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?
These words are spoken by Lady Macbeth in Act 5, scene 1, lines 30–34, as she sleepwalks through Macbeth’s castle on the eve of his battle against Macduff and Malcolm. Earlier in the play, she possessed a stronger resolve and sense of purpose than her husband and was the driving force behind their plot to kill Duncan. When Macbeth believed his hand was irreversibly bloodstained earlier in the play, Lady Macbeth had told him, “A little water clears us of this deed” (2.2.65). Now, however, she too sees blood. She is completely undone by guilt and descends into madness. It may be a reflection of her mental and emotional state that she is not speaking in verse; this is one of the few moments in the play when a major character—save for the witches, who speak in four-foot couplets—strays from iambic pentameter. Her inability to sleep was foreshadowed in the voice that her husband thought he heard while killing the king—a voice crying out that Macbeth was murdering sleep. And her delusion that there is a bloodstain on her hand furthers the play’s use of blood as a symbol of guilt. “What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account?” she asks, asserting that as long as she and her husband retain power, the murders they committed cannot harm them. But her guilt-racked state and her mounting madness show how hollow her words are. So, too, does the army outside her castle. “Hell is murky,” she says, implying that she already knows that darkness intimately. The pair, in their destructive power, have created their own hell, where they are tormented by guilt and insanity.