Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0163.  Monday, 28 February 1994.
From:           James McKenna <MCKENNJI@UCBEH>
Date:           Sunday, 27 Feb 1994 18:54:29 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        macpsychbeth and th'expense of spirit
Thanks Mr. McKay for the reminder of classical ideas of tragedy: right!  I'm
off the beam to present Macbeth as Everyman.  With Willy Loman 350 years in the
future, Shakespeare is not writing from a modern perspective but from a
modified classical one.  But even that aside, does classical tragedy present
characters who are truly other than ourselves?  One of the blessed byproducts
of psychoanalysis is the discovery that these high characters often reside
within us.  We say that explicitly now, but might it be that the Renaissance
was aware that extreme behaviors are not so much other than normal as extremes,
normality stretched by obsession and circumstance?
I ask that as a real question.  In reading comedies of humors, I can see types
constructed that are clearly just what they are; not distortions but oddities.
Yet such oddities are the staple of television today.  Comedy of humors is more
alive now than it was then.  The existence of truly unhuman characters is not
evidence that there is no awareness of the link between godlike ambition and
human frailty.  You are right to call me on the Everyman slant: that's taking
the point too far.  But Renaissance writing demonstrates that writers, at
least, if not most people, were interested in the question of whether
enormities were the actions of a bizarre few or the acting out of common
passions by unfortunates.
Finally, on Sonnet 129:  Why do you pick this one as an example of outlandish
behavior?  Do I reveal too much about myself?  It seems to me that this very
hyperbole is the core of the Renaissance megalomaniac: a familiar passion,
commonly unacted or mostly suppressed or acted in a very small sphere, expanded
onto a stage of nations and kings.  What thinkest'ou?
James McKenna
University of Cincinnati
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