Today we’re going to be taking a look at one of the most monologues in all of Shakespeare. Lady Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1, otherwise known as ‘Out damn’d spot’. There is a reason that this speech is so famous and so misquoted. It’s brilliant but also deceptively tricky for the actor. So if you’re looking for a brilliant piece of text that will challenge you, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get into it.
Quick caveat! Often forgotten in this monologue is that there is dialogue happening on the page unbeknownst to Lady M but we’re going to look at this scene as though it were a monologue because it might as well be.
So, in short, Lady M has been going through it and her mental health is reflecting that fact. Let’s go right back now.
So Lady M and Macbeth before the play has even begun have lost a child. They try to move on from that and Macbeth, her husband, goes off and does his job vanquishing foes on the battlefield for Scotland.
Upon his return he runs into some weird sisters or as we will refer to them, witches. They tell him that one day he’s going to be King. Wild. He tells Lady M about this in a letter and they get real excited. When Macbeth gets passed over and only gets a promotion to Thane of Cawdor they’re both disappointed, obviously.
So Lady M convinces him to speed up the process a little by killing the King! Easy right? No!
She convinces him to do it. Macbeth does the deed and becomes King, and this sets them off on a bloody and secretive tirade costing a number of lives of both men, women and children.
And so we find ourselves at Act 5, Scene 1. Lady Macbeth’s mental health has degraded so much that she is sleepwalking and talking to herself. With the guilt of all of those slaughters and the figurative and literal blood on her hands she sleepwalks remembering the things she’s done and saying this out loud.
Yet here’s a spot.
Hark, she speaks. I will set down what comes
from her, to satisfy my remembrance the more
Out, damned spot: out, I say. One; two. Why
then ’tis time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord,
fie, a soldier and afeared? What need we fear? Who
knows it when none can call our power to account?
Yet who would have thought the old man to have
had so much blood in him?
Do you mark that?
The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now?
What, will these hands ne’er be clean? No more
o’that, my lord, no more o’that. You mar all with
Go to, go to. You have known what you should
She has spoke what she should not, I
am sure of that. Heaven knows what she has known.
Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
Oh, oh, oh.
What a sigh is there. The heart is sorelycharged.
I would not have such a heart in my
bosom, for the dignity of the whole body.
Well, well, well.
Pray God it be, sir.
This disease is beyond my practice: yet I have
known those which have walked in their sleep, who
have died holily in their beds.
Wash your hands, put on your nightgown, look
not so pale. I tell you yet again, Banquo’s buried; he
cannot come out on’s grave.
To bed, to bed: there’s knocking at the gate. Come,
come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s done,
cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed.
Modern Translation (Monologue Only)
There’s a spot
Come off you damned spot! Come off, I said! One ring, two rings. Well then it must be time to do it. Hell is a murky place! Come on, my love, come on! You’re a soldier and you’re afraid? Why should we be afraid that someone will find us out when no one can challenge our power? Still, who would have thought old Duncan would bleed so much?
The Thane of Fife also had a wife. What happened to her? What will these hands never be clean? Stop that my love, stop that. You’re going to ruin everything by showing so much fear.
I can still smell the blood. All the perfume in Arabia couldn’t stop my hand from smelling.
Oh! Oh! Oh!
Wash your hands and put on your robe, don’t look so sick with fear. I’ll say it again, Banquo is buried in the ground and he isn’t going to come out of his grave!
Go to bed, go to bed. I can hear knocking at the gate. Come, come, come come hold my hand. We can’t undo what we’ve done. Go to bed, go to bed, go to bed.
Notes on Performance
So as you can see from the original text there is some other dialogue happening pertaining to what the doctor and nurse are seeing but Lady Macbeth being asleep and mentally unwell is completely oblivious to that. So this can be and often is played as a monologue, or a soliloquy if you will.
Now onto the actual acting. It should be noted that Lady Macbeth’s mental health degrades so much throughout the play that it is alluded to but never confirmed that she commits suicide not long after this scene takes place. This should give you an idea of just how poorly she is.
Another huge thing I’d like to bring your attention to in this monologue is that these thoughts are not linear. Some are memories, some are pure catastrophizing. The actor is tasked with jumping from image to image, memory to memory, and thought to thought quickly. So keep moving and lean into the fact that it doesn’t really make sense. Move quickly, follow the text and the pacing will take care of itself.