Friday, May 25, 2012

Macbeth - William Shakespeare

"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble. "

A Scottish lord named Macbeth has won a great victory for his king, Duncan. On his return he encounters three witches who prophesize that he will be King of Scotland. He demands an explanation as Scotland still has a king in Duncan who is still living but the witches vanish. Macbeth informs his wife of this strange encounter and things quickly spiral out of control. The result is madness, murder and civil war.

"Macbeth" is one of Shakespeare's more well known tragedies. The plot is fast moving and propelled by ambition while characters are trapped by guilt and destiny. The initial catalyst that propels Macbeth on his headlong course isn’t fleshed out as much as I would like as we really only get the description that he’s despatched one of the rebels, Macdonald, in a most gruesome manner to hint at the reasoning for his future decisions. In defeating the rebels, Duncan makes him Thane of Glamis though it should be noted the last Thane was stripped of his title and executed for committing treason. Foreshadowing much? My only real issue with the beginning was I felt I was dumped into the story in medias res. At this point I didn’t know if Duncan was a good king or if Macbeth was a loyal subject and I thought it was strange how quickly and easily Macbeth accepted the idea that he would be king even though the witches offered no explanation to him. What is interesting is the course Macbeth chooses because he decides to make his prophecy come true by going after Duncan. He makes his own destiny while also falling in line with the fate set out for him by the witches. Imagine what would have happened if he hadn’t listened to them? And come to think of it, why did they decide to appear to him in the first place and mess with his head? Was this their idea of joyriding, running roughshod over someone else’s future?

The characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth I found to be the most interesting because they were more evil than everyone else. I always find villains more intriguing than heroes because their motivations are always so widespread and varied. I liked that once reality set in, Macbeth had a crises of conscience about his decision and we saw that Lady Macbeth was the cold fish of the duo. She calls him a coward and she is the one that thinks clearly to keep them from being discovered. I loved that she was the instigator for action against Duncan! She said Macbeth was ”too full o' the milk of human kindness” to commit the act and had to urge him towards it. Even though he told her about the prophecy she is the one that has to drive him to it. It’s not often that we see a strong female villain taking such a central role in a story, especially over a male villain. Some might call the duo tragic anti-heroes but for me, their original actions colour their characters for the rest of the play.

The language as always was gorgeous. My favourite parts were definitely the soliloquies.

Here's one of my favourites from the play:

"Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed - Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day,
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale. Light thickens,
And the crow makes wing to th' rooky wood;
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
Whiles night's black agents to their preys do rouse.
- Thou marvell'st at my words; but hold thee still,
Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill -
So prithee go with me."

It did take forever to actually read the play though because I was so far removed from when the source material was written that the archaic diction and phrases interrupted the flow of the story. I had to keep referring to footnotes and the introduction to understand everything that was going on. This was my first time reading the play in more than ten years now I feel that I understand the plot, who the characters are and the general gist of the language. If you haven’t read Shakespeare before or not in a long time I would suggest reading a version with annotations and then watch one of the many movie versions of the plays. I felt this really helped as I had a good idea of the plot going into the film and then listening to the dialogue and watching the action made everything far more understandable.

I was hoping to see Banquo’s story play out. I liked the parallel prophecies for him and Macbeth but we never get to see his fulfilled it’s never addressed again after Macbeth goes after him. The play ends abruptly and I wondered if this was deliberate or not. In any case, it’s one of Shakespeare’s best and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4/5

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