First of all I would talk to the actress about the qualities I want her to bring out in the character, the ways in which her feelings change and the dramatic importance of the scene.
The dramatic importance in this scene is the irony. There are a lot of ironic feelings occurring. Lady Macbeth has a kind of perfect vision that she and Macbeth will both be King and Queen of Scotland both sharing the power as well as triumph and happiness. She is especially triumphant because she has succeeded in gaining power over the country and over a man- her husband. ‘Unsex me here,’ this line suggests this and when she calls to the evil spirits to make her ruthless.
It means that she wants her femininity to be taken away, she wants a sex change regarding roles. She despises the fact that women are inferior to men, as this is set in the year 1040 and in this period, women were seen as the fragile sex whose only role was to be a loving wife to her husband when he went to battle. She wants the man’s role, she’s craving the supremacy, power and dominance. This scene focuses on such qualities and emphasises on the irony therefore the actress needs to show and liberate this plus she has to make the audience aware of the different feelings and reactions displaying this and the fact that murder is the wedge stopping Lady Macbeth and Macbeth from being united, drawing them apart rather than joining them together.
The actress playing Lady Macbeth should be in a dark place in pitch darkness and a white spotlight should be focused on her shes centre of stage this is linked with the fact that she wants the authority hence she wants to be centre of attention and demands respect from everyone.
‘That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold; what hath quenched them hath given me fire,’ Lady Macbeth is saying that the drink which was given to the guards to drunken them, has made them weak and made her strong- so there is a change of sex roles here where Lady Macbeth feels that she has gained some sort of power giving her a boost of confidence increasing her hopes of a successful plan of killing Duncan and gaining the throne and the throne’s power. Therefore when the actress says this line, she must try to act bold and say this line out aloud with confidence, with her head high with her narrowing her eyes to represent her cunningness. She could also inhale and exhale deeply after saying this.
‘Hark peace!’ Lady Macbeth is startled by this noise as it interrupted her thoughts and made her even more frightened. She relaxes herself but is tense again when she hears the owl, thinking its Duncan’s cry but then discovers its an owl. The actress is alarmed, she jumps and her eyes all of a sudden widen simultaneously, she puts her hand on her heart too. Then she turns her head looking left and right quickly and then looks behind her, leaning forward tilting her body left to right to see in the distance and breathes heavily.
‘It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellmen which gives the stern’st good night. He is about it.’ She giggles nervously because she feels foolish as she thought it was Duncan’s scream- irony here. The irony is that she is correct, Duncan had screamed when he was killed by Macbeth. She could also
roll her eyes to the sky, shake her head and sigh, moving her hand to mouth feeling embarrassed that she got so panicky.
At this point Lady Macbeth is feeling pleased and contented that her husband is following her orders, respecting her, giving her great authority so the actress should smirk to show her satisfaction.
Lady Macbeth pauses for a few seconds to show her regaining calmness. Then she says this line, ‘The doors are open; and the surfeited grooms do mock their charge with snores. I have drugged their possets, that death and nature do contend about the whether they live or die.’ The ‘I’ should be stressed, the actress should say this firmly and confidently. Lady Macbeth is blinking continuously as she is agitated and paces up and down. The spotlight should focus on her when she’s pacing back and forth focusing on her apprehension and impatience.
The actress should also make many hand movements like rubbing her hands together representing the heat caused by the friction and sweaty palms from her hands reinforcing her impatience. Her anger is also shown by licking her lips, she is trying to keep strong and determined. There is an analogy here- her lips are dry because she is losing moisture, losing water and water is necessary for living and at the moment she is dying emotionally, she is scared and is in great distress.
‘Alack, I’m afraid they have awaked’ she is in great despair and angry at Macbeth. The actress should put temper into it. She should frown, screw her eye and her should forehead wrinkle. ‘And tis done. Th’ attempt and not the deed confounds us.’ She should put her hand on her head and scratch her head aggressively.
‘Hark’ should be stressed. The actress should stress this word by projecting this word almost screaming it out, scaring the audience, her eyes widen and she halts her pacing and stands still.
‘I laid their daggers ready, he could not miss em.’ The actress should say this tightly, fiercely, talking at a fast pace, breathing heavily in a deep stern voice. The actress should bang her fist onto a table or wall to show her rage. It has to become noticeable that Lady Macbeth is behaving like a man, she has a fiery temper like a man and speaks in the same furious tone as a man.
‘Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t,’ she speaks at a slower pace here, talking quietly stresses ‘my father’ as she feels vulnerable towards her father. At this point she could tremble while speaking and look down at the floor. She could then pause and look up stressing the word ‘I’ saying it loud and assertively sounding proud and domineering. She could also put her hand on her heart when she says ‘I’.
Then after speaking she could hold her head up high and take a deep breath in and out trembling again and shaking. The impression that the actress should give to the audience is that Lady Macbeth thinks she is an independent woman and she thinks that she is self-reliant and could kill Duncan herself but she does not have the courage that an independent woman should have therefore she is relying on Macbeth. Though she is trying to convey her triumph that she wants to happen will happen but is anxious if he’ll do it or not, she doesn’t trust him and have enough faith in him.
‘Who’s there? What ho! ,’ The actress should gasp and widen her eyes as she sees the shadows of Macbeth thinking that its someone else, she should freeze and stop her movements showing her panic and tenseness. The actress should scream, ‘My husband’ in a high pitched voice which is in a excited yet relieved tone. Throughout the scene Lady Macbeth is in a perpetual condition of shock, nervousness and fear but at this point she is comforted by the news that her husband has carried out the act. The actress should reach out her arm, holding out her hand running towards Macbeth to show that she is pleased to see him and to show how reassured she is that the shadows weren’t of someone else.
‘A foolish thought to say a sorry sight’ Lady Macbeth says this to Macbeth after he looks at his blood covered hands. Lady Macbeth is in a state of disbelief and shock and also a guilty conscience and her husband is also experiencing this. The actress should comfort and caress him by hugging him and stroking his hair thus revealing her feminine side which is loving and caring but as soon as he says that line, she stops her caressing actions and snaps at him, ‘A foolish thought to say a sorry sight.’ She says this line after noticing his bloody hands and she gasps, her eyes widen and become watery, her mouth also widens as she is in great disbelief that her husband had carried out the act.
Her hands shake as she is horrified yet she doesn’t share this such horror to him so she tells him off instead. She tells him off like he is a young child in a patronizing way. At this point Lady Macbeth experiences supremacy and is superior to Macbeth because he carried out the awful deed therefore he is inferior as he did such an awful deed. Lady Macbeth is rather condescending towards her husband. She tries to convince him that his actions were correct, reassuring him in a stern way. The actress should grab his arm and look at his face close up widening her eyes, talking quickly in a furious, cold tone to show her power and dominance trying so hard to aware that his actions were not incorrect and she is also trying to direct her husband, telling him how to act and feel, ‘Consider it not so deeply.’
There is irony in this line because she has been thinking about the murder of Duncan non-stop. Starting from the beginning of this scene, that’s why she feels so uneasy and nervous. There is more irony, ‘These deeds must not be thought after these ways; so it will make us mad.’ ‘Mad,’ this is especially ironic because Lady Macbeth suffers from insanity later on in the play. The actress has to get slightly physical by grabbing Macbeth by the shoulders and shaking him, trying to make him see sense, to make him listen to her thus revealing her madness to the audience. She could look into his eyes and her eyes should widen and settle onto his showing her anger and violence. When she says ‘mad’ a drop of saliva emerges from her mouth and onto Macbeth’s face accentuating her strength and fury. Her hair could also unfasten, falling out of her classy, sophisticated hairstyle becoming messy because she is shaking him so violently her body shakes as well.
‘Who was it that thus cried? Why worthy Thane, you do unbend your noble strength, to think do brainsickly of things.’ Lady Macbeth asks Macbeth this rhetorical question, she is making him conscious of his high authority- that he is Thane of Cawdor therefore he must be strong, brave and proud of his actions. Therefore Lady Macbeth must say thus line in an angry tone, talking quickly, with a frowning expression on her face.
‘So brainsickly of things,’ there is irony here because Lady Macbeth is telling her husband not to think of negative thoughts of his acts. The irony is that her brain is sick because she has such evil thoughts i.e. it was her idea to kill Duncan. Also her brain actually becomes very sickly later on in the play as she sleepwalks due to the stress and guilt of the murder. The actress should portray this line by saying it out loud so that the audience are aware of this irony.
She instructs Macbeth ‘Go get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hands.’ Lady Macbeth should emphasise the word ‘filthy’ by saying it slowly and firmly. The actress should say this line in a demanding way, shouting and stretching her arm out pointing to the washing basin/taps while still staring at Macbeth’s hands in disgrace and horror.
‘Why did you bring the daggers from the place?’ this should be said in a furious tone by the actress but she say it as though she is about to cry because Macbeth had not followed her orders properly. She should say it quickly not giving Macbeth time to answer this question. She should also hold out her hands like she is asking a question and is requiring an answer immediately. The actress should emphasis the word ‘daggers’ saying it in a high- pitched cry to show her distress.
‘They must lie there. Go carry them, and smear the sleepy grooms with blood.’ Lady Macbeth is ordering Macbeth again like he is a young child because she has the power now and he is the inferior partner in the marriage. The actress should say this in a bossy, controlling tone yet she has to still show her dismay by wiping her tears from her face and blinking continuously. She could also stretch her arm out pointing towards the door.
‘Infirm of purpose,’ Lady Macbeth curses Macbeth calling him weak minded because he has not enough courage to return the daggers. At this point she is extremely cross and feels that Macbeth has let her down and that the plan of killing Duncan was suppose to bring them closer together, making a stronger relationship in which she has a share of power but this such plan has backfired because Macbeth is not following her requests in order to make this plan work. The actress could say this line in a bad-tempered way and this temper could be emphasised by saliva emerging from her mouth and again landing onto Macbeth’s face to symbolize her disgust in his cowardness.
‘Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead are but pictures. Tis the eye of the childhood that fears a painted evil. Of he do bleed, I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal, for it must seem their guilt.’ Lady Macbeth must stress the words ‘give me the daggers’ acting confident, still furious looking at Macbeth using eye contact. She must say this line quickly to represent that she is in such a hurry and how fast she must move to return the daggers. She is taking the role of a man, being independent and relying upon oneself rather than on Macbeth.
When Macbeth passes the daggers to Lady Macbeth she must hold them nervously, with shaking hands and trembling lips to represent her fear and trepidation. She could lick her lips to represent her losing moisture and water is needed to live but she is dying emotionally of fear and guilt. Also she could swallow hard, gulping to symbolize this as well.
Lady Macbeth then walks off towards the door holding the daggers in shaky hands. She could storm off looking ahead, back straight walking at a fast pace, trying to walk with pride and courage swallowing hard and breathing heavily continuously. She should then stop when she reaches the door and stare hard at Macbeth to show her determination and strength and slam the door shut behind her.
‘My hands are of your colour,’ When Lady Macbeth returns back from the murder scene, she has a look of shock and disbelief on her face and her widened eyes are concentrating on her bloody hands. She walks slowly into the room, panting and stumbling thus representing her trying to come to terms with the fact that her plan had actually occurred and she has the blood of the dead king on her hands. Therefore she is very frightened and is experiencing a great deal of disbelief and amazement.
The actress should also hold her shaky bloody hands in mid air towards the light staring at them with widened terrified eyes, her lips should tremble and she should lick them perpetually to represent the moisture loss. She should swallow hard, gulping continuously and inhaling and exhaling very heavily and loudly yet slowly to represent her trying to pacify herself. It also has to be noted that she is not use to seeing such blood on her hands as it the man’s role to fight in battles and have feel such blood on his hands.
”My hands are of your colour but I shame to wear a heart so white,’ even though Lady Macbeth is scared about her recent acts of returning the daggers, she then turns to Macbeth with this such remark which means that she is disgusted to see the king’s blood on her hands and he is suppose to be a loyal friend to her and Macbeth, she is proud that she has the courage to return the daggers to the murder scene and is pleased of her such actions like a man would be in a battle rather than being scared like a vulnerable helpless woman.
So again the roles are switched here in which Lady Macbeth has a lot of power and audacity unlike Macbeth who has lost his male dignity and superiority. Therefore when Lady Macbeth says this line, ‘but I shame to wear a heart so white,’ she should stop looking at her hands and suddenly turn her head facing Macbeth making eye contact, staring hard in an evil way showing her revulsion and disappointment towards him because he has lost his courage.
‘I hear a knocking,’ Lady Macbeth jumps, panics and turns around looking at the door with widened eyes and raised eyebrows looking extremely nervous and petrified because she is alarmed by the sudden noise and this knock might be the knock of Duncan because he may still be alive.
‘I hear a knocking at the south entry. Retire we to our chamber. A little water clears us of this deed. How easy is it then! Your constancy hath left you unattended.’ This line means that Lady Macbeth is telling Macbeth that he is very nervous and is emotionally unstable. Lady Macbeth is instructing Macbeth again as she is in a hurry but she must be quiet therefore she must say this line in a quick loud whisper so the guards outside can not hear her. This represents the power and dominance she has over her husband that she is capable of making him follow her orders. She should throw the towel angrily on the floor to symbolize her carelessness over such minor objects when she has to consider more important situations such as the consequences of Duncan’s death.
‘Hark more knocking,’ Lady Macbeth gets annoyed at this continuous knocking therefore her whispering is louder and firmer, she must hurry Macbeth moving around quickly and pulling him forcefully by gripping tightly on his arm and guiding him towards the wash basin and then their room. She must also continuously to look at the door, licking her lips to show her edginess.