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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: July ::
Macbeth's Witches
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1795  Wednesday, 18 July 2001

[1]     From:   Nancy Charlton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 17 Jul 2001 13:37:26 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1764 Re: Macbeth's Witches

[2]     From:   Takashi Kozuka <
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 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 13:57:44
        Subj:   Re: Macbeth's Witches


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nancy Charlton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 17 Jul 2001 13:37:26 -0700
Subject: 12.1764 Re: Macbeth's Witches
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1764 Re: Macbeth's Witches

> >I am not
> >exactly sure of the precise biblical injunction concerning the
> >sinfulness of conjuring and asking my born-again sister is far too
> >tiresome at this time of the morning.  Perhaps someone else knows.
> >
> >Jane Drake Brody

Many interesting replies came in on this point.  I would add to the list
a verse from the KJV:

Isaiah 8:19: And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them than have
familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should
not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?

> I think it would be Saul visiting the Witch of Endor -- 1 Samuel 28,
> verses 7 ff.

A loose parallel to the Macbeth situation is found a little anterior to
this in I Samuel 15.  The prophet Samuel gets an inkling that God may be
having second thoughts about having anointed Saul, thanks to his
disobedience in spoiling the defeated Amalekites, ". . . for rebellion
is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and
idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also
rejected thee from being king." For the moment, Saul makes a show of
contrition, but Samuel knows better.  He tears his robe, declaring that
thus will Saul's kingdom be rent, and that is the last he will see of
Saul.  As we know, Saul then seeks help of the Witch and by then is in
too deep to ever get out.

It has always seemed to me that on one level at least the witches in
Macbeth are simply stating facts.  Macbeth IS in line for the thanedoms
and ultimately the kingship. He does hesitate to murder Duncan, and it
takes some doing to get him to act.  He could have chosen to take the
witches with a grain of salt, to tell Lady M just where to go; he might
have been a good and just ruler with plenty of "love, honor, troops of
friends."  In that speech he doesn't say 'I deliberately chose every
consequence I've gotten': he says "My way of life has FALLEN into the
sere and yellow leaf" and -- surprise! I've gotten just what I deserve
but now that I'm in this deep I must go through with it.  He has by then
lost the power of choice.

Similarly, Saul isn't content with simply being anointed by God: he must
find out what's going to happen.  Hence the consult with the Witch.
Saul's problem was evidently complicated by a mental illness, and such
hypotheses might be advanced concerning Macbeth.  The analogy--pardon
the expression--peters out when there is no David to play the harp for
Macbeth.  In vain Lady M asks the physician "Canst thou not minister to
a mind diseased?"

(Janie Cheaney remarks that Saul may be a "tragic hero" of Shakespearean
dimensions. Aside from Handel's oratorio "Saul" and Robert Frost's
poem/play about the Witch of Endor story I can't think of any dramatic
treatment of Saul.  Joseph Heller makes a comedy of the whole David/Saul
business in his novel Go Figure.  Interesting idea.)

This is a little simplistic, even Sunday Schoolish, but Marsha's remarks
on the effects of the witches, and the appeal of this play to high
school students set off a train of memory. One of the first Shakespeare
performances I ever saw was Orson Welles' Macbeth, and since we were
studying it at the time they let school out so we could all troop
downtown and see it.

Marsha wrote:

>I think the
> witches lend to the appeal of Macbeth for high school students and other
> people who feel like Shakespeare is too difficult to understand.

Yes.  This is hardly the definitive Macbeth, even seemed embarrassingly
bad when I saw a revival of it a few years ago. But the staging gets to
you, and it's impossible to forget how the supernatural was handled.
Good or bad, I to this day measure the witches, Banquo's ghost, and
Fleance by this film.  Yes, Fleance. Roddy McDowall was so young, so
good, so brave you almost expected him to call for Flicka or Lassie, and
I always hear him speaking when I read "I looked toward Birnam and anon
methought the wood...began.....to MOOVE!"

This line is more significant than is usually credited.  We in the
audience know what the military manuver behind the moving forest is; we
also know what is driving Macbeth. But the young and inexperienced
Fleance sees what appears to violate natural order, just as Macbeth had
to violate the orderly course of things as outlined by the vaticinations
of the witches. Thus it is a crucial point, where all nature turns on
the unnatural Macbeth, even to the cesarian-born Macduff.

The witches' prophecies don't go into detail, or spell out consequences
or even the modus operandi of becoming king. The HOW is where choice and
free will operate.

Oh -- Jane and whoever else may need to look up something in the Bible,
this is a very useful site:

http://www.blueletterbible.org.

It is maintained by a fundamentalist organization but is not doctrinaire
and keeps any proselytizing activities separate from the information,
and low key. It has an outstanding search engine, several translations,
Greek and Hebrew originals, and a number of reference utilities.

Nancy Charlton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Takashi Kozuka <
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Date:           Wednesday, 18 Jul 2001 13:57:44
Subject:        Re: Macbeth's Witches

Marcia Eppich <
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 > writes:

>And if the only contact a person has with
>Shakespeare is in a classroom, then the teacher's interpretation >takes the
>place of the director's interpretation.

Hmm... I'm curious if the substitution (the role of the director and
that of the teacher) is this simple... Any crucial differences between
their roles?  Any comments/thoughts on this from
actors/actresses/directors?

Best wishes,
Takashi Kozuka

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