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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: March ::
Re: Macbeth's Death
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0271.  Sunday, 27 March 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Ron Macdonald <
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        Date:   Saturday, 26 Mar 1994 14:31:44 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0267  Q: Macbeth's Death
 
(2)     From:   William Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
        Date:   Saturday, 26 Mar 1994 20:45:24 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0268  Re: Macbeth's Death
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ron Macdonald <
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Date:           Saturday, 26 Mar 1994 14:31:44 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0267  Q: Macbeth's Death
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0267  Q: Macbeth's Death
 
I'm with Mary Jane Miller, Elise Earthman, and Harry Hill on this one.  For
me, one of the most powerful and uncanny effects of the Scottish tragedy at
its conclusion is not so much the sense of closure as the attempt of those
who remain to achieve closure.  There is something grimly admirable in
Macbeth's refusal to cooperate in this process, a refusal which leaves us
with the uncomfortable feeling that evil is not something confined to a
single individual, something which will simply disappear with his demise,
but an enduring possibility, a temptation to which no one is in principle
immune.  No consequence, as a result, is ever entirely trammeled up.  To
have Macbeth beg for mercy would be in effect the same as having him commit
the suicide he explicitly rejects in refusing to play the Roman fool and die
on his own sword.  In so far as _Macbeth_ contains an edifying moral, it is
one constructed in retrospect by the victors, and in refusing to beg for
mercy and rejecting suicide, Macbeth forecloses an opportunity for the victors
to point the moral and adorn the tale.  As Malcolm proclaims Macbeth a
"dead butcher," he must point at the hero's severed head impaled on a pike,
and in so doing he can only remind us that, whatever butcheries Macbeth may
have committed (and there is no way of mitigating them), he has hardly
cut off his own head.  As the examples of my ancestor Macdonwald and the Thane
of Cawdor suggest, Macbeth has scarcely invented the notion of usurpation, and
as his attempt to seize sovereignty is not the first, so it will not be
the last.  The comforting notion that evil is self-consuming is always
constructed in retrospect: that is why Malcolm must not only proclaim Lady
Macbeth a "fiend-like queen" but a suicide as well, "Who (as 'tis thought)
by self and violent hands / Took off her life."  The play itself is silent
on the question of how Lady Macbeth has met her end.  Meanwhile, is it so
hard to imagine Macduff, on his dutiful way to see Malcolm crowned at
Scone, encountering three strange women who wish to have a word with him?
 
                                       --Ron Macdonwald
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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Godshalk <GODSHAWL@UCBEH>
Date:           Saturday, 26 Mar 1994 20:45:24 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 5.0268  Re: Macbeth's Death
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0268  Re: Macbeth's Death
 
I rather like the "damn'd be him, that first cries . . . . hold, enough" (TLN
2475). I think it a fine irony to have the "merciless" Macbeth finally crying
for mercy -- and thus damning himself. The lack of mercy in Macduff is equally
pleasing. Macduff never satisfactorily explains why he has left his family
behind him in Scotland. Malcolm and Rosse give him the chance, but he doesn't
excuse himself. As I grow older and more cynical, I see the play as completely
cyclical; Macduff replaces Macbeth at play's end, and here we go again.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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