Macbeth (Vol. 80)
See also Macbeth Criticism (Volume 29), and Volumes 57, 69, 90.
Among Shakespeare's shortest and most visceral dramas, Macbeth was likely written in 1606. Principally based on individuals and events described in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577), the play details the rapid and brutal rise of the warrior Macbeth to the throne of Scotland. Spurred by the murky prophesies of three witches and the urging of his determined wife, Macbeth kills benevolent King Duncan, only to discover that this initial act of violence demands further bloodshed. Wracked by guilt while seeking to secure his tenuous position, he commits a string of atrocities that leads to his eventual death on the field of battle. Macbeth is generally considered to be one of Shakespeare's finest tragedies, often praised for its artistic coherence and the intense economy of its dramatic action, which is replete with vivid scenes of carnage and treachery. Regarded as one of Shakespeare's most profound and mature visions of evil, critics of Macbeth often study the play's extensive violence, its nightmarish atmosphere, and the enigmatic nature of its hero.
Scholars have primarily concerned themselves with the drama's title figure, a skilled warrior whose battlefield virtues contrast with his unchecked ambition, moral blindness, propensity to violence, and tyrannical nature once he ascends to the Scottish throne. Plagued by obsessive guilt for his nefarious deeds, Macbeth exudes a tragic grandeur and elicits a perverse sympathy from audiences that has intrigued generations of critics. Julian Markels (1961) concentrates on Macbeth as a tragic figure according to the classical, Aristotelian definition, reading Macbeth as a tragedy of personal degeneration. For Markels, Macbeth's villainous acts exist within a frame of moral relevance that points toward his ultimate spiritual redemption, particularly as he regains his former heroic valor at the drama's conclusion. Macbeth's tragic undulation between primal destruction and Christian redemption also figures prominently in Michael Long's (1989) study of the character. For Long, Macbeth is a quintessential man of action. In the tragedy's ever-changing balance between primordial evil and Christian salvation, however, Macbeth struggles with an insatiable, primeval, and satanic desire for annihilation. While Shakespeare's brutal Thane of Glamis and short-lived King of Scotland continues to draw the vast majority of critical attention, to a lesser degree contemporary commentators have also analyzed Lady Macbeth. Although a relatively small role in terms of lines spoken, Lady Macbeth is generally considered one of the most fascinating female characters in Shakespearean drama. Garry Wills (1995) summarizes her dramatic appeal as a strange amalgam of unrepentant evil, repressed ambition, diabolical sexuality, and maddening guilt. Turning to a subordinate figure in the play, John Turner (1992) discusses the infrequently assessed King Duncan. Acknowledging that Duncan is generally cast as a weak figure in performance and virtually ignored by critics who see him as merely a virtuous ruler, Turner interprets the murdered king as a symbol for feudal ideology. A proponent of political bonds based on the ideal of mutual reciprocity and trust, Duncan and the social framework he represents collapse when confronted by the unrestrained malice of Macbeth.
A notorious work in production with a long and storied theatrical history, Macbeth continues to be one of Shakespeare's most compelling stage plays, in part due to its mystique as a powerful dramatization of evil. In recent years, the work has elicited a range of experimental approaches and demonstrated its international appeal. Reviewing a 1995 adaptation of the drama by Zen Zen Zo, an independent theater company in Kyoto, Owen E. Brady finds this interpretation to be an expressionistic mixture of horror and comedy, and a frenetic, ritualized performance that distilled Macbeth into an iconic representation of human corruption. Kit Baker witnessed a 1997 production of Macbeth in the Croatian capital of Zagreb under the direction of Henryk Baranowski. Baker notes Baranowski's concentration on the internalized brutality of Shakespeare's drama, capturing its strong psychological resonance with disturbing and provocative visual metaphors, particularly evocative in light of Zagreb's war-torn atmosphere. For Baker, the principal flaw of the production was its relentless gloom, which seemed to deaden any redemptive movement in the play. Bruce Weber attended a 2002 Japanese-language production directed by Yukio Ninagawa, which was long on style but short on substance according to the critic. Weber claims that the beautiful and graceful actors, dazzling spectacle, and breathtaking choreography ensured audiences would be entertained, but that Ninagawa left the deeper dramatic issues of the tragedy largely unexplored. Reviewing the 2001 season at the Shakespearean Globe, Lois Potter finds Tim Carroll's highly stylized staging of Macbeth as a contemporary upper-class social event effective by degrees, but at times uneven. Potter admires the believable interpretations of Macbeth and his wife as modern socialites, but contends that Carroll's attempt lacked any real context in which the events of the drama could logically unfold. Viewing the same production, Richard Hornby gives an even more negative evaluation. Although Hornby admires Carroll for his innovative interpretation of Shakespeare and praises the clearly articulated verse, he maintains that everything else—choreography, set, characterization, and costumes—led to unmitigated disaster. Looking back to the early twentieth century, Irena R. Makaryk (1998) examines a 1924 performance of Macbeth directed by the avant-garde Ukrainian Les' Kurbas. Kurbas's modernist approach employed extreme expressionistic and stylized methods, using them not to convey Macbeth's internal turmoil, but rather to question the relationship between theater and objective reality. The results scandalized bourgeois theatergoers. Still, the impact of Kurbas's modernism on stage interpretations of Macbeth remains evident in contemporary productions, in which a tension between expressionistic abstraction and psychological realism prevails.
Scholars are interested in uncovering the complex thematic structure of Macbeth, approaching the drama from many perspectives in order to embrace its combined psychological, moral, philosophical, social, and linguistic concerns. Miguel A. Bernad (1962) identifies five thematic levels in Macbeth, including the tragedies of Macbeth's personal disintegration, Lady Macbeth's guilty ambition, the moral collapse of a valiant soldier into a murderer, the inversion of social order precipitated by Macbeth's violent usurpation, and finally the theological component of the drama as a tale of mortal sin without repentance. Maynard Mack (1981) offers a complementary list of themes in Macbeth, seeing the work as the delineation of a usurper's rise and fall, a documentation of Renaissance concerns with witchcraft, a parable of pride, a metaphysical study of the distinction between what is real and what is unreal, an exposition of the collapse of communal bonds, and a moral tale of judgment focused on a deeply flawed human being. Macbeth is seen as a “tragedy of equivocation” by many critics, who generally view Macbeth's deep ambivalence and amorality as a central theme in the work. Irena Kałuża (1990) applies the concept of equivocation to the drama as a whole, interpreting Macbeth as a play that achieves its tragic balance through doubt, deception, hypocrisy, and hidden meaning. William O. Scott (1986) focuses on a process of recognizing and decoding equivocal statements, from the witches' inscrutable prophesies to Macbeth's own vague and deceptive self-avowals. A. R. Braunmuller (see Further Reading) also examines the play's varied language and imagery, noting that Macbeth's poetic, sometimes impenetrable speeches and Shakespeare's use of paradox, antithesis, and contradiction serve a thematic function by mirroring Macbeth's attempts to conceal and evade his murderous crimes, hiding them from others and himself. Taking a philosophical approach to theme, King-Kok Cheung (1984) applies Søren Kierkegaard's notion of existential dread to Macbeth, observing the effects of an ominous, ambivalent, and indefinable fear that suffuses the drama. Lastly, Leon Harold Craig (2001) studies Macbeth as Shakespeare's most metaphysical work. According to Craig, the foreboding evil that pervades the tragedy is a cosmological one that calls into question the nature of reality, appearance, time, contingency, and being.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Bernad, Miguel A. “The Five Tragedies in Macbeth.” Shakespeare Quarterly 13, no. 1 (winter 1962): 49-61.
[In the following essay, Bernad offers a thematic survey of Macbeth, emphasizing five distinct aspects of tragedy—physical, psychological, moral, social, and theological—within the play.]
One of the most remarkable things about Shakespeare's Macbeth is the artistry with which the playwright has woven five distinct tragedies into one. Hamlet is intriguing, King Lear is profound, but Macbeth is complex, and it is this complexity which gives the play its richness, making a study of it so rewarding and every stage performance a new discovery. Paradoxically, the play is complex despite an extremely simple plot. There are no sub-plots. But the action is made to advance at five different levels, each of which may be called a distinct tragedy because each involves a reversal of fortune in a particular order.
At the most obvious level is the physical tragedy—physical, for want of a better term—in which a person of high estate (to adopt Bradley's paraphrase of the well-known Aristotelian definition) falls into an exceptional calamity involving complete ruin or death. A matchless soldier, kinsman to the king, wins the king's battles and the king's praise; but prompted by inner ambitions and external urgings...
(The entire section is 6358 words.)
SOURCE: Mack, Maynard. “The Many Faces of Macbeth.” In Everybody's Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, pp. 183-96. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1981, Mack examines many of the central thematic concerns of Macbeth, including usurpation, witchcraft, pride, crime, the blurring of the real and unreal, the collapse of community, and final judgment.]
After Lear, Macbeth seems at first glance a simple play. Seen in one light, it simply tells the brutal story of a Scottish usurper whom Shakespeare had read about in one of his favorite source-books, Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Holinshed's Macbeth is an arresting figure, not so much because of his murderous career, which seems to have been only a little in excess of the habits of his time, as because he is said during his first ten years of rule to have “set his whole intention to mainteine justice,” and during his last seven years to have begun to “shew what he was, instead of equitie practising crueltie.”
Shakespeare, though no historian, knew that no man wears a mask of virtue for ten years, only to reveal that he was “really” a butcher all along. This oddity in Holinshed's conception may have challenged him to speculations that ended in a conception of his...
(The entire section is 4996 words.)
Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Markels, Julian. “The Spectacle of Deterioration: Macbeth and the ‘Manner’ of Tragic Imitation.” Shakespeare Quarterly 12, no. 3 (summer 1961): 293-303.
[In the following essay, Markels reads Macbeth as a tragedy of personal degeneration, concentrating on Macbeth as a tragic figure according to the classical, Aristotelian definition and examining his potential to elicit sympathy and find redemption.]
Nor, on the other hand, should an extremely bad man be seen falling from happiness into misery. Such a story may arouse the human feeling in us, but it will not move us to either pity or fear; pity is occasioned by undeserved misfortune, and fear by that of one like ourselves. … There remains, than, the intermediate kind of personage, a man not preeminently virtuous and just. …
Macbeth, as a tragic hero, is a man with a capacity, one might almost say a taste, for damnation. This capacity … is not so very different from a capacity for salvation. Macbeth is a terrible play because its business is to give us some notion of what that damnation is which a man embraces when he is, indeed, man enough for it.
Arthur Sewell, Character and Society in Shakespeare.
To an age like ours, deeply...
(The entire section is 6084 words.)
SOURCE: Long, Michael. “Doers of Deeds.” In Twayne's New Critical Introductions to Shakespeare: Macbeth, pp. 30-53. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989.
[In the following essay, Long evaluates Macbeth as an archetypal man of action and analyzes his crimes in relation to other literary depictions of primal destruction and Christian redemption.]
Shakespeare often begins a tragedy with somebody's description of the protagonist before he comes on stage. We hear of Marcius as ‘chief enemy to the people’ before he bursts in full of fury. We hear of the ‘good and gracious’ Timon before he sweeps on distributing largesse. We hear of Antony falling into ‘dotage’ and then the great lover strolls on in leisured magnificence. We hear whispers of Lear's odd shifts of favour and then he comes on in state to express his ‘darker purpose’. And we are told that Othello is a vainglorious soldier full of ‘bombast circumstance’, as well as a lascivious, black lover who has stolen a white women, before the man himself appears as if to answer these nasty charges. The simple technique creates expectation. It also tells an audience whom to watch, and why.
Macbeth's introduction comes from the wounded Sergeant in I.ii. The Sergeant is a fine, epic soldier with a bent for vivid rhetoric, and the picture he paints is memorable. He evokes the rebel...
(The entire section is 7229 words.)
SOURCE: Turner, John. “Duncan.” In Open Guides to Literature: Macbeth, pp. 36-54. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Turner studies the figure of Duncan in Macbeth, focusing particular attention on this character's status as a signifier of feudal ideology and on performance interpretations made by directors Trevor Nunn and Roman Polanski in their productions of the drama.]
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there was increasingly a ‘reinforcement of patriarchy’ in England and Scotland as the new Renaissance states struggled to secure legitimacy for themselves (Stone 1979: 109). By ‘patriarchy’ I mean a political system concentrating power in the hands of men, especially men within their families—power secured in the Renaissance by primogeniture and authorized by a network of mutually sustaining analogies between the powers of father, God and king. While the aristocracy of the middle ages had defined their power in terms of ‘dominance over kin and clientage’ (Stone 1979: 111), power under the new monarchies was increasingly celebrated as the prerogative of the father (the paterfamilias) within his own household and of the king (the pater patriae) within his own kingdom. This redefinition formed part of an ideological campaign designed to reduce aristocratic power and to reconstitute the kingdom as a constellation of small...
(The entire section is 6779 words.)
SOURCE: Wills, Garry. “Lady Macbeth.” In Witches and Jesuits: Shakespeare's Macbeth, pp. 75-89. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
[In the following excerpt, Wills considers Lady Macbeth as the “fourth witch” in Macbeth and emphasizes the distinctive qualities of this image in theatrical performances of the play.]
Though Lady Macbeth's is not a huge part—she speaks only a third of the lines that Cleopatra does, and under half of Portia's in The Merchant of Venice—two towering (but very different) theatrical reputations were built largely on performances as Lady Macbeth: Sarah Siddons's in the eighteenth century and Ellen Terry's in the nineteenth.1 Siddons was the lofty terrorizer of her husband, and Terry the pre-Raphaelite spectre who dooms him with her beauty. No actor of modern times—since, that is, the inception of the “curse” on the play—has won such general recognition for excelling in this part, though presumably even Siddons and Terry may have fallen short of the first Lady Macbeth, John Rice.
Shakespeare's greatest parts for women naturally cluster at periods when the playwright had an outstanding boy actor, and the lead boy in 1606-07 had three choice parts in a row—Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra, as well as Barnes's Lucretia in The Devil's Charter.2 (The actor may, in fact, have had a fourth great...
(The entire section is 5490 words.)
Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Brady, Owen E. Review of Macbeth. Theatre Journal 48, no. 1 (1996): 97-8.
[In the following review of a 1995 adaptation of Macbeth performed at the Zen Zen Zo theater in Kyoto, Brady discusses the expressionistic power of this bilingual English/Japanese performance and identifies several of the production's stylistic flaws.]
Seized by students in the 1960s and run by them still, Kyoto University's Seibu Kodo stands isolated in a pitted, unpaved lot strewn with refuse. This is the ramshackle headquarters for Zen Zen Zo, a theatrical experiment in cross-cultural form. A multinational troupe directed by Australian Simon Woods, Zen Zen Zo has experimented for three years with fusing Japanese performance techniques and classical Western theatre texts. Something new results: a performance text that might best be called a Butoh meditation on a Western classic.
With Shakespeare's Macbeth as metatext this season, the troupe's Japanese, Australian, and American actors created a performance text distilling Macbeth's deep and dark desires into a raw, expressionistic, Butoh-inspired hell broth of horror and fatality. With Shakespeare's text cut and fragmented into thematic shards of language, the production relies heavily on the human form, dance, and composer Colin Webber's driving, percussive music to communicate Macbeth's slide into hell. Supporting characters and...
(The entire section is 892 words.)
SOURCE: Makaryk, Irena R. “Shakespeare Right and Wrong.” Theatre Journal 50, no. 2 (1998): 153-63.
[In the following review, Makaryk describes avant-garde Ukrainian director Les' Kurbas's 1924 modernistic, anti-bourgeois production of Macbeth, citing its ironic and expressionistic methods and stylized form.]
In an interview in Gambit in 1970, Edward Bond remarked that, as a society, “we use the play [King Lear] in a wrong way. And it's for that reason I would like to rewrite it so that we now have to use the play for ourselves, for our society, for our time, for our problems.”1 For Bond, “wrong” Shakespeare is academic Shakespeare, while “right” Shakespeare is a transformed and contemporary Shakespeare. Bond's clear-cut division of approaches to Shakespeare is quintessentially modernist in its rejection of “museum” Shakespeare in favour of a reworked classic for our time. His division of approaches into right and wrong also points to the main line of argument I wish to explore in relation to one particular production: the idea of style—the central issue of modernism—as not just an interpretive and ideological tool but also a moral one. The area of my special interest is the early Soviet period.
Within the general trend of modernizing Shakespeare in the West from the 1960s on, Macbeth has been the “trademark” avant-garde...
(The entire section is 5944 words.)
SOURCE: Baker, Kit. Review of Macbeth. Theatre Journal 50, no. 2 (1998): 242-46.
[In the following review of director Henryk Baranowski's Croatian-language production of Macbeth in 1997, Baker highlights the provocative setting and its eerie, preternatural mood.]
Theater 2000 is one of Croatia's first independent theatre companies, launched in a spirit of rebellion by leading actors yearning to break from the country's officially sanctioned theatre. Founder Vili Matula chose to debut his company with Macbeth, a suitably provocative choice—the play is, after all, the story of a bloodthirsty warlord, and local parallels would not be lost on a single audience member. Matula and Branka Trlin, the portrayers of the Macbeths, sold their Zagreb apartment to finance half the production, and the Istrian coastal resort of Pula, a town which shares Theatre 2000's occidental spirit, donated the use of a sprawling nineteenth-century fortress as the outdoor location for the play.
Theater 2000's choice of director was the Polish Henryk Baranowski. The director dressed his actors in Balkan combat fatigues and peppered the action with instances of physical and psychological brutality which are only faintly suggested in Shakespeare's text. Yet this Macbeth was not just about the Balkans—the dreamy, nonnaturalistic style of the production probed the psyches of Shakespeare's...
(The entire section is 994 words.)
SOURCE: Potter, Lois. Review of Macbeth. Shakespeare Quarterly 53, no. 1 (2002): 95-105.
[In the following excerpted review of the 2001 Globe season, Potter returns a mixed evaluation of director Tim Carroll's Macbeth, approving of its unconventional setting as a contemporary formal event and its individual performances, while disparaging some of Carroll's directorial additions.]
Tim Carroll's production of Macbeth was described to me as a failure, sometimes an “interesting failure”—so of course I was bound to be pleasantly surprised, and I was. Its basic metaphor seemed to be that of a New Year's or Halloween party, with the entire cast in tuxedos and long dresses. Paul Chahidi, one of the witches, explained in an interview that eveningwear “both provides a neutral palate and immediately suggests night.”1 I wondered whether it might also be an equivalent to the Jacobean masque: performance plus social event. One of the witches' dances might have been a modern version of the “widdershins” antimasque dance by the witches in Jonson's Masque of Queens. The performance opened with the entire company dancing; Banquo was murdered in a game of blindman's buff; and, before killing Lady Macduff and her son, one of the murderers danced with her while the other pretended to be playing with the boy. The minimal props consisted of items that might have been found...
(The entire section is 955 words.)
SOURCE: Hornby, Richard. Review of Macbeth. Hudson Review 54, no. 4 (winter 2002): 657-63.
[In the following review of a 2001 production of Macbeth directed by Tim Carroll, Hornby maintains that nearly every aspect of the performance—including choreography, set, characterization, and costumes—was an unmitigated disaster.]
The Restored Globe Theatre in London continues to have the best spoken and worst directed Shakespeare company in the world. Artistic Director Mark Rylance's decision to have a speech expert, or “Master of Verse,” for each production has given us verse speaking that is clear, vigorously rhythmic, and nuanced. Although the actors are mostly unknowns, their speech is poetic in the best sense, never fluty or artificial, but natural, coming from within the characters themselves, as if we were hearing a troupe of native speakers from the Land of Blank Verse. Unfortunately, Rylance's directors (including himself, although he did not direct last summer) are mostly from the Land of Blank Imagination.
My favorite Globe director prior to last summer was Tim Carroll, the only one to bring a sense of ceremony to the productions. The very fact that Shakespeare's plays are written in verse implies a formal style of production, as does the unchanging, elaborately decorated stage of the Globe itself. Besides, most of Shakespeare's plays abound with ceremonies...
(The entire section is 585 words.)
SOURCE: Weber, Bruce. Review of Macbeth. New York Times (6 December 2002): B3.
[In the following review of director Yukio Ninagawa's 2002 Japanese-language production of Macbeth, Weber praises the dazzling and elegant qualities of the cast, set, and choreography, but questions the overall depth of Ninagawa's interpretation.]
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the gaudily stylish but undeniably exciting Macbeth being presented as part of the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music is that the director, Yukio Ninagawa, is 67 and the best-known director of classical theater in Japan. For in its overall glam visage as well as in many of its hip particulars, it feels very much like the work of an enfant terrible, someone immersed in contemporary aesthetics and given to youthful excess.
The stage is embraced by enormous, angled walls of paneled mirrors, often hazed over with smoke and focused lighting. (Smoke and mirrors, literally.) Mr. Ninagawa has said of the play, “If there is a last day of youth, this is a story that occurs on that night,” and his Lord and Lady Macbeth are unusually young. They are played by Toshiaki Karasawa and Shinobu Otake, vividly beautiful performers with the chiseled cheekbones and gorgeous, calculatedly unkempt coifs of rising movie stars. Actors periodically roar down the aisles to make their entrances (sometimes...
(The entire section is 988 words.)
SOURCE: Cheung, King-Kok. “Shakespeare and Kierkegaard: ‘Dread’ in Macbeth.” Shakespeare Quarterly 35, no. 4 (winter 1984): 430-39.
[In the following essay, Cheung suggests that Macbeth suffers from Kierkegaardian “dread”—a fear of the indefinite that excites anxiety and a desire for the forbidden.]
Macbeth, in choosing to murder Duncan, exhibits what Kierkegaard would later diagnose as “dread.”1 Though centuries apart, both Shakespeare and Kierkegaard are steeped in the Protestant tradition; and in both, dogma is accommodated in psychology. Kierkegaard, who quotes Shakespeare regularly to illustrate his psychological concepts, has the advantage of coming after the playwright and incorporating his insights. Partly for that reason, interpreting the playwright with the hindsight of Kierkegaard may deepen our understanding of Macbeth's seemingly irrational behavior.
The Concept of Dread seems especially helpful in answering Walter Clyde Curry's question, “By what processes does this essentially noble creature, whose will by nature desire the good or reasonable, come deliberately to choose evil?”2 With few exceptions, answers that have been offered lean heavily on theology or faculty psychology. Such answers may be conducive to a moral judgment of Macbeth, but they do not account adequately for our emotional response toward the...
(The entire section is 4710 words.)
SOURCE: Scott, William O. “Macbeth's—and Our—Self-Equivocations.” Shakespeare Quarterly 37, no. 2 (summer 1986): 160-74.
[In the following essay, Scott explores the relationship between self-knowledge and verbal equivocation in Macbeth.]
For even now
I put myself to thy direction, and
Unspeak mine own detraction, here abjure
The taints and blames I laid upon myself,
For strangers to my nature. I am yet
Unknown to woman, never was forsworn,
Scarcely have coveted what was mine own,
At no time broke my faith, would not betray
The devil to his fellow, and delight
No less in truth than life. My first false speaking
Was this upon myself. …
Such welcome and unwelcome things at once
'Tis hard to reconcile.
[G. E. Moore] had a kind of exquisite purity. I have never but once succeeded in making him tell a lie, and that was by a subterfuge. “Moore,” I said, “do you always speak the truth?” “No,” he replied. I believe this to be the only lie he had ever told.
(The entire section is 8838 words.)
SOURCE: Kałuża, Irena. Introduction to The Language of Deception in Macbeth: A Study in Equivocation and Hidden Meaning, pp. 9-16. Kroków: Nakladem Uniwersytetu Jagiellonkiego, 1990.
[In the following essay, Kałuża summarizes pervasive patterns of hypocrisy, deception, and equivocation in Macbeth.]
Macbeth is a tragedy with a criminal as tragic hero. For such a tragedy to achieve the right tragic effect, the evil must be balanced by other elements. In Macbeth some of the balancing factors are to be found in the very quality of the language of the play. Thus in Acts I and II Macbeth's evil-doing is contrasted with his anguished introspective language, and later, when he becomes a hardened criminal, the horror of his crimes is, paradoxically, both accentuated and alleviated by the magnificence of his language. It is this ‘language of compensation’ that is generally thought of as the ‘language of Macbeth.’
But in point of fact there exists also in this tragedy a more muted language associated with double-dealing, hypocrisy and deception. It is used to camouflage evil. It is often characterized by utter simplicity of form and an ability to communicate different meanings by one and the same utterance, depending on the person of the Hearer and the context of situation. As an example, take the following exchange:
(The entire section is 3248 words.)
SOURCE: Craig, Leon Harold. “Living in a Hard Time: Politics and Philosophy in Macbeth.” In Of Philosophers and Kings: Political Philosophy in Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Lear, pp. 25-111. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001.
[In the following excerpt, Craig claims that Macbeth is Shakespeare's most metaphysical work, and probes the play's concern with such philosophical issues as the nature of reality, appearance, time, contingency, and being.]
THE METAPHYSICS OF MACBETH
Macbeth is the only work in the canon in which the word ‘metaphysical’ occurs. Once one begins to discern some of the play's larger themes, its singular occurrence there cannot be regarded as incidental; neither can the context in which it is introduced and the ideas that are immediately associated with it. Lady Macbeth is musing to herself in response to her lord's report of his strange encounter with those Weyward Sisters, who (he assures her) have “more in them than mortal knowledge.” She wishes him speedily returned so that she may pour her spirits in his ear, and subdue his inner impediments to seizing the crown “which fate and metaphysical aid” so clearly seem to have reserved for him (1.5.26-30). Her wish is no sooner expressed than a servant announces, “our Thane is coming”—indeed, so hard and fast that the messenger bringing this news,...
(The entire section is 11870 words.)
Belson, Ken. Review of Macbeth. New York Times (1 December 2002): AR7.
Reviews Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa's 2002 staging of Macbeth in Brooklyn, focusing on Ninagawa's theatrical career and his thematic evocation of mortality in the production.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare's Macbeth. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 184 p.
Presents seven essays on Macbeth by Bloom and other noted contemporary critics on subjects including power, ambition, and Macbeth's criminal mind.
Braunmuller, A. R. Introduction to The New Cambridge Shakespeare: Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, edited by A. R. Braunmuller, pp. 1-94. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Surveys the language of Macbeth from its “extravagant rhetoric and dense metaphor” to its poetic devices and varied imagery.
Brooke, Nicholas, ed. Introduction to The Oxford Shakespeare: The Tragedy of Macbeth, pp. 1-81. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990.
Surveys the language, sources, and stage and textual histories of Macbeth.
Carroll, William C., ed. Macbeth: Texts and Contexts, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999, 394 p.
Presents dozens of sixteenth- and...
(The entire section is 510 words.)