“Screw your courage to the sticking place.” ~ Lady Macbeth
In an online discussion, I had to remind someone that this line from Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 7) does not mean what people who are habituated to today’s epithet-rich language are likely to think that it means.
Lady Macbeth’s words have to be taken literally. When the screw is tightened to the last ring, it is at its sticking place—that is when the metaphorical crossbow is ready to fire. She is exhorting Macbeth to give up his doubts, muster his courage, and carry out his plan to assassinate King Duncan and seize the throne of Scotland.
She is not ranting or bitching; she and Macbeth are serious players in Scotland’s politics; she is egging him to be firm, ruthless, and decisive in his pursuit of kingship.