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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: June ::
Re: Duncan
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 370.  Wednesday, 16 June 1993.
 
(1)     From:   John Drakakis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 Jun 93 14:59:27 BST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0369 Duncan
 
(2)     From:   Ron Macdonald <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 Jun 1993 10:43:08 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Duncan
 
(3)     From:   Stephen Orgel <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 15 Jun 93 13:57:27 PDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0369  Duncan
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Drakakis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 Jun 93 14:59:27 BST
Subject: 4.0369 Duncan
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0369 Duncan
 
In response to the view that Duncan was a "weak" king, the much praised
Trevor Nunn production of the early 1970s with Ian McKellen as Macbeth,
Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth, and (I think) Gruffydd Jones as Duncan, makes
much of this reading.
 
Logically I am not sure that it makes much sense. Duncan is a king who
trusts absolutely, but he is also a king who can say: "There is no art
to find the mind's construction in the face".  I've always found that
line perplexing because it can be interpreted in two radically opposed
ways. (a) there is no need of art to deduce thought from outward appearance
because the face transparently reflects the mind or (b) no art can possibly
deduce from visual appearance the operations of the mind.  This is rather
like Othello's statement at III.iii.124ff:
 
                Therefore these stops of thine fright me the more:
                For such things in a false disloyal knave,
                Are tricks of custom; but in a man that's just,
                They are close denotements, working from the heart,
                That passion cannot rule.
 
The point about this speech is that we already know that Iago is "a
false disloyal knave" and so the irony is trenchant in that it
reflects upon a vulnerability in strength that Othello possesses.
The same is true up to a point in the case of Duncan.  How can he
tell what Macbeth will do?  The difficulty, which is there from the
very beginning in the play, is crystallized later at IV.iii.22ff when
Malcolm appears to be testing Macduff:
 
                Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell;
                All things foul would wear the brows of grace,
                Yet Grace must still look so.
 
The issue here then is not the weakness of character, so much as the
weakness of a structure which encourages ambition but which can no longer
contain the energies which the encouragement of that ambition releases.
 
John Drakakis
Department of English Studies
University of Stirling
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ron Macdonald <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 Jun 1993 10:43:08 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Duncan
 
Seems to me James Calderwood has some interesting speculations about Duncan
in _If It Were Done: Macbeth and Tragic Action_ (U. of Massachusetts Press,
1986).  This might be, at least, a place for Robert O'Connor to start.  In
general, the obvious good guys in _Macbeth_ become more problematic under
close scrutiny.  Banquo's passivity despite his conviction of Macbeth's
villainy reminds us of the stake he has in the usurpation, for Macbeth's
ascendancy confirms part of a prophecy that includes the promise concerning
Banquo's issue; Macduff's patriotic high-mindedness fails to mask the fact
that the price of patriotism has been the desertion of his wife and children
and their brutal murders; Malcolm's curious lack of affect upon receiving
the news of his father's bloody death can suggest that he, like Banquo,
has a certain stake in the voiding of the Scottish throne.  When, at the very
end, the victorious Malcolm points to the usurper's severed head impaled on
a pike and calls Macbeth and his lady "this dead butcher and his fiend-like
queen," we may be brought up short: dead Macbeth certainly is, a butcher,
perhaps; but surely he has not cut off his own head.  Fair is foul and foul
is fair, as we may recall the witches observing early on, and Duncan is surely
guilty at least of a failure to recognize the potential for lethal violence
in all men and not just in a bunch of unruly Norwegians and the odd traitor
from his own ranks.  Indefinition, as Stephen Booth has reminded us, is a
property of the play.  That might be another good place to start: _King Lear,
Macbeth, Indefinition, and Tragedy_ (Yale U. Press, 1983).
 
                                 --Ron Macdonald <
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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephen Orgel <
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Date:           Tuesday, 15 Jun 93 13:57:27 PDT
Subject: 4.0369  Duncan
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0369  Duncan
 
A really brilliant discussion of the problematic nature of Duncan as
king is Jonathan Goldberg, SPECULATIONS: MACBETH AND SOURCE, in
SHAKESPEARE REPRODUCED, eds. Jean Howard and Marion O'Connor (Methuen
1987).  Also, see Harry Berger, Jr., "The Early Scenes of Macbeth:
Preface to a New Interpretation," ELH 47 (1980).
 
Cheers,
 
Stephen Orgel
 

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