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Home :: Archive :: 1993 :: June ::
Re: Duncan (con't)
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 4, No. 371.  Thursday, 17 June 1993.
 
(1)     From:   Naomi Liebler <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jun 93 08:18:00 EST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 4.0370  Re: Duncan
 
(2)     From:   Steve Urkowitz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Jun 93 06:22:36 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 4.0370  Re: Duncan
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Naomi Liebler <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jun 93 08:18:00 EST
Subject: 4.0370  Re: Duncan
Comment:        RE: SHK 4.0370  Re: Duncan
 
I thought I had seen the following citation on this SHAKSPER list once before,
but perhaps I saw it on another list, in response to a similar inquiry. Anyway,
someone recommended David Norbrook's essay, "MACBETH and the Politics of
Historiography," in POLITICS AND DISCOURSE, ed. Kevin Sharpe and Steven N.
Zwicker (Berkeley: UC Press, 1980-something): 78-116, on the mythologizing and
mystification of Duncan. I haven't seen this book yet, but it's on my list of
things to read sometime in my lifetime. The original recommender thought very
highly of it; perhaps Robert O'Connor will too.
 
Epistemological difficulties do indeed abound in MACBETH with its insistence on
equivocation, ambiguity, and what Stephen Booth has so brilliantly named
"indefinition." It makes perfect sense (if that's the right way to talk about
that which defies logic) to include Duncan in the discourse of "fair and foul."
Holinshed depicted him as a weak king; what Shakespeare did with that is the
topic of a rather lengthy discussion unsuitable to e-mail messages. My own
personal favorite among contributions to the discussion is this bit from
Kenneth Muir's introduction to the Arden edition of the play: "it is never
possible to determine the exact share of blame to be allotted after a crime to
the three factors, heredity, environment, and personal weakness; and only the
morally complacent could witness a good performance of MACBETH without an
uneasy feeling that if they had been so tempted they might conceivably have so
fallen. We cannot divide the world into potential murderers and those who are
not" (xlix). Thus the ambiguity, equivocation, fair-and-foul-ness fall back
upon the audience, where they belong, or what's the point of "sitting at a
play"?
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Thursday, 17 Jun 93 06:22:36 EDT
Subject: 4.0370  Re: Duncan
Comment:        Re: SHK 4.0370  Re: Duncan
 
Michael Long, THE UNNATURAL SCENE: A STUDY IN SHAKESPEAREAN TRAGEDY (1976) sees
Duncan as Shakes'eare's embodiment of an Apollonian vision, " . . . lyrical
conceptions of the community and continuity of human doings practiced in open
responsiveness to the sap of natural life.  It is a vision of what is creative
and delighting (as well as "ordered") in the experience of social life.  Its
tones are festal contentment, but a contentment which is animated and vivified
rather than inert.  It is pacific, but not passive.  If we take out some of the
key words from the play which support the conception we see they are not only
"seated," "sure and firm-set," "royalty," "gentle," and "dignity"; they are
also "plenteous," "wanton in fulness," "nimbly," "bounteous," "wooingly." . . .
This Apollonianism if there at the beginning of MACBETH before the hero's
"deed" ransacks and ravages it.  It is there again at the end when the castle
is "gently rend'red" and the ransacker overcome.  And it is there throughout
the night and winter horror of the central part of the play, its images
tormentingly ineradicable from the mind of Macbeth, tormentingly present to him
in the life of Banquo, agonizingly out of reach as he tries to force "mirth,"
"cheer," and "pleasure" into his now derelict social life, and amazingly (to
him) incapable of being wiped from the lives of others no matter how thorough
and far-reaching his violence.  It is always against the background of the
sweeping lyric life of this Apollonianism that we see the tragic misery and
dwarfing of the central figure who has cut himself off from sleep, pleasure and
friendship, and from the fertility and vastness of "multitudinous seas," "the
casing air" and the "sure and firm-set earth."  He is not only "cabined,
cribbed, confined, bound in" but cabined, cribbed, confined and bound in  while
the bright and delightful spaciousness of the earth goed on "nimbly and
sweetly, " vexing him with the "cherubin" and "sightless couriers" that image
its unstoppable life, and eventually outrunning his reserves of violent
resistance with a "moving grove" carried by unrough youths in their "first of
manhood."   We take onle a part of the experience of MACBETH if we respond
simply to the terror of black incantation, deliberate violation and eventually
hardened habituation of his poisoned mind.  To take the play fully (its terror
is not thereby averted) we must take this exuberant sense of delighted life,
projected in a spacious lyricism cut off from which the hero will dwindle peak
and pine like the sailor whose fate at the hands of the witches prefigures that
of Macbeth.  Then, like Enobarbus, he will "joy no more."  (Long, pp.233-234).
 
What John Drakakis suggests is the weakness of the sociopolitical structure
represented by Banquo is also the strength of such communities.  They are
indeed vulnerable to Macbeth's pathologies, but even Macbeth sees that he has
been rewarded and encouraged.  The amazing delight I get in my university
community may be tempered by the grumpy academics soured against the
possibilities of learning and teaching, but I get out there with Duncan to
dance, to plant gardens, to build benches in the sterile niches of modernist
architecture anyway.  Unlike Duncan, Henry VI does not represent himself with
full hearted engagement in his world, and alas his world has too many Macbeths
to allow much Apollonianism to survive.
 
But as I write this the morning sun's nearly flat but briliant light defines
the runners on a pier and the ferry-boats  cutting through the Hudson outside
my window.  Good day, 7:04am, New York City.
 
                                           As ever,
 
                                           Steve Urkowitz
                                           SURCC@CUNYVM
 

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