Lady Macbeth, the most misunderstood villain in literature

Reading time: 2 min — Spotted on BBC

Sometimes described as a seductress, sometimes manipulative and crazy, the murderous instigator of Shakespeare has been demonized since the first performance of Macbeth, ago 416 year. This tragedy tells the story of Macbeth, a general in the army of the King of Scotland, Duncan, brought to kill the latter under the influence of his wife, Lady Macbeth.

“In the popular imagination, Lady Macbeth is presented as the instrument of evil, and is linked to stereotypes about women over time. It is the caricature of a woman who seeks power through her husband; when you combine that with the idea that she is going crazy, you have this toxic combination” , explains Erica Whyman, assistant artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the BBC.

A complex character

Fortunately, contemporary feminist readings and criticisms have helped to reevaluate this character. More and more adaptations break away from conventional wisdom and offer a deeper interpretation of Lady Macbeth, revealing Shakespeare’s progressive ideas about gender, motherhood and patriarchy – which are still relevant today.

Friday 14 January 2022 out The Tragedy of Macbeth on Apple TV+, the latest film adaptation of the play. Director Joel Coen introduces a Lady Macbeth (played by Frances McDormand) to matriarchal authority. There is nothing hysterical or evil here. She is a determined woman, who wishes only the good of her husband, even if it means murder.

One of the first representations of Lady Macbeth to stand out from the usual portrait is that of the Welsh actress Sarah Siddons in 1785 at the Drury Lane Theater in London. In an essay she wrote about this character, she explains: “Only such a combination –respectable in its energy and strength of mind, and captivating in its feminine beauty– could have composed a spell of such power to fascinate the mind of such an intrepid hero, such a kind, honorable personage as Macbeth.” For Sarah Siddons , this explains why General Macbeth is so sensitive to his wife’s suggestion to assassinate the king.

It should not be forgotten that Shakespeare lived under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and was influenced by her. The Queen has questioned some gender assignments, such as refusing to submit to marriage. So, according to Erica Whyman, “Shakespeare is constantly curious about what it’s like to be a female leader and he keeps portraying men with deep flaws. , then to suggest that there is a woman close to them who could have done better”. Perhaps if the playwright had devoted more scenes to her, Lady Macbeth would have seemed more plural to narrow-minded viewers.