The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2760  Thursday, 6 December 2001

[1]     From:   John Ramsay <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 05 Dec 2001 11:56:53 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2734 Re: Succession

[2]     From:   John Ramsay <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Wednesday, 05 Dec 2001 12:59:37 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2750 Re: Succession

[3]     From:   Martin Steward <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
        Date:   Thursday, 6 Dec 2001 09:22:51 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2750 Re: Succession and Time in Macbeth

From:           John Ramsay <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 05 Dec 2001 11:56:53 -0500
Subject: 12.2734 Re: Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2734 Re: Succession

> > I know the thread is about Hamlet but I can't let
> > this go by.  Too many
> > inaccurate history books and Shakespeare,
> > notwithstanding, Richard III
> > did not kill his nephews.  This has been proven
> > satisfactorily, "beyond
> > reasonable doubt", many times.
> Can you help us by providing citations/sources for this?
> > Nor did he kill Clarence.  King Edward IV had
> > Clarence murdered and
> > almost certainly the princes were killed at the
> > instigation of the Duke of Buckingham
> Has this been 'proven satisfactorily, "beyond reasonable doubt"'?
> Cheers,
> Karen

It has not been proven "beyond reasonable doubt" but there's plenty of evidence to indicate the historical Richard III was hardly the villainous character portrayed in the Shakespeare version.

Josephine Tey's offbeat detective novel "The Daughter of Time" analyzes the Richard III case and cites an earlier factual book on the subject.

A book was published a few years back as the latest attempt to exonerate 'Crookback Dick'.

Also an interesting portrayal of him in RL Stevenson's "The Black Arrow".

A web search for > Richard III Society < will get you all sorts of pro-Richard info.

John Ramsay

From:           John Ramsay <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Wednesday, 05 Dec 2001 12:59:37 -0500
Subject: 12.2750 Re: Succession
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2750 Re: Succession

> What about succession in "Macbeth"? Does Macbeth have any reason to
> think that Duncan will name him as successor? I once read that in the
> 11th century (the time of the "real" Macbeth) primogeniture wasn't
> necessarily the way to go. If a more qualified candidate came along, he
> could be named king. I've often thought Malcolm could be about 14 years
> old and a bit wet behind the ears (after all, the sergeant had to save
> him during battle) to become king and Macbeth evidently expects to be
> named (Shakespeare uses the term "earnest" twice in the first act ---
> kind of like earnest money one gives to show intent), especially since
> he was "Bellona's bridegroom" in the recent rebellions. What kind of
> king could Duncan be if two of his trusted thanes rebelled (and did it
> with outside help from the Western Isles and the Norwegians)? That
> Malcolm shows himself to be a shrewd manipulator with Macduff in Act IV
> could be chalked up to the passage of time; after all, Macbeth reigned
> for a couple of years although Shakespeare seems to collapse time to
> suit his dramatic purposes.  Any thoughts?
> Ruth Ross

Are you a former student of mine? I said much of the above in my high school classes for 30+ years -:)

Scotland at the time of the play was a loose, feudal state. The king was chosen by the local nobles aka warlords. Each noble ruled his own territory. Macbeth was in charge of Inverness, Banquo in charge of Lochaber. Their territories were the east and west ends of Scotland's 'great glen', a traditional invasion route.

(As Thane of Fife, Macduff was in charge of the Firth of Forth, also an invasion route, but the Norwegians and the McDonalds did not choose that avenue of attack.)

Macbeth and Banquo did what they were supposed to do. Defended their own territories but also saved the rest of the country. They were assisted by troops sent by Duncan under command of his son Malcolm. So Duncan too did what he was supposed to do, under the terms of what was really a mutual defence pact.

The trouble really starts when Duncan names Malcolm as the future King of Scotland. He does not, at that time in history, have the right to do so. Naming Macbeth Thane of Cawdor is an attempt to buy him off and his neglect of tangible reward to Banquo is an even worse affront.

From:           Martin Steward <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Thursday, 6 Dec 2001 09:22:51 -0000
Subject: 12.2750 Re: Succession and Time in Macbeth
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2750 Re: Succession and Time in Macbeth

Rather like that other great literary achievement to emerge from the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, Lanceleot Andrewes's series of sermons, Macbeth uses the idea of Garnet's equivocation as a figure for its general examination of the a priorism of divine right theory. Speaking of the confrontation between David and Saul, Andrewes worried about the problem of identifying "the Lord's Annointed" as one who clearly has not enjoyed the active protection of God against his enemies; Macbeth, according to Steven Mullaney, works within a "sixteenth-century political cosmology" which "radically restricted the power of authority to control or contain treason's amphibology". Upon the discovery of Duncan's body, Macduff cries,

Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!
Most sacrilegious murther hath broke ope
The Lord's anointed temple, and stole thence
The life o' th' building!
(The Tragedy of Macbeth, II.iii.66-69)

Of course, it can be argued that the "confusion" that Macbeth unleashes is a temporary aberration of God's order, which the play's action works to restore. Shakespeare does seem to have taken pains to undermine any legitimacy that the historical Macbeth may have had: his peaceful and benign fifteen-year reign is drastically reduced and made awash with blood; and neither Macduff nor Malcolm, who will come to depose him, ever swear an oath of allegiance. Furthermore, "An entire antithetical apparatus of nature and supernature... is called upon to witness against him as usurping tyrant".  Nevertheless, the opening scenes immediately suggest the difficulty of easy categorizations: "The merciless Macdonwald" has fomented a rebellion against Duncan, evidence, according to the sergeant, that "multiplying villainies of nature / Do swarm upon him"; and yet "Fortune, on his damned [quarrel] smiling, / Show'd like a rebel's whore". We might imagine that temporary "Fortune" will be overcome by natural justice, and indeed "brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name), / Disdaining Fortune, with his brandish'd steel" despatches the rebel (I.ii.9-24). It seems that Providence has overridden Fortune to protect the anointed King; but Macbeth, foreshadowing his later deed, has killed a King in foiling a rebellion - "Norway himself, with terrible numbers, / Assisted by that most disloyal traitor, / The Thane of Cawdor" (I.ii.51-53). Bearing in mind the status of the invading army in King Lear, the natural justice of Macbeth's regicide is far from obvious.  Although his character, with his "brandish'd steel" and his title of "Bellona's bridegroom" (I.ii.57), together with the almost absurd masculinity of the battlefield, seems calculated to distance him from James the sword-wary pacifist, at this point he is enthusiastically in league with Banquo, who was supposed to be his direct antecendent. "So foul and fair a day I have not seen", declares Macbeth (I.iii.37), his paradox expressing not only the reality of a bloody victory, but als
 will use to sow his "confusion", and further, that his empowerment will lead to the ascendancy of Banquo's genealogical line.

"Fair and foul" seem, therefore, to refer to Banquo and Macbeth respectively, who in turn represent the conflicting principles of natural law and Machiavellian ambition. In this light, the masculinity of the battlefield seems closer to James's theory of Kingship, which emphasized the principles of patriarchy and heredity as a priori indicators of political right. The prophecies of the Weird Sisters, which ignite Macbeth's ambition and the disintegration of his friendship with Banquo, signal the irreconcileable qualities of Providence and Fortune, and show that Macbeth's status as regicide does not necessarily involve a "disdain" for the latter.  "You should be women," says Banquo, "And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so" (I.iii.38-47); the uncertainty of the Weird Sisters' gender implies the challenge to patriarchal order that their "Fortune-telling" threatens. They hail Macbeth as "Thane of Glamis!", a title he holds by hereditary right - "By Sinel's death I know I am Thane of Glamis" (I.iii.71); then as "Thane of Cawdor!", a title he holds by right of conquest, although he does not know it yet; and finally as "King hereafter!" (I.iii.48-50). To Banquo they promise, "Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none" (I.iii.67). The irreconcileability of these two prophecies, without the death of one or both of them, is reflected in their repetion by Macbeth and Banquo in the single line, "Your children shall be kings. You shall be king" (I.iii.86). The entire scene wavers within an uncertain, equivocal space where "function / Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is / But what is not": "This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill; cannot be good", as Macbeth sees immediately; it makes his heart race "Against the use of nature" (I.iii.130-142). Like the equivocator before the Judge, the Weird Sisters tell only the truths which their listeners want to hear. On some level, Macbeth appears to oblige them: his letter to Lady Macbeth carries no mention of the prophecy concerning Banquo's royal line, but
t III, when he tells her, "Thou know'st that Banquo and his Fleance lives" and she replies, "But in them nature's copy's not eterne" (III.ii.37-38), it seems that he still has not told her about the second part of the prophecy, as if he has tried to block out its contradictory implications from his own mind. Consulting the Sisters in a later scene, their Apparitions warn him to "beware Macduff", but also that "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth", leaving unsaid the hidden truth which reconciles these contradicitions. Macbeth does not interrogate further, but accepts that these are "Sweet bodements! good!" He does, however, return to the paradox of their first prophecies, asking, "shall Banquo's issue ever / Reign in this kingdom?" In response he is given "A show of eight Kings, [the eighth] with a glass in his hand, and Banquo last" (IV.i.71-72, 79-81, 90-103, 112-124), the glass, presumably, reflecting the ninth Stuart King, James himself, as he sat for the court performance of the play. But, as Mullaney argues, "there is another genealogy in the air as well": the Weird Sisters' riddle "amounts to a genealogy of treason and equivocation: the equivocation the audience knows, defined by James as treason's dissembling lie, has been contextualized or traced back to the less than reassuring figure of treason and rebellion".  Banquo's line ascends thanks to Macbeth's treasonable action upon the Weird Sister's equivocation; and what is more, the fact that the eighth member of his line is a King, and not a Queen, points to the fact that the Stuart line retained its air of treasonous illegitimacy (in England) right up to the reign of James's mother, Mary. James's accession to the English throne was genealogically sound, but politically problematic, considering his mother's relationship with its previous occupant.

The uneasiness of Banquo's relationship with Macbeth articulates the same contradicitons: "If you shall cleave to my consent, when 'tis, / It shall make honour for you", promises Macbeth, signalling that he is about to take an active role in seeing the prophecies come to fruition. Banquo, instead of disavowing this course completely, equivocates:

   So I lose none
In seeking to augment it, but still keep
My bosom franchis'd and allegiance clear,
I shall be counsell'd.
(The Tragedy of Macbeth, II.i.25-29)

Perhaps Banquo thinks that his friend will achieve his ambitions without doing something dishonourable - but it seems that he has already understood that his own ambitions depend upon the dishonourable actions which Macbeth might have to undertake, thus allowing him to make his family a line of Kings without bloodying his hands in treason:

Thou hast it now: King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the we 

Subscribe to Our Feeds


Make a Gift to SHAKSPER

Consider making a gift to support SHAKSPER.