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Fantasizing Infanticide: Lady Macbeth and the Murdering Mother in Early Modern England

Author(s): Stephanie Chamberlain


Source: College Literature, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Summer, 2005), pp. 72-91
Published by: College Literature
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25115288
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FantasizingInfanticide:
Lady
Mother
MacbethandtheMurdering
inEarly
ModernEngland
Chamberlain

Stephanie

is associ

Chamberlain

Stephanie

Sooner

ate professor of English at


Southeast
University,
work

Cape
on

issues

Missouri

State

Girardeau.

Her

early modern
appears

England,

Boyd McBride

in Early
ed. Kari

(2002).

infant

unacted

in

desires

its

cradle

(William

Blake)1
to motherhood
reference
near the end of act one of
remains one of the more
enig

Macbeths

Lady

and infanticide
Macbeth

inDomestic

Arrangements
Modern

women's

an

murder
nurse

than

matic moments

in all of Shakespeare's drama.


to
commitment
wavering
Fearing Macbeths
their
succession
Macbeth
scheme,
Lady
declares

that

brains out"
otherwise

she would

have

"clashed

the

of an infant to realize an

(1.7.58)2
unachievable
read

traditionally
"unsex me here"

goal.
this as well

Scholars
as her

have
earlier

as evi
invocation
(1.5.39)
to
seize a
of Lady Macbeths
attempt
to
masculine
further Macbeths
power
politi
her husband's femi
cal goals. To overcome
a
assumes
nized
reticence,
Lady Macbeth
dence

she will prove unable to support.


masculinity
she clearly seeks power, such power is,
While

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StephanieChamberlain 73
an ambiguous,
on maternity,
status in
conflicted
argue, conditioned
of
modern
and
infanticide
that
the
Indeed,
images
nursing
early
England.
Iwould

frame

Lady

one

act

Macbeth's

fantasy

invoke

a maternal

momentar

agency,

of an illegitimate political goal.


ily empowering
in fact, contributed
That mothers
could undermine
patrilineal outcomes,
to a generalized
women's
in
the
transmission of
cultural anxiety about
roles
could be irreparably altered through marital
patrilineage. That patrilineage
the achievement

and infanticide
rendered maternal
agency a social and
nursing,
one
concern.
act
in fact, about
reveals
Macbeths
much,
Lady
fantasy
political
in
mothers'
roles
the
of
the early modern
anxiety surrounding
perpetuation
In the case of this woman who would be queen, Lady Macbeth's
patrilineage.
infidelity,

succession of a bas
of Duncan
the unlawful
engineered murder
engenders
as
as political order
in
the
well
tardized Macbeth,
turn,
altering,
patrilineal
the world of the play.
within
was viewed
as problematic
in early modern
That motherhood
England
in conduct

of the period addressing the subject of


"the fear of, fascination with, and
notes,
good mothering.3
in
modern
toward
maternal
power
early
hostility
English culture motivated
even
to
it [ . . . ]" (2000, 283).
understand
and
control,
attempts
repudiate
on
one
were
a
to their
the
While
hand mothers
selfless devotion
praised for
may

be evinced

literature

As Frances Dolan

children, they were likewise


ed to their care. As Dympna
as bad old mothers
mothers:
infanticide"
female
ern

(1992,

caregivers
texts

and

for harming
the innocents entrust
were persecuted
as
"women
notes,
Callaghan
and as bad young mothers
for
for witchcraft,

condemned

367). Naomi

appear
images,

as both
sometimes

Miller
objects

observes
and

represented

agents

that "mothers
of

in

sacrifice

as madonna

and

and other
early

mod

monster

at

once"

that the maternal


role has historically
(2000, 7). Susan Frye concludes
been an "unstable" one, that the struggle to "imagine a 'self'" rendered moth
state in early modern
erhood a confused, anxiety-producing
(2000,
England
An
Newstead's
229). Christopher
apology for women: or women's defence (1620)
attitudes
toward motherhood.
illustrates well
the conflicting
On
the one
to
is
that
which
hand, he argues that "there is no ingratitude
comparable
as
committed
For
the
mother"
he
notes,"we
1995,116).
against
(Aughterson
our essence; secondly our nourishment;
have of them principally
thirdly our
education"
likewise registers a highly discernable
anxi
(116).Yet Newstead
as he notes, "educing,
ety about the dangers of maternal
agency. For while,
are the threefold

cords that should tie each child to


a
on the unde
was conditioned
mother's
love
(116),
assurance
as
of her child's matrilineal
niable
Newstead
fur
identity. Indeed,
ther observes, "two reasons may be given why they [mothers] do most affect
their children. First because
they are certain they are theirs. Wherefore
education

and affection

the love of itsmother"

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74

32.3 [Summer
2005]
CollegeLiterature
being asked, if itwere true that Ulysses was his father? Answered,
Newstead's
treatise openly praises the
my mother saith he was" (116).4 While
as well as the social and familial debt owed them, it like
virtues of mothers
to early modern
concerns
wise points
about maternal
agency. That early
modern
fathers lacked the same assurances regarding their children's paterni
Telemachus

ty added to already existing anxieties. Because mothers were responsible for


the identification
of their children's fathers, they necessarily
impacted patri
in
modern
lineage
early
England.5
even as it
the patrilineal
agency could undermine
process
to
support it. This is especially evident in the practice of nursing.
appeared
While much of the conduct
literature from the early modern
period praises
the mother who opts to nurse rather than farm her infant out to a poten
there existed a parallel thread that represented
tially detrimental wet-nurse,
source of corruption. Juan LuisVives's Education
mother's milk as a potential
Maternal

of a Christian Woman
he praises
ing.While

views toward breastfeed


(1524) expresses conflicting
"the wise and generous parent of all things that sup
and wholesome
nourishment
for the sustenance of the

plied [...] abundant


to
child" (2000, 269), it is less the milk than the nurse that proves nurturing
or
milk
child.
Fears
the
that breast
could be tainted through bodily disease
as economic
are well
as well
ethnic
documented.
As
impurity
privation
Robert

and John Dod

Cleaver

if the nurse

Now
or
must
that
needs

needs
the
must

of

be

or hath

in her mind,

note,

an euill

as she

some

the

complexion,
hidden
disease,

take part with

her. And

of

the mind

temperature
it be,

that

if the

nurse

take thereafter. (Cleaver and Dod

is affected

in her

sucking

of her

child

if that be

true which

followes

the

be

of

naughty

the

nature,

do

learned
of

constitution

the

body,
breast

the
child

say,

body,
must

1630)

to the OED, "complexion"


in the early modern
According
period pertained
not only to the bodily disposition,
i.e., the balance of the four humors, but
or "habit of mind." Rachel
also to the temperament
Trubowitz
concludes
to gen
ties between nurse and child thus had the potential
to
transmission
of
and
the
strangers,
strangeness
interrupt
genealogical
a
name
so
to tarnish
and disrupt the hereditary
family's good
identity, and
and titles [. . .]" (2000, 85). Indeed, as Vives
transmission
of properties
that the wet nurse suckles the child
observes, because "it is not uncommon
that "the affective

erate

some feeling of annoyance"


the child
and with
(2000, 269-70),
reluctantly
to nurture it. Even amother's
reluctance
suffers at the hands of a figure meant
to nurse could be construed as patrilineal
the
interference, for in consigning
child

to a wet-nurse,

practice Keith Wrightson

she conceivably
has termed

diminished
"infanticidal

its chances
nursing"

of survival?a

(1975,16).

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StephanieChamberlain 75

While
modern
nursing

as did many early


speaks against the practice of wet-nursing,
on
comments
the
likewise
he
behaviorists,
danger any
potential
to the child. The overriding
represent
figure could theoretically
Vives

is that

here

assumption

only

a mother,

care for her child. As Vives

and

a virtuous

one

at

that,

ade

could

"the very sight of her child dispels


she smiles happily
cheerfulness
and
gladness
at her breast" (2000,270).
Elizabeth Clinton's
notes,

quately
any clouds of sadness, and with
to see her child sucking eagerly
addresses several "annoy
The Countess of Lincoln's Nursery
(1622), however,
an
from nursing. As she
dissuaded many
ances" which
early modern mother
to
that it is noysome
that it [nursing] is troublesome;
notes, "it is obiected,
ones clothes; that itmakes one looke old, &c."While wet-nurses
were, for the
a
at
and
thus
economic
distinct
admittedly not the
part,
disadvantage
con
one
must
the degree of nurturance
likewise question
best caregivers,

most

If she like the hypo


through a resentful nursing mother.
"suckles the child reluctantly," as appeared to be the case
her milk, like that of Lady
with a good many early modern
nursing mothers,
to
turn
the innocent entrusted
well
could
Macbeth,
"gall" (1.5.46), harming
ceivably available
thetical wet-nurse

to her

care.

crime better exemplifies


cultural fears
Perhaps no other early modern
a
crime
both
than
does
about maternal
infanticide,
person and
agency
against
one
as
in
sin
medieval
Treated
through ecclesi
punishable
England,
lineage.
a
been deemed
modern
had
astical penance, infanticide, by the early
period,
offense, one punishable
(Sokol and Sokol 2000, 233).
by hanging
'the
infanticide?to
become
Stone has suggested that "deliberate
a solution adopted by only the
deliberate butcher of her own bowels'?was
most desperate of pregnant mothers"
(1979,297). More
recently, Susan Staub
criminal

Lawrence

"their crimes out of their


committed
eco
utter
Out of
desperation, whether
or emotional,
killed
their babies
infanticidal mothers
nomic
purportedly
of a society less con
rather than face the wrath, disdain, even indifference
infanticidal mothers
argues that most
sense of duty asmothers"
(2000,335).

about

cerned
posed

infant murder

to the economic

well-being.
infanticide

Just how prevalent


open to discussion. Although
numerous
admitting
England)
tury.6 That

than

the problems
was

such mothers

had

always

in the early modern


period remains
assize rolls record
and Jacobean

Elizabethan

cases of suspected infant murder,


social and legal historians
(while
the infanticidal rate in early modern
the difficulty of determining
cen
of the seventeenth
suggest it had decreased by the beginning

as a problem within
society,
early modern
English
to
it.
1624
reforms
enacted
The
evident
however, appears
given legal
punish
it a criminal offense to "secretly bury or conceal the
Infanticide Act made
children" (cited in Fletcher
death of their [lewd women's]
1995,277). While
it continued

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76

32.3 [Summer
2005]
CollegeLiterature
the rationale

behind

such a law seems

infants?such

newly-born

an

enactment

evident?to
remains

prevent
curious

the murder

if, as B. J. Sokol

of
and

small
Mary Sokol suggest, the rate of infanticide had shrunk to a "vanishingly
level of about 3 per 100,000" by 1610 (2000, 236).7 Indeed, if infanticide
were
event in the early seventeenth
such an uncommon
century, the 1624
seem superfluous. While
there is no way of accurately determin
rate
in
it appears likely that it
of
modern
the
infanticide
ing
early
England,
cases
as
well as those left unprose
could well have been higher. Unreported
cuted would have significantly
increased these rates.8

Act would

the cultur
My purpose here is less to correct statistics than to examine
an early modern
al fears and anxieties infanticide produced within
England
statutes
of patrilineal
suggests, "the infanticide
rights. As Dolan
protective
rather than accurately
capacity for violence
their
the
behavior"
Indeed,
(1994, 131).
language of the act pro
describing
some
I
into
cultural
motivations
the
would
vides,
argue,
governing
insight
to
For
of
while
law.
the
designed
punish "lewd,"
development
ostensibly
the law likewise speaks, Iwould
unmarried women,
argue, to early modern
articulated

fears about women's

if secretive interference
in the
fears of concealment,
of an obtrusive,
most
cases
of
of
transmission.9
recorded
infanticide
While
process
patrilineal
involved
babies, such actions likewise interfered at least philo
illegitimate
the perceived
authority of patriarchal society as a whole. As
sophically with
seem, to an infanticide epidemic, but
such, the 1624 act points less, itwould
cultural

rather to an attempt to control the potential


"maternal subjectivity
concludes,
aries expand to include?even
consume?the

As Dolan
A

sampling

of the assize records

from

threat of maternal
is threatening

when

agency itself.
its bound

(1994, 148).
offspring"
I provides
the reign of Elizabeth
is
infanticide. What
surrounding

insight into the cultural anxiety


against early modern
perhaps most striking about these recorded indictments
are their graphic, arguably gratuitous
of maternal
vio
mothers
depictions
valuable

case of Anne

is illustrative. On May 4, 1593,


Lynsted of Lynsted
it into a
female
child by throwing
her
newly-born
allegedly
account is
is striking in this otherwise
formulaic
seethinge furnace."10 What
seems designed
to inflame the jury rendering
the word "seethinge," which

lence. The
Anne

"killed

to the OED,
in the early modern
"seethinge"
period
to intense heat, but to "intense and ceaseless inner agita
state which would
tion" as well. In the case of Anne Lynsted, the emotional
to mirror a "seethinge"
fur
infant ismade
enable the murder of a newborn

justice. According
referred not only

nace. The

case of Elizabeth

is equally graphic. On the 20


Brown of Lenham
to
is
have
she
1593,
"ripped open the stomach of her
reported
a
tore out its entrails."11 Of the
with
and
male
knife
child
newly-born
records I have examined, perhaps none is represented as more cruelly calcu
of March

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StephanieChamberlain 77
of Richmond.
On
Chaundler
the 20 of
lating than the case of Margaret
son
November
murdered
her
newborn
1591, Margaret
purportedly
by stuff
a
a
"the
child's
with
earth
and
from
mouth
bone
left it
and
ing
goose's leg
in a ditch, where
it died on the following]
detailed
day."12While
were
to
deemed
describe
the horrific
necessary
descriptions
undoubtedly
nature of these crimes, many
likewise appear to go well beyond mere factu
al accounts. Moreover,
while
the assize records make no specific mention
of
grovelling

the mothers'
modern

mental
value

emotional

infanticidal

take sadistic delight in butchering


in the assize records
represented

beings, who
dal mothers
would

states at the time of the crimes, they nonetheless


attach
would murder
their children. Many
early
as monstrous
in fact, represent these women
accounts,

to those who

dash

lightly

Importantly,
have motivated

out

the dire

the brains

social

of

Indeed, the infantici


are all Lady Macbeths,
who
to their care.
the babes entrusted

and economic

babies.

appear to
fail to enter into the

circumstances

which

cases of infanticide
many purported
record.
Aside
from
the
mother's
public
legal status, usually identified as "spin
no
the
records
circumstances which may
ster,"
extenuating
provide virtually
to commit the crime of infanticide. In so doing, these
have led these women
accounts

Iwould
anxieties about
communicate,
argue, existing early modern
the inherent dangers of maternal
agency both to helpless children as well as
to a patrilineal
for its perpetuation. As Susan
system dependent
upon women
Staub concludes, "the murdering mother
embodies both her society's expec
tations and its anxieties

about motherhood

to be at

by showing motherhood

once

and destructive"
(2000, 345).
empowering
While
assize records from the reign of Elizabeth
I represent infanticide
as a crime of unmarried
women,
(and conceivably
poor)
they fail to account
for the more generalized
this crime against person and
cultural misgivings
line produced within
early modern
England. That anxiety about maternal
agency

crossed

class,

and

economic,

marital

lines

can

be

seen

in

the

case

of

Anne

infamous rise and fall earlier in the sixteenth century


Boleyn, whose
to incite political discussion
continued
the Elizabethan
throughout
period.
to
of
into
Elizabeth's
called
rule
was,
course,
right
question when Henry bas
on charges of adultery and witch
tardized her following Anne's conviction

that the charges against her were politically


it is likewise evident that Anne's failure to produce a living, male
motivated,
heir led to her conviction
and execution. What
interests me is not whether
this
there is little doubt

craft.While

of Henry VIII was, in fact, guilty of the crime of high treason but
what the charges reveal about early modern
fears of maternal
agency.
in Anne's
incident
short, contentious
Perhaps the most damning
reign
was the stillborn, premature birth of a male
child in January of 1536. The
second wife

stillbirth, which

reportedly

occurred

after fifteen weeks

of pregnancy,

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was

78

32.3 [Summer
2005]
CollegeLiterature
the result being that Anne
widely
interpreted as a sign of demonic possession,
was declared responsible for the premature death of this heir to the king.13
abnor
Miscarriages
during the first trimester often occur from conception
mass
or
tissue
otherwise
malities, frequently
resulting in undefined
severely
fetuses. Given
that this miscarriage
occurred
fairly early in the
to
it
Anne
is
that
birth
what
would
have
been consid
pregnancy,
gave
likely
in
modern
ered a monstrous
That
the
official
reports
being
early
Europe.14
of deformity
is not surprising given that
of this stillbirth made no mention

malformed

the aborted
folk were
deformed

son. As Retha Warnicke


fetus was Henry's
notes, "early modern
most
about
facets
of
about
childbirth,
many
ignorant
especially
as
existence
whose
of
God's
fetuses,
way
they interpreted
punish

fetus were deformed, Henry's


reaction to her
ing sinful parents. If Anne's
sense by the standards of his society" (1999, 20). Moreover,
as David
made
mean
has
"monstrous
births
but
observed,
many
Cressy
might
things,
they
were accustomed
to
could not be allowed to mean nothing. Contemporaries
a hierarchy of plots and sub-plots,
a range of possible meanings,
considering
in which
natural law, divinity, and human
intertwined"
(2000,
corruption
were
a
and stillbirths
fact of Ufe given the
36). Indeed, while miscarriages
as signs of
they were often interpreted
or
one
committed
both
parents.
by
disapproval
of Aragon's many miscarriages
and stillbirths, for example, were
Catherine
to the couple's violation
of divine law (Warnicke 1999,
attributed by Henry
the stillbirth of a male
child would
be
18). In the case of Anne, however,
state of early modern

divine

interpreted

gynecology,
for wickedness

as maternal

as the head

of

malfeasance.

a schismatic

church,

Warnicke
Henry

has noted
could

to himself that he had sired this fetus. He would


himself

against

his

enemies'

belief

discovered, was divine punishment


was

transferred

having

had

to Anne,
sexual

who

relations

was
with

that

the

aborted

never

that

have

fetus,

even

admitted

also have wanted

to defend
were

if its existence

for his activities. The blame for its birth


subsequently
five men
after

convicted
enticing

and
them

executed
with

for

witch

like activities. (Warnicke 1999, 20-21)


Iwould
emerges from Anne's miscarriage
ultimately
provides evidence,
roles in patrilineal
argue, of cultural anxiety about the dangers of women's
to bear the male heir
transmission. While
upon Anne
Henry was dependent
as the stillbirth
he
remained
likewise
he so desperately
desired,
vulnerable,
to
in the patrilineal project.15 As Henry
maternal
involvement
demonstrates,
the man be as principal
Eucharius
Roselin
(1545) concludes,
"although

What

to men)
the woman
and cause of the generation,
yet (no displeasure
confer and contribute much more, what to the increasement of the child
in her womb
and what to the nourishment
thereof after the birth, than doth

mover
doth

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StephanieChamberlain 79
agency, in the end, superceded
183). Anne's maternal
this
have
any generative authority
king might
possessed.
character better represents the threat of
Perhaps no other Shakespearean
one whose
studied cruelty nur
maternal
agency than does Lady Macbeth,
the man"

tures

1992,

(Klein

and political
has noted, "in Macbeth,
chaos. As Janet Adelman
its most
is given
virulent
power
sway [. . .]" (1992, 123). Lady
to evil in act one illustrates well the inherent dangers
invocation

social

maternal
Macbeth's

to

of motherhood

the patrilineal
order. Upon
of the witches'
hearing
.
she declares: "[.
tend on mortal
you spirits / That
.] Come,
unsex me here, / and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full /

prophecy,

thoughts,
Critics have traditionally
Of direst cruelty" (1.5.38-40).
amasculine
to
seize
Macbeth
attempt by Lady
authority
to

the

achievement

instance, argues
herself by using

of her

that Macbeth
the dominant

read this scene as an

perceived necessary
for
Burnett,
goals. Mark Thornton
a
woman
to realize
explores "the attempts of
discourses of patriarchy as she lacks an effec

political

(1993, 2). Joan Larsen Klein likewise sug


tively powerful counter-language"
an
masculine
that
Macbeth
seeks
unattainable
gests
Lady
authority, observ
as
never
is
in the only way
she lives, Lady Macbeth
unsexed
ing that "as long
to be unsexed?able
to act with
the cruelty she ignorantly and
identified
with
male
perversely
strength" (1980, 250). Even Adelman, who
a
for
female
argues
competing
authority, tends to structure Lady Macbeth's
a cultur
invocation
in terms of defined gender boundaries which maintain
she wanted

ally constructed masculine/feminine


dichotomy. As she argues, "dangerous
are given embodiment
like Love, Nature, Mother
female presences
in Lady
Macbeth
and the witches"
and it therefore becomes
the responsibility
of men
like Macbeth

"to escape

their dominion

over

senti
(1987, 93).This
"in
the
that
Macbeth,
suggests
Callaghan,
by Dympna
is
of
darkness
and
female, unequivocally
matriarchal,
kingdom
unequivocally
the fantasy of incipient rebellion of demonic
forces is crucial to the mainte
nance of the godly rule it is supposed to overthrow"
Iwould
(1992,358-59).

ment

is echoed

[them]"

who

"unsex me here" speech tends to decon


argue, however, that Lady Macbeth's
struct gender categories,
as
as well
the
unfixing
rigid cultural distinctions
attributes which
define male and female. In the world of Macbeth, for exam
power is expressed through the use of physical force. Indeed,
ple, masculine
Macbeth's
is,
strength as well as his valor is directly linked to the battlefield,
in fact, based upon his ability to carve his enemy "from the nave to th' chops"
she may well fantasize killing an infant, Lady Macbeth
(1.2.22). Although
allow her to wield a dag
power which would
expressly rejects the masculine
even declaring
she makes a case for killing Duncan,
that "had he
ger.While
not

resembled

Macbeth

/ My

ultimately

father

as he

refuses masculine

slept,

I had

done't"

authority. What

(2.2.12-13),
Lady
she craves instead is an

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80

32.3 [Summer
2005]
CollegeLiterature
alternative gender identity, one which will allow her to slip free of the emo
tional as well as cultural constraints governing women. That she immediate
breasts / And
ly invokes a maternal
image, "come to my woman's
milk for gall, you murd'ring ministers"
(1.5.45-46),
speaks, Iwould
at once both powerful
the desire for an authority
and ambiguous
modern
England.

take my
argue, to
in early

lines of
is, in fact, present from virtually the opening
ambiguity
the play as the witches
collapse established boundaries. As does the maternal,
an
status. This
is evident during
witchcraft
represents
ambiguous
gender
encounter
initial
with
witches
"You should
the
where
he
observes:
Banquo's
Gender

yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so"


the witches
beards
(1.3.42-44).
Physically,
challenge
gender
expectations;
men.
to
hair.
the
witches'
well
facial
Yet,
goes
beyond
ambiguity
belong
more
than
bizarre
their
Indeed, it is their self-assured
physical
authority
/ And

be women,

the patriarchal world of the play. Not only do


destabilizes
appearance which
if not
they foresee the future, but the trio are effortlessly adept at predicting,
s behavior.
Macbeth
manipulating
some
inMacbeth. While
Critics have long debated the role of the witches
have

viewed

them

as

representatives

of

fate,

others

see

them

as

demonic

has suggested that "they are poets, prophetesses


Terry Eagleton
scorn male power and lay
and devotees of female cult, radical separatists who
at
its heart. Their words
and bodies mock
sound and fury
bare the hollow
instruments.

rigorous
meanings
chooses

received
boundaries
and make
sport of fixed positions, unhinging
as they dance, dissolve and re-materialize"
one
Whether
(1986, 3).
to identify them as representatives
of fate or of the demonic,
they are

and
the play. At once both nurturing
force within
clearly the governing
to confront the demon
harmful, the three force the proud Scottish warrior
a
son toward his des
reluctant
ic within
himself. They are mothers
pushing
as
as
time
who
bide
their
before bringing
well
fearful
opponents
tiny
no doubt
connection
enables
their supernatural
Macbeth
down. While
is rendered
their gender
such authority, as characters
at once both masculine
and feminine,
deconstructing,
fixed categories.

ambiguous;
they are
like Lady Macbeth,

to the witches
connection
has, of course, long been
Lady Macbeths
scholars.16 Frances Dolan, for example, groups Lady
noted by Shakespearean
as catalytic agents who
incite Macbeths
ambition
with
the witches
Macbeth
uses
witches
female
As
characters?the
she
"Macbeth
observes,
(1994, 227).
into violent
translate that ambition
and Lady Macbeth?to
instill ambition,
as
on
cast
with vio
and
doubt
associated
ambition
and
thus
action,
agency
on top'
a
is
Vornan
Marcus
lence" (227). Leah
suggests that "Lady Macbeth
are allied with
the demonic
and
whose
sexual ambivalence
and dominance
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StephanieChamberlain 81
of the bearded witches"
identifications
(1988,
gender
and
most
the witches
between
connection
the
104).Yet, perhaps
compelling
seen
can
with
association of witchcraft
in the early modern
be
Lady Macbeth
modern
witches
has
observed
that
motherhood.
"though
early
Callaghan
as
an idea
in
the
mother
often old, celibate, and devoid of kin, were
imaged
the obscure

mirror

the ancient fertility goddess under whose


has strong associations with
was
all
power
placed" (1992, 358). This image may be
procreative
auspices
as "secret, black, and midnight
s
to
the witches
reference
traced inMacbeth
to the OED,
the term hag came to refer to
according
hags" (4.1.63). While,
is aligned with
a woman who
is frequently ugly, repulsive and old and who

which

Satan and Hell, the term's earliest usage may


refers to "an evil
related hegge or heg, which
in female form; applied in early use to the
Latin mythology."
Shakespeare uses the term
in The Tempest. Speaking
"Then was this island?/
led whelp,

in the etymologically
spirit, demon, or infernal being,
etc. of Greco
Furies, Harpies,
be found

hag again in relation to Sycorax


of the island's long-deceased
witch, Prospero notes:
Save for the son that she did litter here, / A freck
honoured with / A human shape" (1.2.283-286).

hag-born?not
Its usage here is interesting, for it directly links the concept of witch with
a linkage which proves significant in terms o?Macbeth's women. That
mother:
were purportedly
of an
identified by the presence
witches
modern
early
nurse
to
was
or
Satan's
extra nipple
used
teat, which
familiars, provides addi
As Gail Kern Paster
and motherhood.
tional linkage between witchcraft
but thanks to the
resemble lactating mothers,
notes, "not only do witches
to the witch's
attention
fetishistic
the
seventeenth
witchhunters'
century]
[of
come
to
the
witches"
resemble
mothers
teat, lactating
(1993, 249). While
as
not
the
mother
within
do
function
witches
play, Lady
figures
explicitly
a lactating mother.
Macbeth
clearly does, invoking the image of
maternal
issue of Lady Macbeths
identity has, of course, long been
"How Many
with L. C. Knight's,
for critical discussion. Beginning
to account
have
scholars
Children Hath Lady Macbeth"
(1947),17
attempted
to
act
in
motherhood
one.Whether
reference
for Lady Macbeths
enigmatic
The

fodder

she ever nursed


role would
When

children,
accommodate

Macbeth

ceed no further
to the maternal,
[...]
How
Iwould,

I have
tender
while

however, is perhaps less important


one intent on securing a husband's

than how

such a

royal succession.
"we will pro
about
hesitation
Duncan,
murdering
registers
in this business" (1.7.31), Lady Macbeth
immediately
appeals
calling up a chilling image of infanticide. As she declares:
suck,

given
'tis to

it was

love

and

I know

the babe
smiling

that milks

in my

me.

face,

Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums

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82

32.3 [Summer
2005]
CollegeLiterature
And
As

dashed

the brains

have

you

to

done

had

out,
this.

I so

sworn

(1.7.54-59)

of images here is quite striking. On the one hand, we have


one praised by Vives for her selfless
the loving image of a nurturing mother,
to the child entrusted
in her care. Indeed, the bond here is faintly
devotion
reminiscent
of Renaissance
and child, lending a spiritu
images of Madonna
to
state
This loving image, however, imme
the
of motherhood.
alized quality

The

juxtaposition

butchers
diately gives way to one of absolute horror, as a demonic mother
infant. Here we are reminded of stylized representations
of
her yet-smiling
in the assize records. That this savagery surfaces at a
the murdering
mother
moment
and child only adds to its
of greatest intimacy between mother
is perhaps most
about Lady
revealing
brutality. What
is how absolutely
defiant disclosure
such a
empowering
one
to
to
from
the
free
break
proves
gendered
struggling

incomprehensible
Macbeth's
proudly
fantasized moment

that bind her. This

constraints
the child

is not

in fantasy. On
the one
upon a loving relationship with
could
be a blood sacrifice. That amother

she murders

cially dependent
slaughter; itmust

to suggest that Lady Macbeth


the contrary, her empowerment
she will

despises
is cru
shortly

lovingly nurture
the next underscores
the uncer

infant one moment

and spill his brains


the dangers of unchecked maternal
agency.
to deny the patrilineal.
Indeed, Lady Macbeth
appeals to the maternal
She would
progeny to secure her husband's succession,
readily kill Macbeth's
render
she must likewise destroy his patrilineage,
but in killing the progeny

her

if not

tainties

to ask not only


reign a barren one. I think it important
ing his short-lived
the child represents. That
actions signify, but what
what Lady Macbeth's
seems undisturbed
instead
Macbeth
declaration,
by her bold, horrifying
a
as
we
well as a
should fail?" (1.7.59), argues
symbolic
inquiring, "if
merely
it is clear
literal reading of the child and of Lady Macbeth's
fantasy. For while
that her actions

to signify a fierce resolve, I think it likewise clear


as Lady Macbeth's
If
brutal sacrifice represent far more.
in fantasy represents legitimacy?and
child she butchers
by

are meant

that the child as well


the hypothetical
Imean
legitimacy

must
Lady Macbeth
comes
the
child
such,
project.
usurpation
she does not, of course,
future. While
patrilineal
Macbeth's
infanticidal
heir, Lady
fantasy does directly

Macbeth's
Macbeth's

succession?then
As

destroy it to
to represent
literally kill

manipulate
altering in turn the body politic. The hypothetical
child thus comes to represent the demise not only
the tyrannized world of
and political
legitimacy within

of Duncan,
of this would-be

the murder
murder

lawful

her

further

of Macbeth's

moral

the play, but that of his line itself. As Macbeth


bitterly notes,
a
fruitless
head
crown,
Upon my
they [the witches] placed

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StephanieChamberlain 83
And put a barren sceptre in my grip,
to be wrenched

Thence
No

son

of mine

with

succeeding

an unlineal hand
[...].

(3.1.62-65)

a failed patrilineal proj


secures the
to look on as another man's progeny
is destined
is denied him. Adelman
future which
has observed
that "[. . .]the play
.
becomes
of primitive
fears about male
[. .] a representation
identity and
to con
who
about
those
female
threaten
itself,
autonomy
presences
looming
even
a
to
at
constitute one's very self,
trol one's mind,
distance"
(1987,105).
Ironically,
ect. Macbeth

to succeed

to the throne

is not

to further

it isMacbeth
who wields
the fatal dagger which
ends Duncan's
Although
infanticidal fantasy prompted
life, we cannot forget that it is Lady Macbeth's
by the witches'
prophecy which makes possible a succession rendered barren
through crass cruelty and emotional
depravity. Burnett has suggested that in
the end Macbeth
"is left with
the empty symbols of royalty [...], brooding
of his name" (1993, 5). And it is that loss
upon the imminent disappearance
of name, of a protected
to this
patrilineal
identity that proves so destructive
man

who

would

of kings. For what Lady Macbeth's


fright
line, but rather a barren
agency renders is not a coveted
ening maternal
when
confronted
reign, one which
quickly
disintegrates
by legitimate
be

political
authority.
That Macbeth's

the father

is dependent
of his
upon the perpetuation
in
moments
from
the
of the play.
evident,
fact,
patrilineage
opening
names Malcolm
Even before Duncan
his successor, usurping Macbeth's
a king's murder,
the witches
plans and setting in motion
newly-made
proph
it
are important
is
that
who
will
be
That
heirs
esy
progeny
Banquo's
kings.
to political as well as social outcomes
is thus only too apparent. As Marjorie
Garber has argued, "the play is as urgently concerned with dynasty, offspring
succession

becomes

as any in Shakespeare"
this urgency, it is
(1997, 154). Given
to note, however, how little textual attention
is paid to the sub
interesting
heir. Certainly Macbeth
ject of Macbeth's
registers anxiety over a "barren
and succession

the chill
sceptre."Yet this anxiety surfaces only after he is confronted with
not
realization
that
his
line
will
that
the
crime he
horrendous
succeed,
ing
must
a line.
has committed
prove for naught given his failure to perpetuate
while
Moreover,
tions, Macbeth

the power and authority of kingship


initially fuel his ambi
is forced to face the totality of the witches'
that
prophecy,
not
will
be
As
Kahn
has
heirs,
Macbeth's,
Banquo's
kings.
Copp?lia
argued,
it is "fatherhood
that makes him [Macbeth] Banquo's
rival" (1981, 182).
it is the possession
of an heir which
elevates Banquo
above
Indeed,

Macbeth,
usurper

ensuring
is denied.

that

the patrilineal

future

of

this bloody

and barren

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84 College
32.3[Summer
Literature
2005]
Patriarchal
the perpetuation
ily name, lineal

upon
identity in the early modern
period was conditioned
an heir to continue
line.Without
the fam
of the patrilineal
be lost. Shakespeare's
identity would
"young man" sonnets

again and again


identity. As the speaker

argue

From

fairest

creatures

That

thereby

beauty's

But

as the

His

tender heir might

But

thou,

riper

we

desire

rose

should

contracted

by

Thyself

a famine

of

this

increase.
never

might
time

die,

decease,

bear his memory;


to

thine

Feed'st thy light's flame with


Making

to the preservation

the importance
of heirs
1
in Sonnet
observes,

own

abundance

where

bright

eyes,

self-substantial fuel,
lies,

thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel. (1.1-8)

sacrifices patri
here, who
speaker could well be speaking of Macbeth
for a power which
and fleeting. As
lineal "memory"
proves both unstable
his hopes for men-children
Joan Larsen Klein has argued, "he exchanges
babe and torment
born to his wife for the grisly finger of a birth-strangled
visions
of
crowned
of
other
men"
the
children
(1980, 243). The impor
ing
The

tance

of

an heir

to Macbeths

elusive political
increasingly
aspirations
he
is
with
fathers such as Duncan,
when
confronted
apparent only
and Macduff who have satisfied their patrilineal obligations. His life
Banquo,
as well as his ambitions ultimately prove barren, indeed.
over the fate of his ill
Whereas
Macbeth
registers
tardy concern
becomes

indifferent. When
informed patrilineage,
appears supremely
Lady Macbeth
of the child nursing at her breast,
she is not fantasizing
the brutal murder
she
the future of her husband as king. What
is busy plotting
Lady Macbeth
iswhat will become
line given the failure
of Macbeth's
fails to acknowledge
a living heir. Even after the bloody deed is done, even after her
to produce
seizes an unlawful
husband
throne, Lady Macbeth
expresses no concern for
As
Macbeth
Macbeth's
agonizes over his "barren
extinguished
patrilineage.
(3.2.14); she has, in
indifference
fleeting power. Her
an
a
to
of mother's
nega
understanding
potentially
For
what
the patrilineal process in early modern
England.

sceptre," his wife merely


sold Macbeth's
essence,
proves crucial, I believe,

cautions

"what's done

heir

a little,

for

is done"

tive impact upon


indifference
Lady Macbeth's

is itself another form of infanticide,


constitutes
nonexistent.
future
Macbeth's
By erasing the possibility
rendering
patrilineal
an
likewise blots from the cul
of
heir, i.e., lawful succession, Lady Macbeth
his death at the end of
tural memory
future traces of Macbeth's
lineage. With
act five, so too dies the tyranny her bloody
infanticidal fantasy fatally engen
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StephanieChamberlain 85
dered. Indeed, the smiling babe she indifferendy plucks from her gall-filled
less than Macbeth's
breast comes to represent nothing
aborted patrilineal line.
It is perhaps no coincidence
that the one who will subdue Macbeth
is
of woman

"Macduff was from his mother's


/ Untimely
womb
Such a revelation decisively under
ripped" (5.8.15-16).
cuts the power of the maternal,
ultimate
arming Macduff
against Macbeth's
some
warrants
assault.
Macduff's
violent
birth
discus
unusual,
ly powerless
con
as
as
sion in light of the play's representation
of maternal
well
its
agency
"none

born"

(4.1.80). Rather,

a last
sections in early modern
England were considered
as Jacques Guillemeau
(1635) notes, "that thereby the child
and receive
Blumenfeld-Kosinski
baptism." As Renate

tainment. Caesarean

resort, performed,
be saved,
observes, "the child

may

as 'not of woman
indeed be considered
born,' or
was
a
woman
not
the
newborn
child
the
of
but
[for]
living
of a corpse" (1990, 1). Given
the lack of
early modern
surgical methods,
anesthesia, as well as post-surgical
infection, Caesareans were normally per
formed only on women
had already died during
who
labor.18 Eucharius
even

could

'unborn'...

Roselin's
committed

of the Caesarean
description
on the mother:

If it chance that the woman


then
places,

shall

it be meet

so that

the

to
child

emphasizes

the post-mortem

violence

in her labor die and the child having life in it,

keep

open

may

be

by

the woman's
that means

mouth
both

and
receive

also
and

the nether
also

expel

air and breath which otherwise might be stopped, to the destruction of the
child. And then to turn her on her left side and there to cut her open and
so to take out the child. (Klein 1992,197)
Striking here is the obvious effort taken to preserve the life of the yet unborn
to ensure
and "nether places" are opened wide
child. The mother's mouth
that the child has an adequate air supply while
the surgeon begins carving
is deemed
up the maternal
body.19 That the mother
already dead does little
to alleviate the inherent brutality of the scene. What Roselin's
description
is cut apart to free
conjures up are images of blood sacrifice as the mother
we choose to call
the potentially
viable life trapped within her body. Whether
or rescue depends
the early modern
Caesarean matricide
crucially on the
is a factor. That such a procedure
degree to which
patrilineal preservation
would most
in the case of bastard birth
likely have not been performed
reveals much
about the governing motivation
for early modern
Caesarean
a
sections. Indeed, the Caesarean
birth represents, I would
argue,
conquest
over the maternal
otherwise
threatens to consume
the precious
body which
In so doing, it likewise comes to represent the preservation
of the
itself.
patrilineage
The issue of matricide
has special significance
inMacbeth, a play which
at
resolves patrilineal
crisis through
the
times violent
deaths of mothers.
offspring.

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86

32.3 [Summer
2005]
CollegeLiterature
a play strug
in general seems problematic within
Indeed, the fate of mothers
with
the
survival.
Duncan's
is
issue
of
wife
gling
long dead, con
patrilineal
a
care
sons
to
as
the
and
of her
father
has
signing
Janet Adelman
king who,
to his
"the source of all nurturance,
the children
noted, becomes
planting
throne and making
them grow" (1992,132). Macduff,
of course, owes his life
to the surgeon who
grasp,
literally rips him from his mother's
"suffocating"
to borrow again from Adelman.
It is he, not Macbeth,
who
leads "a charmed
as a result of escaping
life" (5.10.12)
wise strangle him. Macduff's
mother

a maternal

control which

life, if you will, into a dying Scotland. Upon


violent murders, Macduff
initially registers
my

other

is not, of course, the only maternal


fig
line. Lady Macduff, Macduff's
sad, aban

ure killed off to protect a threatened


the play to motivate Macduff
doned wife, is also killed within
to
action
kind of
defeat the murderous Macbeth:
necessary

. . All
.

must

into taking the


to breathe new

learning of his wife and children's


a stunned, immobilized
disbelief:

ones?

pretty

Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?


What,

allmy pretty chickens and their dam

At one fell swoop? (4.3.217-220)


it is true that Macduff

his wife and children to seek support


a
to action. Only
incitement
for Scotland,
their deaths constitute
necessary
reminds this grieving husband and father that he must "dis
when Malcolm
find the strength to
pute it [their deaths] as a man"
(4.3.221) does Macduff
confront Macbeth
and save, if not his own fine, that of the royal patrilineage.

While

abandons

In many
there is, of course, Lady Macbeth.
respects her violent
an
terror
at
of
constitutes jus
death
the conclusion
reign of
equally violent
strife should per
is the author of such social and political
tice. That she who
now suicidal hands seems appropriate given her
ish at her own blood-stained,
Then

in Duncan's
death as well as inMacbeth's
cataclysmic fall from
Macbeth
sullied
hands
render
That
these
grace.
Lady
incapable of redemp
own
her
tion appears appropriate given
calculated brutality against family
and state. In many respects the death of this infanticidal mother
helps bring
of Duncan's
scattered progeny, enabling, in turn, the
about the re-unification
involvement

that heirs of the ill-fated Banquo will be


prophecy
death preserves Ufe even as her own slips away.
kings. As such, Lady Macbeth's
in early modern
of infanticide
Punishment
for those convicted
England
a convicted
was most
Yet
whether
often accomplished
through hanging.
mother
faced this dire sentence depended
upon her demeanor
during the
fulfillment

trial. Marilyn

of the witches'

Francus

notes

ratives of female weaknesses,


acquitted

[...]"

(1997,134).

that

early

modern

"women

who

presented

nar

virtue were

fallibility, and repentant


"the rebellious
infanticidal mother
Conversely,
ignorance,

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StephanieChamberlain 87
her agency nor her identity and because she could not be
and passivity, she was
by the female narrative of ignorance
of guilt tacit or
silenced by death" (Francus 1997, 134). Indeed, confessions
to an early modern
anxious
otherwise
control
about
yielded
patriarchy
renounced

neither

accommodated

mothers'

in the transmission

roles

unable

unrepentant,
secure Macbeth's

either

unlawful

of patrilineage. That Lady Macbeth


dies
clean the murderous
hands that helped
succession nor to yield the agency which
enabled
to wash

speaks to a guilt which


either
death, unmourned

cannot

her crime

be absolved. Her solitary, anti-cli


or his society, becomes
Macbeth
apt
by
Macbeth's
infanticidal
for
the
havoc
Lady
punishment
fantasy wreaks upon
the social and political order. Janet Adelman
has observed
that "the play that
the terrible threat of destructive maternal
power [ ... ]
begins by unleashing
ends by consolidating
male power"
maternal
(1992, 122). The demonized

mactic

enables the murder


agency which
a
revitalized, if altered political
by
eal

as the descendents

throne

usurped

is by play's end supplanted


of patrilineage
Malcolm
succeeds to his father's
authority.
of Banquo's

line eye their future patrilin

succession.

Notes
1William
Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell."
2All
Shakespeare citations are from The Norton Shakespeare.
3
See, for example, Juan Luis Vives's The Education of a Christian Woman: A
Sixteenth-Century Manual (1524); Eucharius Roeslin, The Birth ofMankind, otherwise
named The Woman's Book (1545), in Joan Larsen Klein, Daughters, Wives andWidows:
Writings byMen aboutWomen andMarriage inEngland, i 500- i 640;Thomas Tusser, The
Points ofHousewifery (1580), in Klein, Daughters, Wives andWidows; Thomas Becon,
The book of matrimony (1564), in Kate Aughterson, Renaissance Woman: Constructions of
Femininity in England; Elizabeth Clinton, The Countess of Lincoln's Nursery (1622);
Christopher Hooke, The Childbirth (1590); Robert Cleaver and John Dod, A Godly
Form of Household Government: For the Ordering of Private Families, according to the
Direction of God's Word (1630);William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties. Eight Treatises
(1622); and Dorothy Leigh, The Mother's Blessing (1616).
4 Even
women's
shamed
the

the
roles

before

cuckold's

fear

commonplace
in patrilineal

of

the

community
that
but
horns,

that

can

cuckolding

transmission.
led

they must

Indeed,
so many
ultimately

be

it's not

traced

to a concern

about

the fear of being


only
men
to steer clear of

early modern
call as their

own

anything

their

wives brought forth.


5This is
readily apparent in the case of unwed mothers, who while in labor,
were often bullied by midwives
into revealing fathers' identities.While
such manda
tory

name

ceivably

identification
resulted

early modern

was

in a form

a means
of

by which

empowerment

childbirth, see Cressy

to reduce
for mothers.

the
For

roll, it also
poor
a
discussion
good

(1997).

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

con
of

88

32.3 [Summer
2005]
CollegeLiterature
6

See, for example, Sokol and Sokol (2000), Stone (1979), Erickson
(1993),
(1975).
Cressy, (2000), Ingram (1987), andWrightson,
7 See also Laslett
(1983).
8 See
Jankowski (1992). Married women, as Jankowski has noted, were less like
ly

to be

for

prosecuted

murder newborn
9
Natasha

than were

infanticide

there was

that because

no

to

need

unmarried

the

women,
there would

pregnancy,

disguise

rationale

be

being
reason
to

less

infants (44).

were more
to
notes
that while
"women
vulnerable
punishment
.
was
to doubt
in a way
that
open
[.
.] because
paternity
always
bastard-bearing
was
was
not"
such
likewise
(2002,
183),
upon
maternity
punishment
dependent
a threat
status. While
to the
unmarried
mothers
of the lower
social
class constituted
Korda

for

economic

of

well-being

threatened patrilineage.
notes

Korda

Measure,

the

those

community,

In her discussion

that

she violates

the middle

of

and

classes

upper

of Shakespeare's Juliet from Measure for

the

trust

cultural

'jewel' of her patrimony" (2002,181).


10The
queen's justices met atMaidstone

in having

"thrown

away

the

in July of 1593 to hear this case (1979,

#2074).
11Calendar Assize
Records, #2082.
of
12Calendar Assize
Records, #2279.
of
13 For a full account of this
stillbirth, see Fraser (1994).
14Charles
(1875-77) makes mention of the stillbirth.
Wriothesley
15 See Warnicke

(1989). Warnicke

that "Henry

suggests

considered

miscarriage

or stillbirth an ill omen for his kingdom aswell as for his dynasty" (176).
16
See, for example Adelman
(1987), Callaghan
(1992), Marcus
(1988),
Newman
and
(1991),
Stallybrass (1982).
17
While L. C. Knight's provocatively titled essay does not deal with the issue of
maternal

Macbeth's

Lady
within

text. The

the

I would

scheme,
within

specter
argue,

it does
history,
of patrilineage
one

constitutes

18 See Blumenfeld-Kosinki
Caesarean

intriguing
its impact

the more

of

about
absences
questions
on Macbeth's
succession
absent

interesting

presences

has

noted,

if they believed

are reports of early modern

(1990). There

mothers

sections.
male

Normally,
Kosinki

and

text.

the

surviving
19

raise

surgeons
midwives

however,

performed
were

Caesarean
also

expected

sections.
to

As

perform

Blumenfeld
this procedure

that the fetus could still be alive (1990, 2).

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