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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Re: Macbett
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1734  Wednesday, 11 July 2001

[1]     From:   Marcia Eppich <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 10:36:06 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1724 Re: Macbett

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 11:45:22 -0400
        Subj:   Re: Macbett

[3]     From:   Evelyn Gajowski <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 10:32:28 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1724 Re: Macbett


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcia Eppich <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 10:36:06 -0500
Subject: 12.1724 Re: Macbett
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1724 Re: Macbett

Karen wrote:  For that matter, are the witches of "Macbeth" in fact
"evil"?

This is an interesting question. Though the witches are described by
Macbeth and Banquo as being hideous, evil, etc., they are not really
responsible for Macbeth's tragic end. The weird sisters do not suggest a
course of action for Macbeth; however, their scenes are very suggestive
of evil. The very presence of witches is a matter of sensationalism. A
thrill for the Elizabethan audience, if you will. It doesn't really
matter whether or not the witches are inherently evil; they would be
presented as such on stage, don't you think? But the rub, as such, is
that they really don't do anything evil TO anyone in the play, but their
conjuring and whatnot can be considered evil. Then again, the amount of
influence the witches have on Macbeth could change depending on staging
and presentation. As far as the text is concerned though, they are the
catalysts for evil, but they don't seem to participate in the carrying
out of Macbeth's evil doings, obviously.

The fact is that Lady Macbeth does participate and goads Macbeth into
"being a man" and killing Duncan. Remember, Macbeth says in 1.7.31, "We
will proceed no further in this business..." And the retort from Lady
Macbeth is vicious - accusing him of being a "sissy" basically, and here
too, she makes the reference to dashing in a baby's skull while nursing.
This reference to nursing a baby, and other references, suggest that
there may be some parts of the play missing... like where is this baby
that Lady Macbeth has nursed?  Anyway, the real point is that Lady
Macbeth holds far more "real" influence over Macbeth than the witches
do.

In Ionesco's Macbett, the genius is that the first witch IS Lady Duncan,
who conspires with Macbett and Banco (Banquo) to murder Duncan, seducing
Macbett from the get-go. After killing Duncan, Lady Duncan marries
Macbett, but then betrays him. There is a scene in which Lady Duncan is
ripping off her royal clothing in favor of her dirty witch clothes -
including an apron with vomit on it. I don't have the book in front of
me or I would quote it, but it's a very interesting scene, showing just
how evil she is. And in the scene in which the witches are revealing the
first prophecies (actually, I think I remember that all of the
prophecies are revealed in the same scene), the two witches really goad
Macbett into the crime, just as Lady Macbeth goads Macbeth. It's a
masterful manipulation of the original text, and it made me feel some
sort of confirmation about my witch theories concerning Macbeth.  Of
course, just because Ionesco manipulates the witches that way doesn't
mean it's the only interpretation.

Marcia

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 11:45:22 -0400
Subject:        Re: Macbett

If I had been Marcia Eppich's thesis advisor, I would have given her
high marks for her proposed thesis that Lady Macbeth is "a great
witch."  In fact, Marcia's idea helps bring us closer to a central
question in the play: Why does "vaulting ambition" (which we all have in
some form) lead to the horrendous acts we see in this play?

Lady Macbeth becomes a hag/crone/witch/wierd sister when she "unsexes"
herself. I wonder if a key to the play isn't that the Macbeths
apparently have no surviving children on which to project their own
hopes?  Many married couples confront the problem of lack of advancement
(on the job, socially, etc.) by redirecting their energies toward their
children and their children's future.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth lack that outlet. In some ways, this couple is
starkly modern, committed to themselves because they seem to have no
children to be committed to, no way to displace their own frustrated
desires.

The result is that Macbeth turns into a monster and his wife into a kind
of witch. (This is not a politically correct reading, but Shakespeare
is, after all, not always our contemporary.)

At any rate, I think that Marcia's advisor ought to reconsider his/her
criticism of Marcia's proposed thesis.

--Ed Taft

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Evelyn Gajowski <
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Date:           Tuesday, 10 Jul 2001 10:32:28 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.1724 Re: Macbett
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1724 Re: Macbett

For Marcia Eppich:

A few years ago a grad student working with me wrote a final project
titled, "Macbeth's Five Witches in History and on the Heath," and
delivered an abbreviated version of it at a conference.  She included
both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth among the five and established parallels
between Macbeth and the Earl of Bothwell.  I don't have it at hand and
my memory is dim, but suffice it to say that she was not the first to
deal with the suspected witchcraft of the 1580s historical figure.
There is, as I am sure other list members know better than I, a wealth
of material that attempts to read literary and historical witchcraft
intertextually.  Deborah Willis's *Malevolent Nurture: Witch Hunting and
Maternal Power in Early Modern England* comes to mind, as does the work
of witchcraft authorities such as Sydney Anglo, Stuart Clark, Ian
Macfarlane, and Keith Thomas.  Godfrey Watson's Bothwell and the Witches
deals with the specific issue mentioned.  SHAKSPER list members have
discussed the subject of witchcraft before.  If you are interested in
contacting the grad student, please write me off-list.

Evelyn Gajowski
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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