MACBETH · SHAKESPEARE

FIRE BURN, AND CAULDRON BUBBLE

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According to A.C. Bradley, “[Macbeth’s] inability to understand himself is repeated and exaggerated in the interpretations of actors and critics, who represent him as a coward, cold-blooded, calculating, and pitiless, who shrinks from crime simply because it is dangerous, and suffers afterwards simply because he is not safe. In reality his courage is frightful. He strides from crime to crime, though his soul never ceases to bar his advance with shapes of terror, or to clamor in his ears that he is murdering his peace and casting away his ‘eternal jewel.'”

I think it goes without saying that Macbeth has somewhat of a dual personality – that is, he is very divided. On one hand, he is power hungry and willing to murder. On the other, he feels incredible guilt and worries about what he has done. But I do not necessarily agree with using the word courageous to describe Macbeth. It is not as if he strides from murder to murder because he is fundamentally brave enough to ignore his conscience – he continues to kill because he is easily manipulated, and finds himself in situations where he feels he has no other choices. Courageous is a strong word that Macbeth is not deserving of.

We were asked the following question in class: who has the more flexible and inclusive definition of masculinity? Macbeth, or Lady Macbeth?

The answer is, surprisingly, Macbeth.

MACBETH
We will proceed no further in this business.
He hath honored me of late, and I have bought
Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon.

LADY MACBETH
Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account they love. Art thou afeared
To be the same in thine own act and valor
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,”
Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage?

MACBETH
Prithee, peace.
I dare do all that may become a man.
Who dares do more is none.

LADY MACBETH
What beast was ‘t, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both.
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.

And so on. Although Lady Macbeth does not follow strict gender roles herself, she still has a very clear idea of what makes a man. To Macbeth, backing out of his initial plan to murder Duncan doesn’t compromise his manhood in anyway. But his lack of resolve, and the fact that he’s floundering, is decidedly unmanly to Lady Macbeth. If he were truly a man, he would do as he promised. Macbeth is an awful person, yes, but he does seem to have a more open idea of what makes a man.

Moving on – Macbeth’s first public fit happens in a dining room. He sees the ghost of Banquo sit in his chair. I find this image to be very striking. Although Banquo is the most recently murdered of the bunch, technically, any old ghost could have shown up to harass Macbeth. But the fact that it was Banquo makes this scene very dramatic. It forces Macbeth to finally face what he has done. I mean, he’s murdered Banquo – a man he loved very differently from the way he loved Duncan. Look at what you’ve done, Macbeth! Before, Macbeth would only share his inner turmoil with Lady Macbeth. But with this outburst, everyone else in the room is finally seeing Macbeth’s unhinged behavior.

In the fourth act, Malcolm is very suspicious of Macduff. Poor, stupid Macduff. He leaves his wife and child (for shame!) behind in Scotland, goes to England, and is met with distrust from Malcolm. The argument is that this distrust is healthy – after all, Duncan met a gruesome end because he was far too trusting of Macbeth. Hal also has this distrust in Henry V. It is a form of self-protection, and once Malcolm feels he can trust Macduff, he drops his act.

I have to say, however, that as someone who has never read the play, I thought I was having an out-of-body experience. Malcolm basically says that he won’t be better than Macbeth because he’s greedy and addicted to sex. This had become far too soap opera-like to me, and I was seconds away from howling with laughter. Fortunately, it ended up being a giant act. Nice work, Shakespeare. Fooling me is quite the challenge, but he definitely succeeded. In my defense, why would I believe otherwise about Malcolm? We’d seen very little of him up to this point.

Hilariously, Macduff is pretty sure that sex addiction and greed aren’t nearly as bad as all the awful traits Macbeth has. And maybe they aren’t! Fortunately, Scotland will never have to find out, because Malcolm ends up being a total angel.

As I said before, I do not love this play. The characters are a bit too easy to analyze, and the plot is a little bit nonsensical. It’s really difficult to root for anybody, which makes it difficult for me to enjoy. That’s not to say that it’s been torture trying to get through this! Quite the opposite, I haven’t laughed this much during a play since…well, ever.

Not quite the effect Shakespeare intended, I’m sure.

MACBETH · SHAKESPEARE

LOOK LIKE TH’ INNOCENT FLOWER, BUT BE THE SERPENT UNDER ‘T

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Miami University Department of Theatre

Ah, Macbeth. Loved by high schools worldwide – but not mine. When everybody else was reading this play, I was falling in love with Richard III and Henry IV. No matter, though, because I finally got my chance to start it this past week.

Shakespeare has written plenty of fantastic murderers – Richard III and Iago come to mind. Macbeth, however, is too weak a character to join their ranks.

MACBETH
[Aside.] This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success
Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make seated heart knock at my ribs
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is but what is not.

Macbeth’s language here is very reminiscent of the strange ramblings of the three witches, but what is important is that we see here what Macbeth’s true issue is. Unlike other iconic murderers from Shakespeare, he is very indecisive and undergoes a mental battle just at the thought of murdering Duncan. Although this is the first we hear of his murderous tendencies, Macbeth still comes off a little unhinged here because, well, why would murder even cross your mind? In any case, Macbeth’s constant flip-flopping makes him a shabby murderer, especially when you compare him to Shakespeare’s other bloodthirsty characters.

Unlike her husband, Lady Macbeth presents herself as having a steely exterior. Both she and her husband have ambition, but at this point, only Lady Macbeth seems to have no moral issues with doing what she thinks needs to be done.

LADY MACBETH
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false
And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou’d’st have, great Glamis,
That which cries “Thus thou must do,” if thou have it,
And that which rather thou dost fear to do,
Than wishest should be undone. Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear
And chastise with the valor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have crowned thee withal.

Here, Lady Macbeth feminizes her husband a bit – soon, we’ll realize that this is a habit of hers. She does not believe her husband has what it takes to seize the crown and, to be quite frank, I agree with her. However, she also comes across as unhinged, doesn’t she?

According to my professor, some scholars see Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as being very passionately in love with one another. At this point (mind you, I’m just now starting act four), I think I could safely argue that Macbeth loves his wife. He constantly goes out of his way to prove himself to her, and is very easily manipulated by his words. One could argue that he does this out of love. You could, I suppose, also argue that he does this because he is retaliating to having his buttons pushed – we could take love out of the equation quite easily.

But does Lady Macbeth love her husband? I’m not sure. I think this is one of those things that could depend on the direction of the play. I want to know: what is her body language? What tone of voice does she use when speaking to her husband? Does she chastise him coldly, or in the hushed whispers of a concerned wife only looking out for her husband?

If we read the text plainly, Lady Macbeth does not appear to love her husband at all. As I said, she is power hungry and ambitious – I’m not sure I would describe her as a loving wife by any means.

But who knows? All in all, Macbeth has been a wild experience for me so far. I understand why people find this play intriguing – Macbeth in himself has so many personality traits that are fun to pick apart, from his self-doubting nature to his utter lack of self-control. I will say, however, that although this is not my favorite play of Shakespeare’s, I do think it is a good entry point for those looking to get into his work. The play is relatively easy to follow, the dramatis personae isn’t pages long, and I can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t be drawn in by the promise of murder and guilt tearing characters apart.

Well, except me, I guess.

HENRY IV · HENRY V · RICHARD II · SHAKESPEARE

THE HENRIAD

What is the Henriad? Where did the word “Henriad” come from?
Henry V (Sam Ashdown). Photo by Karl Hugh, 2016. Utah Shakespeare Festival.

As promised, I forced myself to put Henry V back on the shelf. I’ve already started Macbeth – I’m only two acts away from its gruesome close.

But, as expected, I cannot move on from Henry V. This is no surprise, as I’ve always clung to Shakespeare’s histories…like a new-married wife about her husband’s neck. See? I’m even quoting, for heaven’s sake.

I spent most of last night looking for a very specific book that I’m afraid does not exist. I wish I were in a position to spearhead the publication of such a book! Since I am not, and likely never will be, I thought I’d just write the idea out so that it can stop plaguing me.

What I was looking for, specifically, was a nice, large volume containing the entirety of the Henriad. For you Shakespeare hatchlings, the Henriad is the name given to the tetralogy of Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry V. Those four plays in particular, I think, are a real experience if read one after the other. I do not feel this way about the other histories – in fact, I see no reason to have to plod through all the parts of Henry VI just to get to Richard III. But to read Henry V without touching upon the rest of the Henriad is just criminal and can really ruin a reader’s enjoyment of the play.

I was so sure that a collected volume would exist, but it doesn’t. For shame! Of course, in the midst of my disappointment, my imagination began to get carried away with itself. Not only am I dreaming of a volume collecting all four plays, I’m dreaming of a leather-bound volume. The thought of illustrations crossed my mind…before it was swiftly replaced with fantasies of the entire thing being fashioned as an illuminated manuscript. Can you imagine? And, oh, think of all the thoughtful and inspiring essays that could be sprinkled in between the plays. Think of all the history that can be contained in such a publication of the Henriad – does such an amazing tetralogy deserve any less?

The leather of the cover would be embossed with intricate patterns influenced by the art of the time period in question, of course. And the style of the illustrations that accompany the plays do not have to be accurate – who’s to say that there isn’t an artist out there capable of capturing the magical, golden haze of an illuminated manuscript and the beauty of anatomically correct, aesthetically pleasing art?

Any large illustrations would be followed by that lovely, translucent, almost wax-like paper that you sometimes discovered while flipping through especially precious books as a child. Do you know the type? Even if the illustrations didn’t need it, I’d want them in this collection anyway because they always give the distinct feeling that you’re handling something special and fragile.

I guess it’s worth wondering who would be interested in such a volume of the Henriad. Obviously, any Shakespeare lovers or historians out there would fall in love with the idea immediately. But I also think there would be something attractive about it for new readers – I mean, owning a beautiful book won’t make you love Shakespeare any faster, but it does help, doesn’t it?