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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?!!"

That's a performance I would like to see!
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The whole idea of not being of woman born and being 'untimely ripped from his mother's womb' (i love the goryness of that image!!) fits in with the theme of natural vs unnatural that runs through the play, things being out of balance because of the disruption of the Chain of Being. In the time in which the play is set, being ripped from your mother's womb would have been seen as being extremely unnatural, perhaps even tantamount to witchcraft itself. Maybe I'm just gullible but because of this the 'of woman born' bit makes sense to me.

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That's definitely a good point gg106, very interesting. Plus, remember that there was intensive witch trials in Scotland around the time that this play was being written, and James I's had a deep interest and fear of the occult and witches. Many of those 'witches' being persecuted were midwives - so certainly a unnatural birth would have carried great significance, doubly so that the witches spoke of it.

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Woke early this morning and found myself listening to this programme at 05.45. Unfortunately it was the third of four programmes, concentrating this week on the history behind Shakespeare's inclusion of the witches.


Unfortunately time seems to have run out for part one on Listen Again, and I expect part two will be lost to us as soon as this morning's episode is made available.

It would appear that this series was broadcast last summer, too, so maybe it will be repeated again at some point.


I really ought to read The Radio Times more thoroughly, as there are all sorts of little gems I only discover after they have been broadcast :rolleyes:

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The whole idea of not being of woman born and being 'untimely ripped from his mother's womb' fits in with the theme of natural vs unnatural that runs through the play, things being out of balance because of the disruption of the Chain of Being.

Good point.


As far as I've ever been able to find out, a 16th century Caesarian Section was usually only carried out if the mother was dead and this was the only way to save the baby. Maybe this has some bearing on the 'of woman born'.


I consider my 3 Caesarean babies to have been of woman born, but then I was alive at the time - a woman, not a corpse.

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That makes it sound even more plausable, the idea that his mother would have already been dead when he was taken from her and in fact makes a lot of sense. I am not sure that medical science at that time would have been able to perform C Sections as we know them today!!


As to the Lady Macbeth and the child reference, I always assumed that the Macbeths had had a child that had died in very early infancy, a situation that again was not unusual in Shakespeare's time. Hence her reference to 'I have given suck. etc'


We are given a clue during the murder scene that Lady Macbeth is perhaps not as strong as she appears to be when she makes reference to the fact tht she would have comitted the murder herself had Duncan not reminded her of her father.

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The Scottish play. The bloody play. How's about the bloody good play?


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.


Agreed, though Hamlet is its counterpart and an equal favourite with me. Macbeth is all action and ambition, while Hamlet is a brooder with no ambition for worldly conquest whatever. He is essentially a philosopher who loses 'the name of action.' I love the poetry of both and find so many closing couplets embedded in my consciousness: 'Stars hold your fires/ Let not light see my black and deep desires.' 'Hear it not Duncan, for 'tis the knell/That summons thee to Heaven or to Hell.' 'The play's the thing/Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.' Hope I've got them right, though inevitably memory distorts. Sure, some kind BGO friend will put me right.

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Typing my notes just now for Macbeth, and have come across this snippet from Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), the primary source for much of Shakey's histories. It confirms that Shakey himself wasn't being 'convenient' with the whole Macduff/Section thing:


I am even he that thy wizards have told thee of, who was never borne of my mother, but ripped out of her wombe: therwithall he stept unto him, and slue him in the place
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  • 4 months later...

This has been the first play I have ever read by Shakespeare. It has been a good first approach, because I really enjoyed the reading.

So the Scottish Play deals with murder and treason, remorse and madness.

I wonder if Macbeth really ( or how much? ) has been his wife's puppet. This could seem obvious during the two opening acts, but during the remaining part of the play, when he decided to walk down the path of the perdition, he seems to be more conscious of his action ... I mean he only needed Lady Macbeth to start to walk that path.

But, surely, Lady Macbeth is a ruthless woman...I wonder if it is only the ambition that makes she so cruel.

Whatever has happened during her past, Shakespeare chose to show her to us at the acme of her cruelty. It will crush her away (with qualms of conscience and fears about her doom).

The blood she washed away from her hands: it could be cleaned away, but the truth is that the actions could not be deleted by our mind as they were bloody spots.


Ps: The fact that Macbeth can be killed only by a "not woman born" has reminded me a chapter of the Lord of the Rings (the fight between Eowyn and the WitchKing)...It is a quite similar part...I wonder if Tolkien thought to Macbeth when he wrote his masterpiece...hmm... :rolleyes:

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As to the Lady Macbeth and the child reference, I always assumed that the Macbeths had had a child that had died in very early infancy, a situation that again was not unusual in Shakespeare's time. Hence her reference to 'I have given suck. etc'


I believe that Lady Macbeth had a child by a previous marriage. A friend of mine at school claimed to be descended from her.

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I believe that Lady Macbeth had a child by a previous marriage.
The only indication, in the play, is when she is trying to steel Macbeth to action, and she says that she has "given suck" to a child. No firm proof that it was hers from a previous marriage or relationship, or if she just nursed another's child - or even, if she was just speaking rhetorically. One critic, can't remember who, says we should concern ourselves with the characters' lives outside the play.
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I didn't focus my attention on this matter during the reading: we just know Macbeth's sons couldn't rule, as told by the prophecy of the three witches.

Anyway his actions against Banquo and Fleance could be interpreted as the ones a father does in order to guarantee the succession to his heirs.

I can't be sure, but this, with the fact that Lady Macbeth herself said to "have given suck", made me think they had children...I've thought their ambition is aimed even to give a reign to their heirs.

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Anyway his actions against Banquo and Fleance could be interpreted as the ones a father does in order to guarantee the succession to his heirs.

Although the question of whether they once had children is murky in the play it seems clear they have none now. Macbeth notes of the witches' prophecy about Banquo:


They hail'd him father to a line of kings:

Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,

And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,

Thence to be wrench'd with an unlineal hand,

No son of mine succeeding. If 't be so,

For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind;

For them the gracious Duncan have I murder'd;

Put rancours in the vessel of my peace

Only for them; and mine eternal jewel

Given to the common enemy of man,

To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!


His fruitless crown and barren sceptre show he has no heirs and his actions against Banquo and Fleance are more wrapped up in his terrible guilt. Having gained the crown he's not content and now sees his actions as having gained it for Banquo and his heirs, transferring a sense of responsibility onto them to ease his own. I think his sense of inadequacy in not having fathered an heir is part of the insecurity exploited by both the witches and Lady Macbeth.

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I was also thinking to the lines you've written!


I thought that to try to give another interpretation key, to try to link the "I've given suck" Lady Macbeth said, to the lines you've written now...


Hmm...I supposed that even if Macbeth had a million children his crown has to be judged, anyway, a fruitless one, because he knows his heirs will not rule.

Macbeth must believe it, 'cause the prophecy has been true: and he's the living proof, because he becomes Thane of Cawdor and, then, King.

I think that for these reasons Macbeth is sure he will lose the crown, or he won't (or won't have the possibility to) give it to an heir.


But in the end I understand what you mean...and you're right...but I like to analyse things by different views (my teacher says I've got too much imagination) ;) ... I only add that also what I have supposed gives space to the sense of inadequacy you wrote about...or not? :confused:


Ps: I wonder if the Scottish law gave the possibility to a Lady Macbeth's son, born before she married Macbeth, to become king....I don't know that...hmmm...

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I take the terms "fruitless" and "barren" to mean that Macbeth is sterile or impotent, which makes the possibility of him having his own children, heirs or not, impossible. It also makes Lady Macbeth's taunts against his manhood and manliness all the more salient/powerful.

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It does not mean that he himself is barren or fruitless, he is talking metaphorically about his kingship which is destined not to extend beyond his lineage, the witches have given him a 'fruitless crown' and 'barren sceptre'.


The sexual tension in the persuasion scene does not suggest to me that the Macbeths have any problems at all in the bedroom dept, indeed if I remember rightly Lady M hints at withdrawing sexual favours if he does not agree to murder Duncan.


Lady Ms taunts against his manliness refer to the fact that he is considered to be a powerful soldier, we are introduced to him as 'brave Macbeth'; she is implying that this is not so if he is not willing to 'do the deed'.

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...if I remember rightly Lady M hints at withdrawing sexual favours if he does not agree to murder Duncan.
Really? I don't recall anything at all on the lines of a "sex-strike", either in Macbeth or indeed anywhere else in Shakespeare.


What Lady Macbeth clearly does imply, however, is that failure to act on her husband's part will be equated with a lack of essential virility verging on effeminacy, and that is something that no Shakespearean hero worthy of the name can even vaguely contemplate...


I always thought the "I have given suck" was one of those little inconsistencies that crop up here and there, like Leonato's wife Innogen in Much Ado About Nothing, who is mentioned in the entry-directions in at least one manuscript, but neither speaks nor does anything, nor is even as much as mentioned by any of the other characters.


Coming back to Macbeth, I still think that "dead baby" image is one of the most powerful in the whole canon:

I have given suck, and know

How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me;

I would while it was smiling in my face

Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums

And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this.

One can imagine her, breast hanging out, smashing the baby's skull against a brick wall... I have a wonderful audio recording where the actor rolls the "r" in "bRRRains" in a most terrifying way.


Macbeth is full of wonderful images; one of my favourite is:

Light thickens

And the crow makes wing to the rooky wood.

The whole ethos of the play encapsulated in just two words: Light thickens. Fabulous.

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Really? I don't recall anything at all on the lines of a "sex-strike", either in Macbeth or indeed anywhere else in Shakespeare.


Ok, ok maybe I am reading too much into it but I do think that is an 'unspoken' threat - after all she uses all her feminine wiles to get what she wants - and in my opinion a more valid reading of the text than the discussion that assumes Macbeth is sterile because of the reference to a 'barren sceptre' - but I have already expounded my views on that!

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