"All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand"

My family and I with some close friends, Adam and Rachel Reynolds, went to see Macbeth today at Stratford. Well done. The staging was superb and so was Colm Feore as the murderous Macbeth. The costume setting, according to the director Des McAnuff was “mythic mid-2oth-century Africa” [“Ideas and Insights”, Macbeth Programme (2009), p.6]. In the famous scene where Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking and seeking to rid her soul of guilt, I was struck by the lines “Here’s the smell of blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” (Act V, Scene 1). I thought of the fact that this is not only true for Lady Macbeth, but for all of us. Surely Shakespeare is suggesting in this play that we all harbour murderous passions. See, in this regard, the lines of the Porter in Act II, scene 3—a very important figure—who, as Robert Blacker notes, “steps out of the play to remind us that we too are sinners” [“Crime and Punishment”, Macbeth Programme (2009), p.3].

And we too shall find, like Lady Macbeth, there is no perfume of this world shall “sweeten” our sinful hands. Only One and one act—sweet Jesu and his death.