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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: August ::
Re: The Macbeths
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1535  Tuesday, 31 August 1999.

[1]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Aug 1999 17:53:26 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Tragedy

[2]     From:   Eric W Beato <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Aug 1999 22:16:12 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Tragedy

[3]     From:   John Ramsay <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Aug 99 1:12:49 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Tragedy

[4]     From:   Judy Lewis <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 31 Aug 1999 19:37:21 +1200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Trage

[5]     From:   Tom Dale Keever <
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        Date:   Monday, 30 Aug 1999 14:05:30 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Lady Macbeth as Mommy Dearest


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Aug 1999 17:53:26 +0100
Subject: Q: The Scottish Tragedy
Comment:        SHK 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Tragedy

[a] Macbeth is already chosen and gone to Scone - i.e. the suggestion
seems to be that' like Claudius in 'Hamlet'. Scotland and Norway are
elective monarchies - perhaps only in times of extreme crisis? A real
casting about at the end of Lear to an extent as well: maybe in crisis
situations you go for strength rather than heredity?

[b] M's children. I can already hear legions of teachers / critics /
scholars all over the world screaming in misery! This is one of the
oldest chestnuts in the book. [a] who knows? [b] does it really matter?
[c] maybe M's children are already dead? Hence Lady M's ferocity in
suggesting she would dash out their brains - killing that which had
already betrayed / deceived / failed/ humiliated you? Just an idle
thought. I'd get out a heavy-duty truck to take away the postings on
this one!

Stuart Manger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Eric W Beato <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Aug 1999 22:16:12 -0400
Subject: Q: The Scottish Tragedy
Comment:        SHK 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Tragedy

In answer to the questions about the Macbeths and their apparent
parenthood, Lady Macbeth does indeed indicate that she is a mother.
While the child is (children are?) unseen, Macbeth also acts in a way
that suggests he is a father.  His pursuit of the deaths of both Banquo
AND Fleance could come from that urge-he does not want his crown
"wrench'd" by an "unlineal hand, no son of mine succeeding."  It has
been suggested that this concern is for future sons, but would unborn
children be sufficient motivation for such murder?  Lacking a son,
Macbeth could wait.  The Act IV line "He has no children" is often
glossed as a reference to Macbeth.  But it might not be.  In the context
of the line,  Ross and Macduff (cousins) are discussing the brutal
murders when young Malcolm enters the discussion, suggesting that
Macduff should turn his feeling into his revenge.  He should ' take it
out on Macbeth.'  And if Macduff says "He has no children" in direct
response to Malcolm, it would certainly refer to Macbeth.  But I have
seen it handled by Macduff saying the line directly TO ROSS, while
gesturing toward Malcolm.  In other words, then, Malcolm can say
whatever he likes about revenge, since HE (Malcolm) has no children.  No
other line in the play seems to refute the fatherhood of Macbeth.

With regard to the coronation of Macbeth in the absence of Malcolm, I
have never felt that it was automatic or that Macbeth was officially
'next in line.'  Macduff and another nobleman discuss the aftermath of
the death of Duncan, saying, "Then 'tis most like the sovreignty will
fall on Macbeth." Macduff's answer is that "He is already nam'd."  That
was a recognition of power and battle leadership in the absence of the
rightful king.  I have always suggested to my students that it is
obvious what might have happened if some other nobleman were
crowned-additional murders.

At any rate,  Macbeth and Duncan were cousins -- they had the same
grandfather.

Hope this gives food for thought!

Rick Beato
Lisle Senior High School

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ramsay <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Aug 99 1:12:49 EDT
Subject: 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Tragedy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Tragedy

The descent may not have been according to primogeniture, inheritance by
the first-born son, at that time in history.

The fact that Macbeth is upset that Duncan did name Malcolm might
support this. Indeed Duncan might have been 'out of line' in naming
Malcolm his successor.

Also in II-4 (in my edition it's II-3 Malcolm says he'll To England)

    Ross: ...'tis most like/ The sovereignty will fall upon
                Macbeth.
    Macduff: He is already named...

The above suggests some sort of selection process, possibly by a council
of nobles. As the country had recently been invaded and Macbeth had
heroically repulsed the invaders, he would have been the preferred
choice, although some consideration might have been given to Banquo on
the same grounds.

John Ramsay
Welland Ontario
Canada

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judy Lewis <
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Date:           Tuesday, 31 Aug 1999 19:37:21 +1200
Subject: 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Tragedy
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.1527 Q: The Scottish Tragedy

#1 - In Act I;vii, Lady Macbeth states, "I have given suck",  referring
to the fact that she has given birth and has breast fed, but in Act
IV;iii, Macduff states after the slaughter of his family, "He has no
children" and he is referring to Macbeth.  Did Macbeth have any children
or has Shakespeare made an error here?

It is true that "Lady Macbeth" had had a child before her marriage to
Macbeth - she was Gruoch, and her son - Macbeth's stepson - Lulach, in
fact became king for a short time after Macbeth was killed.  It was
Lulach whom Malcolm succeeded onto the throne of Scotland.

And yes, Macbeth did, in fact, have several children by Gruoch, at least
5 of them sons.  Most were killed  in the battles with Malcolm and the
English forces.

Shakespeare ignores this aspect of the history - assuming he ever knew
it, because his source Holinshead was very inaccurate.  In Holinshead,
Duncan is killed by Macbeth and Banquo; in reality, Duncan was killed in
battle by Thorfinn of Orkney.  It was Thorfinn's widow who became
Malcolm's first wife, a fact that has suggested to novelist Dorothy
Dunnett that maybe the real Macbeth and Thorfinn were one and the same
person (it being not unusual for kings to marry the widow of their
predecessor.)  Read this in King Hereafter.

I suspect that Shakespeare - being uninterested in the history -
'disappears' these sons because it is inconceivable that a father could
have cold bloodedly ordered the slaughter of mother and children (a plot
requirement) - something which the real Macbeth did not do, having no
cause to do so during his very secure and intelligent 14 year reign.
Shakespeare had not, of course, lived during the C20 when good family
men and devoted fathers ordered Jewish mothers and children to their
deaths on a daily basis.

As to your second query:
#2 - In Act I;iv, Duncan names Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland; this
would allow him to be next in line for the Scottish throne.  When
Malcolm escapes to England in Act II;iv, "I'll to England", Macbeth then
becomes the next in line for the throne.  Did the Thane of Cawdor have
this power or is Macbeth really a cousin of Duncan as Duncan states in
Act I;ii "O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman!"?
Heredity was a principle unknown to Scottish law until Malcolm, who had
been raised in England, introduced it.  Before that time, kings of
Scoland were elected - from the ruling families, of course - according
to their suitability.  Macbeth is elected king - as he was in real life
- because he is the senior and most suitable candidate.  Under Scottish
custom, Malcolm would not have been considered until he had proved
himself.  I doubt that the real Malcolm was ever very acceptable to the
Scots - possibly because of his English ways (his second wife was sister
to the English king); it is interesting to note that Duncan, Macbeth,
Lulach and Malcolm's successor, his brother Donald Ban were al buried on
Iona - "Colmkiln" - but Malcolm was not.

Yes, Macbeth really was Duncan's cousin; the real Duncan was a youngish
man and a poor king.  If the principle of heredity was to be strictly
followed, Lulach, in fact, had the best claim - Duncan's father had
taken the throne from his line.

Don't read Macbeth for the history - it is a study in ambition, fear and
tyranny but not a history book.

If you are interested in any more details, I do have them but they are
at work and not currently accessible.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Dale Keever <
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Date:           Monday, 30 Aug 1999 14:05:30 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Lady Macbeth as Mommy Dearest

Rachelle Slater asks:

"I have two new questions regarding the play Macbeth that I am hoping
someone can help me with:

"#1 - In Act I;vii, Lady Macbeth states, "I have given suck",  referring
to the fact that she has given birth and has breast fed, but in Act
IV;iii, Macduff states after the slaughter of his family, "He has no
children" and he is referring to Macbeth.  Did Macbeth have any children
or has Shakespeare made an error here?"

The definitive discussion of this question is, of course, L. C. Knights'
"How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?: An Essay in the Theory and
Practice of Shakespearean Criticism," first read to the Shakespeare
Association in 1933 and collected in his 1945 book "Explorations."
Enjoy.
 

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