Daily Archives: January 10, 2010


“Yet here’s a spot.”

Lady Macbeth saw spots on her hands: “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” She scrubbed but could not get them out. “What! will these hands ne’er be clean?”

But what if the spots were in her eyes? If the blood she saw on her hands could not come out because it was spots of darkness in her vision instead?

We know about seeing spots. It’s a recognized medical condition. The term for a spot or dark area in your vision is scotoma. The plural is scotomata. That looks suitable: you can see the spots – o o a a. (And are those t t crosses or daggers?) The word may make you think of tomato. (Well, that’s red, like the blood.) It may bring to mind automata – plural of automaton, which can refer to a person who is acting mechanically or involuntarily. (Perhaps compulsively scrubbing while walking in her sleep.)

Scotoma comes from classical Greek skótos, meaning “darkness.” There are other scoto words in English, none of which sees the light of day much: scotoscope, something that lets you see in the dark; scotophor, something that darkens when bombarded with electrons (the opposite of a phosphor, and usable in “dark trace” cathode ray tubes); scotopic, pertaining to vision in dim light; scotography, taking pictures with X-rays…

There is plenty of darkness in Macbeth. Many of the dark deeds happen in the dark of night; visions of daggers and the dead, too, come in dim light, scotopic as it were. People are killed.

In modern Greek, “kill me” or “take my life” is skótose me. There are a few songs by this title; you can find them on YouTube – sung by Nino, Despina Vandi, Eleni Peta. Mostly they are romantic: take my life so I can’t love you anymore; away from you life is not worth living… You may happen on “Skótoseme” by Diamanda Galás and John Paul Jones. It is not a romantic song. It would, in its way, form a good soundtrack for the murders in Macbeth. Diamanda Galás has a way of singing that is not persuasively human. You have been warned.

So is that what’s the matter with Lady Macbeth? Well. she is a Scot, yes? And consider this: mata is Malay for “eye” (mata hari, literally “day eye,” means the sun). Irish eyes may smile, but Scottish eyes – scot-o-mata – see darkness.