Literary Mixtape: Lady Macbeth


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: the woman pulling the strings — but dirtying her hands — Lady Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth is the murderously ambitious wife of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. Wishing to be queen, as she believes she should be, she goads her husband into committing regicide, planning it for him down to the last detail and, after the deed has been done, putting the finishing touches on the scheme. However, the crime plagues her, and she begins to lose her mind, sleepwalking and crying out “Out, damned spot!,” as she tries to wash the imaginary remnants of blood from her palms. At first a strong, if murderous, woman, she deteriorates into a nervous wreck before she disappears altogether, so she’d probably have a combination of strange freak-folk, murder ballads and wistful songs on her playlist. Here’s what we think Lady Macbeth would sleepwalk, prod her husband, and wash her hands again and again to.

“Ballad in Plain D” — Bob Dylan

We think Lady Macbeth would rock back and forth to this measured, even song about all-encompassing guilt. “All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight/ I gagged in contradiction, tears blinding my sight/ My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night/ Leaving all of love’s ashes behind me…”

“Crow Jane” — Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

Obviously, Lady Macbeth would have an iPod full of the weird, darkly sexy Nick Cave, but we think this strange song of feminine monstrosity would be one of her favorites. “Horrors in her head/ That her tongue dare not name… Seems you remembered/ How to sleep how to sleep…”

“I Hung My Head” — Johnny Cash (Sting Cover)

We think Lady Macbeth would prefer the Cash version of this murder ballad (since it’s deeper and darker, of course) as she looks up and realizes what she’s done at last.

“Shankill Butchers” — The Decemberists

Knowing that her husband was “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” to effectively kill the king and secure his place, Lady Macbeth plotted it all herself, and we think she’d need some bloodthirsty music to plan the plan to. That said, she’s definitely not the kind of woman to be into hardcore or anything indecent, so she’ll have to settle for this relaxed song about killers to get her in the mood. “Everybody knows if you don’t/ Mind your mother’s words/ A wicked wind will blow your ribbons from your curls…”

“Try to Sleep” — Low

Lady Macbeth would listen to this song to try to ease herself to sleep at night — against her building despair and mental disorder. Despite her efforts, we all know she’ll have uneasy (and ambulatory) dreams.

“Damned If She Do” — The Kills

Look, somebody’s got to take action here, and unlike her feeble husband, Lady Macbeth has a taste for power, no matter the cost. After all, as far as she’s concerned: “She damned if she will/ She damned if she won’t/ Some of them left in one piece/ And some she damned near broke…” In general, we think Lady Macbeth would like all the dark chugging of the new Kills album. It’s totally up her alley.

“Gloomy Sunday” — Billie Holiday

By the end, Lady Macbeth sinks into a wild depression, plagued by the guilt of her actions (and of course, the hysteria that overcomes so many women in Elizabethan era). Ultimately, she dies offstage, by “self and violent hands.” This song is for the saddest times, to sing when you dream of dying.

“All I Need’s A Little More” — Chikita Violenta

We think Lady Macbeth would be into the ragged, spastic tunes of Chikita Violenta, if only because at any given point they would be unravelling faster than her mind. Which is saying something.

“Gallows” — Cocorosie

As a character not only accused of being a witch, but also continually analyzed in terms of being the ‘anti-female,’ we think Lady Macbeth would love the gender-bending, weird freak-folk sister team of Cocorosie. If only to make all those male critics scratch their heads and whisper to each other in frightened tones.

“The Killing Moon” — Echo & the Bunnymen

For Lady Macbeth to listen to as she dreams of the blow that will make her queen. “In starlit nights I saw you/ So cruelly you kissed me/ Your lips a magic world/ Your sky all hung with jewels/ The killing moon/ Will come too soon…”