Although King Lear is still my favorite of William Shakespeare’s tragedies, nothing shakes both my mind and heart with the same mountain-range intensity as the play Macbeth. As wrenched as my heart is in the end, so wrinkled be the forehead of my mind because of the questions that arise after the last page is turned. Was Macbeth really a mere puppet of his lady or was he holding dark desires underneath noble garb, personal desires that Lady Macbeth simply saw and unlocked? Did Lady Macbeth yearn for absolute power or was her love for him and all his dreams expressed with a conviction of such a murderous ferocity? Was Macbeth cruel or insane?
Teaching Macbeth is an absolute joy because of how it makes the students think, weigh, look in. This year, they had to write and perform their own soliloquies based on the play. I was surprised after watching them and listening to their lines; such wisdom and emotion did their verses hold–hard to believe that such a deep understanding of the world would come from the minds of those who have just waded on the surface of experience.
One soliloquy in particular sent me into knee-buckling weakness. In the play, the strength, cunning, and control Lady Macbeth clearly had over Macbeth in the first and second act wane in the third, but not a word is heard from her in the fourth act. When the audience reaches Act 5, they then find a remnant of what was once a ruthless and vile lady; she is reduced to pitiful insanity and unrest, until she ultimately kills herself.
But what was going on inside her in that silent fourth act? What circulating emotions led her from a loss of control to despairing insanity? No one had ever asked the question during class time, until a student submitted a soliloquy of what Lady Macbeth would have typically said if given the chance to speak. And while reading her work, I was in complete awe. While she was performing her piece, I was still in awe. As I write this, I remain in awe. I’m on my knees in wonder.
Lady Macbeth in Act IV
So dark a day approveth all I fear
The words and wisdom cometh from my lips
But doth not enter any of his ears
That which could see the light of day, his eyes
See not the meaning of the words I speak.
A time there was I can remember well
T’was I he sought whenas he would’st see bleak
T’was I, not he, who dispatched the king
T’was I who has forever changed r’ roles
For all he knew was how to heed my words
His ev’ry step I knew how to control
Abjectly have I always thought of him
But pish! The ungrateful knave he beeth now!
For withal his name now did changeth he
Just as the darkest of days do allow
Just as the dreamer waketh from his sleep
His plans I wot not, for nothing sayeth he
No tidings doth he bring, but I do know
‘Tis cruel game that Life doth play I see
In rank I rise, in power I fall
Of riches, I have many, though poorer am I still
The summit have I reached, the hard ground have I felt
Forsooth, I wot not what I have and not
Have I a golden throne I must fulfill?
Have I a husband who still waits for me?
As I have won, so have I lost it all
Shall I continue to right him?
Shall I interrogate until he spalls?
Must I act powerless to gain control?
Beshrew me! How can I think of such things?
A woman who will wait I will not be
Nor will I be the one who follows kings
A fool who knoweth naught I shall not be
Bring back, o heart, thy will of fortitude!
Prithee, show not the signs of failing strength!
Get back the strength and will I had so shrewd
I had it once, I will have it again.