Why are we told that "many unrough youths" are fighting Macbeth (Lennox in Act 5 Scene 2)?
Shakespeare wants to...
- suggest that Macbeth is such a tyrant that even very young men rise up in arms against him?
- start the play with bearded women (the witches) and end the play with unbearded men (the soldiers)? A sort of structural chiasmus??
- 'make fun' of his group actors playing the part of soldiers, who happen to be young and beardless??? Some sort of romantic irony???
2 Answers | Add Yours
The third option is the most likely. It was no strange matter for very young men to wish to prove themselves in battle, especially in Shakespeare's day. The second option is unlikely as well--the "bearded women" are found at the very beginning of the first scene, whereas the very end of the final scene depicts a speech by Malcolm, rather than any "unbearded men." On the other hand, Shakespeare did often poke fun at his own productions. An example of this is in Hamlet, where Hamlet refers to his father's ghost as "this fellow in the cellarage," sardonically revealing the old stage trick of hiding an actor beneath the floorboards of the stage in order to represent a disembodied voice.
I think your first suggestion is probably the best one. Lennox's comment also foreshadows Macbeth's encounter with Young Siward, whom we know to be young and inexperienced. In their battle this youth nevertheless fights bravely against the man regarded as the epitome as evil. Macbeth easily kills him and believes this death simply confirms the witches' prophecy that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth." He doesn't take Young Siward's lack of battle experience into account.
The framing of the story with a contrast between bearded witches and unbearded young men is possibly a technique used by Shakespeare as chiasmus; however, I believe that even very young men join the uprising against the tyrant is the point that Lennox makes in his reference to "many unrough youths." Virtually everyone in Scotland has turned against Macbeth; his own army quickly surrenders when they have the opportunity, indicating they were fighting against the rebels and English forces only because they were ordered to do so, not because they supported the king.
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