Philip Weller caricature
Philip and Weller hugging

Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Lady Macbeth

[This is an annotated list of all appearances and all mentions of Lady Macbeth.]

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
John Singer Sargent

Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth

1971 film: The Tragedy of Macbeth

"They met me in the day of success: and I have learned by the perfectest report, they have more in them than mortal knowledge" (1.5.1-3). Lady Macbeth is reading the letter in which Macbeth tells of his meeting with the witches. After she has read the letter, Lady Macbeth is determined that she will make the witches' prophecy come true. She prepares herself to work her husband into a murderous state of mind. She also gets herself into a murderous state of mind, crying out, "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!" (1.5.40-43). When Macbeth arrives, she advises him to put on an innocent face in front of the King and to leave the rest to her.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

See, see, our honour'd hostess!" (1.6.10). Thus King Duncan greets Lady Macbeth at the gates of Macbeth's castle. In a display of consummate hypocrisy, Lady Macbeth gives a warm welcome to the man she is planning to murder.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

While King Duncan is having supper in Macbeth's castle, Macbeth steps out to think about the plan to kill the King. When Lady Macbeth finds Macbeth, she exclaims, "He has almost supp'd: why have you left the chamber?" (1.7.29). Then, in order to keep Macbeth committed to the murder plan, she verbally assaults his courage and manhood. This is the scene in which she brags that if she had made a vow to do a murder, she would follow through. Even if it were her own baby, she "would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you / Have done to this" (1.7.56-59). In a few minutes, Macbeth sees things her way.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

Banquo tells Macbeth that the King has been very pleased with the hospitality shown to him, and that "This diamond he greets your wife withal, / By the name of most kind hostess" (2.1.15-16). We never learn if Lady Macbeth receives that diamond, but we do learn that she rings the bell that tells her husband it's time to murder the King.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

As she waits for her husband to come with the news that he has murdered King Duncan, Lady Macbeth says to herself, "That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold" (2.2.1). She's referring to the fact that she has given possets (wine and milk) to King Duncan's grooms. Apparently, she's had a posset herself, so that she's experiencing a kind of drunken courage. The grooms, on the other hand, aren't feeling a thing, because Lady Macbeth drugged their possets. Not only that, but she made sure that King Duncan's door was ajar, and that the grooms' daggers were in plain sight, so that Macbeth could easily go in, kill the King, and leave the bloody daggers on the grooms.

However, things don't go quite as she has planned. To her mind, Macbeth is too slow, and she fears that he won't get the job done. Then, after murdering the King, he comes to her with his hands all covered with blood and carrying the grooms' daggers. Not only that, but he's so unnerved that all he can do is stand and look at his hands. Finally, she has to do what he should have done. She takes the daggers from him, carries them back to place them with the grooms, and smears the grooms with the King's blood. After all of this, she has to lead Macbeth away to wash his hands, telling him that "A little water clears us of this deed" (2.2.64).      [Detailed Scene Summary]

After Macduff discovers the body of King Duncan and rings the alarm bell, Lady Macbeth comes in and calls out: "What's the business, / That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley / The sleepers of the house? speak, speak!" (2.3.81-83). Of course she's only pretending that she doesn't know what's wrong. Later in the scene, just after Macbeth explains why he killed the King's grooms, Lady Macbeth faints, which keeps anybody from actually thinking about Macbeth's explanation.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

The first time we see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as King and Queen, Macbeth makes a big point of inviting Banquo to a feast that night. Lady Macbeth chimes in, saying, "If he had been forgotten, / It had been as a gap in our great feast, / And all-thing unbecoming" (3.1.12-13). However, this is her only speech in the scene, and a little later, when Macbeth dismisses everyone so that he can plan the murder of Banquo, Lady Macbeth is dismissed, too.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

Without telling his wife a thing about it, Macbeth arranges for the murder of Banquo. In the next scene, Lady Macbeth appears with a servant. She asks if Banquo has gone, and the servant says he has, but will return that night. She then sends the servant to ask her husband to come and speak with her. Something is weighing on her mind, and when the servant has gone, she gives it voice: Nought's had, all's spent, / Where our desire is got without content: / 'Tis safer to be that which we destroy / Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy" (3.2.4-7). Because they rhyme, her lines sound a bit like proverbial folk wisdom such as "a stitch in time saves nine." The first rhyme expresses a common experience, which is that if we get what we want, but aren't happy with it, we really don't have it. The second rhyme deepens the thought by saying that it would be better to be dead than to feel what Lady Macbeth is now feeling. She and her husband destroyed King Duncan, who is now safe from all the world's problems. In contrast, the lady and her husband live in "doubtful joy." In Shakespeare's time the word "doubt" was commonly used to mean "suspicion" or "fear," and the present king and queen live in fear that their guilt will be discovered and punished.

Despite her own depression, Lady Macbeth tries to make her husband cheer up. She asks him why he has been keeping to himself, and why he has been keeping company with his "sorriest fancies" (3.2.9). A "fancy" is a daydream or fantasy; a "sorry" fancy is one that is depressing or frightening. He starts talking about the danger presented by Banquo and Fleance and hints that something will be done. Lady Macbeth asks what's going to be done, but her husband answers, "Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, / Till thou applaud the deed" (3.2.46). "Chuck" is a pet name, a variant of "chick." So it seems that now Macbeth has the upper hand in their relationship. He's telling her that she doesn't need to worry herself about anything until it comes time to be his cheerleader.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

The night that he has Banquo murdered, Macbeth hosts a banquet for his nobles. Lady Macbeth, who does not know what has happened to Banquo, tries to play the gracious hostess, and says of the guests, "my heart speaks they are welcome" (3.4.8). However, just as she says this, her husband goes to the door and whispers with someone there. (We see that it's the First Murderer, reporting Banquo's death.) This goes on for so long that she has to remind Macbeth that he's neglecting the guests. Then, when Macbeth starts to take a seat among his guests, he suddenly starts making faces and speaking to the empty stool. She has to take him aside and give him a tongue-lashing, starting with the sarcastic question, "Are you a man?" (3.4.57). Eventually he calms down and returns to the guests, but as he proposes a toast to Banquo, the ghost of Banquo appears again. This makes the guests stare and ask questions, so she gets rid of them by telling them that if they stay they will only make things worse. By the end of the scene, she seems to have forgotten her anger against her husband. She tells him that "You lack the season of all natures, sleep" (3.4.140).      [Detailed Scene Summary]

Lady Macbeth's waiting gentlewoman tells a doctor, "I have seen her rise from her bed, throw her night-gown upon her, unlock her closet, take forth paper, fold it, write upon't, read it, afterwards seal it, and again return to bed; yet all this while in a most fast sleep" (5.1.3-7). Soon after, Lady Macbeth appears, sleep-walking and sleep-talking. She is carrying a candle, which she has ordered to be kept lit at her bedside, so it appears that she is now afraid of the dark. She tries to wash an imaginary spot of King Duncan's blood from her hand, but can't do it. She tries again and again, but she also relives other horrors, including her attempt to persuade her husband that Banquo couldn't possibly rise from his grave. As she exits, she imagines that Duncan has just been murdered, and that she is leading her husband off to bed.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

As he tries to prepare himself for battle with the forces arrayed against him, Macbeth asks the doctor how Lady Macbeth is doing. The doctor replies, "Not so sick, my lord, / As she is troubled with thick coming fancies" (5.3.37-38). The "fancies" are the things that the lady sees and remembers as she walks in her sleep. Macbeth asks the doctor to cure her, but he replies, "Therein the patient / Must minister to himself" (5.3.45-46). This angers Macbeth, and he curses medicine.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

As the forces under Malcolm approach Macbeth's castle, Macbeth receives the news that "The queen, my lord, is dead" (5.5.16), but that is all he is told. There's nothing about how or why she died. The news inspires Macbeth's most famous speech, but he doesn't really mourn his wife's death.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

In the last speech of the play, Malcolm, the new King of Scotland, promises to punish those who assisted Macbeth and "his fiend-like queen -- / Who, as 'tis thought, by self and violent hands / Took off her life" (5.8.70-72). Did Shakespeare merely mean that Lady Macbeth committed suicide, or does "'tis thought" indicate that there is some doubt about how she died?      [Detailed Scene Summary]