Macbeth is basically a Thane (a kind of feudal lord) who hears from three witches that he will soon be the King of Scotland. After hearing the prophecy, the characters of Macbeth and his wife are soon revealed—their ambition and utter lack of compunction. It is clear that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth will do anything to get the throne.
The play left me with much to think about, and there is no doubt that it is completely brilliant. There is a dark energy pervading the play with its cold castles and images of daggers and blood. I couldn’t help but wonder how Shakespeare could so easily switch from the mischief of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the darkness of Macbeth.
In a nutshell, Macbeth is basically a lesson in attempting to control fate a little too much. At least, that’s what I think. Before he ever heard of the possibility of his becoming the King of Scotland, I had reason to believe that Macbeth was perfectly content as a Thane. His mind was only disturbed by the appearance of the three witches and upon hearing their prophecies. Would everything have turned out better if Macbeth just waited for an opportunity to become king, instead of going on a murderous rampage?
The relationship of Macbeth and his wife also fascinated me. Upon hearing that he going to become king, she was the first person he wrote to. She was even willing to commit murder for him, as evidenced by this impressive passage:
Under my battlements. Come, you Spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty! And make thick my blood,
Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse;
That no compunctious visitings of Nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep between
Th’ effect and it! Come to my womna’s breasts,
And tame my milk for gall, you murth’ring ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on Nature’s mischief! Come, thick Night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor Heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry, ‘Hold, hold!’
Something tells me there was a genuine (although twisted) affection in their marriage, even if it didn’t do them any good.
And the blood! There’s a scene where Lady Macbeth hallucinates about being unable to wash blood from her hands. Literally, the blood from her hands is long gone, but her conscience forces her to see it—to remember it. I think it basically shows how the things we did in the past can come back to bite us in the ass.
So, kids, Macbeth basically teaches to not be too ambitious, and to stay far, far away from horoscopes and the like. You might read something about becoming the King of Scotland, and who knows what that might lead to.
Read this for Shakespeare Reading Month Hosted by A Literary Odyssey.