When I reviewed and analyzed Julius Caesar in depth back in June, I expected that I’d do the same with all the other Shakespeare plays I read while I have had this blog. And yet, I cannot “analyze” Macbeth. While I enjoyed reading Macbeth, it was not a “deep” reading experience for me. I’ve found I’ve been putting off writing this review because I don’t have such a deep analysis to give you. In fact, while I could reread it a few times, I’m ready to move on.
My first thought when I picked up Macbeth two weeks ago was, “Wow, this is perfect for Halloween.” Macbeth starts with thunder and lightning and three very spooky witches.
My second thought was that Macbeth was amazingly readable. I didn’t find myself stumbling over sentences (especially when I read it aloud with a bad Scottish accent, hehe), but beyond that the play itself is incredibly straight forward, more so than Julius Caesar was, which I read a few months ago. Unlike Julius Caesar, I didn’t need to read commentary to understand it or be fascinated by the setting Shakespeare created.
Macbeth is a Thane (a regional leader) in Scotland, and when he performs boldly on the battle field, King Duncan raises Macbeth’s level of power. Meanwhile, Macbeth meets three witches on the road who predict he will become king. This gives him ideas and when he mentions it to his wife, Lady Macbeth is determined to get that power. Murder, treachery, insanity, and more war subsequently follow.
To me, Macbeth was not as interesting a character as I inevitably found Brutus to be. Macbeth seemed blinded by the concepts of power, and yet he had some goodness in that he felt guilty. He hesitated, he feared, he lacked guts. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, was truly wicked. It seemed to me that her influence was Macbeth’s undoing. While Macbeth was a pretty rotten sort, only Lady Macbeth’s wicked desires and influence convinced Macbeth to go through his ultimate acts of treachery.
I have to say Lady Macbeth’s horrid wickedness is the most interesting aspect of the play. I tremble and shudder when I read her “I want to be more wicked!” soliloquy:
“…Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top full
Of direst cruelty! … Come to my woman’s breasts
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief!
(Act 1, Scene 5)
Nevertheless, Lady Macbeth is off stage for most of the play: Macbeth is center-stage. The included commentary by Harold Bloom discusses how Macbeth is every man: we, as the readers or watchers of the play relate to Macbeth’s struggle with the Jekyll and Hyde within him (page 177-8). I didn’t feel like I related to him at all. I felt he was flimsy and followed his wife blindly. It was a fascinating play but I did not like Macbeth.
Harold Bloom also has a lot to say about the sexuality of the characters and other sexual “suggestiveness,” for example, how Lady Macbeth comments on Macbeth’s impotence. It’s almost interesting enough to make me want to reread the play right now (except I won’t). When I do reread it, I think I’ll focus on the gender roles, for it is quite interesting.
Despite the fact that Lady Macbeth does fascinate me, the play is still rather disturbing to me. It is a ghost story: it is horror. I am not commonly a fan of those genres, so I should not be surprised that I wasn’t crazy about the supernatural elements. That said, I did enjoy reading it, and I stayed up late one windy fall night reading it aloud to myself with a horrible Scottish accent.
Some favorite parts: I love the scene when Macbeth is hallucinating, and I’d love to see it acted! I also loved the witches at first, but when they returned they were a bit too scary for me. (Yes, I’m a wimp.) And Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies (like the one I quoted above) were also spine chilling to me. *Shudder.* Macbeth is a play I’m going to reread someday, or that I’d love to see acted, despite the fact that (and also because) it is so chilling and fascinating.
The version I read was a part of the Annotated Shakespeare series, and I have to say I intend to find my other Shakespeare plays in this same series. It was so fully annotated (by Burton Raffel) that even if I did not understand a line, the glosses on the bottom of the page would have helped me completely. It was annotated almost to a fault (it cluttered up the page with glosses I didn’t feel I needed), but I’d have to say I like it that way because I felt it was completely approachable. I’d suggest if you are intimidated by Shakespeare, you find this series: it will do you good. Each page had few lines, so while the entire play was 180 pages, I made rapid progress and therefore felt good about said progress!
The Annotated Shakespeare series also provides an essay at the end of the play, which is a chapter excerpted from Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. Since I was intending to go pick that book up and read the chapter on this play, I was glad Burton Raffel saved me the step!
I read Macbeth for the Readers Imbibing Peril IV challenge.