Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Rod Blagojevich, right, talks to his wife, Patti, as he departs their Chicago home.

Ruth Madoff and Patti Blagojevich: Modern-Day Lady Macbeths?

March 06, 2009 01:25 PM
by Anne Szustek
Pundits have compared both Ruth Madoff and Patti Blagojevich with Shakespeare’s scheming Scots noblewoman.

How Much Did Ruth Madoff Know?

As investigations continue into Bernie Madoff’s alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, the assets of his wife, Ruth Madoff, have also come under scrutiny. Her lawyer argues that $70 million in assets held under Ruth Madoff’s name are separate from that of her husband and are unrelated to the alleged Ponzi scheme. Ruth Madoff has not been charged with any crime; however, questions remain as to the source of her wealth.

“Where does Mrs. Madoff get the millions of dollars from? Mrs. Madoff was not known as the genius on Wall Street independently,” Michael Shapiro, a partner at New York law firm Carter, Ledyard and Milburn LLP, wondered in a Reuters article. The firm is representing some former Madoff clients.

If the courts implicate Mrs. Madoff’s assets in the alleged Ponzi scheme, they, as well as the couple’s Upper East Side apartment, which is in Ruth Madoff’s name, could be subject to seizure by federal authorities.

How much did Ruth Madoff know about what her husband was doing? Some have speculated that she was actively involved in the alleged scheme, taking the role of a modern-day Lady Macbeth.

The Big Money, an online magazine run by Slate, introduced an update of the Madoff scandal with, “In the theater of Bernie, Ruth Madoff is either an Ophelia, a Lady Macbeth, or someone in between.” A commenter on The New York Times’ DealBook blog made a mocking rhymed comment about Ruth Madoff’s ghostwritten kosher cookbook: “Of Cookbooks, the Lady MacBeth … Cooking maven? A shibboleth!”

Patti Blagojevich: The Power Behind the Throne?

Meanwhile, Illinois media has claimed their own Lady Macbeth: former Illinois first lady Patricia Blagojevich.

A day after her husband, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was arrested in connection with accusations that he was effectively trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama, mainstream media reported that court documents implicated Patti Blagojevich in the scheme. The Chicago Tribune compared her to Shakespeare’s brutally ambitious Scots noblewoman who goaded her husband to regicide, alleging that Mrs. Blagojevich “plotted against her husband's perceived enemies.” The Times of London also drew parallels between Patti Blagojevich and Lady Macbeth, citing transcripts of phone conversations in which she told “her husband, in the coarsest terms, what to do.”

Since her husband was ousted from office on Jan. 29, Patti Blagojevich has been issued a federal subpoena for documents related to charges filed against her husband. Patti Blagojevich has reportedly been cooperative.

In the Shakespeare play, the Macbeths’ ambitions eventually unraveled their relationship. Modern-day observers believe that the Blagojevich marriage will remain intact. “I think they're close as a couple and obviously have a lot of things in common,” Raymond Pijon, Patti Blagojevich’s lawyer, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Meanwhile, Patti Blagojevich’s family reject the comparisons to Lady Macbeth, saying that she has been caught in a “pressure cooker” and her expletive-laden phone conversations are not representative of her character as a whole.

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Background: Bernie Madoff and Rod Blagojevich

Bernie Madoff is facing a securities fraud charge for an alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme at his investment firm, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities.

On Jan. 29, the Illinois state Senate voted unanimously to remove Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office, forever banning him from politics in the state. The lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, took over as governor of Illinois.

Among various corruption allegations, the governor of Illinois was accused of soliciting bribes of as much as $1 million in exchange for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by President Barack Obama. Blagojevich also allegedly desired, in exchange for a preferential Senate appointment, a cabinet post or a post as an ambassador and six-figure salaried corporate board positions for his wife.

Historical Context: Other “leading” wives through history

Across the world, several other past and present first ladies have been dubbed “Lady Macbeth” for their apparent ability to influence government and their extensive use of national funds for personal purchases. At the bottom of in a 2006 retrospective on Eva Braun, The Independent lists four such women: Imelda Marcos, Elena Ceauçescu, Chairman Mao’s fourth wife and Grace Mugabe.

Reference: Guides to Shakespeare, high school literature

Related Topic: Why Political Wives Stand by Their Men

Many wives have stood by their scandal-tainted politician husbands, at least during the first wave of allegations. The list includes the spouses of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey and, of course, former President Bill Clinton.

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