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The Scottish play. The bloody play. How's about the bloody good play? This is one of my favourite of Shakey's plays and thankfully studying it hasn't ruined that.

 

An encounter with three 'weird sisters' (think 'weird' as in fate or destiny rather than odd) sets Macbeth on a murderous path. They prophesise that he will become the Thane of Cawdor then more and that no man born of woman will be able to stop him reaching his 'vaulting ambitions'. When the first prophesy comes true, not of Macbeth's doing, he and his wife collude (the balance of power in this marriage is open to interpretation), in events that decimate the line to the throne, leaving the way open for him to seize the crown. But to be safely 'thus' his machinations don't end there.

 

I think this play has always been a favourite of mine because I am naturally drawn to the more violent and macabre aspects of story-telling, but I never really appreciated quite how torn Macbeth was till re-reading now. The balance of holding sympathy and horrifying the reader/audience is quite a complex and satisfying achievement.

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Crikey Hazel you are fair rattling through 'em at quite a pace...

 

I love this play, one of my favourites also, and one for which my enthusiasm has not been dampened despite teaching it at GCSE more times than I care to count. It actually gets better with each reading, I love the idea of the natural order being disturbed by the upsetting of the Chain of Being. And Lady Macbeth - one of Shakespeare's best.

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Crikey Hazel you are fair rattling through 'em at quite a pace...

 

It's supposed to be one every 2 weeks, so 2 weeks study per book, but I have been working ahead so that come the Easter break I can do stuff with the kids. But, yes, and I am exhausted!
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Lke gg106 I've taught this many times and I entirely agree - it only gets better! Shorter than the other 'big' tragedies it may not have quite such philosophical depth as a Hamlet or Lear, but it packs a huge punch and I think provides the more dramatically compelling journey for the audience.

 

The character of Macbeth is fascinating. All Shakespeare's tragic protagonists suffer from the 'vicious mole of nature' that Hamlet ponders (always makes me think of an unlikely premise for a horror movie, that expression...) but Macbeth is particularly interesting in that his actions are the most heinous. Othello murders his wife but at least we can say he did so believing her to be adulterous; Macbeth commits his murders (including children) in simple 'vaulting ambition'. Yet as Hazel says there is a part of us that empathises with him and we are never totally alienated from him, though frequently appalled. It's this personal journey that is so brilliantly portrayed.

 

I also love the relationship with Lady Macbeth and the exploration of the old adage about what's behind every powerful man. Her manipulation of him is marvellous, as well as her inability to understand her own human weaknesses and the fact that remorse cannot be washed away with the blood.

 

There are a few weaknesses - the solution to the business of man not born of woman is a bit strained and there's the famous ambiguity over wheher Lady Macbeth had any children or not. But then this is a play that does appear to have suffered more than most Shakespeares from corruption.

 

Fantastic play, though prone to the occasional dodgy production. I remember one where the witches sat and delivered their lines as if they were on a bus. Very strange.

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Their Macbeth set in space is still talked about.

I'll bet! :D

 

Still, Macduff does say at one point:

 

"I would not be the villain that thou think'st

For the whole space that's in the tyrant's grasp"

 

So I'm sure that was an entirely valid reading...

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There are a few weaknesses - the solution to the business of man not born of woman is a bit strained

How do you mean?

 

 

and there's the famous ambiguity over wheher Lady Macbeth had any children or not.
I thought the controversy was more, how many children did she have rather than if she had any?
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The Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow had a run of wierd Shakespeare productions in the 80s. Their Macbeth set in space is still talked about.
I saw a Glaswegian Romeo and Juliet and the party was a ned-style rave/barbeque. :rolleyes:
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I saw a Glaswegian Romeo and Juliet and the party was a ned-style rave/barbeque. :rolleyes:

 

Strangely enough, I've just been doing "gangs" as a personal and social education topic with my S4. Their booklet claimed gangs were "invented" in New York in 1840 - my pupils knew different, having read R+J!

But we digress from Macbeth. My sister saw the Mark McManus Macbeth at the Citz. (He of Taggart). She found it quite ridiculous, and we improvised our own Glaswegian Macbeth. We still giggle over our classic line, "Haw mister, yer missus is deid." Family joke.

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How do you mean?

Well, if you had a caesarean section would you say you hadn't given birth to your child? It's very much splitting hairs, isn't it? And, of course, I know that's the point of the riddling prohecies but I feel the moving wood is a better twist.

 

I thought the controversy was more, how many children did she have rather than if she had any?

Well, there are various bits that seem to be slightly at odds at least. Lady M says she's given suck and would have smashed the baby's brains out. At another point, though, Macbeth says "bring forth men-children only", which sounds as though she hasn't given birth yet; he of course notes he has no heir (though of course a child could have died); and there's something else I can't think of at the moment! I'll have to have a look.

 

Anyway, it's all just a little fragmentary and feels like an aspect of an unedited draft which hasn't been smoothed out.

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and there's something else I can't think of at the moment! I'll have to have a look.

I'm not sure it's what I was thinking of but flicking through I was reminded Macbeth says:

 

Upon my head they plac'd a fruitless crown,

And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,

which suggests no children as opposed to a child that died.

 

I've read the idea certainly that Lady M had children in a previous marriage, which could explain it.

 

EDIT:

 

Just to add that I make a point of it simply because the issue is such an important one. Obviously having children is crucial in Macbeth's considerations about being king and having heirs, as if he's being mocked by the line of descent he's shown from Banquo. In days of yore having a male heir was of paramount importance in order to continue the line. Fleance lives on after Banquo is killed; Malcolm lives on to be part of the vengeance for his father's murder; Macbeth has Macduff's children killed: children have great significance in the scheme of the play.

 

Also, it is very much wrapped up with manhood. Lady M taunts him about his masculinity - it's one of the ways she gets round him and persuades him to commit the murder - and if you think you're firing blanks then that will affect your self-esteem: a fundamental part of the weak minset that leads him down the unfortunate route he takes. So to that end it's one of those questions that really ought to be clearer.

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Well, if you had a caesarean section would you say you hadn't given birth to your child? It's very much splitting hairs, isn't it?
It is, but from a female's point of view it can be viewed differently. I think I have said before on the thread on Little Face by Sophie Hannah, that I had very conflicting feelings when I had my first son by caesarean. And even now if someone mentions that I 'gave birth', I always correct them and say I had a section. Now, this is modern times. I wonder what the implications or culture of thought was about caesarean babies in the 16th C.
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I've read the idea certainly that Lady M had children in a previous marriage, which could explain it.

From as I understood the play, yes, Macbeth was childless but I presumed that Lady Macbeth must have had children pre marriage to Macbeth.

 

Obviously having children is crucial in Macbeth's considerations about being king and having heirs, as if he's being mocked by the line of descent he's shown from Banquo. In days of yore having a male heir was of paramount importance in order to continue the line. Fleance lives on after Banquo is killed; Malcolm lives on to be part of the vengeance for his father's murder; Macbeth has Macduff's children killed: children have great significance in the scheme of the play.
Yes, they do, not only in the lines to the throne, but in the apparations that the witches conjure up. Lady Macbeth appears to mock Macbeth from the position of having had children against his not being able to give her them.
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It is, but from a female's point of view it can be viewed differently.

No, I do understand that. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying it doesn't work at all, just that it's one of those, "Ohhh...right" moments, which coming as it does as part of the huge dramatic climax didn't quite hit the note for me.

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I haven't had kids myself, though I can see how it feels different, but I've always felt the "not of woman born" bit felt a bit contrived, and kids always have trouble getting it too. However, I love the bit where "Birnam wood comes to High Dunsinane" - I always think that is Macbeth getting his comeuppance in an almost comic moment!

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IHowever, I love the bit where "Birnam wood comes to High Dunsinane"
I couldn't quite picture that when I was reading the text, but the Polanski film really brought the significance of that to life for me. It's definitely true that the texts, whilst brilliant on their own, were written to be performed.

 

At my tutorial last night (good girl Hazel), we were discussing who we thought the withces sparked the 'vaulting ambition' in - was it Macbeth or really Lady Macbeth?, as she obviously manipulates Macbeth to do nasty deeds, but when she reads the letter from him describing his encounter with the witches, she seizes on the "metaphysical aid" to realise what she has always wanted.

 

But then, if she is the truly evil one - he chose to marry her, so he knew what he was inevitably fated to do, with or without the witches lighting the touchpaper.

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At my tutorial last night (good girl Hazel)...

thumbsup.gif

 

...we were discussing who we thought the withces sparked the 'vaulting ambition' in - was it Macbeth or really Lady Macbeth?

It's one of the fascinating parts of the play, I think. How do you apportion the blame? There's an interesting divide between M & LM, and it shouldn't be forgotten that whilst he had thought of the murder before he saw her, he then decided against it and only went ahead because of her manipulation. Also, of course, there is the blame for the witches themselves, nicely brought out by Polanski in the added scene at the end where they encounter Donalbain and you imagine the process beginning again.

 

Where I also find it psychologically fascinating is where it takes them after that initial decision to do the deed. For LM she progessively buckles under the emotional consequences but for M, as he battles through the initial guilt rather than - like her - suppressing it, he emerges on the other side harder and more ready to fall into further heinous deeds. I love Shakespeare's summing up of this in M's:

 

I am in blood

Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o'er:

 

But then, if she is the truly evil one - he chose to marry her, so he knew what he was inevitably fated to do, with or without the witches lighting the touchpaper.

I'm not sure I go along with that. I think one of the interesting things in the play is the exploration of what can emerge from an individual given a certain set of circumstances. Duncan trusts M totally yet with the right provocation finds he's capable of murdering him. I don't think in marrying LM M would necessarily be aware of what she was capable of, just as he didn't think he was capable of murder himself!

 

I think one of the reasons this play is so remarkable and why it endures in popularity is that we don't just gawp at the evil murderers: there is an element of 'there but for the grace of God go I.' Even if we're sure we'd never do such a thing, who amongst us if told what M was told wouldn't at least think, "All it takes is for Duncan to have an accident and I'll be King!" And that's a step on the route to the position M finds himself in, which is enough to mean all this should be ringing chilling internal bells! ;)

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Also, of course, there is the blame for the witches themselves, nicely brought out by Polanski in the added scene at the end where they encounter Donalbain and you imagine the process beginning again.

I thought that was a really neat twist/ending, very clever indeed, and Polanski said on the OU DVD, that he did that because he wanted to stress the institutional pressures that begot violence. That Macbeth's experience wasn't just a one-off but a blip in history where things like this happen all the time due to socio-political circumstances.

 

An interesting sidebar; the scene where the murders go to the Macduff castle and enter the room where Lady Macduff and son are, when they knock stuff off the walls and toy with their possessions to taunt them, well, Polanski said that he based that on his childhood. German soldiers came to his ghetto looking for contraband among other things, and when they went into his room that he was sharing with his family, they intimidated the family by knocking stuff off the shelves, throwing their meagre possessions around and one soldier took Polanski's teddy bear. Polanski said it was this feeling of fear, intimidation and humilation that he wanted to transfer to that scene.

 

For LM she progessively buckles under the emotional consequences but for M, as he battles through the initial guilt rather than - like her - suppressing it, he emerges on the other side harder and more ready to fall into further heinous deeds.
Absolutely, you really see that he has gone well beyond what she wanted him to be, when she asks him what he is discussing and he basically says 'mind your own business, dear "chuck"'. At this point he is way beyond the moralistic Macbeth of earlier. Even his reaction to her death is almost an anti-reaction.

 

Duncan trusts M totally yet with the right provocation finds he's capable of murdering him.
Just as he trusted Cawdor too - silly man.

 

I think one of the reasons this play is so remarkable and why it endures in popularity is that we don't just gawp at the evil murderers: there is an element of 'there but for the grace of God go I.' Even if we're sure we'd never do such a thing, who amongst us if told what M was told wouldn't at least think, "All it takes is for Duncan to have an accident and I'll be King!" And that's a step on the route to the position M finds himself in, which is enough to mean all this should be ringing chilling internal bells! ;)
The tutor said the very same last night - that we should all recognise a little of Macbeth in ourselves, and if power and position were so attainable by one evil deed - who of us wouldnt do it? Chilling thought!
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That Macbeth's experience wasn't just a one-off but a blip in history where things like this happen all the time due to socio-political circumstances.

Yes, I think that's spot on. Obviously Macbeth is usually slotted neatly in to the 'Tragedy' category, but there's much there that also drifts into the anatomisation of the world of politics and power, more often associated with the likes of the Roman plays.

 

An interesting sidebar...

That's really interesting! This is why I enjoy the extras and directors' commentaries on DVDs (although they're wildly variable! ;) )

 

'mind your own business, dear "chuck"'.

Now that's an interesting moment, when he refuses to tell her what he's up to. Do you think he is genuinely trying to protect her? After all, he has already been tortured by the guilt of his deed. Or has he just slipped into the role of autonomous tyrant and enjoys the dominance he lacked before?

 

we should all recognise a little of Macbeth in ourselves

I think that's one of Shakespeare's great talents - he retains the human with which we can identify even in the most extreme characters. There is always something we can latch onto and feel unnerved by its connection to ourselves, but I think Macbeth is perhaps the greatest example of this.

 

Perhaps the only character where that's not true is Iago. But that's a discussion for another day, eh? ;)

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Now that's an interesting moment, when he refuses to tell her what he's up to. Do you think he is genuinely trying to protect her? After all, he has already been tortured by the guilt of his deed. Or has he just slipped into the role of autonomous tyrant and enjoys the dominance he lacked before?

I think interpretation of that line/scene, comes down to performance and how a particular director plays it. Either he is protecting her further in which ycase you would expect non-verbal elements of the performance to show an intimacy or caring side to the line, or he is being patronising, which might fall in with the traditional domestic role of women, and he is just simply keeping her at arm's length from business. But that doesn't fit really with the intimacy and shared power that we have seen previous. My preferred interpretation is that he has simply gone beyond the realms of doubtful evil. He is so far past that which she stirred in him, and he is now cold to morality.

 

I think that's one of Shakespeare's great talents - he retains the human with which we can identify even in the most extreme characters. There is always something we can latch onto and feel unnerved by its connection to ourselves, but I think Macbeth is perhaps the greatest example of this.

Very true, and that the audience keeps with him, even pitying him toward the end, in the face is such deeds and brutality is a remarkable feat.

 

Perhaps the only character where that's not true is Iago. But that's a discussion for another day, eh? ;)
Alas, Othello will be on ice till this term is done and dusted then. He doesn't pop up in this term as he was dealt with in Year 2.
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...My preferred interpretation is that he has simply gone beyond the realms of doubtful evil. He is so far past that which she stirred in him, and he is now cold to morality.

Well that would certainly fit. It is, of course, a very cool response to the news of her death - "She should have died hereafter": not entirely the grief-stricken husband! As he notes, he's lost his emotions amongst these terrible deed, so perhaps this is a place where that has some of its roots.

 

I must admit, I prefer to see it as a vestige of tenderness at that point, a human balance against the extremes he is exhibiting in other areas of his life. But you're right - ultimately a huge weight hangs on the interpretation of performance.

 

Alas, Othello will be on ice till this term is done and dusted then. He doesn't pop up in this term as he was dealt with in Year 2.

Ah, perhaps we'd better start a thread, then?! ;)

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Well, if you had a caesarean section would you say you hadn't given birth to your child? It's very much splitting hairs, isn't it? And, of course, I know that's the point of the riddling prohecies but I feel the moving wood is a better twist.

At the risk of splitting hairs even further, I would say that a C section is not giving birth. It is a procedure used as an alternative to giving birth. However, a baby is born whether delivered by C section or in the traditional way. Thus, I'd argue that the prophecy as stated - "not of woman born" is wrong, but could have been right is worded as "not given birth by his mother" or something. I can imagine all the luvvies stood around in tghe rehearsal room saying - but Will, dear, I simply can't say that - with Will replying - well find something else that scans, then...

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I would say that a C section is not giving birth. It is a procedure used as an alternative to giving birth...

Yes, that's a fair quibble! ;)

 

I think I was trying to find a formula of words from today that equated with what I think contemporaries would have understood by 'of woman born'.

 

If only after Macduff's revelation Macbeth had put his hands on his hips in a hissy fit and said, "Oh well now hang on just one damned minute! Not of woman born?!!"

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