The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1744  Thursday, 12 July 2001

From:           Edmund Taft <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Date:           Wednesday, 11 Jul 2001 13:39:54 -0400
Subject:        Re: Macbett

Marcia Eppich writes of _Macbeth_:

"This reference to nursing a baby, and other references, suggest that
there may be some parts of the play missing... like where is this baby
that Lady Macbeth has nursed?"

Good point. _Macbeth_ is only found in the First Folio, and some, most
recently Stephen Greenblatt, think that what we have is an acting
version, which would explain the play's brevity and the terrifying speed
with which Macbeth does himself in.  Perhaps the missing baby is a sign
of imperfect cutting of an originally longer text.

But I doubt it. The brevity and speed of the play seem intentional, and,
as I argued last time, the "missing child" is also intentional.  In
fact, children play a more central role in _Macbeth_ than is usually
recognized.  Banquo resists the temptations of "vaulting ambition,"
perhaps because the prophesies of the weird sisters concern his child,
Fleance, not himself.  Macduff leaves his wife and child to certain
death, an awful crux in the play, and Siward seems at the end of the
play to glory in his son's death.  As a result, Macduff and Siward stand
in the same relation to Malcolm at the play's end as did Macbeth to
Duncan at the start of the play -- childless subjects who seem loyal,
but, who knows what will happen next?

In "The Naked Babe and the Cloak of Manliness," (1947), Cleanth Brooks
argued that the idea of the child "dominates the symbolism" of the play.
I agree, and think that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth engender the child of
untrammeled ambition, and kill the child of pity. The play may suggest
that they might not have done so had they had a surviving child on which
to focus and lavish their attentions.

--Ed Taft

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