Mac…The Scottish Play
The works of famed English poet and playwright William Shakespeare are unquestionably some of the most studied, scrutinized, and analyzed pieces of literature in the world; Shakespeare’s Macbeth is certainly not an exception. While “texts change in meaning and value over time, as the conditions under which they are interpreted change and new social forces and intellectual paradigms supplement their formal structures and patterns of meaning,” the key themes, values, and ideas observed throughout Macbeth are truly eternal—so much so that the word “Macbeth” is almost interchangeable with the word misfortune in regards to any play production, and is therefore barred from utterance by actors upon the stage of many theaters (Carr 837). A concise, yet bloody tragedy written in the early seventeenth century about an internally chaotic Macbeth, who, in response to a prophesy told by witches, ultimately takes his future into his own hands and fulfills the prophesy that he would become the future Thane of Cawdor and eventually the King of Scotland. However, egged on by Lady Macbeth and his own uncontrollable self-conscious, he becomes “dagger-happy” and effectively tries to kill off anyone who stand in his way of power; his own paranoia ultimately becomes his downfall. While this is obviously an intricate piece of literature, the original way that it was to be presented, as an acted-out play, adds much to the dynamic and the major themes of the story as well.
Interestingly enough, the story of King Macbeth seems riddled with mystery, confusion, and irony, even from its background. Many believe that the play seems to revel at the lives of King James’ descendants, and that James, himself, thought that he was in the line of ancestry of Banquo; however, this claim is somewhat trivial, as much of the text, its background, and even Shakespeare himself are shrouded in unknowing. Macbeth, along with parts of King Lear and Cymbeline, is actually sourced to the Holinshed’s Chronicles, written about 20 years prior. Shakespeare utilized this piece of literature in creating this tragedy extremely loosely, as the actual King Macbeth of Scotland in the Holinshed’s Chronicles is actually much admired and revered, and definitely not notoriously ruthless and blinded by his guilty conscious. However, the transformation from the written script to the acted play has much more in common. Both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth undoubtedly signify, whether directly or indirectly, the misfortune and fear that go hand-in-hand with a tragedy; many actors believe that Macbeth is a cursed production, and will consequently refer to it as “the Scottish play.” Delving into the actual story of Macbeth, it is obvious that the hand that holds the bloody dagger that is the reason for King Duncan’s death is unquestionably Macbeth’s. He is “the assassin of the sleeping king stabbed by him cut from the mother’s womb,” yet he is like a bonfire; he must be started from kindling, a catalyst must fuel him to become the uncontrollable fire that he becomes (Dischell 44). Lady Macbeth is arguably that fuel, like gasoline in the fact that it burns intensely and eventually consumes itself, as Lady Macbeth eventually does. If one word was to describe Macbeth without Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the story, it would be indecisive. Unable to find inspiration, a motivation to fulfill his prophesy by killing King Duncan, Lady Macbeth questions his manhood, stating that he is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” to go through with her plan (Shakespeare). However, after the king is executed, and the plan is complete, it is Lady Macbeth who ultimately is swallowed by her own weakness, as she cannot wash the “blood” from her hands. In many adaptations of the play, in film and play, Lady Macbeth’s slippery-slope fall from grace is epitomized by this inability to cleanse her conscious of the crime she and her husband had committed. No matter how much intensity and...
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Dischell, Stuart. "Macbeth." Ploughshares 13.1 (1987): 43-44. JSTOR. Web. 30 Apr. 2012.
Ramsey, Jarold. "The Perversion of Manliness in Macbeth." Studies in English Literature, 1500-
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C4C Jeremy Etling and C4C Kamryn Williams reviewed my essay for grammar and edited for style/diction.
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