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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: April ::
Re: Macbeth's Hired Thugs
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0793  Monday, 28 April 2003

[1]     From:   Michael Shurgot <
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        Date:   Friday, 25 Apr 2003 08:23:39 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0790 Macbeth's Hired Thugs

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Friday, 25 Apr 2003 12:39:18 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0790 Macbeth's Hired Thugs


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Shurgot <
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Date:           Friday, 25 Apr 2003 08:23:39 -0700
Subject: 14.0790 Macbeth's Hired Thugs
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0790 Macbeth's Hired Thugs

Dear Colleagues:

Matthew Baynham's points are valid--there is no mention of rewards for
killing Macbeth's supposed "enemies" whom he successfully portrays as
the enemies of those he convinces to kill Banquo and Fleance. But then
these hired men kill Macduff's family, and in most productions of
Macbeth, these murders are really gruesome, done for political reasons,
but also as examples of Macbeth's utter brutality: he will kill children
in order to retain power. (And have we heard that line before?) I think
it is Arthur Kirsch in his essay "Macbeth's Suicide" who, continuing the
earlier argument by Cleanth Brooks about the "naked babe" as a
significant image in Macbeth, suggests that killing the family
--father-mother-children--is emblematic of Macbeth's total mental
degeneration, his symbolic suicide. This essay also emphasizes the image
of the innocent, murdered child as central to our understanding of the
poetic structure of the play, suggesting a link to L.  C. Knights'
earlier essay on the number of Lady Macbeth's "children." My point is
that whatever "reasons" Macbeth may have used to convince his "men" to
kill Banquo and Fleance deteriorate to butchery in the killing of
Macduff's family, and that work seems the work of thugs gorging on
killing innocent people; i.e., if I remember Kirsch's essay correctly,
they are images of Macbeth's destruction of his own ties to whatever
family he might have/could have had and to the larger human
family/community.

Regards,
Michael Shurgot

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Friday, 25 Apr 2003 12:39:18 -0400
Subject: 14.0790 Macbeth's Hired Thugs
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0790 Macbeth's Hired Thugs

Matthew Baynham asks "Why doesn't Shakespeare's Macbeth, as in the
sources, just hire some  thugs,  instead of going through this long
rigmarole of repeated meetings with people he needs to lie to, in order
to convince them that they have their own reasons for killing Banquo? .
. . the murderers are portrayed, I think, not as thugs but as ordinary
men ('We are men, my liege' etc) whom Macbeth dupes and thus corrupts.
There is, in fact, no mention of hire or reward."

The first part of the meeting does focus on the wrongs done to the
murderers by Banquo.  We have no way of knowing whether Macbeth has
invented everything or whether there is some legitimate ground.  But
these are men "Whom the vile buffets of the world have so incensed that
I am reckless," and who are "So weary with disasters, tugged with
fortune, / "That I would set my life on any chance / To mend it or be
rid on't"  (3.1.110-14). The hope of mending broken fortunes clearly
implies the expectation that serving the new king in this way will bring
material rewards.   Although the murderers in *R3* do expect cash
payment, Shakespeare doesn't need to make the form reward might take
explicit.  Richard will "prefer" Tyrell for arranging the murder of the
Princes, Tyrell "did suborn" Dighton and Forrest (Dighton, at least,
already his own servant), Edmund only tells the captain that "thou dost
make thy way / To noble fortunes" (5.3.30-31), and Claudius makes no
explicit offer at all in setting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on to
betray Hamlet;.  The expectation of advancement for useful service was
deeply woven into the fabric of courtly society.  A secure place in a
royal or ducal entourage meant opportunities for wealth even if no cash
payment came directly from the master.

That said, Baynham's discomfort with "this long rigmarole of repeated
meetings" calls our attention to the fact that in *R3* and *Mac*, at
least, we see enough of the murderers to perceive that mere reward is
not the only motive. In a way, the more interesting feature of these
tool-villains is the insistence on the willingness to commit murder as a
definition of manhood: "Spoke like a tall man that respects thy
reputation" (*R3* 1.4.142-43); "if you have a station . . . not i'th'
worst rank of manhood, say't" (*Mac* 3.1.103-04); "If it be a man's
work, I'll do it" (*Lr* 5.3.40).

Valiantly,
David Evett

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