I’ve been asked to write a treatment for a play about Lady Macbeth and read this novel in the hope of understanding more about this misrepresented Scottish Queen.The novel begins with action, as a nine year old girl is nearly kidnapped on a trail near the Castle of Elgin, by her father’s enemies. The girl is Lady Gruadh ingean Bodhe, mac Cineadh, mac Dubh (daughter of Bodhe, son of Kenneth, son of Duff) and these names of her ancestry are crucial to the plot because they detail her royal bloodline.
The girl is dragged from her pony and though she is saved by the bravery of others she puts up a fight and stabs her assailant with a brooch torn from his cloak. Her brother is killed in the skirmish so she is the last bearer of the lineage. Gruadh keeps the brooch as a talisman and this day’s events indelibly mark her character and her future.Six years later she is married to the middle-aged Mormaeur (Earl) of Moray, before he is killed in a skirmish with Macbeth, who has been sent to do the job by his uncle King Malcolm. Macbeth forces marriage with Gruadh, as is his right under Celtic law, but afterwards treats her with respect and treats her baby son Lulach as his own. King Malcolm is succeeded by his son, the warlike Duncan, who stirs up trouble with the Scots’ enemies, until Macbeth kills him in battle. Macbeth then becomes King of the Scots and Gruadh his Queen.
Throughout, Gruadh is depicted as a kind-hearted woman who has many friends; she is also intelligent, ambitious and strong-willed. She lives in ruthless times and has to stand on her own feet; learning to fight and accompanying her husband into battle. She has second sight, though this gift is not strong enough to enable her to always shape her destiny. A misinterpreted dream, combined with her grief at losing a baby makes her plead for the life of Duncan’s young son, Malcolm Canmore, an act of mercy which eventually proves her undoing.Whilst I struggled in places, the novel is compellingly written and certainly exceeded my expectations. It’s convincingly researched, with details of Celtic life and genealogy on every page and this may be why I struggled, it sometimes slows the storytelling down. Detailing historical research to this extent might be more in keeping if this was a biography, though as the author points out, there are so few records of the real Lady Macbeth that a biography would necessarily be thinner than the 340 pages of this provocative novel.
Lady Macbeth the novel certainly dilutes the stain of villainy and evil which cloaks Lady Macbeth and her husband in Shakespeare’s play; whether it will guide me in my search for a hook on which to hang my own play remains to be seen.