What I Learned From Lady Macbeth

All this month I have been thinking about the women who have helped shaped my life, both knowingly and unknowingly. I have thought about every female I have known from my grandmother to my friends.  I have been lucky to have known so many great women who have touched my life and made me who I am today. I am quite certain I am not alone in this; we all have women to thank.

Instead of writing about the real women in my life, I decided to do a post about a fictional character, one who made a huge impact on my young adult life. As I like to preach, literature can inform us and shape our lives. If we are open enough, each time we read we can learn something new about ourselves or take lessons from the characters we grow to know.  Had I not “met” this woman in high school, I am not sure I would have chosen the right path as I stood at the crossroad of smart vs. dumb choices. This blog is dedicated to Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth, as told by Shakespeare, was married to one of the medieval Scottish King Duncan’s generals and had high ambitions for her husband. She convinced him to kill Duncan in order to take the throne.  Once the deed was done, murder begat murder and soon madness overtook the couple. Lady Macbeth took to sleepwalking, wringing her hands as if to wash Duncan’s blood from them. Her famous line “out damn spot, out” is said because of her remorse and guilty conscious.  Never again would she feel clean.

During my senior year in high school, I was caught in a crossroads.  While some of my friends were getting ready to go to college, others were ready to go out do whatever felt good.  I was expected to go to college, but a part of me wanted to go out and do what I wanted which, if I was not careful, would end up being dumb. I was on the verge of doing things I would spend a life time regretting.

Our boring English teacher was replaced mid-semester by a younger vibrant man who decided we needed to learn to appreciate Shakespeare. His first choice, Macbeth. He introduced us to the Bard by being a one man play. I can still recall him on his desk, sword fighting with an invisible foe! He belted out the play and asked that we read along. Many of the lessons went over my head, but when he got to Lady Macbeth’s madness a jolt went through my body. I felt as if someone had hit me, while whispering “this could be you”.

I am not sure if our teacher talked about this, or if I figured it out on my own (I’d like to say I was smart enough to get it). No matter, I got it. There are certain things that we may do that will affect the rest of our life. There are things that we may do that would result in deep regret. Did I want to spend the rest of my life washing my hands of my past deeds? Hell no! There was no way I wanted to be another Lady Macbeth. I vowed right there and then I would never do anything that would make me say “out damn spot out”.

My early 20s were not a good time for me for a variety of reasons. Yes, I did make some dumb choices, but nothing that resulted in deep seeded regret. As a matter of fact, when offered the opportunity to do damaging things I thought back to that day I first heard of Lady Macbeth. Anytime I saw that I might be headed down the wrong path, I thought of her and changed course.  I used her line “out damn spot out” as a talisman; if I felt I may be hanging with the wrong crowd who tried to talk me into joining them in a stupid situation, I muttered the line to myself. This was my way of staying out of danger or personal ruin.

Now that I am older and much wiser, I look back and see that my life could have been a mess. Thankfully the lesson  I learned from Lady Macbeth stayed with me. Thankfully I do not wake up wanting to wash the stain of regret from my hands.  That is the power of literature and why I feel it can shape our lives.

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

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