Unsex Me Here
  • This is a famous and often misunderstood line from Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 5), spoken by the unforgettable Lady Macbeth, who says:

    The raven himself is hoarse
    That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
    Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
    That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
    And fill me from the crown to the toe topful
    Of direst cruelty.

    She’s referring, of course, not to sex or the sex act but to the fact that her husband is becoming more and more squeamish about the business of murder, and, fears Lady Macbeth, he may not be up to the task of killing King Duncan.

    Lady Macbeth imagines herself as a kind of vessel, and her eloquent malediction is her own vivid way of praying to be stripped of the feminine or perhaps of all her remaining humanity and filled completely, “from crown to toe,” with “direst cruelty” — i.e. the spirit of violence — so that she herself might help her hapless husband fulfill the dirty deed.

    It is interesting to note also here that the prefix un– appears with abnormal regularity in Macbeth, almost as if the characters are continually trying to undo the horrible deeds they’ve done — “to cancel reality by appending negatives,” as the Shakespearean Michael Macrone felicitously phrased it — though of course once the deeds are done “all the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten Lady Macbeth’s little hand.”

About The Author

Ray Harvey

I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. I've worked as a short-order cook, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, bartender, pedi-cab driver, copyeditor, and more. I've written and ghostwritten several published books and articles, but no matter where I've gone or what I've done to earn my living, there's always been literature and learning at the core of my life.

6 Responses and Counting...

  • Treacle 05.06.2012

    Lady Macbeth also shows that her ambition is the greater when she says to Macbeth:

    “That I may pour my spirits in thine ear
    And chastise with the valour of my tongue”

    That line comes just before “unsex me now” and introduces the pouring and filling metaphor.

  • I’m not that familiar with the Scottish play, but Lady Macbeth is truly a schemer for the ages. Interesting to equate all the cruel, malevolent emotions with masculinity too.

  • My dear Ms. Dilday, what a pleasant surprise to see you here. How are you after your exceptional accomplishment? Solemn and sedate? Or mean and masculine?

  • I’m a little mean these days. Restless and seeking. Full of not “direst cruelty” but hidden hungers…aren’t we all?

  • Yes, yes!

    How very poetic, Ms. Dilday. And how very provocative. Thank you.

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