Poetry / The English Teacher / The Social Network

Sometimes, I Just Need a Character that I Can Love to Hate

I was just looking up the meaning of a word to be sure I had it right.

Dictionary moments. So good.

I’m not the only one, am I? I love words. Love looking them up. Love leafing through the pages of dictionaries. Today’s beauty: Visceral.

Now, in my head, the word means ‘from the gut’ — an intensity of emotion that starts in the very organs, veins, arteries — an entire body response. And, when I immerse myself in story, I don’t just read it. No, no, no. I undergo an entire body emotional response. My gut clenches. My neck tenses. My arms and heart ache over the human condition so skillfully rendered in an author’s words. I’ll admit this response is far more likely to occur when I’m reading a novel or drama than when I’m reading poetry. On the other hand, epic poetry demands a visceral response. You try reading Beowulf, The Odyssey or Paradise Lost and not be wrenched yourself! AAAAHHHHH.

Okay, I’m not the only one, am I???

(you know Shakespeare is going to show up here, you just don’t know how yet, right?)

To make sure, I thought I’d better look up ‘visceral.’ I find this, from Merriam-Webster:

: coming from strong emotions and not from logic or reason

: felt in or as if in the internal organs of the body :  deep <avisceral conviction>
: not intellectual :  instinctiveunreasoning <visceral drives>
: dealing with crude or elemental emotions :  earthy <avisceral novel>
:  of, relating to, or located on or among the viscera : splanchnic <visceral organs>
I’m okay with everything about the definition but that “NOT FROM LOGIC OR REASON” part. I get the “strong emotions” (I’m on overload in that department 100% of the time) part. I feel all of the feelings (at the same time!) in the very heart of me. But my head remains engaged. It must. Shakespeare, you know. His words aren’t just for the heart, but for the head too.
Take Lady Macbeth for example. What a character study. Her ambition knows no boundary. Womanly tenderness? A nurturing soul? She has neither. The ‘milk o’ human kindness’ she frets over? It’s not hers. It’s her husband’s that concerns her. Lady Macbeth is a woman I love to hate. I hate her with a passionate, visceral intensity. My logic tells me I must. Witness:

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry ‘Hold, hold!’


She calls upon the dark spirits to ‘unsex’ her — to remove from her any hint of tender mercy, that she might instead be filled “from the crown to the toe” with “direst cruelty.” What kind of woman is that?!

And yet, who amongst us hasn’t harbored dark thoughts? Who amongst us hasn’t vaulted our own ambition to a too-lofty height? Who amongst us hasn’t determined to do whatever necessary to get what we most desire? Who hasn’t let the heart overrule the head, casting aside moral reason for a moment?

And that is why I love to hate Lady Macbeth. Because I get her. Because she scares me a bit. Because my gut wrenches when she wrenches her hands, stained with the blood of an innocent man.

And who amongst us, can ‘cast the first stone’?

Suddenly, I hate that I also love Lady Macbeth. Because she scares me a bit. Because my gut wrenches when she succumbs to the dark spirits and the dark actions of worldly ambition. Because her desires, her moral decrepitude and her ruination are dreadful to behold.

Who wouldn’t respond viscerally to Macbeth’s utter defeat, when he learns his Lady is dead?

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


The human condition.  “Full of sound and fury…”








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