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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Charles Darwin: A New Life
John Bowlby
Progress: 392/527 pages
An Introduction to Magnetohydrodynamics
P.A. DAVIDSON, E.J. Hinch, S.H. Davis, Mark J. Ablowitz
Progress: 27/452 pages
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs (The Library of America)
Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 359/700 pages
Plasma physics
R.A. Cairns
Progress: 4/244 pages
Selected Short Stories - Conrad (Wordsworth Classics)
Keith Carabine, Joseph Conrad
Progress: 37/272 pages
A Student's Guide to Lagrangians and Hamiltonians
Patrick Hamill
Progress: 7/180 pages
Complete Poems, 1904-1962
E.E. Cummings
Progress: 108/1102 pages
The Complete Plays and Poems
E.D. Pendry, J.C. Maxwell, Christopher Marlowe
She Stoops to Conquer and Other Comedies (Oxford World's Classics)
Henry Fielding, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith
Progress: 76/448 pages
Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being
Ted Hughes
Progress: 369/517 pages

MacBeth, William Shakespeare

Macbeth (Oxford World's Classics) - Nicholas Brooke, William Shakespeare

There is a commonly used structural/plotting device in drama whereby the nature of the leading characters are elucidated by their varying responses to the same event/temptation/threat. I'm not sufficient a scholar to know if this approach pre-dates Shakespeare but he certainly used it and it has certainly been employed many times since - because it can be very effective.

It's used in Julius Caesar - compare and contrast the conspirators' motivations for assassinating Caesar and it will tell you much about the varied natures of those conspirators.

Here in MacBeth it is used even more prominently - so much so that it is the responses to one act of ambiguous temptation in the first Act that forms the entire action and purpose of the play. Three people are tempted by the prophecies of the Weird Sisters. "Weird" derives a now rare meaning, "fate" from Old English "wyrd", that I am confident Shakespeare was aware of. Think about it; the Fate or Fateful Sisters. Makes perfect and terrifying sense in the context of the play.

So the three people tempted are MacBeth and Banquo, of course, since they were present for the prophecy, and Lady MacBeth, who hears it later from her husband, and stands to gain much, indirectly, if those uncanny sisters speak truth.

I feel that if the basic idea occurred to a contemporary Hollywood scriptwriter today, we'd have the story of virtuous, heroic Banquo, who would die himself whilst killing the usurper, leaving the throne to his son. Shakespeare, however, knew that a flawless hero is actually a fairly boring protagonist and instead relegated him to the secondary but crucial role of person who ignores the temptation but nevertheless reaps the reward offered in the prophecy (if founding a line of kings is any consolation for being murdered on the way to a feast hosted by your former best friend).

More interesting is the morally conflicted man who knows that the quickest way to the throne is also the worst and his ambitious wife who urges him on though she, when it comes to it, cannot do the evil deed herself.

So first we have the contrast between the good man and the bad, then we have the contrast between the initially reluctant man who goes on to commit crime after ever more brutal and heinous crime and the woman that, though she did nothing directly herself, becomes ever more remorseful and unhinged, until she can stand it no longer, her prayer to be "unsexed" having not been answered.

These contrasts reveal the Tragedy of the potentially great and good MacBeth.