Portraying the Character of Lady Macbeth

Portraying the Character of Lady Macbeth

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Portraying the Character of Lady Macbeth


Congratulations on getting the part of Lady Macbeth in the recent Old
Vic’s production of the Scottish Play I am writing this letter to give
you some interpretation and tips on how you can portray you character
best on stage. After watching numerous versions of the play, I have
not once seen this character being conveyed as well as the Globe’s
recent production. Hence in this letter I want to clarify and explain
how this scene can be staged best, since it is one of the most
important in the play; your role will need to be played out
exceptionally well. The reason why this scene is so important is that
in this scene we feel sympathy for Lady Macbeth for the first time in
the play, we witness the true depth of guilt expressed for all to see,
and in this scene it is expressed through her actions and words during
her nightmare sleep. We see her suffering and realize the extent of
her actions earlier in the play. I will explain line by line how I
would like to see you play this scene on stage.

At this stage in the play, Lady Macbeth, is an odd one since her
character is so different from the earlier scenes in the play. In this
scene it is crucial that you act with despair and regret in your eyes
and most importantly the audience must feel pity and definitely must
sense sympathy for you. You will need to portray yourself as a totally
different Lady Macbeth in this scene from the one who so coolly
prepared the murder of the King. Her trance-like state must echo that
of Macbeth in Act two, scene one; it is crucial that you convey the
detachment and isolation she is feeling to the audience.

The doctor will be dressed in a black outfit to convey that Scotland
is sick and disordered under the hands or an unnatural evil ruler,
whereas the Gentlewoman will be dressed in a white maids outfit
reflecting her loyalty towards her mistress, looking after her even
during her illness and not revealing her secrets to anyone. As I
witnessed in the Roman Polanski’s version of the Scottish Play, I
thought it was clever for Lady Macbeth’s character to be undressed as
it conveyed the sense of revealing all of your inner thoughts to the
audience quite brilliantly. Although, I don’t know how comfortable you
might feel being nude on stage, I thought that this would be a great
way to portray your character the best. We will negotiate this matter

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sometime next week.

As you enter the scene you will be coming from center-left stage to
the center with a taper. It is a scene where you convey your soul to
the audience, hence the taper is fundamental as it represents the
small glimmer of hope left with staying on the forces of good and you
are holding of salvation and it is a hope you grip tightly to. The
small glimmer of hope suggests that death is near. One possibility
might be for you to be shaking as you hold the taper to convey the
shock and the guilt you are feeling inside You could also possibly
guard the light on the candle with your hands so that they don’t go
off, since it is the glimmer of hope you are holding onto.

As you come into the scene, one possibility might be for you to rush
into center stage where you kneel down on the ground and look at your
hand with shock and despair saying, “Yet here’s a spot,” in a
despairing tone, a tone where you are about to burst into tears. It is
crucial that you kneel as you deliver this line since it connotes that
she is humbled and is praying for salvation and recovery. Your hands
must be the center point of attention for the audiences, since the
hand is linked to her guilt and reminds the audience about the
treasonous act she supported earlier in the play. It also shows that
she fears darkness in contrast to earlier in the play where she asked
for darkness to hide her treachery. This contrast makes the audience’s
realize that she has changed from earlier in the play.

The Doctor and the Gentlewoman in this scene are used to describe and
highlight Lady Macbeth’s actions, but to also convey the horror and
isolation they are witnessing in their eyes. They convey that we are
witnessing a troubled soul and a very private display of despair. As
they recount and describe your abnormal doings, you will still be on
your knees saying, “Out damned spot, out I say!” As these lines are
said one idea might be to rub your hand hard trying to get the blood
marks off and one possibility might be for you to stress the word
‘out’ since you want to convey your desperate attempt to get the blood
marks off. You must say these words with great anger, guilt, and
frantic in your voice; you should break into tears as you say, “…out I
say!” to indicate and convey the regret she feels after supporting her
husband’s treasonous act. The spot of blood is a physical presence
that reminds her of her ugly past and wrong doings. The spot reminds
of what she said in Act 2, Scene 2, “A little water clears us of this
deed.” At the present it doesn’t seem so easy to get away with this
deed.

As you move onto the next line, you should pause with deep thought so
the audiences can feel what you are going through in your mind. I want
you to look up to the sky as you say, “One, two; why then / ‘tis time
to do’t. Hell is murky,” as if you are trying to recall the ringing
bells before the murder. You should continue delivering these lines in
a sad and regretful voice. As you say, “Hell is murky,” you should
look down at a dark area to really feel how murky it is.

After this line you need to stop crying and become more confident and
be optimistic saying, “Fie my lord, fie! A / soldier, and afeard? What
need we fear who knows / it, when none can call our powers to
account?” Here, the tone of voice should change and become a little
more angry and confident to show her desperate attempt for salvation
and feel more confident. Then, your head should tilt down indicating
her failed attempt to gain confidence as she repeats the word, ‘fear.’
You should look at your hand which is stained with blood and say, “
Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in
him.” When you deliver this line, it should be slow, in a despairing
and uncomprehending tone.

In this scene we see many more contrasts than any other scene in the
play, it reflects a much-changed Lady Macbeth from the start of the
play where she was cold-blooded; and Act five, scene one is where she
regrets how she behaved.

When delivering the line, “The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she
now?” Here, Lady Macbeth speaks with rhyme, which could indicate her
mental breakdown, as the way she speaks is different from earlier in
the play. It suggests that the supernatural power of witches could
have influenced her to talk like them as well as showing her neurotic
qualities. When delivering this line I would like you to get up from
the kneeling position and start running around the room in quick
motion looking for Lady Macduff. As you stand up you should appear as
you have something in your mind, after a long pause you should deliver
the line in a slightly worried and puzzled manner. You then should
suddenly forget about Lady Macduff in an instance and suddenly stop
and kneel down again looking at your bloodstain on your hand saying,
“What, will these hands ne’er be clean? No more o’ / that my lord, no
more o’ that: you mar all with this starting,” you should be talking
as you did earlier when you looked at your bloodstain, with despair
and regret. You could possibly emphasize the word, ‘what’ and ‘ne’er’
to convey the utter and despair of your character. When you say,
‘what,’ your tone of voice should be uncomprehending.

The next line you need to deliver is very important and hard, since
there are bits where you need to stress words and add pauses into the
lines. When saying, “Here’s the smell of the blood still,” you must
pause after saying ‘blood’ and stress the word, ‘still’ with a loud
and irritated shout that the blood doesn’t go away. While delivering
these lines, it is crucial that you smell your hands, be angry and sad
at the same time. As you say, “…all the / perfumes of Arabia will not
sweeten this little hand / Oh, oh, oh!” you will have to take your
nose off your hands and start looking at it with despair again. Just
before delivering the lines, one possibility might be to start crying
as you look at your hands to convey the regret and frantic she is
feeling. As you start saying the lines your voice should be shaking as
the audiences feel more sympathy for you. The audiences must
understand that you are a lost soul in the dark, isolated, alienated,
and even abandoned by the spirits, which she summoned.

In this scene we witness how tormented Lady Macbeth’s mind is, to the
night of Duncan’s death. We see her mind jumping from Lady Macduff’s
murder to Banquo’s murder. The audiences clearly need to understand
this concept that her mind is tormented and a lot of things are going
around her mind.

When saying, “ Wash your hands, put on your nightgown, look not so
pale,” In order to show Lady Macbeth’s isolated and alienated mind you
could show her desperation for company. You could hold onto the Doctor
or the Gentlewoman to convey this feeling in her mind.

In the next line, to show Lady Macbeth’s tormented mind you could
start running around the dark room all of a sudden after revealing the
secrets of Banquo’s death. In this line, Lady Macbeth says, “To bed,
to bed, to bed,” this reminds us of how the witches spoke earlier in
the play and the magic number of ‘three,’ reminding us of the
supernatural power of the witches she could have been influenced by.
When saying, “To bed, to bed; there’s knocking at the gate. / Come,
come, come, come, give me your hand,” you should still be running
around the room with insecurity just how she acted in Act 2, Scene 2
when there was knocking. When Lady Macbeth hears the knocking on the
door, she hears the knocking on her conscience asking ‘what have you
just done?’ She is physically transported back to the treasonous act
she supported earlier in the play and is also awakened from her moral
sleep. After running around the room the Gentlewoman should take you
to the bed. As you leave the dark room, the wind could possibly blow
out symbolizing that the hope you were clinging to is gone and you are
morally dead.

As you know we will be rehearsing this scene tomorrow, so you will
need to understand every single detail in this scene. The overall
impression I want the audience to have is the sympathy of Lady
Macbeth’s tormented mind, I also want the audiences to feel the
suffering you feel after supporting her husband’s treasonous act. The
audiences must also realize that Lady Macbeth is morally dead
wandering like a ghost. I will trust you will do a great job with this
character, I chose you for this role because I know that you are a
capable actor. I am looking forward to seeing you act out this scene
in the rehearsal next week.
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