Confession time: Lady Macbeth was one of the reasons I became an English teacher.
My senior year, I was sure I hated Shakespeare. After all, we’d read Romeo and Juliet my freshman year and Julius Caesar my sophomore year, and I’d hated both.
At the time, I was a hopeless Andrew Lloyd Webber fangirl. I had fallen in love with Evita over the summer. And my teacher knew it.
By the time she got done describing Lady Macbeth, I was the ruthless Scottish queen’s biggest fan. I spent hours at the local city library, reading Contemporary Literary Criticism. I cut class to spend afternoons poring over back issues of Shakespeare Quarterly at SIU’s Morris Library. (I swear I am not making that up.) I drew elaborate pen-and-ink illustrations of my favorite scenes from the play. And, of course, I memorized the speech from Act I, Scene 5, in which Lady Macbeth invokes the spirits, reciting it before scholar-bowl tournaments to hype myself up and daydreaming about teaching it to a roomful of bright-eyed seniors.
This morning — 26 years, 900 miles, and an English degree later — a bright-eyed senior taught me something about that speech.
A girl had just read the first lines of Act II, Scene 2 — “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold./What hath quenched them hath given me fire” — when a boy raised his hand.
“Do you think that could be the spirits she was talking about the other day?” he asked.
My jaw dropped.
Shakespeare LOVED puns. He played with words constantly. We talk about that a lot in class. And yet, somehow, neither my teacher, nor my British lit professors, nor my Shakespeare professor, nor I, nor any of the umpteen critics whose work I read in Shakespeare Quarterly stopped to consider that if you were a mean drunk — as Lady Macbeth implies she is — the “spirits that tend on mortal thoughts” might be more liquid than ethereal.
I don’t know whether that was Shakespeare’s intent. But it makes sense, and it’s certainly given me food for thought as I revisit an old favorite with kids who are seeing it through fresh eyes.