Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Classics Club: 2. Macbeth

This was a reread for me, since I studied the play in high school. Mind you that was more than 30 years ago (gulp) . My main recollection (apart from the general plot) was being required to memorise three lines and my friend (normally a studious, diligent sort) selecting the three witches': "Hail!","Hail!","Hail!"

Miss 14 and I both found Macbeth to a be short, easy to read play, but very powerful - a cautionary example of the costs of unbridled, unprincipled ambition, and what can happen to those who will do anything to achieve their ambition.

When we first learn about and meet Macbeth he is a heroic and loyal subject to King Duncan. However, this changes when he encounters three witches who address him as Thane of Glamis (his current title), Thane of Cawdor (a title King Duncan soon bestows upon him) and soon-to-be King. He is convinced that their prophesy must come true  but is not content to simply wait until it unfolds naturally. Spurred on by his wife, and against his own better instincts, he murders King Duncan. Both Macbeth and his wife struggle with their guilt. She becomes mad and eventually dies. He undertakes more murderous plots to try and hold onto his power against the increasing suspicion of and resistance from other nobles. He receives another prophecy from the witches that he should beware Macduff, but that he would not be overthrown until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill and that no one born of a woman would harm him. He tries to calm himself after these prophesies, reasoning that woods cannot move and that since all are born from women, then surely no one would be able to hurt him.

Of course the witches' prophesies do come true and Macbeth is killed - a once seemingly great man, who has lost everything because he refused to check his ambitions.

On the one hand this was not an enjoyable read. None of the major characters demonstrated any redeeming qualities, so it was hard to relate to them or sympathise with them As soon as Lady Macbeth succeeded in goading her husband to murder you knew it was going to end badly for them, but you knew they deserved whatever was coming to them. On the other hand Shakespeare's writing - his way with words, the poetry, the emotion he has his characters portray, and the humour that even features in this tragedy - is always a pleasure.

Shortly after Miss 14 and I finished reading this play I was discovered that it will be performed early next year by a local company. While Shakespeare is a pleasure to read, his plays were written to be performed and watched. Attending the annual outdoor performance of this company is a highlight of our summer but in the years that we've been attending they've only performed comedies. So it really was a pleasant surprise to discover them branching out, particularly since Macbeth will still be fresh in our minds. Seeing it performed live should only add to our appreciation of this powerful tragedy.

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