Macbeth Third lecture
Banquo’s dreams • II.1: Banquo wants to sleep, but is afraid to dream. Why? • Stage image: he hands over his sword – and dagger? • He has dreamt of the “weird sisters.” • Does he want to? • Acceptance or rejection of a “dream.” • What’s acceptable and unacceptable to “dream of”? • And his response to Macbeth’s invitation to talk over “that business.” • And by contrast Macbeth’s “dream”: “Is this a dagger I see before me?” • “a dagger of the mind”: with a double meaning? • And then the dream-state dagger becomes covered with blood. • What does one do with a nightmare or a vision of horror?
Thinking brainsickly • Lady M accuses Macbeth of unbending his noble strength “to think so brainsickly of things” (II.2.48-49). • His anxiety over not being able to pronounce “Amen” to the guards’ “God bless us.” • “Consider it not so deeply.” • But why couldn’t he respond? • And because he imagines that in killing a sleeping man, he has killed sleep. • “Innocent sleep”! And six wonderful metaphors for sleep. • Sleep equals helplessness, innocence? • And he imagines his hands “will rather/ The multitudinous seas incarnadine/ Making the green one red” instead of washing off the blood? • While she insists, “A little water clears us of the deed.” • The vast gulf between them?
Changing places • By Act V, Macbeth and Lady M appear to have changed places in regard to their imaginative apprehension. • V.1 (sleepwalking scene): The murder of sleep now affects Lady M. • She brainsickly imagines blood. • “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.” • “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” • “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” • The doc’s diagnosis: “infected minds.” • And Macbeth (V.3): “I have almost forgot the taste of fears.” • He has “supped full with horrors.” • Lady M, his “dearest chuck,” is dead (V.5)? Oh well . . . • “She should have died hereafter:/ There would have been a time for such a word.” • And his sense of life in the lines following. • Life is nothing but a dumb actor, “a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more.” • Theater itself is emptied out – life and theater become mutually insignificant.
Banquo’s ghost • The scene of Macbeth’s feast is at the very center of the play: III.4. • All the verbal images of food and of nature in the play concentrated in the visual image of the feast: stage direction. • Lady M’s welcome – and the stage direction. • “Feeding” vs. feasting: the sauce to meat . . . • Macbeth’s toast: “Good digestion wait on appetite,/ And health on both.” • When does the ghost enter? • Macbeth’s “conjuration”? • He tries the toast again (l. 89-90). • But again “conjures” the ghost. • The excuse is that Macbeth is brainsick. • And his sickness destroys the feast. • As the sickness will destroy the kingdom
Macbeth’s castle • At I.6 Duncan’s “construction” of the castle’s nature: the air. • Banquo’s noting of the “temple-haunting martlet”: “no jutty, frieze,/ Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird/ Hath made his pendent beg and procreant cradle.” • An image of a sort of paradisal nature . . . • . . . turning to “knock, knock, knock” in the porter’s comic turn. • He’s playing the “porter of hell gate.” • Which had been an actual role in the biblical mystery plays. • Porter pretends to be a character that Shakespeare had seen in the Coventry Corpus Christi play, the devil who is guarding the gate of hell when Christ comes to deliver the souls of the just. • Coventry play is lost, but we know of the role from a reference in an early 16th century play. • The role had been comic, just as the porter is comic. • And what does the play-acting make of Macbeth’s castle?
Macbeth and Herod • One of the most powerful scenes in the biblical plays had been the killing of the innocent children by Herod. • Herod orders the killing of all babies in Bethlehem. • His soldiers carry this out in a particularly gruesome scene in the biblical play. Lots of stage blood. • This scene evoked in the scene of killing the son of Lady Macduff and Lady Macduff herself. • Macbeth thereby becomes Herod, the most potent image of evil kingship in Sh’s world. • Which is contrasted, in the scene in the English court, to the saintly kingship of Edward the Confessor.
Sickness and kingship • At the end of the play (V.3), the disease of Lady Macbeth’s mind reflects the disease of Scotland. • Macbeth orders the doctor to cure her of the “thick-coming fancies/ That keep her from rest.” • “Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased?” • “Therein the patient/ Must minister to himself.” • Macbeth: “If thou couldst, doctor, cast/ The water of my land, find her disease . . .” • But meanwhile “Seyton” is helping Macbeth put his armor on. • The word, spoken, seems indistinguishable from “Satan.” • Who has, through the witches, tricked Macbeth with the two equivocal prophecies? • The coalescence of the evil accomplished by Macbeth with kingship has diseased, sickened the entire kingdom. • Only a purgative, can cure the kingdom. • Which must be accomplished by Macbeth’s expulsion.
“Enter Macduff with Macbeth’s head” • Why this ending? • We’ve already seen Macbeth slain – and understand the fulfillment of the two prophecies. • It certainly produces a striking stage image. • But beheading was the punishment for treason – for nobility. • The striking off of Macbeth’s head means he was a traitor – as well as a usurper. • The beheading of the traitor/usurper appears to accomplish the purging that Macbeth had asked the doctor for. • To us, beheading may look barbaric, evil in itself. • But could it signal the severing of the seat of the evil we see created in the play, the mind/brain/face, from the instruments of that evil, the hands and bodily sinews? • Is it somehow “necessary” for the purging of the evil the play has shown created? • I have to admit that it has always seemed oddly satisfying in productions of the play I’ve seen.