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Thread: Macbeth

  1. #1
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    Macbeth

    In honor of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, let us now discuss one of his greatest plays - The Tragedy of Macbeth, or the Scottish play. While many argue that Hamlet or King Lear is the greatest of the "great tragedies," there are also those who could argue for Macbeth. Harold Bloom, who considers Hamlet the grandest of Shakespeare's plays, sees Macbeth as his personal favorite of the plays.
    I have read three of Shakespeare's plays - Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet - and I would say that Macbeth is my own personal favorite as well. I love how it adopts from the events and trends of the time - the Gunpowder Plot, the craze over witches, and others - and adopts it into a sumptuous, ferocious, and compact play full of phantasmic visions, a style that is varied and full of blood, allusiveness, and fantastic experiments and combinations with language, a character that is an ultimate terminator who yet has a soul (the only tragic hero of the four tragedies who is damned), and the opacity it has, even in its generally victorious ending.

    As for the experimental language I mentioned, see this example: "Was the hope drunk/Wherein you dress'd yourself? Hath it slept since?" (I.vii.35-38). And another: "Besides, this Duncan/Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been/So clear in his great office, that his virtues/Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongu'd, against/The deep damnation of his taking off; And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin, hors'd/Upon the sightless couriers of the air,/Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye/That tears shall drown the wind." (I.vii.16-25) The metaphors seem as if they dart off one another, moving from one to another. That's a sign of the fierce rapidity of the play's spirit, of the darkness that gives the play its preternatural power. Truly, language like this makes Macbeth feel less like a proto-modern play like Hamlet and more of a pre-natural, pagan-Christian story. Plus, the strangeness of the language, compared to others of Shakespeare's play, adds to the strangeness of the play.

    It may seem "simplistic" compared to Hamlet, considering that Macbeth is more explicitly Christian and moral than the other tragedies of Shakespeare. Yet Macbeth has its own moral complexity, and I like how it mixes a certainty about morality with questions and opacity. I like that mixture, and I feel that, as it is shown in scenes relating to Macbeth's murder of Duncan, the visions that Macbeth receives, and the events of the play, this mixture is effective to the feel of the play.
    So, in our honoring of Shakespeare's 400th anniversary, let us not forget this great tragedy, and let us appreciate its unique virtues, even as arguably greater tragedies such as Hamlet and King Lear stand in its company.

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    Registered User fajfall's Avatar
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    Thanks for taking the time to write that post. Reading other people's thoughts on Shakespeare augments my own comprehension and appreciation of his work. Macbeth is the first Shakespeare work I read and I've been following Shakespeare from then on.

    The quote that for some reason hooked me was "Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow/ Raze out the written troubles of the brain".

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    I thought Macbeth was written just after James I became King of England (he was already king of Scotland), before the Gunpowder Plot, but google says no one knows exactly when it was written. The play greased up the new King, partly because it was set in Scotland, partly because King James was supposedly descended from Banquo, and partly because King James had a great interest in witchcraft. Ingratiating yourself with the new king is a good idea if you do not want to be closed down to tried for treason. Btw, I like the phrase used to describe King James: the wisest fool in Christendom. I don't know who said it, presumably someone very brave, or living in another country.

    I studied Macbeth at school for my O level when I was sixteen. Few schoolboys are fans of Shakespeare, and I was not an exception. Later I watched Macbeth with a works outing. I was the only chap in the minibus, probably something to do with Sean Bean playing the lead, which made Macbeth sound like he came from the north of England somewhere rather than Scotland. I wanted to see if I liked it any more, but I didn't. I have also watched the Roman Polanski film on DVD, which I can see is a pretty good film, but Shakespeare does not seem to do it for me. Sometimes Shakespeare plays are acted outside in parks or in ruined castles or abbeys. That can be quite enjoyable so long as the weather is fine.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    “It has not been so easy to resolve the question of Macbeth's motivation. Robert Bridges, for instance, perceived a paradox: a character able to express such convincing horror before Duncan's murder would likely be incapable of committing the crime. For many critics, Macbeth's motivations in the first act appear vague and insufficient.”

    I'm in full agreement with Bridges regarding the inadequacy of the usual motivations (ambition, love for Lady Macbeth) ascribed to Macbeth by the critics. Ultimately, this is both a domestic tragedy as well as his usual exploration of why the central tragic figure is unfit to be king, and I suggest that Macbeth acquiesces to Lady Macbeth's pressure out of the unspoken recognition on both their parts that Macbeth is sterile and cannot father a child. And before you all go 'ape' at the suggestion, consider Macbeth's obsession with dynasty, his hallucinations of Banquo's line of decendants, his pointless slaughter of Macduff's family, his "It is a tale told by and idiot..." response to his wife's suicide, and, finally, the irony of his death at the hands of a man who was not birthed. By the way, Key67, he would not have dared to write or present this play while Elizabeth was still alive - the issue (pun intended) of a childless monarch would have been too sensitive a reminder of herself and her daddy; and most likely would have guaranteed the Bard a home in the tower, if not worse.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ajvenigalla View Post
    In honor of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death, let us now discuss one of his greatest plays - The Tragedy of Macbeth, or the Scottish play. While many argue that Hamlet or King Lear is the greatest of the "great tragedies," there are also those who could argue for Macbeth. Harold Bloom, who considers Hamlet the grandest of Shakespeare's plays, sees Macbeth as his personal favorite of the plays.
    I have read three of Shakespeare's plays - Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet - and I would say that Macbeth is my own personal favorite as well. I love how it adopts from the events and trends of the time - the Gunpowder Plot, the craze over witches, and others - and adopts it into a sumptuous, ferocious, and compact play full of phantasmic visions, a style that is varied and full of blood, allusiveness, and fantastic experiments and combinations with language, a character that is an ultimate terminator who yet has a soul (the only tragic hero of the four tragedies who is damned), and the opacity it has, even in its generally victorious ending.

    As for the experimental language I mentioned, see this example: "Was the hope drunk/Wherein you dress'd yourself? Hath it slept since?" (I.vii.35-38). And another: "Besides, this Duncan/Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been/So clear in his great office, that his virtues/Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongu'd, against/The deep damnation of his taking off; And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin, hors'd/Upon the sightless couriers of the air,/Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye/That tears shall drown the wind." (I.vii.16-25) The metaphors seem as if they dart off one another, moving from one to another. That's a sign of the fierce rapidity of the play's spirit, of the darkness that gives the play its preternatural power. Truly, language like this makes Macbeth feel less like a proto-modern play like Hamlet and more of a pre-natural, pagan-Christian story. Plus, the strangeness of the language, compared to others of Shakespeare's play, adds to the strangeness of the play.

    It may seem "simplistic" compared to Hamlet, considering that Macbeth is more explicitly Christian and moral than the other tragedies of Shakespeare. Yet Macbeth has its own moral complexity, and I like how it mixes a certainty about morality with questions and opacity. I like that mixture, and I feel that, as it is shown in scenes relating to Macbeth's murder of Duncan, the visions that Macbeth receives, and the events of the play, this mixture is effective to the feel of the play.
    So, in our honoring of Shakespeare's 400th anniversary, let us not forget this great tragedy, and let us appreciate its unique virtues, even as arguably greater tragedies such as Hamlet and King Lear stand in its company.
    Thank you very much for your post. I really enjoyed it. Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play, so far. In fact, I'm reading it again for the third time now. I'm at the point when Lady Macbeth criticizes Macbeth for feeling guilty after killing Duncan. I simply love this play.

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    Now, I think King Lear is replacing Macbeth as my favorite Shakespeare. Even so, Macbeth retains its morality-tale primal kick of near-pure blackness that's quite unmatched, except for the darkest moments of King Lear.

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    Quote Originally Posted by S.K. BYK View Post
    “It has not been so easy to resolve the question of Macbeth's motivation. Robert Bridges, for instance, perceived a paradox: a character able to express such convincing horror before Duncan's murder would likely be incapable of committing the crime. For many critics, Macbeth's motivations in the first act appear vague and insufficient.”

    I'm in full agreement with Bridges regarding the inadequacy of the usual motivations (ambition, love for Lady Macbeth) ascribed to Macbeth by the critics. Ultimately, this is both a domestic tragedy as well as his usual exploration of why the central tragic figure is unfit to be king, and I suggest that Macbeth acquiesces to Lady Macbeth's pressure out of the unspoken recognition on both their parts that Macbeth is sterile and cannot father a child. And before you all go 'ape' at the suggestion, consider Macbeth's obsession with dynasty, his hallucinations of Banquo's line of decendants, his pointless slaughter of Macduff's family, his "It is a tale told by and idiot..." response to his wife's suicide, and, finally, the irony of his death at the hands of a man who was not birthed. By the way, Key67, he would not have dared to write or present this play while Elizabeth was still alive - the issue (pun intended) of a childless monarch would have been too sensitive a reminder of herself and her daddy; and most likely would have guaranteed the Bard a home in the tower, if not worse.
    Your post prompts me to ask you, and others, something I have often wondered. I sometimes see details claimed for Shakespearean characters that I am not aware of from the text, and wonder how the writer could know that back story.

    What you say about Macbeth's sterility is a case in point. We know that Lady Macbeth has children, where does the idea of Macbeth's sterility originate?
    Last edited by spikepipsqueak; 05-17-2016 at 09:13 AM.

  8. #8
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    This link on Shakespeares sources might be of interest:
    http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sources/
    Last edited by Danik 2016; 05-17-2016 at 03:16 PM.
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    I don't have a favourite Shakespeare play - it would probably be Antony and Cleopatra - but Macbeth (or the Scottish play, as it was traditionally called by British actors who believed it to be unlucky to name it in a theatre) is full of wonderful quotes and phrases - Light thickens, all our yesterdays, who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him, is this a dagger?, making the green one red, unsex me here, when shall we three meet again, remember the porter and on and on.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User prendrelemick's Avatar
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    For a paranormal explanation of Macbeth's motivation you could look at Ted Hughes' "Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being." Glamis, Cawdor, the Boar from Venus and Adonis, The Virgin Queen Elizabeth - They're all in there.

    Put simply, Glamis (good) becomes Cawdor (evil) in more than just Title. He is slowly taken over by the same malevolent spirit (The Boar from V&A) that had possesed Cawdor. (Notice how it has left Cawdor at his execution.) It sounds strange, but it explains Macbeth's split personality and his struggles of conscience before he becomes totally lost to evil. It all made sense when I read it 15 years ago, and can be surprisingly well supported with quotes from the play.
    Last edited by prendrelemick; 05-18-2016 at 09:49 AM.
    ay up

  11. #11
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Some more on the background of Macbeth and how it was changed in the play:
    http://www.theatrehistory.com/britis...f_macbeth.html
    http://bloggingshakespeare.com/shake...ources-macbeth
    Last edited by Danik 2016; 05-18-2016 at 12:11 PM.
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