Lady Macbeth by Liz Macwhirter

Experimental piece for my creative practice PhD at the University of Glasgow.


As a woman, you’d think she’d be used to blood. A queen now, but she has butchered animals in her time – given thanks as she cut meat to strengthen her own flesh. Her monthly discharges, rinsing bloodied cloths, her fluids coursing through her fingers. She well knows the thinness of skin and the fragile thread that ties us all to life. She has lost those close to her. A child, last year, mired in the juices of her womb. Her father, driven to self-murder from a cliff-top. I know these things because, I, her gentlewoman, hear her murmuring when wine is poured in vino veritas. Truth leaks out of her, down her legs and soaks the earth.

                  She is unlike other ladies I have served, those plagued by dropsies and poxes, swellings and leechings. My Lady will pluck a still-living beetle’s wings to adorn an emerald dress. In her cupped palms she can catch the vaporous droplet that falls from the red harvest moon. With this heart, my lady knows men as most women do not. And she knows her husband. She believed that despite his battle honours he lacked courage to do as he ought. I recall the night she took a basket to the three weird sisters filled with henbane, speedwell, betony, adder’s tongue fern and heather ale: I know this for I packed it myself, it was I who entreated the cook to part with precious stores for my Lady. Speak pictures over my husband’s head – she said to the sisters – pictures that echo the unspoken desires of his heart. Bring them to life. Let them haunt and provoke him to action. 

                  Yet, in her unsexing, did she hollow out her mind with her heart? I hear her confessions as she walks in her sleep and wrings her hands, and rubs, rubs, rubs the damned spot. She curses our old King, Duncan, for so much blood that it floods the sodden fields of Scotland. She writes too. I confess I read her notes, which she keeps in secret places – and for all this I must take the cup of blood myself, so help me God, and pray for forgiveness. But the tyrant must face tyrannicide. Make no mistake. Her ghost-demented Macbeth will lose his crown and his head as he has lost his mind: I have heard the court whispering.

                  Tonight, I poured more glasses of wine for my Lady. I encouraged her to sip the numbing liquid as I thumbed the knot in her shoulder and brushed her hair. 

                  This past hour, in the madness of her sleep, I gave her the kindness of a knife. I prised open her fingers like rictus and placed the bone handle in her soft palm, closed her hand around it. 

                  She will know nothing of it. 

                  She will rise in her sleep as she has done these past weeks, wring her hands, rub, rub, rub the damned spot and catch her wrist with the blade. Or perhaps she will wake and do as she wills to end her pain and cut us all free from this reign of terror. 

                  Forgive me God, but I could not bear to watch. I have taken wine – perhaps the same she gave to Duncan’s men. But I still feel the place in my own palm where the handle of the knife rested before I placed it in hers. And now, I tremble. Her madness falls upon me.

2 thoughts on “Lady Macbeth by Liz Macwhirter”

  1. Hi Liz! I followed your blog after hearing your reading at the Glasgow Uni Open Mic last week 🙂

    I enjoyed reading this, and especially liked the line: ‘My Lady will pluck a still-living beetle’s wings to adorn an emerald dress.’ Such a fantastic and suitably creepy image!

    Lady Macbeth is a fascinating figure, and this story also made me think of a piece I wrote a couple of years ago for the ‘Dangerous Women Project’, about the sculptor Elisabet Ney and her most famous work, which was a statue of Lady Macbeth. The story is here if you’re curious:

    Anyways, lovely to hear you read the other night, and best of luck during your time at Glasgow Uni! x Carly


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