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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: April ::
Re: Macbeth's Hired Thugs
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0814  Tuesday, 29 April 2003

[1]     From:   James Doyle <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 Apr 2003 21:25:21 +0100
        Subj:   Macbeth's Hired Thugs

[2]     From:   Matthew Baynham <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 10:30:32 +0100
        Subj:   Macbeth's Hired Thugs


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Doyle <
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Date:           Monday, 28 Apr 2003 21:25:21 +0100
Subject:        Macbeth's Hired Thugs

Reading the discussion about the murders, and murderers, in Macbeth,
reminded me of one of the more powerful images I have seen in a
production of the play.

It was a UK TV production, in the 80s or early 90s, filmed with a mixed
cast of professional actors and working class people from a council
estate (in Birmingham?).  The setting was the estate itself, all tower
blocks and terraced houses, with Duncan the leader of a gang of drug
dealers, and Macbeth and Banquo as his enforcers.  Probably sounds
unpromising so far, but bear with me.

Early on we saw Lady Macbeth walking with Lady Macduff, the latter
pushing a pram and the whole thing intimating they were close friends.
Then Macbeth and Lady M discussed the witches' prophecies in a bedroom
obviously decorated for a baby, but equally obviously, and painfully,
not having been used.

I can't quite remember how it was staged, but Lady M got wind of the
planned killing of the Macduffs, runs through the estate to their house,
and makes it in time only to hear the killings happening inside while
she is crouched beneath the kitchen window.  The killings weren't shown
at all, but the sounds, and the expression on Lady M's face, made it the
most horrifying staging of the murders I've seen - let's be honest,
there's been so much blood on the stage by that point the play is in
danger of tipping over into comedy if it's not played right.  It also
made the most convincing explanation of why Lady M slips into madness -
losing her best friend, and what seemed to be her surrogate children,
was more than she could bear.

It was an uneven production, but for that moment, and for the three
witches as three Jamaican ladies with the largest pan of stew I'ev ever
seen, it has a place in my memory.

James Doyle

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matthew Baynham <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 10:30:32 +0100
Subject:        Macbeth's Hired Thugs

Thanks to Michael Shurgot and David Evett for their responses. That the
murderers become thugs is not in question (although some productions
have, I believe, used a penitent Second Murderer as the 'Messenger' who
warns Lady Macduff as). One accepts, too, the suggestion that there must
have been some reward at the end of the process. But the text explicitly
focuses on the Murderers' personal motivation for revenge against Banquo
and on Macbeth's long- winded effort to stir it up in this their second
meeting.

In the only speeches in which we see anything of the Murderers'
motivation, they bemoan their bad luck, but do not mention any previous
crime they have committed. David Evett writes, 'We have no way of
knowing whether Macbeth has invented everything or whether there is some
legitimate ground.' Here, I directly disagree. The Murderers previously
thought that they had been oppressed by Macbeth ('our innocent self').
We have no reason to doubt that they were right and every reason to
doubt Macbeth's version of events.  Macbeth himself, in soliloquy with
no-one to deceive, has just told us the truth about Banquo: his 'royalty
of nature... dauntless temper...  wisdom...valour...'

Evett further: '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...' I agree, to some extent; but I'm more
interested in what's going on inside Macbeth. Here is a process in which
Macbeth has oppressed these men, then lied to them about who was
responsible for the 'vile blows and buffets...disasters' they have
suffered, apparently all to get them to carry out a crime which any two
hired thugs might have done better (these two do botch it, after all,
even with the extra help he feels it necessary to send them).

The question is: Why? Here, I think, his immediate response to Banquo's
ghost is telling: 'Thou canst not say I did it'. I suspect that denial
and deniability are at the heart of his motivation. His need for
political denial is explicit in the sources and in Macbeth's 'yet I must
not, / For certain friends that are both his and mine etc' but I think
his need for denial also runs at the psychological level: 'to know my
deed/ 'Twere best not know myself'. There is, on this reading, a kind of
sublimation of his own guilt in 'all things else that might/ To half a
soul and to a notion craz'd, /Say 'Thus did Banquo'. The half soul (It
hath undone my single state of man etc) and the 'notion craz'd' are his
own: there is part of him that needs this fiction and needs to pass it
on to the Murderers so that they believe it too.

Golly, that was a bit long: but I do think it's a fascinating scene.

Matthew Baynham
Chaplain
Bishop Grosseteste College

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