The role of Lady Macbeth frequently appears more significant in dramatic performances than the text warrants. To consider the character of Lady Macbeth at a conference whose emphasis is upon performance should be to attempt to recapture the dramatic traditions of this often performed play. Every production incorporates an interpretation of Lady Macbeth. Many major English and American Shakespearean actresses have essayed the role: Mrs. Betterton, Mrs. Barry, Mrs. Pritchard, Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry, Fanny Kremble, Charlotte Cushman, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Judith Anderson, Vivian Leigh. The play was particularly a favorite vehicle for noted husband-and-wife acting teams. Playgoers like Pepys and Hazlitt continue the dramatic records that began with Simon Forman's account of the 1610 performance of Macbeth he saw. Mrs. Siddons and other actresses have left memoirs. The Sargent portraits of Ellen Terry in her role, photographs and recordings of modern productions, reviews and criticisms, prompt books, costumes, and other memorabilia have helped to preserve past stage performances, but unlike the film performances, we can never capture the full nuances of these stage interpretations. The early years are particularly elusive. After eighty years of the Davenant text, Garrick on January 7, 1744, partially restored the folio text to the stage. It is to that full text and its sources that we must ultimately come if we are to comprehend the basis for the character of Lady Macbeth as it has been interpreted in so many different performances. Despite the attempts of L.C. Knights and others to discredit character study, Harry Levin acknowledges in the recent Riverside edition that "character remains the central factor in our apprehension of Shakespeare." It is now possible to resist the temptation of character extraction and to accept the limitation of our knowledge of a character like Lady Macbeth to what she says, what she does, and what others in the play say about her.
Bedard, B. J.
"The Thane of Glamis Had a Wife,"
University of Dayton Review: Vol. 14:
1, Article 8.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udr/vol14/iss1/8