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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: January ::
Macbeth Characters
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0137  Monday, 24 January 2005

From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Friday, 21 Jan 2005 23:03:32 -0800
Subject:        Re: Macbeth Characters

S. Zarela wrote:

 >The ridicule wouldn't be directed at you, but at the King who allowed
 >himself to be 'attended' by a Porter.  If the King were powerless, like
 >Lear, the ridicule would change to pity.  But a Lord in his own castle,
 >surrounded by his pomp and soldiery, yet having a Porter for
 >'Attendant'-makes himself ridiculous, in Shakespeare's world and terms.

I am apparently having a hard time getting across what I am attempting
to.  The phrase having a Porter for an attendant makes him sound so
real, so solid, so fixed, so unchangeable.  Once a Porter always a
Porter, eh, Stanzi?  I'm probably looking at this character less from
the standpoint of history, or historical drama, or even less psychology
or sociology, than I am from a stagecraft, or theatrical, or
metaphysical standpoint.  There might be at least three levels to him.
The first is the actor portraying the role (for the sake of simplicity
let's say there is only one - one actor).  The second level is the
recognition by the audience of the character as having a particular
identity: an identity distinct from that of the other characters in the
play.  Then the third level concerns his "role," or his function within
any given scene.  Macbeth himself has different functions: warrior,
husband, king, murderer, and so on.  In his case his functions are not
reflected in his Speech Prefixes, whereas Lady Capulet, in Q2 Romeo and
Juliet, does have this peculiarity.

As usual what I am trying to get at is how this was originally performed
and perceived, whether or not it might play well now.

Here we have a play with a certain number of indistinct, or vague might
be a better term, Speech Prefixes where many of them are currently
broken out into different characters, using the modern principle of
distinct prefix means distinct character.  There might be some that are
homologous in the manner of Lady Capulet.  So I am trying to decide who
the characters are, from various clues, realizing that just because a
character in one scene has a different Speech Prefix than a character in
another scene doesn't mean they are different characters.

So in my list I have made an attempt at homology, involving the Porter.
  But I am trying to get away from the idea that a Porter also,
incongruously, serves as a royal attendant; the Porter is not the
Porter.  I have a different kind of incongruity in mind.  I suggest the
original audience may have perceived a certain identity to the character
identified by the Speech Prefix Porter.  They didn't see him as merely a
Porter, although he functioned as a Porter in one scene.  Like Macbeth,
he had other functions in other scenes.  So I am trying to say the term
Porter is a kind of loose identifier which may have, down through the
centuries, served as a disguise.

How old is this guy (leaving aside the question of how many children
Lady Macbeth had)?  Thirty years?  Four point six times ten to the ninth
years?  How old is the universe - 15, 20 billion years?  Here is a play
where there is at least one and probably three characters who are not
Homo sapiens (Hecate, Paddock, and Graymalkin), and several more who
consort, shall we say (since they are witches) with spirits.  So it
might be that this so-called Porter is another one of them spirits, who
functions outwardly (while disguised), first as a Porter, then as a
murderer, and so on, culminating in his named role as S-E-Y-T-O-N,
phonetically speaking.  The power behind the throne, so to speak.

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