In Defense of Lady Macbeth

I’ve always had a soft spot for Lady Macbeth.  While certainly she does not deserve the title of “good person,” neither does she deserve the utter scorn with which she is usually met.  (Yes, I know that Macbeth takes place in the 11th century, and no, Lady Macbeth is not a Renaissance woman, BUT she is a Shakespearean character written DURING the Renaissance, so close enough!)

"Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth" by John Singer Sargeant

“Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth” by John Singer Sargent

While most definitely a shrew, I do not believe Lady Macbeth to be evil, or even a sociopath.  She is a strong woman in a time where feminine strength would not have been seen by most as a positive trait.  However, how much of that strength is just for show?  Is she truly to “blame” for Macbeth’s murderous rampage?  I would argue that Lady Macbeth’s manipulation of her husband was done because she saw it as being for his own good.  Why?  Because he WANTED to be king (how does she find out anything about this?  Macbeth writes her a letter telling her about it) and lacked the fortitude to do what clearly needed to be done to make it happen.  She was simply providing strength where she saw weakness.  She is being, as Macbeth himself calls her, his “dearest partner in greatness,” (Act I, Scene 5).  

I feel it significant that she must ask the “spirits who tend on mortal thoughts” to “unsex” her–to make her less of a woman–so that SHE can act on this opportunity since she knows that her husband is “too full of the milk of human kindness to find the nearest way,” (Act I, Scene 5).  She sees her husband as being full of milk (very feminine) while at the same time she is requesting “murdering ministers” to “come to [her] woman’s breasts and take [her] milk for gall,” (Act I, Scene 5).  After being unsexed, as requested, she is gifted with the ability to be ruthless and bloodthirsty–qualities that she did not possess unaided.

In fact, even once she has been granted her wish, she still displays a tendency toward sentimental tenderness.  In Act II, Scene 2, we see her congratulating herself on contriving a plan so perfect that it cannot be screwed up–not even by her husband (though she does still worry that he might).  The possibility of her husband’s possible failure weighed so heavy on her mind that, during preparations, she had considered killing Duncan herself.  What stopped her?  In her own words, “Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t” (Act II, Scene 2).  That’s right–he looked like her daddy.  A TRULY savage woman wouldn’t have cared.  She does.  It doesn’t save Duncan’s life, but it does show that there is still a glimmer of softness there.  

Yet another hint of Lady Macbeth’s less-than-ruthless-side can be found just a bit later in the same scene.  After Macbeth descends the stairs from the King’s chambers post-regicide, he and his wife discuss how Duncan’s chamberlains awoke before the murder had occurred and how the two men then prayed and went back to sleep.  During this process, Macbeth himself had attempted to join in the prayer, but when the time came to say “amen,” the word, “stuck in [his] throat,” (Act II, Scene 2), and he wonders why this would happen at a time when he needed the salvation prayer could provide.  In response to this line of inquiry, Lady Macbeth immediately responds, “these deeds must not be thought after these ways; so it will make us mad,” (Act II, Scene 2).  In other words, if WE think about what WE have done as being wrong, those thoughts will drive US mad.  “Us,” not “you.”  She herself is included in the impending madness.  The pep talk she gives her husband is as much for herself as it is for him.  

By Act III, Lady Macbeth goes from being the baddest bitch in the land to desperate housewife without passing Go.  Now King, Macbeth branches out and starts planning things on his own.  He deliberately leaves her out of the plotting of Banquo’s murder (maybe because he doesn’t think she would approve?!?) and instead just wants her to be “innocent of the knowledge, my dearest chuck, till thou applaud the deed,” (Act 3, Scene 2).  How can this murder possibly be blamed on Lady Macbeth?  Is not Macbeth an adult capable of making his own poor decisions?  Of course he is–and he has decided that Banquo must die.

Lady Macbeth disappears from the play completely through Act IV, and when we meet her again in Act V, she has plunged headlong into guilt-fuelled madness.  The sleepwalking scene is really quite fascinating.  It is only cloaked in the safety of sleep that she can admit to the things that she–and Macbeth–have done.  This harkens back to her advice to Macbeth in Act II–she believed that as long as they were not consciously thinking about what had happened with Duncan, everything would be fine.  Clearly this is not true.  All Lady Macbeth has been successful in doing is repressing her guilt, only to have it float to the surface when she is the most vulnerable–in her sleep.

A  true sociopath would feel guiltless about not only the murder she helped plan, but also all of the deeds that occurred afterward.  Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, is so consumed with regret that the only course of action she can conceive of is self-destruction.  Many would say that her suicide is Lady Macbeth’s final selfish act–abandoning her husband to face the ruinous consequences of their activities alone, but perhaps rather than seeking an escape for herself, she was seeking to protect him.  Without her, Macbeth would be the only one alive who knew what really happened with Duncan, and therefore, there would be no living witnesses to Macbeth’s treason.  Lady Macbeth was truly Macbeth’s partner for better and for worse.

Reign: A Very Guilty Pleasure

First of all, if you’re looking for accurate Renaissance/Reformation era drama, flipping past the CW would probably be a good rule of thumb.  If, however, you are looking for lush teen soap operas with high production value and tons of eye appeal, you’re on the right channel.  Case in point: Reign.

Reign fits the typical CW mold:  a bevy of beautiful 20-somethings portraying teenagers set to a soundtrack of prozac-fueled neo folk music.  Also par for the coarse is dressing said characters in clothing that looks like it was raided from fashion week refuse bins.  The fashions displayed on the show are almost comically anachronistic for the era being portrayed.

Mary and her ladies look as though they are dressed for prom and the theme is “Renaissance Brothel.”  Sometimes they get it less wrong, but often enough are the characters dressed in edgy modern fashion that it is rather distracting.  Of course they also play fast and loose with historical accuracy in other ways, but one can’t blame them for trying to pander to a modern audience who knows little about the era.

I definitely count watching this show as a guilty pleasure.  Do I like everything about it?  Nope.  Will it stop me from watching it?  Nope.

Festival Fun at Boster Castle in the Kingdom of Callaway

Yesterday was the Two Faire Wenches’s first experience at the Central Missouri Renaissance Festival.  Where shall I begin?  First of all, the weather could not have been more perfect.  It hovered right around 59 degrees all day which was absolutely ideal in multiple layers of garb.  Secondly, WHAT A LOVELY FAIRE!  The festival grounds were very easy to navigate, and the autumn trees really added to the picturesque setting.

While this is a smaller festival, that is far from a negative.  I personally enjoyed the smaller size of the venue because it was definitely more intimate.  I was also highly impressed by the number of people in attendance who wore some kind of costume.  It definitely added to the atmosphere and made it feel more like a group of friends playing together rather than a bunch of tourists visiting a theme park like some other Festivals have a tendency to feel.  That was a nice departure.  It truly felt like a market day or a festival day in a small village.

There were many fantastic vendors at the Festival, but one that I really enjoyed was the Village Books tent.  Village Books’s permanent location is in Columbia, MO.

...verily I cannot pass up a good book.

…verily I cannot pass up a good book.

They had me at the word “book.”  The tomes they had selected to bring back to the Renaissance were appropriately themed.  I, however, decided that I could not live without a book entitled Shakespeare’s Kitchen because it combines three of my favorite things:  books, food, and Shakespeare.

In addition to the vendors, there was a wonderful array of entertainment sprinkled throughout the grounds.  One such performer was Emrys Starsong, who writes much of his own materials in addition to performing songs penned by his mother and father.

Emrys Starsong

Emrys Starsong

One of my favorite songs from the set was a parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” that depicted a game of Dungeons and Dragons as told by the Dungeon Master.  While I myself am not a player (though when people find out that you dress for Ren Fests, many assume that you do play), I found the song very funny.

Another act that I enjoyed VERY much was Better Than Nun.   These two were great!  This was a hybrid comedy/musical act (as are most in the RenFest setting), and it appeared that a great many members of the audience found them as delightful as we did.

Two cheeky

Two cheeky “sisters” tell off-color jokes and sing bawdy songs. Perfect!

The show was lively and upbeat.  The song they sang about their vacation to “Hawai’i” was hysterical.  Another song that was quite well-received was the camp out favorite, “The Rooster Song.”  This group is fantastic.  Who doesn’t love spirited nuns?  😉  I can’t wait to catch them at future Festivals.

Another nice feature of the day was the University of Missouri Columbia’s Raptor Rehabilitation Project raptor demonstration.  Beautiful creatures.

Jacob is a Red-Tailed Hawk who is used as an Education Bird with the Project

Jacob is a Red-Tailed Hawk who is used as an Education Bird with the Project

This beauty is currently in the rehabilitation process and they plan to release it back into the wild.

This beauty is currently in the rehabilitation process and they plan to release it back into the wild.

And finally we come to the part of the day that I always look forward to:  the food.  There were two options to choose from:  the food booth and the food truck.  After seeing the massive volcano of nachos on other people’s plates, we decided we couldn’t hold out anymore.  We had to head to the Lilly’s Cantina Food Truck.

Honestly some of the best nachos I've ever had.

Honestly some of the best nachos I’ve ever had.

Yes, I took a picture of my nachos.  I told you earlier that I love food.  Seriously good stuff.  We saw somebody who got one of the burritos.  HUGE.

For now the Central Missouri Renaissance Festival is only open for one weekend, but according to Doug Wilson (one of the Festival organizers we happened to meet while waiting for our turn at the food truck), the hope is that attendance this year would be large enough to justify a second weekend.  I hope the second weekend happens next year so that more people will get the opportunity to discover this local gem of a Festival.