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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: April ::
Re: Problems in Macbeth
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0807  Tuesday, 29 April 2003

[1]     From:   Annalisa Castaldo <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Apr 2003 11:10:04 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth

[2]     From:   Jack Hettinger <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Apr 2003 12:05:58 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth

[3]     From:   Tue Sorensen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 02:21:36 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth

[4]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Apr 2003 21:59:40 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth

[5]     From:   Matthew Baynham <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 10:40:27 +0100
        Subj:   Problems in Macbeth


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Annalisa Castaldo <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Apr 2003 11:10:04 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth

Robert Icke asks about the witches and their influence over Macbeth.
"...surely this partly removes the blame for his crimes from his
ambitious mind and places it upon them?"

There are probably two answers to this. The first, of historical
context, is that the new king, James, was obsessed with witches, and
surely their apparent power was a way to keep his interest.

But the more compelling and literary reason is that by introducing the
witches, but leaving their power ambiguous (while they do say "The
charm's wound up." Macbeth in several places indicates that he was
thinking along kingly lines before they ever appeared), Shakespeare
opens a debate on fate vs. free will. We can not only pity or hate
Macbeth because of his moral collapse, we can also wonder endlessly if,
or how much, he is responsible.

Annalisa Castaldo

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jack Hettinger <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Apr 2003 12:05:58 -0400
Subject: 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth

Robert Icke raises what for me is the big question about Macbeth-if the
witches charm him into mischief, then our interest in a great and good
man choosing to over-reach flies out the window. I say no will, no
tragedy, at least in a modern sense.

Sounds as if Hecate and the Weird Sisters have not influenced Macbeth to
feel more "secure"; rather the opposite. Further, I don't think Macbeth
can be played as credulous of the two assurances he gets, namely, that
he's safe from every man "born of woman" (4.1.96), and of course safe
until Great Birnham Wood shows up at Dunsinane. He clings to these
equivocations, but believes them? They sound fishy, at least to my
Macbeth, regardless how alarmed he acts when the riddles are solved for
him.

Jack

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tue Sorensen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 02:21:36 +0200
Subject: 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth

Of Macbeth, Robert Icke wrote:

>If Shakespeare's purpose is to make his audience watch
>(and pity) the descent
>and change from 'worthy' Macbeth who 'well ... deserves
>that name' to a 'dead
>butcher', why employ the witches other than to create
>drama and excitement?

Primarily because of pressure from his wife, Macbeth's rational capacity
becomes increasingly diseased and misdirected, and he extrapolates
wildly and desperately on the augurs of the witches. While essentially
true, the prophecies of the witches are being distorted and then used as
(now flawed) guidelines for action. This is not the witches' fault.
Rather, Shakespeare is illustrating what the human mind (Macbeth) does
in such a situation. In the largest perspective - applying it as broadly
as possible to the human condition -, I see a commentary on and an
intentional parallel to phenomena like religion and philosophy in this
play. In the real word, the profound prophetic wisdom of the original
scriptures are being turned into all sorts of different things by people
who can't understand the true meaning, context and background of the
texts. This play, I believe, is fundamentally about how truth is
distorted into fabricated fixations by a human mind which, for most of
human history, has no other choice because its knowledge of the truth is
so limited that fabrication is the only way to attempt to understand it
(which includes convincing itself that is *has* understood it). This
spawns panicky speculation which in many cases is fatally wrong and
leads to great oppression and suffering. So at heart the play is a
tragedy of human ignorance (which can be blamed only on natural
circumstances), with Macduff representing the hope that such ignorance
may one day be overcome by the more enterprising aspects of the human
spirit.  Most of Shakespeare's plays do not simply resolve a conflict
which restores the status quo; rather, they represent an evolution from
one state to another, from a lower level to a higher level. From fear to
confidence, from separation to unity, from ignorance to wisdom, etc.

- Tue Sorensen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Apr 2003 21:59:40 -0500
Subject: 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0798 Problems in Macbeth

Robert Icke wrote,

>The tragedy of Macbeth is ...[the] tragedy...
> not necessarily of a man ruined by his own flaws, but by a man
> bewitched. Presumably the witches are behind the dagger that pushes
> Macbeth to kill Duncan, and have been said also to be responsible for
> the change in Macbeth's character after the coronation; surely this
> partly removes the blame for his crimes from his ambitious mind and
> places it upon them?

If the witches are not treated as externalizations of Macbeth's own evil
motives (I, iii, 130ff), making his demise of his own doing, Macbeth is
not to be considered a tragic figure at all but merely one to be
pitied.  There are no tragic figures without moral flaws from which
their destruction follows.

       L. Swilley

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matthew Baynham <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 10:40:27 +0100
Subject:        Problems in Macbeth

I think the answer is too psychologically simple for us now; but
probably Shakespeare uses the Witches as fairly routine agents of
temptation.  Temptation is a recurrent thread in Macbeth: the Witches
(and perhaps Lady Macbeth) tempt Macbeth; Macbeth (as I've been arguing
in another thread) tempts the Murderers; and, in some strange way in
4.3, Macbeth tempts Malcolm, too. Banquo's idea that 'The instruments of
darkness' lead human beings astray in this way was (is) orthodox
Christian doctrine; but it was (is) not thought to remove the human
agent's moral responsibility for one's own actions.

Matthew Baynham
Chaplain
Bishop Grosseteste College

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