"A painted devil": the matter and making of images in Macbeth

Porter, Chloe (2019) "A painted devil": the matter and making of images in Macbeth. In: Caporicci, Camilla and Sabatier, Armelle (eds.) The art of picturing in early modern English literature. Routledge. ISBN 9780367425197

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Allusions to image-making play a significant role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Most notably, Lady Macbeth refers to painting to describe Duncan’s corpse and the bloodstains resulting from his murder. In particular, she compares the dead king to “a painted devil” and claims that she will “gild” his grooms with blood in order to frame them as murderers (2.2.53-54). Lady Macbeth’s language and actions are here idolatrous, as she treats royal, divine blood as an artificial pigment that she may reapply and erase as she chooses in a diabolical act of picture-making. Previous critical analyses of these allusions to paint figure Lady Macbeth’s investment in the visual as a symptom of her superficiality and radical detachment from the interpretation of meaning. This essay argues for a different view: that Lady Macbeth’s error is to assume that the visible world is merely superficial, since, in early modern contexts, meaning is invested in the matter and processes that make images. To make this case, the essay sets Lady Macbeth’s allusions to paint and painting alongside early modern writings on the visual arts, such as Richard Haydocke’s 1598 translation of Lomazzo’s Trattato dell’ Arte, della pitura, scoltura et architettura. I contend that Lady Macbeth’s engagements with painting invert and distort specific advice on painterly ideals and that similar inversions of early modern guidance on painting take place in Massinger’s The Picture. Through a comparison between these plays, the essay concludes that dramatists use allusions to image-making to comment on the meaning of spectacle in theater.

Item Type: Book Section
Keywords: Shakespeare, drama, images, Renaissance
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Early Modern and Medieval Studies
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR2199 English renaissance (1500-1640) > PR2411 The drama > PR2416 Individual authors > PR2750 Shakespeare, William
Depositing User: Chloe Porter
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2019 09:03
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2020 14:34
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/81434
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