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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: *Macbeth*: Prophecy & Middleton
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0306.  Monday, 17 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Eddie Duggan <
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        Date:   Saturday, 15 Apr 95 19:02:25 BST
        Subj:   Parentage & Prophecy in _Macbeth_
 
(2)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Saturday, 15 Apr 1995 20:55:38 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0303  More *Mac.* Responses
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Eddie Duggan <
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Date:           Saturday, 15 Apr 95 19:02:25 BST
Subject:        Parentage & Prophecy in _Macbeth_
 
Parentage and Prophecy in Macbeth
 
I'm currently working on a paper with the above title. It was this which
prompted me to mail some ideas on the subject to the list.  I've had some
response and would like to take the opportunity to answer the replies publicly,
via the list, rather than email, in the hope of stimulating some further
debate.
 
J. R. Nelson writes in a email reply [have you cc'd this to the list, JR?]:
 
>I agree that all prophesy in Macbeth must come true, but I disagree
>that Malcolm is Banquo's father.  Try this idea.
>
>I am not an English historian so I don't know the ancestry
>of the British throne, but I have assumed that there must be some
>relationship between Banquo and King James.  It appears that there
>are several scenes written in the play specifically to compliment the
>king (healing scrofula--earth itself mourning death of Duncan etc).
>This may be another compliment.
> [...]
>I maintain Banquo somehow is father to the line of kings coming out
>of the caldron.
 
You are quite right, albeit in the conventional sense. The reading I propose,
however, is one that eschews the conventional for what we might descibe as one
in which 'nothing is / But what is not'.
 
In a similarly conventional vein is Scott Shepherd.
 
In reply to:
 
>> "...the father of Malcolm must be Banquo."
 
Scott writes:
 
>No way. The Banquo prophecy comes true not in the play but in
>Scottish history.
>Descendants of Fleance take the throne a few generations later.
>One such descendant is King James I, king also of England and of
>Shakespeare, who had James and his pleasure in mind (we presume)
>when he wrote about the Scottish monarchy.
>
>Probably Shakespeare's audience knew about these things, and recognized
>the Banquo procession in scene 4.1 as a parade of their king's ancestors.
 
I would answer Scott in two ways:
 
First, the play isn't able to read history, Scots or otherwise. The logic of
the play and the prophecies is contained within its narrative time (ie all the
prophecies, to maintain narrative coherence, must be contained within the time
of the telling).
 
Further, to agree with the 'unexpected' aspect of the other prophecies, there
can be no explanation other than the one I propose: at the end of the play the
crown falls to Malcolm; ergal, for the condition <:all prophecies are fulfilled
within the time span of the play:> to be true, Banquo MUST be the father of
Malcolm.
 
Second, Scots history--the combination of legend (viz. Hector Boece's _Scotorum
Historiae_ which provided the source for Ralph Holinshed's _Chronicles_ in
which Shakespeare found the material for _Macbeth_) and history, combined with
Shakespeare's flattery for his patron--which amounts to what was 'known' by
James, Shakespeare and the seventeenth-century audience, that James was
descended from Banquo, has been subsequently revised.
 
It is now accepted, I believe, that the 'historical' Banquo was not the
ancestor of James. [In fact Siward is more closely related to James than
Banquo.]  It is also accepted that Fleance has no historical equivalent and was
merely taken from Holinshed by Shakespeare, even though he is 'forgotten' after
_Macbeth_ 3.3.
 
So, to Scott's assertion that 'The Banquo prophecy comes true not in the play
but in Scottish history', I must reply that it is in fact the case that Banquo
and Fleance play no part in Scottish history.
 
Rather, the historical line of descent is as follows:
 
                        Duncan I
                        (d. 1040)
                            |
                            | [Macbeth (ca 1005-1057):
                            | rules 1040-1057
                            | (d. 1057, slain by Malcolm)]
                            |
                        Malcolm III (Canmore)
                        (d. 1093) Son of Duncan I
                        rules 1057-1093.
                            |
                            | Donald Ban, Malcolm's
                            | brother, uncle to Duncan II,
                            | usurps crown, 1093.
                            |
                        Duncan II
                        (d. 1094) Eldest son of Malcolm
                        Canmore, by his first wife.
                            |
                            | Donald Ban restored 1095.
                            |
                         Edgar, son of Malcolm by his second
                         wife, installed on Scots throne by
                         William Rufus, 1097.
                            |
                            |
                         Alexander I, son of Malcolm by his
                         second wife.
                            |
                            |
                          David I   [= Matilda (Siward's daughter)]
                          son of Malcolm Canmore (ruled 1124-1153).
                            |
                          [... some 400 years]
                            |
                          James Stuart (1567, VI of Scotland)
                                   (and 1603, I of England)
 
[And as to the suggestion that Shakespeare 'had James and his pleasure in
mind', I think that may be dealt with more adequately in the discussion of the
Sonnets ;) ]
 
Eddie Duggan
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 15 Apr 1995 20:55:38 +0100
Subject: 6.0303  More *Mac.* Responses
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0303  More *Mac.* Responses
 
_Macbeth_ will, I understand, be included in the Oxford Complete Works of
Thomas Middleton. The Oxford Complete Shakespeare Electronic edition gives the
following to Middleton: 1.2, 1.3.37-45 (maybe - uncertain authorship), 3.5,
4.1.38-60, 4.1.141-148.
 
Gabriel Egan
 

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