Shakespeare on Show: Top Ten Exhibition – a wooden doll


wooden doll

Now on display in ‘Shakespeare’s Top Ten Characters’ at Nash’s House, this carved walnut doll was chosen for the display about the character of Macbeth. The selection of a doll for the interpretation of Macbeth’s story was to highlight the darkest depths that Macbeth plunged to: killing children. Consumed by paranoia, Macbeth gives the following order:

give to th’edge o’th’ sword His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls That trace him in his line.

Macbeth Act 4 Scene 1


In the exhibition, this doll conjures up the anxiety about the future that children represent. Once he chooses his future and heads down his murderous path, Macbeth looses a grasp on the difference between good and evil. He takes it upon himself to choose others’ destinies by eliminating the children who represent their bloodlines’ future.


This carved wooden figure stands approximately 10 inches high and shows a woman with clasped hands wearing a beaded necklace. The elaborate nature of the carving suggests that if this was a doll, a child’s plaything, it would have been for the child of a well-off family. For more information about this doll and depictions of children with dolls from Shakespeare’s lifetime, see our Shakespeare’s World in 100 Objects blog.


Dolls have been used as props in stage and film productions of Macbeth. Orson Welles’ stage production in the 1930s, known as the ‘Voodoo Macbeth,’ altered Shakespeare’s  medieval witchcraft to Caribbean voodoo. A doll representing Macbeth was manipulated, like a voodoo doll, implying that his actions were a result of a spell being cast on him, rather than a result of choices he made. A current Broadway production of Macbeth starring Alan Cumming is set in a psychiatric institution and features an eerie baby doll prop. Macbeth’s interactions with this doll highlight his disturbed mental state. It also spotlights Macbeth’s ambition to seize his future, his unbounded murderous anxiety toward retaining the crown and possibly his impotence or his lack of an heir as well.


Though not necessarily an obvious choice of object or one discussed in the text, the ideas that dolls represent speak clearly to many of Shakespeare’s themes in the play and help us to think about Macbeth’s motivations.

  • Liski

    Some of Shakespeare’s characters, such as Macbeth, remind me…Star Wars. I think you understand what character I mean. A very tragic character. Fatal fall. Difficult motives…

A freely available online exhibition exploring keys aspects of the music in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as music inspired by Shakespeare.