Explain the significance of Lady Macbeth's soliloquy in Act I Scene 5.
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 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.
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In this chilling soliloquy, Lady Macbeth asks for whatever "spirits that tend on mortal thoughts" to "unsex" her, in other words, to take away all mercy, tenderness, and other characteristics that Shakespeare's audiences would have associated with the female gender. She has just read the letter from her husband that describes the witches' prophecies, and knows that one of them has come true (he has been made Thane of Cawdor,) and knows that Duncan is on his way to their castle to spend a few days. She is steeling herself to push her husband to achieve what they both feel is his destiny through the murder of Duncan.
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