What murders does Lady Macbeth allude to in her sleep? Which specific details suggest the various murders?

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katwood001 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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The famous "Out- Out" speech by Lady Macbeth in Act 5 Scene 1 ranks as one of the most performed Shakespearean sequences throughout the world.  Part of the reason for this soliloquy's fame is how expertly Shakespeare interweaves lines from earlier in the play to present a woman sliding from guilt into madness.  

Lady Macbeth reviews the murders of Duncan, Banquo, Lady Macduff, and her Son as she sleepwalks throughout the castle.  These are not the only scenes that are represented.  A good block of the sleep walking scene is from other moments in the play, where she and Macbeth are at high stress points, such as- the banquet and Duncan's arrival.  Below is a line-by-line breakdown of the soliloquy.    

Out, damned spot! Out, I say!

The spots that Lady Macbeth sees on her hands are in reference to the conversation she had with Macbeth after the murder of Duncan.  When she smeared the two sleeping soldiers with Duncan's blood, she became as bloody as her husband.  The blood represents guilt.  After Macbeth kills Duncan, he is fixated on his bloody hands.  Lady Macbeth tells him:  

"You do unbend your noble strength to think so brainsickly of things.  Go get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hand."

During the Out Out speech, Lady Macbeth is obsessing or being brainsick regarding her guilt.   Her noble strength is definitely being weakened.   (Act 1: Scene 7)

—One, two.  Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t.

This line is often misconstrued as her counting the spots.  This line is in reference to the preparations for killing Duncan.  The line has two possibilities.  First, it could be that Lady Macbeth is talking about the two guards nodding off, or second, that she is remembering ringing the bell twice (the signal for Macbeth to commit the murder.)  Tis time to do 't- is a direct reference to the plot to murder Duncan.   (Act 1: Scene 7) 

Hell is murky!

This line references back to Act 1 Scene 5, where Lady Macbeth is reading the letter from Macbeth regarding the witches.  The sequence she is remembering is at end of the lines where she is talking about convincing Macbeth to kill the King. (Act 1: Scene 7)

—Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard?

This line references the speech Lady Macbeth says to her husband when he is having doubts about killing Duncan.   (Act 3: Scene 4.)

What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?—

While this line is not exact, it can be attributed to the power that the Macbeth's have now that they are King and Queen.  She is stating that it really does not matter anymore if people suspect they murdered Duncan.  They are King and Queen, so they are untouchable.  

Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.

Lady Macbeth makes the statement in Act 1: Scene 7 that she had the opportunity to kill Duncan herself.  She could not do it because he reminded her of her father.  She then, later in the scene, must return to the crime scene to put the daggers on the soldiers and smear them with blood.  In order to do this, she had to approach Duncan, this time murdered, and dip her hands into his blood.  Given that she has already said he looks too much like her father to do him harm, this would be a huge psychological trauma, which is coming to the surface.  

There’s still a spot here

Once again, she is referencing her bloody hands that will never come clean.  If connected to the line above, it is understandable why her nightmare revolves around bloody hands.  

The thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?

This is a direct reference to the murder of Lady Macduff and her son.  Macbeth did not involve her in this murder.  It is possible that the death of Macduff's wife and child is the moment that Lady Macbeth sees the monster she released in her husband. 

—What, will these hands ne'er be clean?

Again, the bloody hands reference is repeated.   This time, her hands are being covered in the blood of an innocent child and his mother.  

—No more o' that, my lord, no more o' that.

You mar all with this starting.

This line is in reference to Macbeth's madness during the banquet.  Lady Macbeth had to calm him down as he was seeing the ghost of Banquo.  (Act 3: Scene 3)  She specifically is referencing when Macbeth is pointing out the ghost sitting in his place.  

Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, Oh, Oh!

Wash your hands. Put on your nightgown.

Lady Macbeth returns to her bloody hands...  This time her mind returns to the scene where they have just killed Duncan.   They both hear the knocking at the gate where Macduff is trying to enter.  Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth to put on his nightgown, so they can say that they were asleep when the murder occurred.  (Act 2: Scene 2)

Look not so pale.

These lines reference the speech Macbeth hints to Lady Macbeth that he is going to have Banquo murdered.  In the speech, Macbeth explains to her that he is pale because he is worried about keeping the throne.  Again, it is a scene where Lady Macbeth is beginning to realize she is no longer in control of her husband.  (Act 3: Scene 1) 

—I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried;

he cannot come out on ’s grave.

These lines reference the banquet hall when Banquo is haunting Macbeth.  It gives the air of a conversation they had together after the banquet scene.   

To bed, to bed.

There’s knocking at the gate.

Again, this references the plan to pretend they were sleeping when Duncan was murdered.  The fact that Lady Macbeth hears knocking has an added suggestion.  The knocking they hear is actually Macduff trying to enter the castle.  The next scene begins with the Porter pretending he is the Porter to Hell.  Unbeknownst to him, Lady and Lord Macbeth are knocking on the door to Hell themselves, having just killed the King.  It is ironic that from the porter's perspective Hell is on the doorstep while he is giving his speech and for Lady Macbeth Hell is on the doorstep as well as she is sleepwalking.  

Come, come, come, come.

Give me your hand.

These lines reference a line Duncan says to Lady Macbeth in Act 1: Scene 6.  Duncan says this line as he asks Lady Macbeth to lead him into their castle where he will ultimately be murdered.  

What’s done cannot be undone.

This line references Lady Macbeth's concern before the banquet.  Macbeth, now King, is brooding and plotting to kill Banquo.  Lady Macbeth misconstrues his behavior to be guilt over Duncan's death.  In this particular speech, this line holds a double significance.  First, she is quoting her soothing of her husband in Act 3: Scene 2, but she is also making a statement that there is no going back.  The blood cannot be removed from her hands.  She and her husband are damned.   

—To bed, to bed, to bed!

This returns to their alibi, but can also be interpreted as a longing.  If she and Macbeth had just gone to bed that night, they would be happy.  Some interpretations of this line give a darker meaning- that Lady Macbeth has made the decision to commit suicide.  This can be substantiated by the fact that she does not appear again alive in the play.    

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