Trevor's Reviews > Macbeth

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
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's review
Sep 02, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: literature

This was my first ever Shakespeare.

We studied it in high school in Year Eleven. It was the only Shakespeare we studied in High School. Now, in the last three years of high school, my daughters read a play by Shakespeare every year.

I remember, before I started reading this play, how afraid I was. I knew, you see, it was very important that I understand Shakespeare – even if I had to pretend. It was that important that I understand him. I knew that this was going to be a test of my ‘intelligence’. But there were many things that seemed to be against me ever understanding him. First of all the language. As I started to read I realised that this wasn’t English. I started referring to it as a dialect and was repeatedly told off by teachers. It’s not a dialect, it is English. (Yeah, but not as we know it, Mr Spock.)

I had not the slightest idea what I was in for. This play felt like it was spinning me around. And then there was the discussion on the play – talking about things like The Elizabethan Theme of Natural Order where what happens on earth is reflected in nature and how often he plays with this idea.

And there were witches and ghosts – but not just gratuitous crazy spooks, but frightening manifestations of addled brains that served incredibly interesting and important roles in the play.

And then there were the grounding questions – how much free will do we have? If you start off by doing a bad thing can you come back from it? If you kill off loyalty can you expect to be treated loyally yourself? What is madness? What is revenge?

Then I became fascinated by Banquo – almost as if MacBeth himself was just too much to take in. Well, I obsessed over Banquo really. He knows MacBeth has killed Duncan, he says as much, “Thou hast it all now and I fear thou has played most foully for it” – but he has much to gain from Duncan’s murder too. So he chooses to say nothing. And so he is as guilty as MacBeth and pays accordingly. Banquo comes out of this play anything but well. But over the years I’ve been told the opposite – even that James the First was related to him and that Shakespeare went easy on Banquo so as to suck up to the monarch.

And then there is Lady MacBeth – how she also knows, or at least guesses, before Banquo dies, that MacBeth is thinking of doing him in. Because her first line in Act 3 is, “Is Banquo gone from court?” She is worried about him – worried about MacBeth and him.

The thing that most got me about this play was that MacBeth just wasn’t a ‘dead butcher’ but someone who was all too human. I’ve often thought that this play stands as an interesting contrast to Hamlet. Hamlet is always seen as the man who doesn’t act – well, MacBeth certainly acts. He recognises his ambition and goes for it. The line of the play, then, for me is “Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill”. Yes, it is important to act, but not at any cost and not always purely to grasp the quickest way.

And isn’t it impossible to listen to his speech immediately after Lady MacBeth kills herself without being confronted by how tragic and yet psychologically interesting he really is as a character.

I had expected all the good guys to be GOOD and all the bad guys to be BAD. But this isn’t what happens in the play at all. MacDuff is hardly a hero and Ross – I mean, what is going on there? He pops around just before Lady MacDuff gets killed and then there is that incredibly odd bit where he is chatting with MacDuff for ages before saying – oh, yeah, by the way, your wife and kids, all dead I’m afraid. Did I forget to mention that?

I think what I got out of Shakespeare was the complexity of his characters, even his 'and also' characters and the care and love he put into crafting them.

And the language, of course. The mental images the words paint – “Is this a dagger I see before me?” or “I’m in blood stepped so far” or “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. People had said it was going to be a big moment – but I had no idea when I started to read this, my very first Shakespeare, just how important it would prove to be to me.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Helen (Helena/Nell) (last edited Sep 03, 2008 02:18PM) (new)

Helen (Helena/Nell) I loved this review. Macbeth wasn't my first Shakespeare -- that was A Midsummer Night's D.

However, I 'did' Shakespeare for O level English and Macbeth was the play. We were taken to see a performance at a theatre in Liverpool, and it was like music hall, not Shakespeare. The theatre backed onto the station, and at various points you could hear trains sounding sirens (or whatever trains sound) from the station, at the same time as synthetic smoke poured onto the stage (for the witches) very like the steam from a steam train. We giggled a lot, as you can imagine. The high point of giggling was where Macduff entered, with Macbeth's head on a pole. This made us fall about hysterically. It was great.

We really enjoyed Macbeth. When I took the exam, I bet someone that I could get the quotation 'The Thane of Fife had a wife, where is she now?' into any essay. Needless to say I managed this...


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Some high schools in the US, including our local public school, include Shakespeare in the 9th grade curriculum. Part of me wonders if it might be too early.

Trevor If you can see them too, Jillian, I would really recommend it. Shakespeare gets treated with lots of reverence, and rightly so, I guess - I think he may well have been planted here on earth by a superior and alien race just to confuse things - but his plays were meant as 'plays', as entertainment and were meant to be watched. And if I was to give you any other advice it would be to read the plays you hear about all of the time, Lear, Twelfth Night, Othello, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Much Ado - that sort of thing, rather than say Henry VIII.

M and Nell - sorry, somehow I missed responding and so this is belated - I'm surprised at how rude I can be at times. I once propped the girls up in front of a TV and played them various version of the Lady MacBeth speech from various adaptations - my favourite being the Judy Dench version where she is terrified by what she is doing and my least favourite being a BBC one where the Lady MacBeth actress is having sex with the spirits (which I guess adds new meaning to 'come ye spirits'). It was one of the very odd things I inflicted on them when they were growing up for which they may well need therapy later in life - ah well, what else is parenting for?

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