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Introduction

(Shakespearean Criticism)

Who "Has No Children" in Macbeth?

Tom Clayton, University of Minnesota

He has no children.

Macbeth 4.3.216

He that has no children knows not what love is.

Tilley, Dent C341

The Masks of Shakespeare's plays demonstrate throughout that Shakespeare's ways make a settled view of his proceedings impossible to maintain unaltered so long as one continues to return to the scene of his playwrighting. The view I hold of Shakespeare's Macbeth at this writing is that he is a villain-hero—more than a mere protagonist—fatally ambitious but once full enough of the milk of human kindness to require letting by his wife in order to dare do more than may become a man, and so become none. He lives just long enough to know himself, too well, a regicide and worse, and to die in action by another's deed of the kind that made him a hero in the first place. He thus restores in a measure, however high his head upon a pole at play's end, something of the sometime man in place of the type and title of his reign, The Tyrant. He is throughout the observed of all observers, like Hamlet in this and in his vividness of imagination. His hope shattered in "success," he passes through security to desperation. The Weird Sisters gave him the first two, by his subjective piecing out of the first alone and taking the second too trustingly for granted—until he hears the word of promise of his ear broken to his hope in the word of Macduff s birth from his mother's womb untimely ripped. The better parts of even a desperate Macbeth are both there in the end, as traces of the man of milk as well as of defender's blood he was and fleetingly becomes again:

Of all men else I have avoided thee [Macduff].
But get thee back, my soul is too much charg'd
With blood of thine already.

(5.8.4-6)1

His initial lack of fear is due to his "security," but even when that proves to have been a delusion he accepts Macduff s challenge with alacrity:

Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou oppos'd, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body
I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff,
And damn'd be him that first cries, "Hold, enough!"

(5.8.30-34)

Famous last words, matter for an epitaph.

In 1.3 with fortune-teller's trifles like "hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor" (a transfer of title already declared by Duncan in 1.2.64-65 but news to Macbeth) and "hail to thee, that shall be King hereafter," the Weird Sisters marshalled Macbeth the way that he was going. When he goes of his own volition to visit them in 4.1, the dramatic (and literary) design, as foreshadowing, converges with motivation, mimetic action, and significance as prophetic truth itself, the power of which Macbeth seems to have conferred upon the Weird Sisters by killing Duncan and sealing his own fate. Each of their three prophesying caveats comes true—in reverse of the order in which they were given, and Macbeth dies to his deep damnation when he tries "the last"—that is, the first—of the Weird Sisters' caveats:

Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!...

(The entire section is 6,119 words.)