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Lady MacBethad by Isabelle Schuler

Macbeth as a play, is one of the most successful productions of all time. So much surrounds the magic, the beauty and the language of Shakespeare’s shortest plays. Historians will know of the origins of the play including the fact that Shakespeare took the story of the ruthless soldier who would become King of Scotland from the Holinshed Chronicles, and that there was plenty more material to work with than what Shakespeare ends up presenting on stage.

It is this concept of backstory that Isabelle Schuler sets her formidable novel, Lady MacBethad. Without doubt, Lady Macbeth - in the play - is one of the most dynamic characters (certainly it can be argued she is the strongest female character in Shakespeare’s oeuvre) that Shakespeare ever created. Her story is one of sadness and triumph, joy and pain, celebration and torture. And it is this area that Schuler had tapped into. Schuler has used the Chronicles to assist with the research, and clearly considered the story of the play in her dealings with the motivations and aspirations that Lady Macbeth is so connected with, but more than this, we get an insight into her as a person, as a woman, as a wife.

Beautifully written, Lady MacBethad is an absolute page turner with the historical fiction aspect equally and wonderfully balanced with the bloodthirsty approach of her later self. Taking the story of Lady MacBethad from her early years right through to when Shakespeare takes over in the play, Schuler gives the rationale behind the motivated wife and the ambitiousness that she held over being queen.

Told from the first-person perspective of Gruoch (Lady MacBethad) and her pagan but also royal lineage, the story unravels itself around her early years with MacBethad, the relationship between them, and her own prophecies handed to her early in life. Schuler creates a character much more developed, complex and understandable than perhaps Shakespeare gives credit.

As far as feminist retellings of traditional stories go, there is little that compares to the wealth of intrigue, exploration and developed depth that Schuler constructs. A wonderful read and highly recommended. It’s very easy to get lost in the world of the great Scottish Queen and her infamous husband.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Raven Books


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