Friday, April 17, 2009

Because There's this British Playwright No One's Heard Of...

I’ve been rereading Macbeth and some of the psychology of it has thinned out for me.

When the witches first declare that Macbeth will be King, Banquo asks him “Good sir, why do you start; and seem to fear/Things that do sound so fair?” What’s interesting to me about this is that Banquo immediately endorses the prophecy despite its hugely bloody implications. At the very least it calls for the death of the king. On my current reading, I recoiled from this avarice, and found the subsequent eagerness of Macbeth to consider murder (within the same scene) an almost totally alienating development in my identification with him.

What’s so different from the first times I read this play? I think one obvious thing – the prediction of the witches doesn’t seem as wonderfully felicitous to someone who’s tread the territory of the play before. Shakespeare relies on that bit of psychology heavily here I think – but the charm of being told you’re being promoted by some witches and then getting that promotion doesn’t seem enough to me now to warrant all-out regicidal thoughts. Yeah, maybe the superstition was more common in that place and time but my first readings didn’t result in this jarring disconnect.

One thing that also occurs to me is that one reason we’re motivated to assume the kingship with Macbeth precisely because the battle he just fought was so bloody. We want to be relatively safe, like Duncan. Not on the front lines risking everything all the time. So for a warring Thane like Macbeth it’s almost a matter of life and death to assume the kingship.

Also, the way I usually think of the play is that Macbeth doesn’t consider killing the king until his wife encourages him to do so. That’s not true, to my surprise during this reading. She just fixes him on the goal.

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