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13 October 2010 @ 08:26 pm
every soul who plays this role risks injury or death!  
You guys. Is it just me, or is the whole "Macbeth is the story of an honorable man who is corrupted by power" line really weird? I mean, in my world, guys who decide they want to kill the king after the merest hint that they might become king by doing so, for no reason but "vaulting ambition"--not so much with the "honorable." Simply having not done anything evil yet is not the same thing as actually being honorable or good. And yet people seem to say this a lot about Macbeth. I am confused.

(I keep thinking of Nahum in Slings and Arrows: the idea that Macbeth only shows us evil; it doesn't teach us about it.)

Related, but not really: I...am actually not all that interested in the character of Macbeth. I'm way more interested in Banquo, Malcolm (seriously, what?), and Macduff. I feel like this tells you everything you could possibly need to know about me and tragedy.

I remain open, as always, to seeing a Macbeth that totally changes my mind.
 
 
 
the cold geniusangevin2 on October 14th, 2010 12:35 am (UTC)
I think people tend to put a lot of stock in Lady Mac's assessment of her husband -- "What thou wouldst highly / That wouldst thou holily" and so forth -- and I think you are generally right. I'd add that in a lot of ways Macbeth is more about what happens when people think they're honorable and then get the opportunity not to be. He's very much the anti-Richard III, I think, in that regard: Richard has no pretenses about what he is, and of course he sets out (is "determined") to be a villain. Macbeth wants to think of himself as heroic, and he closes himself off at the end, while Richard sort of -- cracks open -- I don't know that he gains self-awareness so much as a perspective shift, while Macbeth just stops examining himself at all rather than continue to see what he's seen from basically the start of the play. (I guess Lady Macbeth is more like Richard III? I dunno.)

This is what I like so much about Ian McKellen's Macbeth, incidentally; he gives the impression that he lives in a tiny box in a closet in his own head. And the box has a bomb in it.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 12:58 am (UTC)
in a lot of ways Macbeth is more about what happens when people think they're honorable and then get the opportunity not to be

Yes, that makes sense--although the odd thing is that I think you're right; Macbeth actually knows what he is right away, so the play isn't about watching him come into that knowledge. We're watching him chase after some sort of peace of mind, and he thinks that clearing the decks of any opposition will give that to him, but it's a false hope--since once you know you're a murderer (or that you're willing to be one for not-very-good reasons), you can't really go back to not knowing that.

That reminds me! I still haven't seen Ian McKellen's Macbeth! What is wrong with me?
the cold geniusangevin2 on October 14th, 2010 02:39 am (UTC)
OMG YOU HAVE TO SEE IT. Although it will spoil you for all other Macbeths ever. I don't think I've enjoyed any other production since I saw it (although it is, as we all know, extraordinarily difficult to stage effectively).

Also, it has the creepiest porter ever (played by Ian MacDiarmid).

We're watching him chase after some sort of peace of mind, and he thinks that clearing the decks of any opposition will give that to him, but it's a false hope--since once you know you're a murderer (or that you're willing to be one for not-very-good reasons), you can't really go back to not knowing that.

And, yeah. I think the key line to getting Macbeth (the character, maybe not Macbeth the play) is "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly," and that whole speech -- it's not even that he wants to be good, exactly, it's that he wants to be able to be bad without consequences.

I also think his rationale when he tries to call the whole thing off is really interesting:

We will proceed no further in this business:
He hath honour'd me of late; and I have bought
Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
Not cast aside so soon.


Not so much "It's wrong" as "What will the neighbors think?"
tempestsarekind: geoffrey (not) at worktempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:50 am (UTC)
although it is, as we all know, extraordinarily difficult to stage effectively

*g*

Yes, that's so true--it's like, "let's just make sure there's no way this could backfire on us."

I think I must have just stopped reading or something; I've never quite noticed that second half of the justification, after "He hath honoured me of late." How bizarre: "I don't mind doing the murder, but I don't want people to think badly of me."
La Reine Noire: Elizabethlareinenoire on October 14th, 2010 01:21 am (UTC)
Loved what angevin2 said and I don't think I can really add anything helpful to it, but there is this.

So, I was talking to the Shakespeare prof whose office is next to the one I'm sharing for the semester, and he was telling me about a production of Macbeth that the NT did some years ago with Derek Jacobi in the title role. Apparently he actually tried to go the 'honourable man corrupted by power' route, and it just did not work. Even with Derek Jacobi being his usual adorable self and apparently sitting on the edge of the stage and addressing his last two monologues directly to the audience.
tempestsarekind: where is my romeotempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
That's really interesting!

It just seems like a thing that people just say: an abstraction, but not one that's borne out by the play itself--only what people want it to be when they need a neat little tag for it.
La Reine Noire: Vergillareinenoire on October 14th, 2010 01:38 am (UTC)
I think you're very right about people wanting Macbeth to be about an honourable man -- a tragic hero, so to speak -- but the fact is he really, really isn't, at least not in the sense that people think when they imagine a tragic hero. I suppose the tragedy in Macbeth isn't especially different from the tragedy in Richard III, aside from the fact that Macbeth is constantly trying to convince not just everyone around him, but also himself, that he is ultimately an honourable man who acted for honourable reasons. Richard may attempt to convince the rest of the world, but he does at least seem aware that he's nothing of the sort.
tempestsarekind: all the world's a stagetempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 01:43 am (UTC)
Which is interesting--no one *needs* Richard III to be a hero while watching that play, so why do people want Macbeth to be a tragic hero?

I always think it's so odd, the way Macbeth is totally upfront about his motivations--"I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent." He can't lay anything negative to Duncan's charge. But he loses that clarity as the play goes on, as murder seems to become a need for him.
La Reine Noire: Wimminz!lareinenoire on October 14th, 2010 01:49 am (UTC)
I think it may go back to what angevin2 was saying about reading too much into Lady Macbeth's speech and assuming that she's trying to urge him from a standstill when he's already at least moving in that direction, even if he's not quite to her level.
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Maybe, yes--her reading of him runs so counter to what we've already seen in his thoughts. I'm always utterly chilled by how quickly and easily he thinks of Malcolm as a mere "step" to climb over and get rid of--and yet Lady Macbeth tells us that he's "too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way." If you read the play taking her speech as a guide...well, I guess that's the only way you can read *her* as some sort of horrid brow-beating witch who forces her husband to do bad things, as well.

This is also one of those things that puzzles me--the idea that the Macbeths' marriage is the only happy one in Shakespeare, that they understand each other intimately. Because based on Lady M's speech, she doesn't seem to know Macbeth's innermost self all that well.
La Reine Noire: Wimminz!lareinenoire on October 14th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC)
I do have to ask, have you read Harbingers of Blood? It's a magnificently written look into Lady Macbeth's head.
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
I haven't, no--but I'll have to bookmark it so that I can!
La Reine Noire: Wimminz!lareinenoire on October 14th, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
...I actually meant to add the fic rec to a more detailed response and then got carried away. ;)

Maybe, yes--her reading of him runs so counter to what we've already seen in his thoughts. I'm always utterly chilled by how quickly and easily he thinks of Malcolm as a mere "step" to climb over and get rid of--and yet Lady Macbeth tells us that he's "too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way."

I know! It does make you wonder a lot more about their marriage and how well they do know one another -- and the story definitely takes a different viewpoint than most critics seem to.

I wonder if anyone has ever read that speech sarcastically? Macbeth certainly doesn't strike me as being full of the milk of human kindness...
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
And I've never seen Macbeth played that way, either. It's such a peculiar description: perhaps there was a time when Macbeth was like that?

Hee, the "milk of human kindness" thing now always makes me think of James McAvoy in that Shakespeare Retold version of Macbeth, because he was constantly drinking milk, as though it were some kind of habit or ritual with him--and Keeley Hawes had a line like "Duncan milks you for everything you're worth, and you let him." And then there's a bit where (Joe) Macbeth hallucinates that the milk turns to blood... I rather liked that, even if it was perhaps a bit heavy-handed; it actually managed to translate the "milk of human kindness" line into a modern idiom (and pick up on Malcolm's line about pouring the milk of concord into hell, I suppose) without its being horribly awkward (um, "I'll give you a midsummer night's dream where the moon doesn't shine"? What does that even mean?).
La Reine Noire: Wimminz!lareinenoire on October 14th, 2010 02:23 am (UTC)
Maybe he was once, although tenth-century Scotland was a pretty grim place all told.

And I really do need to see the Shakespeare Retold series. It looks pleasantly insane (and I have heard particularly good things about their version of Shrew, which is saying something considering how much I don't like that play).
tempestsarekind: too wise to woo peaceablytempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
I thought Midsummer was rather dismal, and I didn't quite click with Much Ado (though I know many people really liked it; I just had Personal Issues with the banter), but I rather liked Macbeth and Shrew. (As for the latter: it has Rufus Sewell. He is crazy. It also has Shirley Henderson. That's kind of all you need to know.)
the cold geniusangevin2 on October 14th, 2010 02:50 am (UTC)
I dunno, I am just sort of willing to forgive a great deal for the sake of Damian Lewis in leather pants. ;)

(Although Billie Piper as Hero was weird.)
tempestsarekind: ten has a secrettempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:53 am (UTC)
Fair enough. :) I liked it; I just didn't love it.

And yes--although it was even weirder for me because by the time I got around to seeing it, the guy playing Claudio had also played Martha's (mostly invisible) fiance.
the cold geniusangevin2 on October 14th, 2010 02:43 am (UTC)
um, "I'll give you a midsummer night's dream where the moon doesn't shine"? What does that even mean?

I assume it means sodomy, but then, I always do. ;)

I wrote about that version of Macbeth on lj ages ago! It kind of veers between really good and incredibly strange.

But it does have James McAvoy screaming "PIGS ARE LANDING ON MY HEAD!" And that is awesome.
tempestsarekind: elizabeth bennet is amusedtempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)
It probably does mean sodomy; it's just--most awkward working-in of the title ever. (Which now sounds dirty, actually.)

It kind of veers between really good and incredibly strange.

That does about cover it, yes. And oh, I went around saying "Pigs are landing on my head!" for no reason for weeks afterward. Hee.
the cold geniusangevin2 on October 14th, 2010 02:49 am (UTC)
I feel certain that there must be, somewhere, a porno called A Midsummer Night's Wet Dream, but I don't really feel like researching it. (I have a Shakespeare on film reference book that swears there is a Much Ado About Humping, but can produce no information about it.)

Also, yeah, that particular production of Midsummer was UTTERLY DISMAL. Some things just do not translate well AT ALL.
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:54 am (UTC)
bleagh. That is apparently the only reaction I can come up with at this moment. Well, that and, "Really, if there is in fact a porn flick called A Midsummer Night's Wet Dream, do you really actually want to know about it?"
the cold genius: cheer up emo kingangevin2 on October 14th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC)
Apparently there was also horrible, horrible Mackers/witch altarsex in that production, too.

That's all I really have to contribute.
tempestsarekind: your strange behavior puzzles marthatempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:42 am (UTC)
...oh god why.
the cold geniusangevin2 on October 14th, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
I DON'T KNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW
tempestsarekindtempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 02:55 am (UTC)
That is taking his desire to find out if the witches are actually women ENTIRELY TOO FAR.
Enlevéenleve on October 14th, 2010 11:13 am (UTC)
I think at the beginning of the play, Macbeth is honourable, at least by the standards of his time. You don't see it on stage, but one of the soldiers comes in at the beginning and tells all about his valiant deeds in battle, how he got the traitor, etc. Macbeth is trusted and honoured by his king and his men, and presumably he earned that trust by years of service.

I don't think the honourable man corrupted by power concept is exactly what Macbeth is about, but I don't think that the idea of him being honourable is the problem with that idea.

I saw a very interesting performance of Macbeth at the Stratford Festival last year, starring Colm Feore. It gave me a completely different shape of the play in my mind. In this version, Macbeth breaks down near the beginning, then becomes more and more sure of himself as he goes along. I've typically seen it played the other way around, where he takes the first step casually, then comes to regret it or go mad, or something like that. The vision of evil in this version was of a different flavour and shape than I've come across before.
tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on October 14th, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
I see what you mean. The thing is, I think there's a very big difference between being valiant and being honorable, and I think it's maybe too easy to say that the standards of "Macbeth's day" (whenever that is--medieval Scotland? Seventeenth-century England?) were different. Macbeth points out that there is a system of honor in place that he is completely contravening by murdering Duncan, when he says "He's here in double trust": as Duncan's subject and as his host, Macbeth is bound by honor to protect Duncan, not to kill him. So in some very real sense, Macbeth fails to be honorable even by the standards of his time, since those standards apparently put a high premium on loyalty.

It is a play about appearances, though--it's very easy for Macbeth to look honorable (capable of valiant deeds), and to gain honors (thane of Cawdor), without, perhaps, actually being honorable in the truer sense.

I think that Stratford production sounds very interesting!