Lady Macbeth Monologue (Act 1, Scene 5) | Shakespeare Unpacked
Lady Macbeth Monologue

Lady Macbeth Monologue (Act 1, Scene 5)

Written by on | Monologues Unpacked

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, full of murder and madness. The play is set in Scotland and follows the downfall of army General and hero Macbeth. After meeting three witches who prophesise his rise to the throne, he reports this information to his wife, Lady Macbeth, who convinces him to murder the current King, Duncan. Their plotting does lead to their rule; however, as they become overwhelmed by their ambition, and in Lady Macbeth’s case, the madness of guilt, their actions eventually lead to their downfall.

Updated 23 August 2021

After learning of the witches’ prophecy, Macbeth receives the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’ from King Duncan. Becoming Thane of Cawdor was the first part of the prophecy, and this convinces him that the witches may have been telling the truth. Shaken, but fuelled by the first hint of desire to be King, Macbeth writes to his wife to inform her of what has happened. Lady Macbeth, who receives the letter at their castle, becomes determined to take the crown by any means necessary. In this particular scene, a servant enters and tells her that King Duncan and Macbeth are both travelling back to the castle. She tells the servant to prepare for their arrival and, once he has left, begins this soliloquy:

Original Text

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 the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering 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 throug the blanket of the dark,
To cry ‘Hold, hold!’

Unfamiliar Words And Phrases

Before you delve into the deeper meanings of the text, it is important to identify and understand any unfamiliar words or phrases Shakespeare may have used:

The raven himself is hoarse: Lady Macbeth is referring to the servant who delivered the message but she calls him a raven. Ravens often symbolise death or murder and make an ominous sound when they call.

Fatal: Foreboding evil and death.

Battlements: Are a part of a castle, mostly used in war. So the double meaning here is that Lady Macbeth is referring to her home, but the suggestion is she is about to go into battle.

Unsex: Remove my femininity or womanhood.

Compunctious visitings of nature: Natural thoughts of one’s conscience: guilt, remorse.

Effect: Execution, performance.

Gall: Bile, acid, bitterness.

Murdering Ministers: Demons, murderous servant.

Sightless substances: Invisible place/being.

Mischief: Harm, injury or evil done on purpose.

Pall: Wrap or cover used to dress and prepare a corpse for burial.

Dunnest: Thickest.

Keen: Sharp, ready.

Hold!: Stop!

Thought Breakdown

We have marked Lady Macbeth’s monologue and broken it down so that each paragraph introduces the new beats/ideas or thoughts as they come to the character:

Lady Macbeth:
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 the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it!

Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering 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!’

Modern Translation

Now that we have the individual beats mapped out, here’s an adaptation of the same speech in modernised language. This should help you better understand the intention behind the text:

Lady Macbeth:
The messenger’s voice sounds hoarse,
As he announces Duncan’s arrival,
to my castle, where he will die.

Come to me spirits,
That serve thoughts about death, remove my femininity,
Fill me from head to the toe
With the utmost cruelty!

Make my blood thick;
Stop any access to feelings of remorse,
So no thoughts of my consciousness
Will rattle me from my purpose, or keep me from
Doing it.

Come to my breasts,
And take my milk for bile, you demons,
Wherever hide
Waiting to make mischief!

Come, thick night,
And wrap yourself in heaviest smoke of hell,
That my sharp knife won’t see the wound it makes,
Or heaven won’t see through the blanket of the night,
To scream Stop, Stop!’

Performing Lady Macbeth

This monologue, when spoken out loud, should sound like a spell that Lady Macbeth is conjuring. She is calling on spirits to help remove her goodness and make her capable of the evil plot she is hatching: each thought begins with her summoning something new to come to her and help her achieve her goal. While the content is macabre, it also foreshadows how she becomes overwhelmed with guilt and suspicion—to the point of madness. You can use this knowledge of her arc to give your rendition of Lady Macbeth a more vulnerable, and therefore human, characterisation.

Think about the context of the scene: consider that Lady Macbeth is alone on stage for this speech; how does this affect your performance? Are you whispering and scared of being overheard? Or are you confident and calling to the heavens? This monologue should build to a dramatic conclusion, but it doesn’t mean that you need to end with a yell.

Shakespeare used a lot of language devices to give this speech a specific mood and atmosphere. Notice the repetition of ‘k/c’ and ‘t’ sounds—harsh, guttural consonants that reflect her brutal treachery—as well as a reliance on serpentine ‘s’ sounds that mirror Lady M’s snake-like nature. There is a lot of alliteration: ‘murdering ministers’ and ‘sightless substances’ that hearken to conjuring, as well as dark and dramatic imagery: ‘croaks the fatal entrance’, ‘pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell’.

Conclusion

This monologue, along with much of the dialogue in Macbeth, is a delicious mouthful for any actor. Take your time pulling the text apart, mining the language for meaning, so that your Lady Macbeth is as much a classic villain as she is a real, flawed human being. If you enjoyed this speech, it is worth looking at some of the other monologues from Macbeth.

Best of luck, and enjoy!

About the Author

Jessica Tovey

Jessica Tovey is an Australian actor and writer, who has worked across film, theatre and television for over 15 years. Her film credits include Adoration (Adore), starring Robyn Wright and Naomi Watts, Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver and lead roles in the Australian features Lemon Tree Passage and Beast No More. She has over a decade of experience in television across all the major networks, with lead roles in; Home and Away, Wonderland, Bad Mothers and Underbelly. Jessica has also worked with Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre and two touring productions with Bell Shakespeare. Additionally, Jessica is a Voice Over artist, presenter and writer.

About the Author

Jessica Tovey

Jessica Tovey is an Australian actor and writer, who has worked across film, theatre and television for over 15 years. Her film credits include Adoration (Adore), starring Robyn Wright and Naomi Watts, Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver and lead roles in the Australian features Lemon Tree Passage and Beast No More. She has over a decade of experience in television across all the major networks, with lead roles in; Home and Away, Wonderland, Bad Mothers and Underbelly. Jessica has also worked with Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre and two touring productions with Bell Shakespeare. Additionally, Jessica is a Voice Over artist, presenter and writer.

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