How Did Lady Macbeth Kill Herself?

We talk a lot about Macbeth in my house lately. My daughter’s kind of obsessed with it. So when Macbeth content appears on my radar, I play closer attention than perhaps I’d been doing. Today I saw a reference to her suicide, and I thought about Ophelia. Was Ophelia self-aware enough to have deliberately committed suicide, or was she one incapable of her own distress and thus not guilty of that sin? Does the same rule apply to Lady Macbeth?

Although it is sometimes overlooked in a quick read, we do find out what happens to Lady Macbeth. Right at the end of the play, Malcolm tells us that Macbeth’s queen, as ’tis thought, took her own life by “self and violent hands.” So in other words people thought it, I’m confirming it.

…his fiend-like queen,
Who, as ’tis thought, by self and violent hands2560
Took off her life

Macbeth Act V Scene viii
AI-generated sketch of Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth alone with her thoughts

I guess I don’t have an answer to the question any more than I have it for Ophelia. Is it really suicide in the same sense when a person is no longer in their right state of mind, does it? It could be argued that Ophelia almost has her moment of clarity – sending messages in the flowers she gives to everyone. So, you could try to make the case that she had consciously made the decision to end her life. I’m not sure Lady Macbeth gets that same benefit of the doubt, though. The only times we see her after her descent, she doesn’t look good.

But I have a more specific question here. I also don’t think it has an official answer, but it might be fun to speculate. We know how Ophelia met her end. What about Lady M? All we get is the above “by self and violent hands” comment. I’m taking that to mean she daggered herself (I’m just going to go ahead and make that a verb). But this could be just one of those redundant ways of saying the same thing — just a fancy “by her own hand”, which would leave everything open to interpretation.

What do people think? How did she do it? Do we know of any productions that show it? As I write that, I’m trying to remember if Marion Cotillard’s version (2015 with Michael Fassbender) put it on film. I wouldn’t be surprised.

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One thought on “How Did Lady Macbeth Kill Herself?

  1. The most recent filming (2022) of Macbeth, with Denzel Washington as the titular character and Francis MacDormand, actually seems to intimate that Lady Mac is pushed to her death by the Ross/Lenox character rolled into one. I personally think this character represents fate. The movie, directed by the amazing Joel Cohen, is brilliant and chilling.

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