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A Letter to Lady Macbeth - Response to Shakespeare

Jack Todhunter | Wednesday November 21, 2018

Categories: KS4, Drama, Macbeth, Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Plays, Writing, Productive, Creative or Original Writing, Drama Analysis

A homework assignment - Create an inventive and enterprising personal response to a Shakespeare play.

Egghead Productions

Dear Ms Holden,

Congratulations!

We are delighted to inform you that you have successfully made it through the auditions and have been chosen to portray the role of Lady Macbeth in the forthcoming production of ‘The Scottish Play’ which will feature in this year’s Edinburgh Festival!

The panel and I were very impressed with your performance. You managed to hit the right note with an audition piece based on an alluring mixture of sexuality and animal violence.

I think you stole the show in the auditions when you suddenly took out your hidden skean dhu from your garter and plunged it into our trestle table. It scared the death out of the producer, Chris Chisholm – particularly since we’d only hired the venue!

He asked me to inform you that the £320 the management charged to replace the tabletop will come out of your gratuities!

Enclosed is a copy of the script. The two important scenes I want you to focus on are the ones printed on the yellow paper. These are very important in how the audience is to interpret the play and so I am anxious that these scenes are executed very carefully.

As you are aware, throughout the years, the role of Lady Macbeth has been portrayed in several different ways. You are probably too young to remember, but Dame Judy Dench played Lady Macbeth as evil personified in Michael Jardien’s production at The Alhambra in 1980.

However, while this production had many merits, the general atmosphere of the piece was more akin to pantomime than Shakespearean tragedy.

She often had a manic look in her eyes, with a severe face and long fiery hair. Lady Macbeth has been interpreted thus through the years like a pantomime witch, ruthless and ambitious.

When Judy moved away, Macbeth followed her, she bated him, often taunting his sexuality. In the production Judy took part in, there was little love between herself and Macbeth. It was a relationship, where the wife often told her husband, Macbeth what to do because she wanted him to do it. As such the role lacked vitality and credibility.

In contrast to this, Lady Macbeth is also portrayed as a supportive wife, knowing they are complicit the murder, wanting to rekindle his ambitions. Even though she feels let down and betrayed she still loves him. She wants Macbeth to be something and be part of his success.

Lady Macbeth mocks, teases and pulls him down in murderous ‘foreplay’. It is important to note: she builds him up and has an idea in her mind of what he could become; a great king and cannot bear the thought of him not becoming that.

She is becoming unfulfilled, bitter and twisted and she begins to think the most supportive and loving gesture she can make is to bully and cajole him, in order to realise what he once promised her, ostensibly in a previous conversation on kingship.

For our forthcoming production, I want you to resist the temptation to play the ruthless pantomime witch. Lady Macbeth’s psyche is far more complex than that.

She and her spouse are not painted in black and white; they are made of subtle hues. At the start of the play, the audience must have sympathy for the pair.

As the two are embroiled deeper and deeper into power of the occult, we must see their hidden facets; their alter egos emerge. We must appreciate that they are two rounded individuals who are seemingly taken over by their darker side.

We will thus strive for a more convincing Lady Macbeth.

There are a few salient points that need to be considered:

You can dismiss Lady Macbeth as a demon or try to understand where she is coming from.

To do this, you need to look at the two conflicting roles the protagonists inhabit and the attitudes they take.

In this piece of theatre, the audience is led to think of the world as a ruthless, savage, less ordinary one than we live in now. Everyone is armed. Everyone looks over his or her shoulder. Killing is more commonplace and thus less remarkable.

Women had a very different place in society. They had few legal rights, and they were basically their husbands’ chattle. One consequence of this is that, through conditioning, some women would be quicker to support their husbands, in order to do well themselves.

None of this is an excuse for what Lady Macbeth does; it doesn’t let her off the hook. Lady Macbeth’s own nightmares later in the play bear this out.

The audience begins to realise, the blood on Lady Macbeth’s hand is symbolic of her guilt; this will become apparent in her somnambulant scene.

As an actor you have to understand her rather then condemn her. You have to want to know what is going on in her head.

To do this you have to search the text for clues. An example of one clue is “I would, while it was smiling in my face, have plucked my nipple from its boneless gums and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this.?

This is an example of pure maternal evil, portraying her character as someone who does not care for her offspring. It implies “If I had promised to kill my baby, however much heartache it will cause me, I would do it, as I have promised.?

To understand the baby is to understand Lady Macbeth. She says she will utterly suppress her maternal feelings in order not to break her word.

Lady Macbeth may have suffered a loss of someone close (a child perhaps?) to her earlier on in her life. This may have given her a burning sense of injustice about the world. The trauma suggests that she is in a frame of mind in which she can justify homicide… in an argument at least. We learn a little more about her deeper feelings later when she shrinks from killing the king herself because he looked like her father.

By the end of his scene they are back on course to commit regicide. Lady Macbeth is eager to take control; she describes how she is to drug the guards. This gives the audience an extraordinary sense of how much this is a shared project. A key issue here is that she elects to be in control to start the ball rolling.

Have you considered the possibility that the audience may interpret Lady Macbeth getting a sexual kick from steeping her hands in the blood of the king?

We might develop this scenario with Claudio Zbrinsky when it comes to costume. I quite like the idea of exploiting this possible erotic link. Your trick with the garter brought this to mind.

As you may already know, our Macbeth performance will be set in a bleak, timeless set. This futuristic world will be ruthless and brutal. It will be a world trying to recover after an environmental disaster. The type of society left will be a splintered, tribal and dangerous one.

Men like Macbeth and Duncan will be warlords. They will have status, wealth and respect. Lady Macbeth will wear glamorous, dazzling clothes to reflect her position. By stark contrast, they will live in a world of decay, with semi- derelict buildings for shelter.

The scenes I have highlighted for you are vital, as they are pivotal in the course of the plot.

We witness the death of a royal, the duo of a husband and wife working together to carry out this act of regicide.

However, by Act V Scene I, we see the deterioration of Lady Macbeth and how she has changed during the course of the play from an equal, if not stronger partner in the relationship to someone who is, to all intents and purposes, redundant.

Her balance of mind has been tipped, as her conscience cannot cope with the guilt.

Sleep – or rather the lack of it, is a key motif throughout this play, as it is echoed in several scenes. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth cannot rest, as they are not steeped in blood. This lack of sleep has to be emphasised/exaggerated on stage. This can be done by several stretches, wipes of eyes throughout the scene. I will prompt you when I think it is necessary.

Taking all this into account, Act II Scene ii will begin with eerie discordant music accompanying the dancing flames of a fire, helping to create a tense atmosphere on stage. Low lighting will also be incorporated to emphasise the mood.

I want you to appear on stage in a nervous manner. The character you are portraying is excited about her change in fortunes, but she is also anxious about the possibility of the plot going awry.

Lady Macbeth begins this scene with her soliloquy, which includes the line: “That which hath made them drunk, hath made me bold?. I want you to enter, carrying a pitcher of wine and a goblet.

Quaffing your drink, I want you to emphasise “hath made me bold?.

Here, Russian-drinker style you will dash your crystal goblet into an open fire. It will roar into life as your drink explodes.

Then an owl shrieks over the crackling of the open fire. This startles you, making you more aware of your surroundings and how easily sound travels. Here, I want you to glance expectantly at the stairway where Macbeth will enter.

You will pace continuously, rubbing your hands and shivering. This hand rubbing will be an ironic anticipant of your sleepwalking scene later. While you are pacing you will walk in front of the dancing flames of the fire. The flames will shine through your gossamer costume.

During the beginning of this scene focus in on line 6 and 7, as these are two important lines. Line 6: “Do mock their charge with snores?, needs to be delivered sarcastically with a derisive tone of voice.

As you reveal you have drugged the chamberlains’ possets, you must take out a small phial to display to the audience. This you must also cast into the flames of the open fire with pyrotechnic results!

At line 7that death and nature do contend about them?, this needs to be spoken quickly, slowing down and pausing on “live…or…die?.

When Macbeth enters down the stairs at the upstage, you do not see him as you are facing the audience. As he approaches downstage, he delivers each line in syncopation with his steps: “Who’s there? What ho??

After Macbeth has spoken, I want you to emphasise your mood once more. “Alack, I am afraid they have awaked, and ’tis not done; Th’attempt and not the deed confounds us?

Here your hands need to be brought into a mock prayer shape with your fingertips touching your nether lip. This line needs to be spoken with apparent uncertainty and rather too quickly.

From here to line 13 you will carry out the following movements. On line 11, your hands will drop from your mouth to about your waist, where you will sweep the air, as if you are laying the daggers like a mother delivering her youngster to its cradle.

Your face needs to be one of confusion, going on to swaying from side to side in disagreement to reassure yourself on line 12. Line 13 will be delivered while pacing: “He could not miss ‘em?.

In a moment of self-revelation you utter the incisive lines: “If had he not resembled My father as he slept, I had done’t? This is a vital line.

You reveal you do have scruples! Your bold chastisement of your spouse has been a pose or an act. You are not the devil incarnate. You are all too human. You have a conscience that can be pricked.

To mark this revelation you drop your pitcher of wine.

Lady Macbeth and Macbeth have a quick exchange here, with one-line answers to each other. I want you and Macbeth to convey a tense, unsure atmosphere, achieved by the lines being spoken quickly, with sudden head movements and no eye contact.

After this Macbeth does the talking and Lady Macbeth needs to respond, by appearing confident, glad that the deed is done, she needs to appear powerful, by ‘telling’ him not to worry in a sternest tone of voice.

There are two lines in which are in need of looking at here. They are lines 28 and 33. Line 28Consider it not so deeply.?, needs to be delivered in a light-hearted manner, with obvious sarcasm in your voice.

Line 33These deeds must not be thought after these ways; so, it will make us Mad.? on the other hand needs to be spoken confidently, sharp and clear.

Lady Macbeth’s mood then changes on the line “What do you mean?? You have begun to ask questions, as you don’t understand him any more. In your mind, he is now no longer subordinate to you, as he has blooded his hands, cutting off his relation to you.

A possible schism has appeared in your marriage. To try and reconcile your differences and reassert your team building exercise, you feel the urge to cover his tracks and reassert your role in the regicide.

Macbeth will cower and hide his face in your robes as a frightened child with the line: “I’ll go no more….? To show your disdain with his sudden lack of control you will grab him by the hair and push him away from you.

To gain the little concentration he has left, you must shake him by the shoulders. From here you should walk to the towel rack in the corner and rip the towel off the rail and throw it at him. This action is all you need to bring him round.

You are now beginning to think along the lines of ‘If you won’t do it, I will’ and you try taking them from him quickly, speaking through you’re actions to Macbeth. “If he do bleed, I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal?.

Here you need to emphasise that it must be seen as the guards’ guilt and your explanations to Macbeth.

Lines 55 and 56, “Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers.? need to be spoken strongly, as if he should obey you.

From the ‘knock within’ until ‘Lady Macbeth enters’, the audience presumes, you are fulfilling the task. You are ostensibly using your hands to smear the guards with blood. By the time you return, this blood contact will have robbed you of your detachment – you return steeped in the king’s blood and just as fretful as your spouse.

When re-entering, you will have your hands out in front of you. Trying to maintain your confident air, you say “I shame to wear a heart so white?. I want you to have a stunned look on your face while you regard your hands. You unvoiced musings are interrupted by the knocking.

Towards the end of this scene, you are trying to forget what you have done and reassure Macbeth at the same time. This act is only half convincing. You are very nervous and tense, becoming jumpy as a result of this. You are constantly thinking someone might see you. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, you are suddenly aware of your nakedness and try desperately to pull your garments around you to hide your sexuality.

With a sheer act of will you regain your composure and instruct your spouse to was himself and retire to your chamber. Your line: “A little water clears us of this deed? is spoken almost in the interrogative rather than the declarative. You seek his reassurance.

With your final line, you blow out the remaining candle and the stage is plunged into ominous darkness.

During this scene Lady Macbeth’s character has changed from the outwardly brutal woman she has played, to the inwardly very fragile woman we suspected she is deep down. You have gone from being the dominant partner, to the weak guilt-stricken woman you really are. Her ferocity was just a gloss or veneer that has now disappeared.

For the audience to react appropriately, this scene needs a crescendo with tension. Two different audio features in this scene which contribute to the dramatic tension and atmosphere are, the hooting of the owl, as it startles the characters, and the knocking.

The knocking is a clever dramatic tool Shakespeare has use to heighten the tension in the scene. Even so, these tools can only achieve the best effect possible within the audience if the characters respond to them in the appropriate manner.

Lighting or the set alone cannot achieve this, so it needs to be emphasised by the characters. I feel the characters need to incorporate tremors in their voices; they need to present themselves in a panicky manner.

The audience needs to realise both characters are in jeopardy. The blood should horrify the audience and also they should be on the edge of their seats, wanting to know whether they will be found out.

The second scene I want you to look at closely at Amanda, is much later in the play.

By Act V Scene i, Lady Macbeth has gone mad. We must half suspect that you are barely in control of yourself in previous scenes for this to be utterly convincing. You are a woman who has adopted the role of forceful and vociferous harpy to achieve your desired effect.

There is a quotation to anticipate her going mad, which is “These deeds must not be thought after these ways; so, it will make us mad.? There are three key reasons why you may have turned mad. These are:

You are no longer in control of Macbeth. You were a catalyst to achieve kingship but, you are now redundant.
Your resolve has been dented by the sight of blood
You feel doubly guilty about the murder, as it was your ruthless cajoling of your spouse and maligning his masculinity that drove him to commit the deed.

When you first enter this scene, you should sit centre stage, and while the Doctor and Gentlewoman speak, you should rock to a fro to give an indication that something is amiss. Your posture is positively foetal.

For a better effect of realism, and to conjure up the sense of trauma she has undergone, Lady Macbeth’s hair will have been turned grey at the front. This involves, a hair specialist working with you to apply a non-permanent colour spray during each performance. Don’t panic! I’m assured their will be no lasting damage to your tresses.

The line: “She has a light by her continually…? is a cue for you to leap to your feet. You do not see the doctor and nurse; rather you look through and beyond them. You occupy another dimension altogether. You are in a trance or nightmare scenario.

Many of Lady Macbeth’s stage directions will echo the ones given in Act II Scene ii. You will pace around the stage, stop and stare out of the window. While delivering line 27, “Yet here’s a spot?, I want you to rub your hands. You adjust your night-gown, rubbing where blood was spilt in Act II scene ii. On Line 42,43, “Here’s the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. O,O,O?, place your hands in a cup shape and smell them.

Throughout the scene you will sit and then stand and sit again. When you are sitting down you will rub your feet together; also you will murmur to a painting on the wall.

From time to time you will look at the floor and raise your hands, saying ‘Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on’s grave.

Also while saying lines 56,57,58To bed, to bed; there’s a knocking at the gate. Come, come, come, come, give me your hand’, you should try and persuade the other characters on stage to come with you to bed.

The doctor and nurse half believe you here and there is a tragi-comic moment as they realise you are talking through them to figments of your own fevered brain. The doctor, half-aroused by this turn of events, is disappointed to learn you cannot actually see him.

Throughout this scene there are echoes relating to Act II Scene ii.

These echoes reinforce what has happened or are ironic to their situation. At the end of this scene, I want the audience to change their opinion of Lady Macbeth.

They should now be thinking a complete contrast to what they thought earlier on in the play as you forcefully chastised your husband. They should now have pity for you, even though you brought it upon yourself.

You are a frail woman who put on a hard act, like a suit of armour, as a sense of duty not from an innate evil. There should be an overwhelming concern for your wellbeing now.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me should any of the above not make sense. I’ll be in New York until the 14th but Nigel can find me if it is urgent.

Regards,

A Student

P.S. Love to Les.