Word for Wednesday: Lady Macbeth

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April 23 marked Shakespeare Day in the UK and to celebrate we’ve picked characters from Shakespeare’s plays for this month's Word for Wednesday theme.

William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and died in 1616. Scholars believe his birthday and death day were both April 23. His work—which is still wildly popular today—includes 38 plays and over a hundred poems. Learn more about how Shakespeare influenced the English language here.

So far we’ve looked at Romeo from Romeo and Juliet, Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Falstaff who appears in four of Shakespeare’s plays. Our final Shakespearean character for the month is Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth appears in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth as the wife of the title character. The play (likely written between 1603 and 1607) tells the story of Macbeth who hears a prophecy saying he will become King of Scotland. Persuaded by his wife, he murders the man currently in power, King Duncan, so that he may take his place on the throne. The rest of the story follows a paranoid Macbeth as he tries to guard himself from suspicion. In theatrical superstition, the play is considered cursed and actors avoid using its name, calling it The Scottish Play instead. 

While Macbeth, at times, is uncertain about whether he should kill King Duncan, Lady Macbeth is ambitious and unwavering in her resolve. She asks spirits to give her the violence and cruelty of a man so that she will be able to do what needs to be done without remorse: 

“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 th’access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
Th’ 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!’”
[Act 1, Scene 5]

Today, the term Lady Macbeth is used to describe a ruthless woman who controls a weak man. 


28 Apr 2021
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