«Unsex Me Here»: Bodies and Femininity in the Performance History of Lady Macbeth
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Jenijoy La Belle argued that Lady Macbeth’s “unsex me here” speech expresses Lady Macbeth’s desire to be made more masculine through amenorrhea. This amenorrhea enables Duncan’s murder, but leaves her barren. La Belle’s essay is predicated on Lady Macbeth’s female and initially fertile body, which is rendered barren by her actions in the first act. This paper considers alternative readings of Lady Macbeth’s femininity and amenorrhea codified by two historical bodies: the male body of Shakespeare’s original actor and the pregnant body of Sarah Siddons in 1785 and 1794. In the original performance, the boy actor seeks an amenorrhea that, like his inability to bear children, already, and always, exists. Siddons’ Lady Macbeth likewise requests an existing amenorrhea, but one which is a symptom of a pregnancy, not barrenness. The original boy actor’s body contains no potential for maternity; Siddons’ pregnant body, in contrast, is visibly fertile, offering the possibility of dynastic continuance for Macbeth. A barren Lady Macbeth denies the possibility of dynasty through amenorrhea; a pregnant Lady Macbeth’s amenorrhea reinforces her fertility.