Ah, definitely one of my favorite plays, if only for its intense mockability and length. Oh, and should I say “the Scottish play” instead?
I already asked what the hell that was about in this question post, but for the sake of fun, read and feel free to watch that Blackadder segment I linked to regarding Macbeth (about 35 seconds in).
Macbeth refers to an ambitious thane (or landed gentry/head of his clan) named Macbeth who is introduced by King Duncan and other thanes who are talking about his exploits in the most recent fight (seriously, I think most of the “future king” stories Shakespeare writes have this setup). Macbeth shows up with Banquo, another thane, and they meet three witches in the wilderness who essentially tell them that Macbeth will rise high and become king, but Banquo’s family will thrive after.
Several events occur to make them believe the sisters are true, including his ascension to Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth writes to his wife and hurries home to help her prepare for the king’s arrival, where Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to kill the king that night.
When Macbeth becomes king, that’s when everything goes wrong, and the blood really starts to flow.
Most everybody knows this setup, as it is one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s plays, and I don’t want to spoil the whole thing. I found it funny how–like Timon of Athens–there are plenty of ironic moments and complete switcheroos in behavior. The best ironic moment occurs toward the end between MacDuff and Macbeth, which I won’t dare ruin here in case you forgot it or haven’t read it.
I think this play handles prophecy and fate very well. The witches are interesting characters and get more time than I thought they would. I think the scholars have it right in believing Thomas Middleton was the one to pen the witches scenes, because the rhythm and the speech is nothing like the rest of the play. However, it doesn’t distract, and only elaborates the sisters’ weirdness.
When it comes to women in Shakespeare, Lady Macbeth is definitely one of my favorites. She is duplicitous and far more ambitious than Macbeth at the start, and reading her dialogue over the course of the play is fascinating. She’s bold and vicious, mostly to her husband, and is one of those characters that I wish I’d known more about what happened to her at the end of the play.
Overall, this is one of the shorter tragedies, but it packs a helluva punch. Worth a read, and definitely worth seeing on the stage if it ever shows up. At least, I’d love to…
Just remember, don’t say “Macbeth” in the theater…
I’m pretty sure they’d still throw you out for that these days.
One thought on ““Macbeth,” from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare”
ADDENDUM: something just occurred to me–if you’re in the theater to see a production of Macbeth, and you’re in the seat before it begins, and you start talking about the characters…and Macbeth’s name crops up…does that affect the curse, or do you have to specifically refer to Macbeth the Play vs. Macbeth the Character?
I’m wondering if the programs say “That Scottish Play’ and “That Scottish Character” in the theater’s playbill now. Hmm…