Sunday, February 12, 2012

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Published: 1605
Rating: 4
Other reviews: Joy's Book Blog, Rebecca Reads

I read the No Fear Shakespeare version of Macbeth in which the original play is written on the left side of the page and the easy-to-understand paraphrase on the right.

I began with with the original text and understood about 75% on my own.  The 25% I would've missed if not for the paraphrase was enough to have dampened my understanding and appreciation of the work.  Here is an example:  "The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be, Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see." Paraphrase:  "I won't let my eye look at what my hand is doing, but in the end I'm still going to do that thing I'd be horrified to see" (I, IV, 54-55).

At the beginning of the play, we are introduced to Macbeth, a courageous Scottish general fighting on behalf of his king.  After a series of victorious battles, he hears a prophecy from 3 witches that set he and Lady Macbeth on a path of wanton destruction and murder, ending with their own deaths.

While Macbeth struggles with his conscious, Lady Macbeth does not.  She is heartless and ruthless, almost inhuman.  The only other villainous character I could think of that is remotely similar to Lady Macbeth is from a fairy tale - the Evil Queen in Snow White.  Some chilling quotes:
Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, un-sex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
of direst cruelty.  Make thick my blood.
Stop up the access and passage to remorse (I, V, 41-45).
The extent of her willingness to do what was promised:
I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
And dashed the brains out, had I sworn as you
Have done to this (I, VII, 54-59).
Macbeth says of her:
Bring forth men-children only,
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing by males (I, VII, 72-74).
Macbeth is set and ready to commit the ultimate treason; regicide of the good, noble and beloved King Duncan.
I am settled, and bend up
Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.
Away, and mock the time with fairest show.
False face must hide what the false heart doth know (I, VII, 79-82).
After killing the king, Macbeth goes a bit batty and foreshadows the sleepless nights that he and Lady Macbeth will more baths, balms and nourishment for them.  I love this description of sleep.
"Sleep not more!
Macbeth does murder sleep" - the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
the death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
chief nourisher in life's feast (II,II, 33-38).
Once Macbeth is king, the 3 witches continue to cause mischief.  I now know where this famous couplet comes from:
Double, double, toil and trouble,
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble (IV, I, 10-11)
This play is about unchecked ambition.  About a man, egged on by his conscious-less wife, unable to trust his fate to Fate, and willing to do whatever vile act necessary to secure a destiny believed to be rightfully his.  Macbeth's ambition eventually drives Reason away, shown by his decision to kill Macduff's innocent wife and children.  Macduff is a nobleman who supports Malcolm, King Duncan's son and rightful heir:
From this moment
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand.  And even now,
To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done:
The castle of Macduff I will surprise,
Seize upon Fife, give to th' edge o' th' sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunately souls
That trace him in his line (IV, I, 147-154). 
The words below are spoken by a Scottish nobleman to Macduff after he hears of the horrific murders. These two sentences articulate why I write in my journal, Josh's blog and this blog.  See this post
Give sorrow words.  The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'refraught heart and bids it break (IV, III, 211-212)
Murder begets murder.  This is Macbeth cry when he hears of Lady Macbeth's death by self-murder:
Out, out brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more (V, V, 23-26).
In the last battle, a father loses his son.  Here is another "grief quote" that speaks to me:
Your cause of sorrow
Must not be measured by his worth, for then
It hath no end (V, VIII, 44-46).
At the end, Macbeth is overtaken and vengefully killed by Macduff, who cuts off his head and presents the grisly prize to the new King Malcolm.  Poetic justice, albeit after much violence and bloodshed, finally reigns supreme.  What kind of legacy does Macbeth and Lady Macbeth leave behind?  Not much when one considers the last speech of the play, recited by King Malcolm in which they are referred to as the "dead butcher and his fiendlike queen" (V,VIII, 69).

I have rated this play a "4", having no context as to how Macbeth compares to Shakespeare's other plays.  By virtue of the number of quotes (and I could've have written many more), I would not be surprised if, after reading other works, I later revise it to a "5".

1 comment:

  1. This is my abosolute FAVORITE Shakespeare thus far. But, I have only read six. I'll be reading more later this year. Glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did!