Thursday, July 5, 2012

Shakespeare Study: The Tragedy Of Macbeth (Part 1: Books)

This is the third year of my Shakespeare study. I read one play each month, and then watch as many film versions as I can get my hands on, and read as many books about the play as I'm able. June, 2012 was The Tragedy Of Macbeth. This blog entry has short blurbs about the books I read this month.  A separate blog entry will contain the film reviews.

Related Books:

- Macbeth edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom  -  This is a volume in the Major Literary Characters series, and includes critical essays by A.C. Bradley, Elizabeth Nielsen, Carolyn Asp and several others, as well as shorter bits by Samuel Johnson, Victor Hugo, Sigmund Freud and James L. Calderwood, among others.  Freud writes, regarding the connection between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, "namely, that the stirrings of fear which arise in Macbeth on the night of the murder, do not develop further in him, but in the Lady. It is he who has the hallucination of the dagger before the deed, but it is she who later succumbs to mental disorder; he, after the murder, hears the cry from the house: 'Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep...', and so 'Macbeth shall sleep no more', but we never hear that King Macbeth could not sleep, while we see that the Queen rises from her bed and betrays her guilt in somnambulistic wanderings" (page 34).  Michael Goldman writes, "What is particularly important is that Macbeth's imagination is a moral imagination. The images it registers most vividly have to do with the moral status of Macbeth's acts and desires. It is especially sensitive to evil, and it confronts Macbeth with vivid and terrible pictures that express the moral repulsiveness of what he is doing" (page 72).  Elizabeth Nielsen writes, "Macbeth ruled Scotland from around 1040 A.D. to 1058 A.D., when he was killed and at which time the law of tanistry, in effect from 843 A.D., ended. The practice of this law meant that no son of a king on the throne could succeed his father immediately; instead, the first ranking adult member of the nearest or junior branch of the family should, by election, succeed the enthroned king, acting, until his own succession, as military leader of all the king's forces (as Macbeth did in the play), and, in turn, that king's successor would be the first ranking adult member of the preceding senior branch of the family. In other words, the line of succession was not direct but alternating and elective between the branches of the 'blood royal.' Now, both Macbeth and the woman who became Lady Macbeth were of the royal family and had claim to the throne through this law" (pages 125-126).  Later in the same essay, she writes, "Macbeth pleads with Macduff to fight with someone else, even explaining the prophecy to Macduff in order to persuade Macduff to desist" (page 130).  Carolyn Asp writes, "When Macbeth appears after the murder she calls him 'my husband,' the only time in the play she addresses him by that familiar title that emphasizes the sexual bond between them. It connotes a certain desired reliance on his strength, indicating that she is not as independent as the stress of her role demands. The staccato rhythm of her speech preceding and just after her husband's entrance betrays an anxiety that not even the wine can mitigate. It is only when she realizes that her husband is losing control that she resumes the dominant role she would much rather he played" (page 204).

- Macbeth  by Richard Andersen; introduction by Joseph Sobran  -  This book is part of the Shakespeare Explained series aimed at children.  And as far as Shakespeare books for children, this one is pretty good.  It gives a bit of background on Shakespeare, then goes through the play, scene by scene, offering a description of each and then an analysis.  Andersen writes, "And why is Banquo planning to go riding with no destination mentioned on the day of the great banquet? Could he be thinking about following Macduff's lead in boycotting the feast and, at the same time, covering himself if he decides to show up after the party is over?" (page 62).  Later he writes, "As for those eight kings lined up 'to the crack of doom,' some of them carry the three balls and two scepters that make up part of the royal insignia of Great Britain. The realization of this prophecy is reinforced by the king who carries the mirror. He not only creates, through its reflection, an infinite number of descendants from Banquo, but he can also reflect in the mirror the image of James I sitting in the audience" (page 70).  And then, "And just to drive home the point of how little influence the witches have had on Macbeth's spiraling descent, Shakespeare has Macbeth commit an act that the sisters are not even aware of: the senseless murder of Macduff's family" (page 85).  Published in 2009.

- Shakespeare And Macbeth: The Story Behind The Play  by Stewart Ross; illustrated by Tony Karpinski and Victor Ambrus; foreword by Kenneth Branagh  -  This book, aimed at children, focuses on the court performance of Macbeth. It also discusses a few of the changes that Shakespeare made to the story from the Holinshed chronicles, and briefly describes The Globe.  Published in 1994.

- William Shakespeare's Macbeth  edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom  -  This volume in the Modern Critical Interpretations series includes critical essays by Harold C. Goddard, L.C. Knights, Maynard Mack Jr., Howard Felperin, Harry Levin and Robert N. Watson.  About the knocking scene, Harold C. Goddard writes, "At such performances of the play at least as I remember, the knocking is heard from the first as a clearly audible noise. This is an obvious mistake. What Macbeth hears is not Macduff and Lennox trying to awaken the Porter, but all the powers of hell and heaven knocking simultaneously at his heart. If the auditor is to feel it with Macbeth, he must hear it with him. His ear and heart, that is, must detect it before his mind. He must hear the sound in Macbeth's listening attitude, in the awe on his face, before the physical sound reaches his ear. He, like Macbeth, must be in doubt as to whether he has heard or only imagined" (pages 19-20).  He later writes, "Does Lady Macbeth faint, or only pretend to faint, following the discovery of the murder? The point has been much debateed. Everything she says or does in this scene is necessarily pretense. She is compelled by the situation to ape the symptoms of fear. But the acting by her body of an assumed fear is the surest way of opening a channel to the genuine fear she is trying to hide" (page 20).  Later in the same essay Goddard discusses the idea of Macbeth being the Third Murderer. One of the points he brings up is, "The Third Murderer's next speech is his longest. To the First Murderer's 'His horses go about,' he replies: 'Almost a mile; but he does usually -- /So all men do -- from hence to th' palace gate/Make it their walk.' Dashes, in place of the more usual commas, help bring out what is plainly a slip of the tongue on the Third Murderer's part. He has begun to reveal what in the circumstances is a suspicious familiarity with Banquo's habits, when, realizing his mistake, he hurriedly tries to cover it with his plainly parenthetical 'so all men do' an his consequently necessary substitution of 'their' for 'his.'" (page 25).  He also points out that "He is the first to recognize Banquo" (page 25) and "The Third Murderer is more perturbed than the others at the escape of Fleance" (page 25).  In relation to the Porter's scene (and specifically his line "I pray you remember the porter"), Howard Feperin writes, "That other play, which Wickham advances as Shakespeare's 'model for the particular form in which he chose to cast act 2, scene 3, of Macbeth, and possibly for the play as a whole,' is The Harrowing Of Hell in the medieval English mystery cycles...Between his crucifixion and resurrection, Christ comes to hell (represented as a castle on the medieval stage) and demands of Lucifer the release of the souls of the prophets and patriarchs. In all versions, the arrival of Christ is heralded by strange noises in the air and thunderous knocking at the castle gates. In the York and Towneley plays, the gate of hell has a porter appropriately named Rybald, a comic devil who breaks the news to Beelzebub of Christ's arrival and questions David and Christ himself as to his identity... the cyclic play of the Harrowing of Hell would have been easily evoked by the business of Macbeth, 2.3, in the minds of many in Shakespeare's audience who still remembered the porter. Moreover, the memory of the old play would strongly foreshadow the outcome of Macbeth as well, since Christ's entry into and deliverance of the castle of hell also looks forward to Macduff's second entry into Macbeth's castle and triumph over the demonic Macbeth at the end of the play" (pages 93-94).  About the end of the play, Howard Felperin writes, "Yet the scene is also an eerie and unsettling repetition of an earlier scene in the play. For Malcolm's language and gestures cannot help but recall those of Duncan after the victory over Cawdor and Macdonwald, a new era of freedom and love that proved only too fragile and temporary, anything but an apocalyptic triumph of good over evil" (page 105).  About Lady Macbeth, Robert N. Watson writes, "Her plea that the spirits 'unsex me,' according to a recent study, contains a specific request that her menstrual cycle be intermitted: 'Make thick my blood,/Stop up th' access and passage to remorse,/That no compunctious visitings of nature/Shake my fell purpose'" (page 154).  Published in 1987.

- Macbeth: A Guide  by Alistair McCallum  -  This is a volume in The Shakespeare Handbooks series. McCallum goes through the entire play, scene by scene, and also offers bits of other information here and there, as well as short passages on the play by other authors.  Regarding the Porter and the bit about "equivocation," McCallum offers this: "The Gunpowder Plot - the unsuccessful attempt to blow up King James I and Parliament, prevented at the last minute on November 5th, 1605 - was at the forefront of the public mind at the time of Macbeth. The religious activist on his way to Hell is almost certainly a topical reference to Father Garnet, an English Jesuit priest hanged in 1606 for complicity in the plot. At Father Garnet's trial, there had been lengthy argument about the permissibility of 'equivocation,' the use of ambiguous, misleading language in order to avoid outright lying. Most observers were outraged at the defendant's attempts to escape the charge of perjury by claiming the right to equivocate" (page 38).  And regarding the brief moment with the Doctor in the scene with Malcolm and Macduff, McCallum writes, "The 'King's Evil' was the name given to scrofula, a disfiguring disease of the lymph glands in the neck. The belief that the monarch's touch could cure it lasted from the reign of Edward the Confessor until well into the 18th Century. Many scholars believe that the brief episode mentioning King Edward's ability to heal the Evil was inserted specially, as an indirect compliment, for a performance of Macbeth given before King James I in 1606" (page 67).

- A Macbeth Production  by John Masefield  -  In this book, John Masefield offers advice to a hypothetical group of players on the staging of the play. Masefield is one of those who believes that Shakespeare's original text was much longer than the version we have now. He writes, "The text, as it came from him, must have been of a sublime excess, at least seven hundred lines longer than the play preserved to us" (page 8). I'm not sure where he came up with that figure, but he writes, "I suspect that a wonderful scene has gone from the beginning of Act III; to mark the division made by the murder between Macbeth and his Wife, each being ruined by it so differently. One can speculate upon its nature; and upon the reasons for its cutting. Burbage may not have liked it, as being a little too like madness. The appearance of the third murderer to deal with Banquo is a little odd. Then, beyond all doubt, a scene of Macduff has gone. The turning of Macduff against Macbeth is of the utmost importance to the play. Holinshed is clear upon the point; Shakespeare, who is usually sunlight upon his points, is not clear here" (page 16).  Masefield also omits Act III Scene v from this hypothetical production because it is, as he argues, "not by Shakespeare" (page 54).  Masefield makes some interesting points (though adds commas when they are not needed).  Such as, regarding the scene following Duncan's murder, "When they enter the scene, there are shall we say, from three to seven principal followers of Duncan on the stage. Each one of these knows, that Malcolm was named by Duncan, in Act One, Scene Four, as his heir. Not one of them, not even the loyal Banquo, makes any attempt whatsoever to hail him as King, now that Duncan is dead" (page 46). Regarding Macduff and Lady Macduff, he writes, "I do not doubt that in the full draft of the play, he debated with his wife the policy of going and had her full approval. Her outcry against him to Rosse, in the beginning of this scene, is surely to divert suspicion form herself. She knows, very well, the secret, bloody treachery of Macbeth; she knows that spies are everywhere and that Rosse may be one" (pages 56-57). Written in the forties, this book is clearly colored by World War II, as shown by the general tone, but also often in direct mention. For example, "You have lived through a time of atrocious, wholesale slaughterings, when a few criminal lunatics have made their once respected nations like themselves" (page 46).  And, "As your audience, like yourselves, will know something of war, the movements in these scenes must be soldierly" (page 60). Published in 1946.

- There Is Nothing Like A Thane: The Lighter Side Of Macbeth  Compiled and Illustrated by Clive Francis  -  This is a collection of anecdotes about various productions of Macbeth. Early in the book is mentioned the probable first performance, on August 7th, 1606 in Hampton Court, where "The evening started badly anyway when Hal Berridge, the boy playing Lady Macbeth, was taken ill and suddenly died backstage - according to James Aubrey Shakespeare had no choice but to take over the part himself. Thus the curse of Macbeth was born, and with it a whole portfolio of theatrical superstitions, many of which are sitll rigidly obeyed to this very day" (page 8).  Is this true? I've never heard that.  Published in 2001.

- Shakespeare In Performance: Macbeth  by Bernice W. Kliman  -  This book focuses on a few specific performances of Macbeth, both on stage and on screen. In the first chapter, Kliman writes, "Aside from familiarity with the actors, Shakespeare's audience would have had another advantage over modern audiences. At least some among them would have been aware, as few audiences can have been since, of the irony of Macbeth's fear of Banquo's progeny...Those familiar with broadsides of the Stuart Genealogy or with Holinshed's Chronicles would have known that many generations would pass before a descendant of Banquo (Robert Stuart, grandson of King Robert Bruce) was elected to the throne of Scotland in 1371... The audience's knowledge wuld have made ridiculous Macbeth's anxiety about Banquo's heirs who, it seems he imagines, will push him off the throne. The witches do not prophesy a fruitless crown for Macbeth; he simply assumes so" (page 10).  In the chapter on Trevor Nunn's production, Kliman writes, "In the scene of the revelation of Duncan's murder, Shakespeare has left directors with an interpretive crux about Malcolm's and Donalbain's decision to run away (II.iii.121). Unless the thanes immediately treat them with suspicion, their departure is strange. The sole clue that Shakespeare provides is that no one speaks anything comforting and no one hails Malcolm as king, though he had been named heir. Instead, the men are going to convene in the hall as if an election is to take place" (page 108).

- The Tragedy Of Macbeth Part II: The Seed Of Banquo  by Noah Lukeman  -  This is a serious attempt at a sequel to Shakespeare's play, not a parody or anything like that.  It takes place ten years after the events in Macbeth. The child that is hinted at by Lady Macbeth in Macbeth lives and is a grown woman, having never known her parents. Malcolm falls for her, and decides to marry her.  He says she'll be called "Lady Malcolm."  But isn't Malcolm his first name?  Syna, Seyton's daughter, plays a Lady Macbeth-type role, even speaking her lines. She says, "Never shall sun that morrow see!" (page 51), directly quoting Lady Macbeth from Act I Scene v. This sequel contains many direct references to lines from Macbeth.  The Nurse (yes, there is a nurse) says, "I am yet but young in deed" (page 66), echoing Macbeth's "We are yet but young in deed" from Act III Scene iv.  Lukeman even has the witches say, "By the pricking of our thumbs, something wicked this way comes," but they say it to Malcolm, and it's their last line of the scene.  And the scene in fact ends one line later, so it doesn't really make any sense.  Lukeman has the Porter make an appearance, and even the same Doctor.  The Doctor says, "And I, anywhere but here. Farewell, Dunsinane. Your walls I pray to never see again."  Ten years earlier he said, "Were I from Dunsinane away and clear/Profit again should hardly draw me here" (Act V Scene iii). So he's always deciding to leave, I guess.  This play is an interesting attempt and exercise, but is not much more.  Published in 2008.

- Twentieth Century Interpretations Of Macbeth  edited by Terence Hawkes  -  This book is a collection of critical essays on Macbeth. This volume seems to have a lot of critics disputing the work of previous critics, rather than offering their own original thoughts. But still, there are some interesting points.  J. Middleton Murry writes regarding the line "screw your courage to the sticking place," "When you turn the little wooden screw on a violin - in those days it was a lute or viol - to tighten a string, your fingers feel delicately for 'the sticking-place,' where the screw is tight and the string is taut; and you feel for it with a faint and subtle apprehension lest the string should snap. That is Shakespeare's figure and that is what Lady Macbeth has been doing to her soul, and by her example to her husband's" (page 24). Eugene M. Waith writes,, about Lady Macbeth's death, "Here we are confronted by the supreme irony that when she dies, tortured by the conscience she despised, Macbeth is so perfectly hardened, so completely the soldier that she wanted him to be, that he is neither frightened by the 'night-shriek' nor greatly moved by the news of her death" (page 66). R.S. Crane writes, "so that he acts in the end as the Macbeth whose praises we have heard in the second scene of the play. And I would suggest that the cathartic effect of these words and acts is reinforced indirectly, in the representation, by the analogy we can hardly help drawing between his conduct now and the earlier conduct of young Siward, for of Macbeth too it can be said that 'he parted well and paid his score'; the implication of this analogy is surely one of the functions, though not the only one, which the lines about Siward are intended to serve" (page 73). By the way, this may be the worst first sentence for a critical essay ever: "I propose to attempt to illustrate the view that Macbeth may be understood as 'the imitation of an action,' in approximately Aristotle's sense of this phrase" (page 67). It is certainly the weakest, with "propose," "attempt," "the view," "may," "approximately."  Geez, Francis Fergusson, make a bloody statement. Published in 1977.

- Macbeth Did It  by John Patrick  -  This play is a comedy about a community theatre putting on a production of Macbeth. It takes us through auditions, casting, rehearsals, and right up to opening night, focusing on all the problems of putting on community theatre.  There are also a couple of brief references to Hamlet.  The character Jill (the assistant to the theatre director) quotes from that play: "To be or not to be. That is the question."  And then again at the end: "Goodnight, Sweet Prince."  Published in 1972.

- Macbeth  by Ken Hoshine  -  This is a volume in the No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels series.  The illustrations are in black and white, and are pretty good. The problem is that the text is often changed from what Shakespeare wrote, presumably to make it easier for idiots to understand. But what that means is that most of the poetry is removed, and at times that the meaning is lost or changed.  Lines that could have several interpretations end up with only one if the writer rewrites the line.  For example in Act I Scene iii, after being named Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth says, "The greatest is behind."  In this graphic novel, Macbeth says, "And the best part of their prediction is still to come."  In Act I Scene v, Lady Macbeth's "unsex me" is changed to "take away my womanhood."  In Act I Scene vii, Lady Macbeth's line "But screw your courage to the sticking-place,/And we'll not fail" becomes "Just lock your courage to your crossbow, and we can't fail" (page 41), a very strange choice.  Rather than making the choice between "scotched" and "scorched," the line becomes "We have slashed the snake, not killed it" (page 90).  And Macbeth's most famous speech, in this book, becomes, "She shouldn't have died so soon - I should have heard this news some other time! Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow... Our days creep by until the end of time, lighting the way to death like candles leading us to bed. Out, out, brief candle! Life is but a walking shadow, a poor actor that struts and worries during his hour on stage and then is never heard from again. Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of noise and clamor but devoid of meaning" (page 178). Why the fuck would you change those lines?  And besides, choosing one interpretation of those first lines precludes the readers from interpreting it on their own.  Published in 2008.

- The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen's Guild Dramatic Society's Production Of Macbeth  by David McGillivray and Walter Zerlin Jnr.  -  This play is a comedy about an amateur production of Macbeth. It begins just before the play is about to start, and ends just after it, so basically the entire play is people putting on Macbeth. Thus, we get a large amount of the text. But because of odd cuts, it's difficult to see how much the audience is intended to be able to follow the action of the play.  And how familiar with Macbeth does this assume its audience to be? For example after the murder of Duncan, Macbeth says, "This is a sorry sight." Lady Macbeth takes his hand, and then says, "My hands are of your colour." So she gets blood simply from touching his hands, rather than the whole business with the daggers. But is the audience supposed to be aware of the cut?  And should the audience be paying more attention to the silliness in the wings, or to the action of Macbeth? You would think the former, except that they go through the entirety of Macbeth. However, the end of Macbeth comes abruptly, the last line from it being "Lay on, Macduff, And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'" So after seeing so much of Macbeth, to not get the end seems frustrating. The comedy is the usual stuff of missed cues and the like that comes with the territory of amateur productions. No new ground is covered, and it doesn't really lead anywhere.  Published in 1984.

- Nightshriek  by Trisha Ward  -  This is a musical play based on Macbeth, and actually uses a surprising amount of the actual text.  The first scene combines the first two witch scenes, with lines directly from Shakespeare's play.  In this version, Macbeth requests Duncan's presence in his home.  In this adaptation, it's really entirely Lady Macbeth's idea to kill Duncan - Macbeth fights her on it repeatedly.  The dagger appears after Macbeth has killed Duncan, which doesn't really make sense. Lady Macbeth's line, "What, in our house?" is changed to "What, in this place?" - a weaker line. The Murderer does not come to tell Macbeth the outcome, that Banquo is dead, but Fleance escaped. So that makes it seem that Banquo's Ghost is real, since Macbeth doesn't know for sure that he's dead. There's a scene where Macduff tells his wife he has to leave, and Lady Macduff even gets a song (and later a second song with her son).  Oddly, the famous line is changed to "By the pricking of my thumbs something evil this way comes." Why change that one word?  Also odd is that this adaptation includes a reference to Hitler (Macduff sings, "He is like a mini-Hiter"). The sleepwalking scene leads to Lady Macbeth's song, at the end of which she dies. Macbeth's famous "tomorrow" speech is left completely intact, which is great. By the way, the play's title comes from a speech just a bit before the "tomorrow" speech: "The time has been, my senses would have cool'd/To hear a night-shriek" (Act V Scene v). However, that speech is not included in this musical. Published in 1988.

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