches foretold. She sees Duncan's visit as a fateful opportunity. In order to follow through with the assassination though, she will need to be tough. She asks the spirits to fill her with the "direst cruelty" so she will be cruel enough to commit the deadly act. By "crown" she means the crown or top of her head, although there is the additional imagery of a crown and overthrowing the king. This line also references gender roles. Women were seen as delicate, so she wants the spirits to "unsex" her so she can be more tough and manly. This thought is continued when she asks them to "come to my woman's breasts, and take my milk for gall." Basically, these lines are her desiring the power and strength that will be required in this conspiracy to kill the king.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial