Out, damned spot! out, I say! Lady Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1
I think it’s a fair guess that most people are exposed to these words for the first time when they either read or attend Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. I, on the to hand, heard them routinely as a little kid when my mother was frustrated with her six children and demanded that we all go outside to wrestle and carry on rather than do these things in the house. While Lady McBeth was referencing the blood on her hands for her role in the murder of King Duncan, my mother was threatening to draw blood from all of us if we didn’t get immediately out of her sight.
I can still see that narrow-eyed look on Mom’s face and her arm outstretched, pointing to the front door. If we all didn’t high-tail it out of there that very moment then we might soon feel the sting of a switch on our bare legs, which we often did when Mom was unhappy with our behavior.
I don’t quite know why or how Mom came to use that Shakespearean phrase. I certainly never heard any of my friend’s mothers quoting Lady Macbeth. What I do know is that those words coupled with the very strained look on Mom’s face left no doubt that she meant business and that we better head out to safer parts of the property.
Imagine my surprise when I heard those words during a play production and realized their origin. How they ever came to mean something so very different for my mother than those uttered by Lady Macbeth will remain a mystery. However, suffice it to say, that both women were edging toward insanity when those words burst forth. Not for the same reason, of course, but the sound of desperation was unmistakable in both.
Luckily, my mother’s fate was a good deal kinder than Lady Macbeth’s. But then again, my mother never succumbed to the temptation to actually murder us (or convince someone else to do the dirty work for her). I can’t say the same for Lady Macbeth.