Learn about the meaning and literary importance of Lady Macbeth’s famous ‘Out, damned spot’ speech from Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s tragic play, ‘Macbeth.’
Introduction to Macbeth
Macbeth is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1603 and 1607. The play is about a Scottish lord, Macbeth, and his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth. The main plot centers around their intense desire for power and how far they are willing to go to attain this power.
The ‘Out, damned spot’ speech occurs in Act 5, Scene 1 of Macbeth and reveals Lady Macbeth’s subconscious feelings and helps to illustrate some of the themes, motifs, and symbols of the play. In this scene, we find Lady Macbeth sleepwalking through the castle, hallucinating and rubbing her hands together as if she is washing them.She says:Out, damned spot! out, I say! – One: two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t. – Hell is murky! – Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? – Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?
Meaning of ‘Out, Damned Spot’ Speech
So, what does this mean? Let’s dissect it together.The ‘spot’ she is talking about is the imaginary blood she sees on her hands from the murders and other crimes she and her husband have been involved in. She then says that ‘hell is murky,’ which means that she already is in ‘hell’ or something like it, and she knows it is gloomy, or murky.When she says ‘What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account,’ she is saying that she and her husband don’t need to be afraid of others knowing about their crimes as long as they retain power.
In the end, however, she asks, ‘Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him,’ which lets us know that she feels guilty.
Importance of ‘Out, Damned Spot’ Speech
This is a famous and important speech because it highlights the psychological themes, motifs, and symbols of the play.A theme is basically what a play, or any written word, is about. One of the themes of Macbeth is that ambition can cause destruction. Throughout the play, Lady Macbeth has been seen as ambitious, ruthless, and driven, and she denies feeling guilty about her crimes.
At night, however, she is unable to sleep and hallucinates. Why would someone with a ‘clear conscience’ be unable to sleep? In truth, as she shows through the ‘Out, damn spot’ speech, she feels immense subconscious guilt over what she’s done. So much so, that she sees blood on her hands. Her ambition caused the destruction of others, but it also caused the destruction of her own sanity.A motif is a recurring element in a play, or any written work. One of the motifs throughout Macbeth is hallucinations. In fact, hallucinations are a common theme in tragedies like this one.
In this scene, Lady Macbeth’s hallucinations add to the supernatural nature of the play.Finally, this scene reveals one of the symbols of the play. A symbol is a concrete object that represents an idea or feeling. The concrete object here is the blood, even though no one can see it except her.
The blood symbolizes both the destruction she has caused and the guilt she feels about it.
‘Out, damned spot’ is a line from Lady Macbeth that she says while ‘washing’ invisible blood from her hands. This speech illustrates the psychological nature of the play’s themes, motifs, and symbols. It shows us how Lady Macbeth really feels about all the horrible things her ambition caused her to do.
When you are done, you should be able to:
- Summarize Lady Macbeth’s ‘Out, damned spot’ speech
- State the implied meaning behind the phrase ‘Out, damned spot’
- Discuss the psychological themes that are addressed in Lady Macbeth’s obsession with washing her hands
- Describe some of the themes, motifs, and symbols in Macbeth