(Shakespearean Criticism)


From the 1700s to the present, critics have praised the artistic coherence οf Macbeth and the intense economy of its dramatic action. Earlier commentators as well as contemporary critics have frequently remarked on the play's vivid depiction of treachery and bloodshed, its nightmarish atmosphere, the exploration of the issue of free will versus fate, and the enigmatic nature of its hero. In the late twentieth century, however, there has been a shifting and complex response to the play and its chief protagonist. Although scholars continue to evaluate its relationship to the traditional medieval morality plays as well as its treatment of dynastic issues, they are no longer inclined to view Macbeth as a simplistic allegory of good versus evil or royalist propaganda vindicating the monarchy of James I. There is currently a sharp division among commentators on the question of whether Macbeth is a sympathetic figure with whom audiences and readers can identify, as they do with Lear, Hamlet, and Othello, or whether Macbeth is an egotistical and unadmirable character. Nevertheless, critics generally agree that Macbeth dominates the play in a way that is unique among Shakespeare's tragic heroes.

Late twentieth-century commentary on Macbeth frequently focuses on its principal character—his struggles with his conscience, his descent into corruption, and whether his fate is predestined. Dieter Mehl (1983) has centered his wide-ranging discussion of the play on Macbeth's agonizing internal conflicts and the stages of his moral corruption, contending that Shakespeare depicts his protagonist as an inherently good man who only succumbs to temptation after a harrowing struggle with his conscience. In Mehl's judgment, the nature of evil—and its hold over individual characters—is the essential issue of Macbeth. Similarly, R. A. Foakes (1996) has described the play as Shakespeare's most penetrating analysis of the concept of evil. Foakes regards Macbeth as an essentially moral man who, because of his wife's bullying and his own ambition, fatally compromises his gentler instincts and destroys his own humanity, ending up a victim as well as a villain.

Many recent commentators have discussed the question of whether the term "tragic hero" is appropriate for a dramatic protagonist who devolves into a murderous tyrant. In the context of these discussions, they have examined the means by which audiences and readers are led to identify with Macbeth, to sympathize with his fate, and to some degree even admire him. Robert B. Heilman (1966) has examined the issue of the hero's problematic stature, arguing that because we are induced to share Macbeth's perspective on events, his emotional turmoil, and his terrible anxieties, we find ourselves empathizing with him and achieving an expanded vision of human nature and of ourselves. From Heilman's perspective, Macbeth is no ordinary villain but rather a man with an exceptional capacity to feel, imagine, and suffer, and thus he evokes our pity and understanding. Arthur Kirsch (1984) also has focused on Macbeth's ambitious nature, emphasizing the emptiness of his desires and the insatiability of his aspirations. The critic characterizes Macbeth as the most egotistical of Shakespeare's tragic heroes and suggests that it is extremely difficult either to sympathize with him or to admire him. By contrast, Michael Davis (1979) has interpreted Macbeth as a tragedy of courage, in which Shakespeare explores the nature of manliness and the implications of defining oneself solely in terms of valor. Davis proposes that Macbeth's unquenchable desire to master his fate and overcome all obstacles must inevitably lead either to defeat—or to emptiness—if he conquers all his foes. In Davis's judgment, when Macbeth places his future in the hands of the witches, he relinquishes his autonomy and becomes unmanned.

Indeed, emasculation is one of Macbeth's principal anxieties, according to psychoanalytic criticism. Other subconscious tensions discovered in the play by commentators using this approach include incestuous or oedipal fears. Macbeth has been the subject of a large number of psychoanalytic interpretations. Over the last thirty years, traditional Freudian or oedipal readings of the play have been augmented by many commentators. Robert N. Watson (1984), for example, has argued that Shakespeare portrays Macbeth's crimes as symbolic infringements on the normal cycles of procreation and generation. He asserts that Macbeth's transgressions should be seen as crimes rooted in ambition rather than sexual perversion. In another departure from conventional Freudian interpretations, H. R. Coursen (1985) has offered a Jungian approach to the relationship between Macbeth and his wife. From this perspective, the couple is seen as unconsciously exchanging masculine and feminine capacities as Macbeth allows his inherent proclivity toward introversion and human kindness to be dominated by his wife's dynamic and aggressive temperament. Kay Stockholder (1987) also has evaluated the nature of the relation between the play's chief protagonists. She argues that they are bound together by a love that associates passion with violence rather than tenderness and, further, that their intimacy dissipates after Duncan's murder because henceforth Macbeth becomes the unimaginative man of action his wife initially believed him to be. In the critic's judgment, the play's dream-like quality is reflected in the relationship between the Macbeths as well as by the witches, who help position the play on the boundaries between the dreaming and waking states.

Supernatural elements in Macbeth are part of the texture of discussions of religious and theological issues in the play, and the Weird Sisters are frequently linked to the possibility of providential or deterministic interpretations οf Macbeth. Critics who have recently analyzed the play in these terms generally allude to its ambiguous or paradoxical treatment of theological issues and deny any clear-cut resolution of such questions. For example, Howard Felperin (1975) has examined the play in terms of its relation to orthodox Christian drama, pointing out ways in which it promotes traditional doctrines but subverts or revises them as well. Although the play demystifies sacred myths and symbols, the critic asserts, it shows these forms as essential to social stability and legitimate hierarchy. Charles Moseley (1988) has viewed Macbeth as an inherently religious play, one that is chiefly concerned with the conflict between good and evil in the soul of its protagonist. Moselely maintains that Macbeth is not forced to do anything: although the witches prey on his ambition, it is ultimately his refusal to express contrition for his wickedness that seals his fate. Both James L. o'Rourke (1993) and Susan Snyder (1994) have also questioned providential readings of the play, employing different approaches but reaching similar conclusions. In o'Rourke's opinion, Macbeth portrays a world that is deeply subversive of Christian metaphysics—one in which the dramatic action is determined neither by divine providence nor by human will, but instead by an irrational sequence of action and consequence. The critic regards the play as profoundly pessimistic, governed from beginning to end by an ironic perspective that obscures the distinction between good and evil. Snyder similarly has found the world of Macbeth morally unstable and the boundary between supernatural and human causality indeterminate. In her judgment, the play provides no answers to the questions it raises about the relative culpability of the witches'equivocal predictions and Macbeth's potential to commit the murder they seem to suggest to him. Indeed, she concludes, the prophecies of the Weird Sisters remain as inscrutable as Macbeth's motivations.


(Shakespearean Criticism)

Harry Levin (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "Two Scenes from Macbeth" in Shakespeare's Craft: Eight Lectures, edited by Philip H. Highfíll, Jr., Southern Illinois University Press, 1982, pp. 48-68.

[In the following essay, Levin examines the thematic significance of the Porter's scene and Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking episode. In the former, he discerns resonances of hell and damnation, as well as an iteration of the witches'equivocal oracles; the latter scene, he suggests, epitomizes the nightmarish quality of Macbeth and repeats in miniature the play's alternating arguments regarding free will and fate.]

Hamlet without the Prince would still be more of a spectacle than Macbeth without the Thane of Glamis. Though the latter is not introspective by nature, his soliloquizing is central to the play, as he considers intentions, casts suspicions, registers hallucinations, coerces his conscience, balances hope against fear, and gives thought to the unspeakable—all this while sustaining the most energetic role in the most intense of Shakespeare's plays. Macbeth is the fastest of them, as Coleridge pointed out, while Hamlet, at almost twice its length, is the slowest. Thus the uncut Hamlet has plenty of room for other well-defined characters and for highly elaborated subplots. Whereas Macbeth, which has come down to us in a version stripped for action, concentrates more heavily upon the protagonist. He speaks over thirty per cent of the lines; an overwhelming proportion of the rest bear reference to him; and Lady Macbeth has about eleven per cent, all of them referring to him directly or indirectly. Most of the other parts get flattened in this process, so that his may stand out in bold relief. Otherwise, as Dr. Johnson commented, there is "no nice discrimination of character." As Macbeth successively murders Duncan, Banquo, and Lady Macduff with her children, a single line of antagonism builds up through Malcolm and Fleance to the effectual revenger, Macduff. There is evidence, in the original text and in the subsequent stage-history, to show that the grim spareness of the plot was eked out by additional grotesqueries on the part of the Witches.

I make this preliminary obeisance to the centrality of the hero-villain because it is not to him that I shall be calling your attention, though it should be evident already that he will be reflected upon by my sidelights. In skipping over the poetry of his speeches or the moral and psychological dimensions of character, I feel somewhat like the visitor to a Gothic edifice whose exclusive focus is devoted to a gargoyle here and there. I should not be doing so if the monument as a whole were less memorably familiar than it is, or if the artistic coherence of a masterpiece did not so frequently reveal itself through the scrutiny of an incidental detail. My two short texts are quite unevenly matched, though not disconnected in the long run. One of them, the Porter's Scene, has been regarded more often than not as a mere excrescence or intrusion. The other, the Sleepwalking Scene, has become one of the high spots in the repertory as a set piece for distinguished actresses. The lowest common denominator between them is that both have been written in prose. Apart from more functional purposes, such as documents and announcements, Shakespeare makes use of prose to convey an effect of what Brian Vickers terms "otherness," a different mode of diction from the norm. To cite the clearest instance, Hamlet's normal personality is expressed in blank verse; he falls into prose when he puts on his "antic disposition." This combines, as do the fools'roles, the two major uses of Shakespeare's non-metrical speech: on the one hand, comedy, low life, oftentimes both; on the other, the language of psychic disturbance.

Our two scenes are enacted in these two modes respectively. But, before we turn to them, let us take a very brief glance at the outdoor stage of the Shakespearean playhouse. On that subject there has been an infinite deal of specific conjecture over a poor halfpennyworth of reliable documentation, and many of those conjectures have disagreed with one another. Over its most general features, however, there is rough agreement, and that is all we need here. We know that its large jutting platform had a roof supported by two pillars downstage; one of which might conveniently have served as the tree where Orlando hangs his verses in As You Like It. We are also aware of an acting space "aloft" at stage rear, whence Juliet or Prospero could have looked down. As for the curtained space beneath, that remains an area of veiled uncertainty. Yet the back wall of the tiring-house had to include an outside doorway big enough to accommodate the inflow and outflow of sizable properties, and possibly to present a more or less literal gate upon due occasion. Hence it is not difficult to conceive of the stage as the courtyard of a castle, into which outsiders would arrive, and off of which branched chambers for the guests, who might hurriedly rush out from them if aroused by some emergency. Moreover, the surrounding auditorium, open to the skies and rising in three tiers of galleries, might itself have presented a kind of courtyard. Not that this arrangement was representational. It was the stylization of the theatrical arena that made possible its scope and adaptability.

Much depended, of course, upon the convention of verbal scenery. When the aged, gracious, and serene King Duncan appears at the gate of Glamis Castle, his introductory words sketch the setting and suggest the atmosphere:

This castle hath a pleasant seat, the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.

(I, vi, 1-3)

The description is amplified by Banquo with his mention of "the temple-haunting marlet," the bird whose presence almost seems to consecrate a church, one of the succession of birds benign and malign whose auspices are continually invoked. The description of the marlet's "procreant cradle" (8)—and procreation is one of the points at issue throughout—assures us that "the heaven's breath / Smells wooingly here" (5,6). And Banquo completes the stage-design:

Where they most breed and haunt, I have observ'd
The air is delicate.

(9, 10)

Knowing what we have been informed with regard to Duncan's reception, and what he is so poignantly unaware of, we may well find it a delicate situation. Stressing its contrast to the episodes that precede and follow it, Sir Joshua Reynolds called it "a striking instance of what in painting is termed repose" Repose—or rather, the absence of it—is fated to become a major theme of the tragedy. It will mean not rest but restlessness for Macbeth, when Duncan all too soon is accorded his last repose. Are we not much nearer, at this point, to the fumes of hell than to the heaven's breath? Macbeth, as he will recognize in a soliloquy, "should gainst his murtherer shut the door," rather than hypocritically welcoming Duncan in order to murder him (I, vii, 15). Duncan has been a ruler who exemplified royalty, a guest who deserved hospitality, and a man of many virtues who has commanded respect, as Macbeth himself acknowledges. The scene is set for the crimes and their consequences by this two-faced welcome into the courtyard of Macbeth's castle.

By the end of the incident-crowded First Act, in spite of his hesitant asides and soliloquies, everything has fallen into place for the consummation of the Witches'cackling prophecies. The Second Act begins ominously with Banquo's muted misgivings; he supplicates the "merciful powers"—who seem less responsive than those darker spirits addressed by Lady Macbeth—to restrain in him "the cursed thoughts that nature / Gives way to in repose," and retires after Macbeth has wished him "Good repose" (II, i, 7-9, 29). This exchange would seem to occur in the courtyard, which becomes the base of operations for the murder. The first scene culminates in the vision of the dagger, hypnotically drawing Macbeth to the door of Duncan's quarters. Leaving them after the deed, as he recounts to his wife in the second scene, he has experienced another hallucination: the voice that cried "Sleep no more!" (II, ii, 32). Meanwhile Lady Macbeth has soliloquized, fortified with drink, and he has cried out offstage at the fatal instant. One residual touch of humanity, the memory of her own father, has inhibited her from killing the king herself; but she is Amazonian enough, taking the bloody daggers from her badly shaken husband with a crude and cruel joke (the pun on "gild" and "guilt"), to reenter the death chamber and plant them upon the sleeping grooms (II, ii, 53-54). It is then that the tensely whispered colloquies between the guilty couple are suddenly interrupted by that most portentous of sound effects: the knocking at the gate.

This is the point of departure for a well-known essay by Thomas De Quincey, who argues, rather overingeniously, that the interruption helps to restore normality, calming the excited sensibilities of the spectator. "The reaction has commenced; the human has made its reflux upon the fiendish; the pulses of life are beginning to beat again," De Quincey concludes, "the reestablishment of the goings-on of the world in which we live makes us profoundly sensible of the awful parenthesis that had suspended them." Here De Quincey, who elsewhere styled himself "a connoisseur of murder," seems to have got his proportions wrong. Surely it is the Porter's Scene that forms a parenthesis in an increasingly awful train of events. "Every noise appalls me," Macbeth has said (II, ii, 55). For him—and for us as well—the knock reverberates with the menace of retribution, like the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. It heralds no resumption of diurnal business as usual. Let us bear in mind that the knocker is to be the avenger, the victim who will have suffered most from the tyrant's cruelty. Macduff's quarrel with Macbeth, according to Holinshed's chronicle, first arose because the Thane of Fife did not fully participate when commanded by the King of Scotland to help him build the new castle at Dunsinane. It is surprising that Shakespeare did not utilize that hint of motivation; possibly he did, and the scene was among those lost through the rigors of cutting. It would have added another turn of the screw to Macbeth's seizure of Macduff s castle at Fife and the domestic massacre therein.

As for Dunsinane Castle, it is ironic that Macbeth should count upon its strength and that it should be so easily surrendered, "gently rend'red," after a few alarums and excursions (V, vii, 24). It comes as a final reversal of the natural order that he, besieged and bound in, should be assaulted and overcome by what appears to be a walking forest. So, in the earlier scenes, the manifest presumption is that the pleasantly situated Glamis Castle would be a haven and a sanctuary, associated with temples by Macbeth as well as Banquo. Rapidly it proves to be the opposite for its guests, whereas those menacing thumps at the gateway announce the arrival not of a dangerous enemy but of their predestined ally. Despite his sacrifice and suffering, his quasi-miraculous birth, and his intervention on the side of the angels, I shall refrain from presenting Macduff as a Christ-figure. There are altogether too many of these in current literary criticism—many more, I fear, than exist in real life. Yet it is enlightening to consider the suggested analogy between this episode and that pageant in the mystery cycles which dramatizes the Harrowing of Hell. Some of those old guild-plays were still being acted during Shakespeare's bodyhood; nearby Coventry was a center for them; and we meet with occasional allusions to them in Shakespeare's plays, notably to Herod whose furious ranting had made him a popular byword. Without the Slaughter of the Innocents, over which he presided, the horrendous slaughter at Macduff s castle would have been unthinkable. Many later audiences, which might have flinched, have been spared it.

When Jesus stands before the gates of hell, in the Wake-field cycle, his way is barred by a gatekeeper suggestively named Rybald, who tells his fellow devil Beelzebub to tie up those souls which are about to be delivered: "how, belsabub! bynde thise boys, / sich harow was never hard in hell." The command of Jesus that the gates be opened takes the form of a Latin cadence from the liturgy, Attollite portas . . . This, in turn, is based upon the vulgate phrasing of the Twenty-fourth Psalm: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in." The liturgical Latin echoes the rite of Palm Sunday celebrating Christ's entrance into Jerusalem. It was also chanted before the portals of a church during the ceremonies of consecration. In the mystery, Jesus enters hell to debate with Satan and ends by rescuing therefrom various worthies out of the Old Testament. That is the typological situation which prefigured Shakespeare's comic gag. We must now turn back to his dilatory Porter, after having kept the visitor waiting outside longer than the Porter will. Obviously the action is continuous between Scenes Two and Three, with the repeated knocking to mark the continuity. "Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!" is the exit line (II, ii, 71). Macbeth, unnerved, is guided to their chamber by his wife, as he will be again in the Banquet Scene, and as she will imagine in the Sleepwalking Scene. There should be a minute when the stage is bare, and the only drama is the knocking.

But it will take a longer interval for the couple to wash off the blood and change into night attire. This is the theatrical necessity that provides the Porter with his cue and one of the troupe's comedians with a small part. Shakespeare's clowns tend to be more stylized than his other characters, most specifically the fools created by Robert Armin, and probably to reflect the personal style of certain actors. Will Kemp, who preceded Armin as principal comedian, seems to have specialized in voluble servants. It may well have been Kemp who created the rather similar roles of Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice. Each of these has his characteristic routine: a monologue which becomes a dialogue as the speaker addresses himself to imagined interlocutors. Gobbo's is especially apropos, since it pits his conscience against the fiend. Shakespeare did not abandon that vein after Kemp left the company; indeed he brought it to its highest pitch of development in Falstaff's catechism on honor. The Porter's little act is pitched at a much lower level, yet it can be better understood in the light of such parallels. The sleepy Porter stumbles in, bearing the standard attributes of his office, a lantern and some keys. He is not drunk now; but, like others in the castle, he has been carousing late; and his fantasy may be inspired by the penitential mood of the morning after. "If a man were Porter of Hell Gate"—that is the hypothesis on which he is ready to act—"he should have old turning the key"—he should have to admit innumerable sinners (II, iii, 1-3).

An audience acquainted with Marlowe's Doctor Faustus would not have to be reminded that the hellmouth had figured in the mysteries. And the dramatist who had conceived the Brothel Scene in Othello had envisioned a character, namely Emilia, who could be accused of keeping—as the opposite number of Saint Peter—"the gate of hell" (IV, ii, 92). The Porter assumes that stance by choice, asking himself: "Who's there, i'th'name of Belzebub?" (3-4). He answers himself by admitting three social offenders. It has been his plan, he then confides, to have passed in review "all professions," doubtless with an appropriately satirical comment on each (18). But, despite the histrionic pretence that hellfire is roaring away, the Porter's teeth are chattering in the chill of early morning: "this place is too cold for hell" (16-17). Neither the time-serving farmer nor the hose-stealing tailor seems as pertinent a wrongdoer as the equivocator, "who could not equivocate to heaven" (10-11). Here the editors digress to inform us about the trial and execution of Henry Garnet, Superior of the Jesuit Order, in 1606. The topical allusion is helpful, insofar as it indicates how the word came to be in the air; and Garnet's casuistry had to do with treason and attempted regicide, the notorious Gunpowder Plot. But Macbeth is not exactly a satire on the Jesuits. Maeterlinck, in his translation, renders "equivocator" by "jésuite" because there is no cognate French equivalent. The thematic significance of the Porter's speech lies in its anticipation of the oracles ("These juggling fiends"), which turn out to be true in an unanticipated sense: "th'equivocation of the fiend" (V, viii, 19; V, v, 42).

The Porter, who has been parrying the knocks by echoing them, finally shuffles to the gate, lets in Macduff and Lenox, and stands by for his tip: "I pray you remember the porter" (20-21). Drink, which has inebriated the grooms and emboldened Lady Macbeth, is his poor excuse for tardiness. The after-effects of drinking are the subject of his vulgar and not very funny riddle: "nose-painting, sleep, and urine" (28). Then, licensed perhaps by the precedent of the devil-porter Rybald, he moves on to the equivocal subject of lechery. If drink provokes the desire but takes away the performance, it is a paradigm for Macbeth's ambition. For, as Lady Macbeth will realize: "Nought's had, all's spent, / Where our desire is got without content" (III, ii, 4-5). When liquor is declared to be "an equivocator with lechery," that equivocation is demonstrated by the give-and-take of the Porter's rhythms: "it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and giving him the lie, leaves him" (II, iii, 32-36). Each of these paired clauses, here again, links a false promise with a defeated expectation, expiring into drunken slumber after a moment of disappointed potency. The see-saw of the cadencing is as much of a prophecy as the Witches'couplets, and it has the advantage of pointing unequivocally toward the dénouement. The repartee trails off, after a lame pun about lying, with the reentrance of Macbeth, for which the Porter has been gaining time by going through his turn.

That turn has regularly been an object of expurgation, both in the theater and in print. I am not digressive if I recall that, when I wrote the introduction to a schooledition several years ago, the publishers wanted to leave out the Porter's ribaldry. I insisted upon an unbowdlerized text; but their apprehensions were commercially warranted; the textbook, though it is in a well-known series, has hardly circulated at all. Thousands of adolescents have been saved from the hazards of contemplating alcoholism, sex, and micturition. On a higher critical plane—some would say the highest—Coleridge was so nauseated by the whole scene that he ruled it out of the canon, declaring that it had been "written for the mob by another hand." The sentence about "the primrose way to th'everlasting bonfire," Coleridge conceded, had a Shakespearean ring (II, iii, 19). Without pausing to wonder whether it might have been echoed from Hamlet, he characteristically assumed that Shakespeare himself had interpolated it within the interpolation of his unknown collaborator. This enabled him to beg the question with Coleridgean logic and to comment further on "the entire absence of comedy, nay, even of irony . . . in Macbeth." Wholly apart from the comedy or the authenticity of the Porter Scene, it must strike us as singularly obtuse to overlook the fundamental ironies of the play: its ambiguous predictions, its self-destructive misdeeds. It could be urged, in Coleridge's defense, that the concept of dramatic irony had not yet been formulated. Kierkegaard's thesis on it was published in 1840, having been anticipated by Connop Thirlwall just a few years before.

Coleridge's rejection is sustained by another high literary authority. In Schiller's German adaptation, the Porter is high-minded and cold sober. He has stayed awake to keep guard over the King, and therefore over all Scotland, as he tells Macbeth in an ambitious jest. Instead of masquerading as an infernal gatekeeper, he has sung a pious hymn to the sunrise and has ignored the knocking in order to finish his Morgenlied. Yet, for a century now, the current of opinion has run the other way; commentators have held, with J. W. Hales, that Shakespeare's Porter was authentic and by no means inappropriate. Robert Browning heartily agreed, and Bishop Wordsworth even allowed that the scene could be read with edification. So it should be, given its eschatological overtones. We have long discarded the neo-classical inhibitions regarding the intermixture of tragic and comic elements. We have learned, above all from Lear's Fool, that the comic can intensify the tragic, rather than simply offer itself as relief. Those "secret, black, and midnight hags," the Witches, who for Holinshed were goddesses of destiny, come as close as anything in Shakespeare to the chorus of Greek tragedy (IV, i, 48). But their outlandish imminence seems elusive and amoral because of their mysterious connection with the machinery of fate. The Porter's role is grotesquely choric in another sense. Like the Gardener in Richard II, he stands there to point the moral, to act out the object-lesson. This castle, far from reaching up toward heaven, is located at the brink of hell. Even now its lord has damned himself eternally.

Damnation is portended by the curse of sleeplessness, which has been foreshadowed among the spells that the First Witch proposed to cast upon the sea-captain: "Sleep shall neither night nor day / Hang upon his penthouse lid" (I, iii, 19-20). No sooner has the King been murdered than Macbeth hears the voice crying "Sleep no more!" and begins to extoll the blessing he has forfeited. The word itself is sounded thirty-two times, more than in any other play of Shakespeare's. Repeatedly sleep is compared with death. Almost enviously, after complaining of the "terrible dreams" that afflict him nightly, Macbeth evokes the buried Duncan: "After life's fitful fever he sleeps well" (III, ii, 18, 23). When he breaks down at the Banquet Scene before the apparition of Banquo's ghost, it is Lady Macbeth who assumes command, discharges the guests, and leads her husband off to bed with the soothing words: "You lack the season of all natures, sleep" (III, iv, 140). It should be noted that she does not see the ghost or hear the voice, and that she skeptically dismisses the airdrawn dagger as a subjective phenomenon: "the very painting of your fear" (III, iv, 60). Unlike Macbeth, she has no intercourse with the supernatural forces. To be sure, she has called upon the spirits to unsex her, fearing lest she be deterred from murder by the milk—the feminine attribute—of human kindness. And from the outset it is he, not she, who feels and expresses that remorse she has steeled herself against, those "compunctious visitings of nature" (I, v, 45). When they ultimately overtake her, his insomnia will have its counterpart in her somnambulism.

In keeping with her aloofness from supernaturalism, Shakespeare's treatment of her affliction seems so naturalistic that it is now and then cited among the clinical cases in abnormal psychology. According to the seventeenth-century frame of reference, she may show the symptoms of melancholia or—to invoke theological concepts that still can grip the audiences of films—demonic possession. Psychoanalysis tends to diagnose her malady as a manifestation of hysteria, which compels her to dramatize her anxiety instead of dreaming about it, to reenact the pattern of behavior that she has tried so desperately to repress. Freud regarded this sleepwalker and her sleepless mate as "two disunited parts of a single psychical individuality," together subsuming the possibilities of reaction to the crime, and underlined the transference from his response to hers, from his hallucinations to her mental disorder. In more social terms, the closeness of their complementary relationship seems strongly reinforced by the sexual bond between them. Three of the exit-lines emphasize their going to bed together. Caroline Spurgeon and other interpreters of Shakespeare's imagery have noticed that the most recurrent metaphor in the play has to do with dressing and undressing, transposed sometimes into arming and disarming or crowning and uncrowning. The sense of intimacy is enhanced by the recollection that the nightgowns mentioned are dressing-gowns, that under the bedclothes no clothing of any sort was worn in that day; and nakedness exposed is one of the other themes (a recent film has welcomed the opportunity for presenting a heroine in the nude). Lady Macbeth, as M. C. Bradbrook has observed, must have been a siren as well as a fury.

Inquiries into her motives have dwelt upon her childlessness, after having borne a child who evidently died, and that frustration seems to have kindled Macbeth's hostility toward the families of Banquo and Macduff. Deprived of happy motherhood, she takes a somewhat maternal attitude toward her spouse, and she seeks a vicarious fulfillment in her ruthless ambitions for his career. Holinshed had stressed her single-minded goading-on of her husband, "burning in unquenchable desire to bear the name of a queen." She may be a "fiendlike queen" to Malcolm and other enemies, but the characterization is highly nuanced when we contrast it with the termagant queens of Shakespeare's earliest histories (V, ix, 35). Criticism ranges all the way from Hazlitt ("a great bad woman whom we hate, but whom we fear more than we hate") to Coleridge ("a woman of a visionary and daydreaming turn of mind"). Coleridge had re-created Hamlet in his own image, after all, and his Lady Macbeth might pose as a model for Madame Bovary. The variance in interpretations extends from Lamartine's "perverted and passionate woman" to Tieck's emphasis on her conjugal tenderness, which provoked the mockery of Heine, who envisages her billing and cooing like a turtle dove. She may not be "such a dear" as Bernard Shaw discerned in Ellen Terry's portrayal; but she encompasses most of these images, inasmuch as Shakespeare clearly understood the ambivalence of aggression and sympathy in human beings. Her emotions and Macbeth's are timed to a different rhythm. As he hardens into a fighting posture, and his innate virility reasserts itself, she softens into fragile femininity, and her insecurities come to the surface of her breakdown.

Distraction of the mind is rendered by Shakespeare in a pithy, terse, staccato idiom which might not inappropriately be termed distracted prose. Madness, along with all the other moods of English tragedy, had originally been conveyed through blank verse, as when Titus Andronicus "runs lunatic." So it was in Kyd's operatic Spanish Tragedy, though the later and more sophisticated ragings of its hero would be added by another hand in prose. The innovation was Marlowe's: in the First Part of Tamburlaine the captive queen Zabina goes mad over the death of her consort Bajazet, and before her suicide gives utterance to a short prose sequence of broken thoughts. Her farewell line, "Make ready my coach . . . ," must have given Shakespeare a suggestion for Ophelia. He seized upon this technique and developed it to the point where it became, in the phrase of Laertes, "A document in madness, / Thoughts and remembrance fitted." Ophelia distributing flowers, like King Lear distributing weeds, obsessively renews the source of grief. Edgar in the guise of Tom o'Bedlam deliberately imitates such language as does Hamlet when he simulates insanity. Lear's Fool is exceptional, since he is both a jester and a natural; yet, in that dual role, he may be looked upon as a mediator between the comic and the distracted prose. And in King Lear as a whole, in the interrelationship between the Lear-Cordelia plot and the Gloucester-Edgar underplot, we have our most highly wrought example of the two plots running parallel. As a matter of dramaturgic tradition, that parallel tended in the direction of parody.

Thus, in the Second Shepherds'Play at Wakefield, the serious plot about the nativity is parodied by the sheep-stealing underplot, since the lamb is an emblem of Jesus. In the oldest English secular comedy, Fulgens and Lucres, while two suitors court the mistress, their respective servants court the maid—probably the most traditional of all comic situations, harking back as far as Aristophanes'Frogs. In Doctor Faustus the clowns burlesque the hero's conjurations by purloining his magical book and conjuring up a demon. This has its analogue in The Tempest, where the conspiracy against Prospero is burlesqued by the clownish complot. Having defended the essential seriousness of the Porter's Scene, I am not moving toward an argument that there is anything comic per se in the Sleepwalking Scene; but there is something distinctly parodic about the virtual repetition of a previous scene in such foreshortened and denatured form. Murder will out, as the old adage cautions; the modern detective story operates on the assumption that the murderer returns to the locality of the crime. Lady Macbeth, always brave and bold when her husband was present, must sleep alone when he departs for the battlefield. It is then that her suppressed compunction, her latent sense of guilt, wells up from the depths of her subconscious anguish. Under the cover of darkness and semi-consciousness, she must now reenact her part, going through the motions of that scene in the courtyard on the night of Duncan's assassination, and recapitulating the crucial stages of the entire experience.

When the late Tyrone Guthrie staged his production at the Old Vic, he directed his leading lady, Flora Robson, to reproduce the exact gesticulation of the murder scene. Such an effect could not have been achieved within the Piranesi-like setting designed by Gordon Craig, where the sleepwalking was supposed to take place on the steps of a sweeping spiral staircase. One of the most theatrical features of this episode, however it be played, lies in the choreographic opportunity that it offers to the actress and the director. At the Globe Playhouse the principal problem in staging would have been the glaring fact that plays were performed there in broad daylight. That was simply met by a convention, which has been uncovered through the researches of W. J. Laurence. A special point was made of bringing out lanterns, tapers, or other lights, paradoxically enough, to indicate the darkness. But the lighting of the Sleepwalking Scene is not merely conventional. Lady Macbeth, we learn, can no longer abide the dark. "She has light by her continually," her Waiting Gentlewoman confides to the Doctor (V, i, 22-23). It is the candle she carries when she enters, no mere stage property either, throwing its beams like a good deed in a naughty world. Banquo, on a starless night, has referred metaphorically to the overclouded stars as extinguished candles. Macbeth, when the news of his wife's suicide is subsequently brought to him, will inveigh against the autumnal prospect of meaninglessness ahead, and the yesterdays behind that have "lighted fools / The way to dusty death" (V, v, 22-23). Life itself is the brief candle he would now blow out.

Lady Macbeth presumably carried her candle throughout the scene until the London appearance of Sarah Siddons in 1785. She was severely criticized for setting it down on a table, so that she could pantomime the gesture of rubbing her hands. Sheridan, then manager of the Drury Lane, told her: "It would be thought a presumptuous innovation." Man of the theater that he was, he congratulated her upon it afterwards. But many in the audience were put off by it, and even more by her costume. She was wearing white satin, traditionally reserved for mad scenes, and later on would shift to a shroud-like garment. Mrs. Siddons as Lady Macbeth became, by wide consent, the greatest English actress in her greatest role. Hence we have a fair amount of testimony about her performance. A statuesque figure whose rich voice ranged from melancholy to peevishness, subsiding at times into eager whispers, she was "tragedy personified" for Hazlitt, who reports that "all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical." More physically active than her candle-burdened predecessors, who seem to have mainly glided, she excelled particularly at stage-business. The hand-rubbing was accompanied by a gesture of ladling water out of an imaginary ewer. When she held up one hand, she made a face at the smell—a bit of business which Leigh Hunt considered "unrefined." Yet, after she had made her exit stalking backwards, one witness testified: "I swear that I smelt blood!" She herself has attested that, when as a girl of twenty she began to study the part, she was overcome by a paroxysm of terror.

Turning more directly to "this slumb'ry agitation," we are prepared for it by the expository conversation between the Gentlewoman and the Doctor (V, i, 11). Lady Macbeth's twenty lines will be punctuated by their whispering comments. It is clear that there have been earlier visitations, and that Lady Macbeth has engaged in writing during one of them; but what she spoke the Gentlewoman firmly refuses to disclose. The Doctor, who has been watching with her during the last two nights, has so far witnessed nothing. But, from the account, he knows what to expect: "A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit of sleep and do the effects of watching!" (9-11). Sleep seems scarcely a benefit under the circumstances, much as it may be longed for by the watchful, the ever-wakeful Macbeth; and, though Lady Macbeth is actually sleeping, she is not only reliving the guilty past but incriminating herself. When she appears, the antiphonal comment ("You see her eyes are open." / "Ay, but their sense is shut.") raises that same question of moral blindness which Shakespeare explored in King Lear (24-25). If she could feel that her hands were cleansed when she washed them, her compulsive gesture would be a ritual of purification. Yet Pilate, washing his hands before the multitude, has become an archetype of complicity. Her opening observation and exclamation ("Yet here's a spot" . . ."Out, damn'd spot!") is a confession that prolonged and repeated ablutions have failed to purge her sins (31, 35). She continues by imagining that she hears the clock strike two: it is time for the assassination. Her revulsion from it compresses into three words all the onus of the Porter's garrulous commentary: "Hell is murky" (36).

That sudden glimpse of the bottomless pit does not keep her from the sanguinary course she has been pursuing. But the grandiose iambic pentameter of her courtyard speeches, inspiriting and rebuking her reluctant partner, has been contracted into a spasmodic series of curt, stark interjections, most of them monosyllabic. "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" (39-40). She had thought at least of her father, and had momentarily recoiled. Macbeth had feared that the deed might not "trammel up the consequence," might open the way for retributive counteraction, and indeed Duncan's blood has clamored for a terrible augmentation of bloodshed, has set off the chain-reaction of bloodfeuds involving Banquo's progeny and Macduff s. Hitherto we had not been aware of Lady Macbeth's awareness of the latter, much less of how she might respond to his catastrophe. Her allusion to Lady Macduff seems reduced to the miniature scale of a nursery rhyme ("The Thane of Fife / had a wife"), but it culminates in the universal lamentation of ubi est: "Where is she now?" Then, more hand-washing, more conjugal reproach. Her listeners are realizing, more and more painfully, that they should not be listening; what she says should not be heard, should not have been spoken, should never have happened. "Here's the smell of the blood still" (50). The olfactory metaphor has a scriptural sanction, as Leigh Hunt should have remembered: evil was a stench in righteous nostrils, and the offence of Claudius smelled to heaven. The heartcry comes with the recognition that the smell of blood will be there forever: "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand" (50-51).

She had been clear-headed, tough-minded, and matterof-fact in tidying up after the murder: "A little water clears us of this deed." It was Macbeth, exhausted and conscience-stricken after his monstrous exertion, who had envisioned its ethical consequences in a hyperbolic comparison:

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine.
Making the green one red

(II, ii, 57-6)

Her hand is smaller than his, and so—relatively speaking—is her hyperbole. All the perfumes of Arabia, all the oilwells of Arabia, could not begin to fill the amplitude of the ocean, and the contrast is completed by the oceanic swell of his Latinate polysyllables. She has come to perceive, unwillingly and belatedly, that the stigmata are irremovable. He had perceived this at once and, moreover, reversed his magniloquent trope. Never can the bloodstain be cleansed away; on the contrary, it will pollute the world. No one can, as she advised in another context, "lave our honors" (III, ii, 33). The sound that voices this perception on her part ("O, O, O!") was more than a sign when Mrs. Siddons voiced it, we are told (V, i, 52). It was "a convulsive shudder—very horrible." The one-sided marital dialogue goes on, reverting to the tone of matter-offactness. "Wash your hands, put on your nightgown, look not so pale" (62-63). If Duncan is in his grave, as Macbeth has mused, is not Banquo in a similar condition? Where is he now? Reminiscence here reverberates from the Banquet Scene: "I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried; he cannot come out on's grave" (63-64). These internalized anxieties that will not be so coolly exorcized are far more harrowing than the externalized ghosts that beset Richard III on the eve of battle. Having resumed his soldierly occupation and been reassured by the Witches'auguries, Macbeth has put fear behind him, whatever the other cares that are crowding upon him. It is therefore through Lady Macbeth that we apprehend the approach of nemesis.

And then her terminal speech: "To bed, to bed; there's knocking at the gate" (66-67). It is imaginary knocking; what we hear again is silence, a silence powerful enough to resurrect the encounter between those harbingers of revenge and damnation, Macduff and the Porter. Her fantasy concludes by repeating what we have already watched in both the Murder Scene and the Banquet Scene, when she led her faltering husband offstage. "Come, come, come, come, give me your hand" (67). Her next and penultimate remark harks back to the concatenation of earlier events. The First Witch, in her premonitory resentment against the sailor's wife, had promised him a swarm of nameless mischiefs (future tense): "I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do" (I, iii, 10). Macbeth's own ruminations at the edge of action had started from the premise (present tense, conditional and indicative): "If it were done, when'tis done, then'twere well / It were done quickly" (I, vii, 1-2). It was done quickly, whereupon Lady Macbeth sought to arrest his mounting disquietude with the flat affirmation (past, transitive): "What's done, is done" (III, ii, 12). Similar as it sounds, it was a far cry from her concluding negation, her fatalistic valediction to life: "What's done cannot be undone" (V, i, 68). This implies the wish that it had not been done, reinforces Macbeth's initial feeling that it need not be done, and equilibrates the play's dialectical movement between free will and inevitability. The appeal, "To bed," is uttered five times. She moves off to the bedchamber they will never share again, as if she still were guiding her absent husband's steps and his bloodstained hand were still in hers.

The doctor, who has been taking notes, confesses himself to be baffled. The case is beyond his practise, it requires a divine rather than a physician. In the following scene he discusses it with Macbeth on a more or less psychiatric basis. Lady Macbeth is "Not so sick . . . / As she is troubled with thick-coming fancies, / That keep her from her rest" (V, iii, 37-39). The Doctor is not a psychiatrist; he cannot "minister to a mind diseas'd" (40). Nor has he a cure for Scotland's disease, when Macbeth rhetorically questions him. Here we catch the connection with the one scene that passes in England, where the dramatic values center on Macduff s reaction to his domestic tragedy. His interview with Malcolm is a test of loyalty, and the invented accusations that Malcolm levels against himself—that he would, for instance, "Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell"—are more applicable to Macbeth, whose milky nature has gone just that way (IV, iii, 98). We are at the court of Edward the Confessor, the saintly English king whose virtues make him a foil for the Scottish hellhound. A passage which might seem to be a digression expatiates on how the royal touch can cure his ailing subjects of the scrofula, known accordingly as the King's Evil. Shakespeare is complimenting the new Stuart monarch, James I, descendant of the legendary Banquo, who had revived the ancient superstition. But the pertinence goes further; for the spokesman of the English king is another doctor; and the antithesis is brought home when we compare the sickness of the one country with that of the other. The King's Evil? Given the omens, the tidings, the disaffections, is it not Scotland which suffers from that disease?

A. C. Bradley asserted that Lady Macbeth is "the only one of Shakespeare's great tragic characters who on a last appearance is denied the dignity of verse." That comment discloses a curious insensitivity not only to the ways of the theater, which never interested Bradley very much, but to the insights of psychology, for which he claimed an especial concern. It could be maintained that distracted prose constitutes an intensive vein of poetry. Somnambulism, though fairly rare as a habit among adults (much rarer than sleep-talking), is such a striking one that we might expect it to have had more impact upon the imagination. Yet there seems to be little or no folklore about it, if we may judge from its omission in Stith Thompson's comprehensive Index. It has suggested the rather silly libretto of Bellini's opera, La Sonnambula (based upon a vaudeville-ballet by Scribe), where the sleepwalking heroine compromises herself by walking into a man's room at an inn, and then redeems her reputation by singing a coloratura aria while perambulating asleep on a rooftop. Dissimilarly, Verdi's Macbetto avoids such pyrotechnical possibilities. The prima donna, in her sleepwalking scena, sticks fairly close to Shakespeare's disjointed interjections, though her voice mounts to a Verdian lilt at the high point:

Arabia intera
rimandar sí piccol mano

co'suoi balsami non puó,
no, no, non puó . . .

The only serious dramatization that I can recall, apart from Shakespeare's, is Kleist's Prinz Friedrich von Homburg. In contradistinction to Lady Macbeth, Prince Friedrich has already made his promenade when the play opens; he is discovered at morning seated in a garden; and the garland he is unconsciously weaving adumbrates his dreams of future military glory. The title of Hermann Broch's fictional trilogy, Die Schlaf-wandler, is purely figurative. A melodrama made famous by Henry Irving, The Bells, culminates in the mesmerized reenactment of a crime. It is worth noting that the first Macbeth acted in German (1773), freely adapted by Gottlob Stefanie der Jüngere, replaced the sleepwalking scene by a mad scene in which Macbeth was stabbed to death by his lady. Shakespeare would seem to have been as unique in his choice of subject as in his handling of it.

There is nothing to prevent a mad scene from taking place in the daytime. But Lady Macbeth must be a noctambulist as well as a somnambulist, for her climactic episode brings out the nocturnal shading of the tragedy. Macbeth, from first to last, is deeply and darkly involved with the night-side of things. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth apostrophize the darkness, calling upon it to cover their malefactions. The timing of crucial scenes is conveyed, not merely by the convention of lighting candles, but by the recurring imagery of nightfall, overcast and dreamlike as in the dagger speech:

Now o'er the one half world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep.

(II, i, 49-51)

Characters, habitually undressing or dressing, seem to be either going to bed or getting up, like the Porter when he is so loudly wakened. "Light thickens," and the mood can be summed up by the protagonist in a single couplet:

Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
Whiles night's black agents to their preys do rouse.

(III, ii, 52-53)

Critical decisions are reached and fell designs are carried out at hours when night is "Almost at odds with morning, which is which," when the atmosphere—like hell—is murky, and it is hard to distinguish fair from foul or foul from fair (III, iv, 126). The penalty for wilfulness is watchfulness, in the sense of staying awake against one's will, of fitfully tossing and turning between bad dreams. Existence has become a watching, a waking, a waking dream. Yet "night's predominance," as one of the Thanes describes it, cannot last forever (II, iv, 8). Malcolm offers consolation by saying: "The night is long that never finds the day" (IV, iii, 240). Macduff is fated to bring in the head of Macbeth on a pike, like the Thane of Cawdor's at the beginning, and to announce the good word: "the time is free" (V, ix, 21). The human makes its reflux over the fiendish at long last. After so painful and protracted an agony, after a spell so oneiric and so insomniac by turns, we welcome the daylight as if we were awakening from a nightmare.

Dieter Mehl (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: "Macbeth" in Shakespeare's Tragedies: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp. 105-30.

[In the following excerpt, originally written in German and published in 1983, Mehl follows Macbeth through the course of the dramatic action, delineating the protagonist's agonizing moral struggles, his progressive corruption, and his increasing isolation. Throughout his discussion, the critic calls attention to similarities and differences between Macbeth and the other major tragediesas well as Richard III and Marlowe's Doctor Faustus—pointing out the many distinctive and innovative features of this play's tragic hero.]

Compared with King Lear, Macbeth appears much more simply constructed and easier to understand. Its structure is tight, almost classical in its compelling consistency and there is only one plot. The tragic action, at first sight, is equally transparent. One may, if one is fond of crisp formulas, like V. K. Whitaker reduce it to'simply the yielding of a great and good man to temptation and the degeneration of his moral nature resulting from his first deed of sin'.117 But this glib description is hardly adequate to account for the play's unusual fascination and makes it sound like an edifying morality. It is more appropriate to try and understand it in relation to the other three major tragedies and to its historical context.

Although plot and subject are quite different from Hamlet, Othello and King Lear, there are close thematic links between these three plays and Macbeth. The burning question of how evil comes into society and why it has such power over individual characters is only touched on in the earlier tragedies, usually in connection with the protagonist's tragic experience; in Macbeth, it is right at the heart of the play. Claudius, Iago and Edmund are presented as the very incarnation of hatred and corruption, but the dramatist tells us very little about their motives and he never makes them objects of our sympathy. Their well-deserved exposure and punishment is not a central aspect of the tragic impact, but the confirmation of moral order and poetic justice. In Macbeth, however, as has often been remarked, the villain and criminal has become the tragic hero, not in the sense of a cautionary history, but as a disquieting study of human corruptibility and ruthless lust for political power. Lear's agonized question,'Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?'(III.6.76-7), is not answered, yet in Macbeth Shakespeare has made it the central theme of his tragedy, mainly by a change of perspective. It is not the victims of wickedness and sin that the play is concerned with, but wickedness and sin itself, yet not from an attitude of orthodox certainty, but from a dramatic point of view so close to the protagonist that any superior detachment is made impossible.118

The problem of evil is made spectacularly concrete by the introduction of the Elizabethan mythology of witchcraft, including elements of popular superstition as well as theological speculation. It was well known that the new King James I was deeply interested in all kinds of supernatural phenomena and witch-lore, and it seems reasonable enough to...

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Psychoanalytic Interpretations

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Robert N. Watson (essay date 1984)

SOURCE:'"Thriftless Ambition,'Foolish Wishes and the Tragedy of Macbeth," in Shakespeare and the Hazards of Ambition, Harvard University Press, 1984, pp. 83-141.

[In the following excerpt, Watson supplements the traditional Freudian or oedipal interpretation of Macbeth by focusing on the symbolic aspects of the hero's ambition. In the critic's judgment, the murder of Duncan represents Macbeth's perverse attempt to establish a new identity through a ruinous disruption of the normal cycles of procreation and generation.]

Shakespeare portrays Macbeth's crimes, from first to last, as costly...

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Macbeth As Tragic Hero

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Robert B. Heilman (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: "The Criminal as Tragic Hero: Dramatic Methods," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespeare Studies and Production, Vol. 19, 1966, pp. 12-24.

[Here, Heilman surveys the dramatic strategies that lead us to identify with a hero who is also a murderer. The critic maintains that Macbeth is a tragedy rather than merely a melodrama or morality play, because our understanding of human nature and of ourselves increases through our experience of empathizing with him.]


The difficulties presented by the character of Macbeth—the criminal as tragic hero—have...

(The entire section is 30832 words.)

Religious And Theological Issues

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Howard Felperin (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: "A Painted Devil: Macbeth" in Shakespearean Representation: Mimesis and Modernity in Elizabethan Tragedy, Princeton University Press, 1977, pp. 118-44.

[In the following essay, originally presented in 1975, Felperin discerns a parodic gap between the Christian view of the world set forth in the medieval mystery plays and Shakespeare's adaptation of that view in Macbeth. On one hand, the critic argues, the play demystifies sacred myths and symbols by representing them as arbitrary constructs, while on the other it demonstrates that they serve an indispensable function in society.]


(The entire section is 34859 words.)

Further Reading

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Adelman, Janet. "'Born of Woman': Fantasies of Maternal Power in Macbeth" In Cannibals, Witches, and Divorce: Estranging the Rennaissance. Selected Papers from the English Institute, edited by Marjorie Garber, n.s. no. 11, pp. 90-121. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

An influential reading of Macbeth as a representation of male attempts to escape female domination. Adelman argues that the disappearance of female characters by the end of the play enacts a consolidation of masculine power as well as the male fantasy of achieving a family without women.

Battenhouse, Roy W. "Toward Clarifying the Term'Christian...

(The entire section is 2312 words.)