Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two Trusts

MacBeths lines spoken to himself when he is considering killing Duncan struck me as particularly odd. This whole idea of double trust seemed an odd expression, so much so that it distracted my reading. What did Macbeth mean, "double trust"? Are there different kinds of trusts? It seems that within the context of the play there are. In context, Duncan places his trust in MacBeth for several reasons; MacBeth is an old friend, as indicated by the start of the play. MacBeth has thus been a loyal servant, a good soldier. We have no reason to think that Duncan thinks anything other than high thoughts about the titular character of the play. Then there is another sort of trust, the trust between host and visitor. Particularly in high society, social grace and protocol are very important. One does not go about murdering ones guests. Duncan there for will have his defenses down.

While this phrase is interesting in its own right, it also illuminates a thread that I perceived running through out the play. The idea of different kinds of trusts seems to point to different kinds of duties and commitments. How are ones duty's as a husband different that ones duties as a lord? How are the two ranked? Is there an over lap. If Shakespeare is suggesting that something is amiss, at its root it seems to come from one stepping outside the realm of ones duty, a usual trope in the Shakespeare play. This seems to suggest that Shakespeare is not an advocate of change, but in fact in favor of the societal status quo. Given what we've learned about Shakespeares biography in class, this view seems to hold. He was writing for the royal audience, after all. However it was very interesting to see such a firm apparition of this role in this text.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lady Macbeth

This is the first time I am reading Macbeth and I had no idea how much I would enjoy reading it. The play is very similar to Richard III but I think that Lady Macbeth adds a little twist to the plot. I was struck by how she was more evil then Macbeth. Lady Macbeth makes him feel like less of a man when he thinks about not killing King Duncan stating “When you durst do it, then you were a man; And to be more that what you were, you would/Be so much more the man” (1.7.49-51). She wants Macbeth to know that in her eyes her was more of a man when he wanted to kill Duncan and he must do it to be a real man. She clearly gave him the kick in the rump he needed to enact the murder of Duncan. One of her best examples which highlights keeping a promise is when she says:
...I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love a babe that milks me./
I would, while it was smiling in my face,/
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums/
And dashed the brains out, had I sworn/
As you have done to this.” (1.7.54-59)
Her words are gruesome and bold because as a mother she is basically saying she would kill her child to keep a promise. To even think about using your child as an example is awful especially when you think of a moment that is supposed to be so tender turned into something so ugly. You have to wonder, would she really do it. Lady Macbeth's speech shows how ludicrous she truly is and it makes me wonder why she is so intent on instigating Macbeth. Does she want the power as Queen? Her words and actions reveal her as one of the most powerful women Shakespeare has created in one of his plays. Unlike the docile female characters, Lady Macbeth has a voice and she wants it to be heard.

The Use of Fate In Macbeth

I focused on Shakespeare's use of fate as a concept in his plays for my final assignment, so I couldn't help but notice the role that fate plays in Macbeth, particularly in the last scenes. Generally we think of fate as something that's predetermined and fixed- but the way Shakespeare muses on it, it seems that fate is susceptible to outside forces and a singular fate rests in the hands of the individual.

Macbeth believes that he is not in control of his own fate, and this is apparent through his blind following of the prophesies given by the witches. He is only skeptical of their predictions for moments during their first encounter, until they are proven right when he is pronounced Thane of Cawdor. After that, Macbeth believes that everything the witches say will happen... yet he is unable to recognize his role in these prophecies. At first, he makes it happen. He kills Duncan and defends his title as King; instead of waiting to ascend the throne (because the witches told him it would happen!) he speeds up the process with help from Lady Macbeth.

It seems at first that the witches are predicting Macbeth's entire future when in reality, they are reliant on his actions for their predictions to become reality. The witches aren't the "evil doers" in Macbeth past taking on the role of the instigator, perhaps. However, they didn't promote murder, lying or cheating, they merely told Macbeth of his future. If Macbeth sat idly by and did nothing to make himself king, perhaps it wouldn't have happened.

The roles that the witches and Macbeth play in his own fate, destiny and (eventual) demise are both interwoven and confusing. Shakespeare has created witches- scary, magical beings as a representation of the power we all have to manipulate and even mutate our own futures. Without the witches, Macbeth would have never assumed he had the power to become king- it wouldn't have crossed his mind as an attainable future. However, it is at the hands of Macbeth (and indeed, Lady Macbeth) and not a magical, supernatural force that allows him to ascend to the Scottish throne!

The last lines the witches have (in unison, rather than as independent beings, mind you) is in Act 4 Scene 1, "Show his eyes and grieve his heart, Come like shadows, so depart" (4.1, 126-127)- they summon the last apparition from their cauldron; the band of eight kings and Banquo. This certainly fuels Macbeth's paranoia and emotions, but there is an entire Act left of the play where Macbeth's fate unfolds without another utterance from a supernatural force! Clearly Shakespeare is asking us as his audience to question the role of fate and destiny in Macbeth; the powers all of us have individually to create our futures (the prices way pay for the destinies we choose) and the ability all of us have to be the "witch" to plant the "seed of evil".

Magic, Midsummer, & Macbeth

The witches of Macbeth beguile not only the title character but Shakespeare’s original and modern audiences.  They are arguably one of the most celebrated aspects of this tragedy.  Their often rhyming lines, sing-song phrases, and fantastical descriptions of their magic make them memorable and mystifying.  There is something about Hecate and her followers that transform this play into something more than a drama about power, kingship, and control.  Shakespeare’s inclusion of supernatural forces gives this story a larger scale and makes it appear grander because of the mysterious witches that know so much.  As one reads their famous “Double, double, toil and trouble,/ Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” speech, it is impossible not to get into a musical pattern because of Shakespeare’s skill in writing the contents of the cauldron (4.1.10-11).  While reading this act, I could not help but notice similarities between Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This is an interesting pairing, as one is definitely a tragedy and the other a comedy, but both maintain an element of whimsy and supernatural, although in completely separate ways.  A Midsummer was first performed around the year 1595 and Macbeth was originally performed in 1606.  Perhaps Shakespeare is acknowledging his fairy comedy again, eleven years later, by inserting elements found in A Midsummer into the witches scene of Macbeth.  Hecate states in 4.1 something that easily could be read in A Midsummer: “And now about the cauldron sing/ Like elves and fairies in a ring,/ Enchanting all that you put in” (lines 41-43). Shakespeare is conceivably adopting elements of his original fanciful play into this tragic drama because it did so well with the audience in 1595.  There are obviously no cauldrons present in A Midsummer, but fairies do play a significant role in the comedy and it would be easy to imagine Titania stating Hecate’s line, although in a somewhat different manner.  A more apparent relation between these two plays is the mention of spirits named “Puckey,” and “Robin,”: “Firedrake, Puckey, make it lucky;/ Liard, Robin, you must bob in” (4.1.47-48).  Anyone who has read A Midsummer Night’s Dream knows of the famous Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck or a puck, the magical imp henchman to Oberon.  I do not know the history of Elizabethan folklore, but I like to think Shakespeare is creating unity between the two dramas.  Using the name of a key character of his earlier play and attaching it to a spirit in Macbeth shows genius. Interestingly, a fairy does call Puck in A Midsummer, a “hobgoblin” which may relate to the goblin-like witches of Macbeth (2.1.40). 
            What caused me to draw this parallel between these plays was the Spirit’s and Hecate’s song in 3.5 that is remarkably similar to a fairy’s in A Midsummer.  They sing “Over woods, high rocks and mountains,/ Over seas and misty fountains,/ Over steeples, towers and turrets,/ We fly by night ‘mongst troops of spirits” (3.5.62-65).  This is amazingly akin to Fairy’s 2.1 speech when Robin asks how the fairy is and the reply is: “Over hill, over dale, Thorough bush, thorough brier, / Over park, over pale,/ Thorough flood, thorough fire:/ I do wander everywhere (1.2.2-6).  The repetition of the word “over” and the spirits and fairy both singing of flying and wandering high above all the earth is so alike.  Shakespeare had to have been aware of the similarity and maybe recycled the same notion because it gives the witches a sense of other worldliness that the fairy encapsulates in A Midsummer.  Both sections are also very catchy and would be great for an actor to recite with passion in front of an audience. 
            Finally, the speeches made by the witches and Titania regarding the gathering of materials is alike, yet different and appropriate for their genres.  In A Midsummer, the fairy queen tells her fairy followers to “feed [Bottom] with apricots and dewberries,/ With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries;/ the honeybags steal from the humble-bees/… And pluck the wings from painted butterflies/ To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes” (3.1.148-150, 154-155).  This segment has a pastoral, light, and magical quality to it.  In Macbeth, however, the thrilling descriptions get darker: “Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,/ Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf/ Of the ravined salt-sea shark,/ Root of hemlock digged i’th’ dark,/ Liver of blaspheming Jew…” (4.1.22-26).   These ingredients are sinister and cast an entirely different mood over the scene as compared to Titania’s scene.  The gloom created by the witches plays well with Macbeth’s twisted, evil character.  The characters in A Midsummer are more concerned with love and therefore have lighter objects in their list.  It would be interesting to research and compare the supernatural characters of Macbeth to that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Shakespeare’s frequent use of the supernatural tells what the Elizabethan theatre audience found enticing and what he thought made for great drama, whether comedy or tragedy.

Sexuality in Macbeth vs Hamlet

       In our discussion of Hamlet, we talked about the sexuality of Gertrude-someone who was overly sexual - and how it was a threat to Hamlet.   Not only did Gertrude marry Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, after his father died, it might have caused Hamlet to question his own legitimacy.  In Act IV of Macbeth, I saw a few references to sexuality as well.  The first reference was in Act IV, scene i, when the witches added a strange and gruesome ingredient to the evil charm they were making: a "Finger of birth-strangled babe / Ditch-delivered by a drab" (4.1, 30-31).  When I was reading this, I was reading the "No-Fear" version, which translates this to "the finger of a baby that was strangled as a prostitute gave birth to it in a ditch."  Not only is this horrendous, I believe it also hints to "inappropriate" female sexuality.  The baby was the child of a prostitute - a pretty clear example of inappropriate sexuality - and therefore the woman probably had no idea whose child it was.  This symbol was part of the recipe to make an evil charm by the witches, and that makes me think it's something that was considered to be bad.  (On a side note, it's times like these that I'm thankful for  the "No Fear" series.  Had I read this without it, I wouldn't know what a "drab" was and would therefore have probably overlooked this interesting little addition.) 

     More clearly an example of thoughts on sexuality in this act of Macbeth, however, comes up during Malcolm's talk with Macduff in scene iii of Act IV.  In their discussion of Macbeth, it's clear that they both do not think too highly of him.  One part, however, stood out to me.  Malcolm says these lines to Macduff:
"It is myself I mean, in whom I know
All the particulars of vice so grafted
That, when they shall be opened, black Macbeth
Will seem as pure as snow, and the poor state
Esteem him as a lamb, being compared
With my confineless harms.
I grant him bloody,
Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name. But there’s no bottom, none,
In my voluptuousness. Your wives, your daughters,
Your matrons, and your maids could not fill up
The cistern of my lust, and my desire
All continent impediments would o'erbear
That did oppose my will. Better Macbeth
Than such an one to reign."
(4.3, 51-67)

In comparing himself to Macbeth, who he claims is guilty of every sin in the book, Malcolm believes he is worse because he has insatiable lust, "voluptuousness".  This basically says that being horribly lustful is worse than any other sin.  It is interesting when I compare it to Gertrude in Hamlet, because in Macbeth, it is a man who is guilty of being overly sexual. And yet, contrary to what I thought, he seems to punish himself worse than how Gertrude was seen.  I would think that since men had higher standing, he could get away with it.  Perhaps my idea is also tainted by current society, where it is sometimes believed to be "OK" for a man to be a player, whereas it's less acceptable for a woman to be "loose".  In Macbeth, it seems that both genders are equally punished and looked down upon for their "improper" sexuality.

(As a disclaimer, he does say that this "bad quality" is a lie, but I don't really believe that. So, here I will stick to my analysis as is. Also, whether he was lying about himself or not doesn't really matter. The thoughts on the matter are still the same.)

Macbeth and the Three Witches

One of the things that I focused on in my re-reading of the first act of Macbeth (after considering our class in McKenna theater last Tuesday) was the role of the witches in the play. I found it interesting how the entire essence of these supernatural beings impacted Macbeth’s character even in the first act alone. In scene one we get the sense that the three witches are clearly associated with darkness. They enter the stage with the sound of thunder and lightening supplementing their eerie supernatural presence that is later described/questioned by Banquo (in 1.3) as:
That look not like th' inhabitants o' th' Earth,
And yet are on ’t?—Live you? Or are you aught
That man may question? You seem to understand me,
By each at once her choppy finger laying
Upon her skinny lips. You should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are
It is now understood that these witches are envisioned as these ugly, almost demonic beings. As we discussed in class last Tuesday, it seems as though the vibe that is intended to be felt by the presence of these witches on stage is an ominous one. They embody the image of evil in these seemingly supernatural forms.
            In regards to Macbeth’s character I thought it was interesting how the prophecy of the witches immediately began to change his views from being selfless to being selfish. Just as the witches are a representation of evil forces in the world, selfishness is an evil force instilled (in Macbeth’s case at least) by the drive to attain something for one’s own benefit. In this particular situation, Macbeth’s selfishness begins to take rise at the possibility of power. Once he is presented with the prediction that he will be the thane of Cawdor and is then presented with the reality of that prediction when Ross tells him the kind has been sentenced to death, Macbeth finds himself thinking about murdering the man himself. At this point, he is afraid of the darkness that has now permeated his thoughts. He says:
This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature?  
All of the sudden, his heroism—in his defense of the king and all of his people in all the battles he has fought valiantly in— seems to be in danger to this sudden promotion of power. 
In my opinion, the selfish drive for power is amongst one of the darkest concepts Shakespeare explores in many of his plays (most recently this was idea showed up in Hamlet with Hamlet’s uncle killing his own brother for his chance on the throne). To connect this idea back to the image of the witches, we see how the evil thoughts popped as suddenly into Macbeth’s mind as the witches vanished out of sight. They are quick and dark and have the power to change the direction of things as they are the darker they become.    

Lady Macbeth—unfortunately, just another one of Shakespeare's weak female characters

As we all might know, Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, Macbeth, is perhaps best known for the ambition and tyranny of its protagonist of the same name. But perhaps the most notable feature of the play is his wife, Lady Macbeth. Her manipulative influence over her husband is tremendously effective; she challenges her husband’s masculinity and chides him into murdering Duncan in order to fulfill the witches’ prophecy. In fact, it can be argued that Lady Macbeth is the impetus of all of the play’s action. (Upon meeting her in Act I, scene v, we find Lady Macbeth already planning to persuade Macbeth into killing Duncan—“He that’s coming / Must be provided for” [I.v.64–65].) Lady Macbeth’s power at first glance may seem like a stark change from the weak female characters we've been used to in Shakespeare’s other works, but in actuality, Macbeth is just another play highlighting the frailty of the female race—in Shakespeare’s eyes, anyway.
For one, in order for Lady Macbeth’s plans to kill Duncan to come to fruition, they must be acted on by her husband, a man—hence why Lady Macbeth must persuade Macbeth, rather than take it upon herself, to perform the murder. Lady Macbeth influences her husband by attacking his manhood—note the passage, “What beast was’t then… As you have done to this” (I.vii.48–59)—to which Macbeth concedes, acknowledging Lady Macbeth’s “undaunted mettle” which “should compose / Nothing but males” (I.vii.74–75). Despite her seemingly masculine way of conceptualizing the murder of Duncan, she still relies on Macbeth to carry it out, which he does, albeit with much trepidation. It is very interesting to note that Lady Macbeth claims she would have killed Duncan herself, “had he not resembled / [her] father as he slept” (II.ii.12–13). Once again, this shows a woman cowering at the idea of killing a dominant figure herself—not only a man, but one that looks like her father, another obvious dominator.
It’s not to be mistaken that Lady Macbeth’s powers of persuasion come from an entirely feminine source, for women alone are much too weak to think of such nefarious plots on their own, Shakespeare believes. Lady Macbeth must first ask spirits to “unsex [her] here, / And fill [her] from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direct cruelty” in order to gain the strength to harbor such evil intent (I.v.39–41). Apparently, even a gender-neutral individual is capable of more than what a woman is. The idea that Lady Macbeth would want to be “unsexed” in a way relates to the Weird Sisters who appear earlier in Act I. As Banquo observes, “You [the witches] should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so” (I.iii.43–45). Should the Weird Sisters harbor ill intent themselves,we can logically deduce that they can only do so by being manlike, just as Lady Macbeth wishes to be. (The idea that Lady Macbeth is herself a witch is one that scholars have argued, but that is a topic for another blog post.)
There is other evidence that suggests Lady Macbeth typifies a weak woman character despite her apparent strength. Her susceptibility to insanity is often attributed as a distinctly female trait in Shakespeare’s time. Her swift submission to guilt and uneasiness is also typical of Shakespeare’s women characters. Yet another parallel to weak female characters is the fact that Lady Macbeth ends up killing herself in the last act of the play. Like Ophelia, we only hear of Lady Macbeth’s suicide from a secondary source, as both take place off-stage. As we know from Ophelia’s self-imposed demise, there was a stigma attached to suicide during Elizabethan times, and it was a very un-Christian thing to do (think about the Gravediggers’ conversation in Act V, scene i of Hamlet).
Taking a look at these several examples certainly shows that, despite the credit we typically give to Lady Macbeth for being such a strong, influential character in the play, she’s really just another weak female character, the kind we are accustomed to when reading Shakespeare. It’s interesting how looks can be deceiving, for the same qualities we usually attribute to Lady Macbeth as a strong woman are really only possible through (1) Macbeth doing her dirty work, and (2) her abandonment of femininity and acquisition of masculinity. It’s a shame that, in all of our readings this semester, there hasn't seemed to be one female character that was truly strong in her own right and, more so, for being a woman independent of men while maintaining her femininity. Lady Macbeth, despite being a tragic character, looked as though she might have fit the bill until I discovered otherwise. I wonder if that female character exists in Shakespeare’s world. If she does, I haven’t read about her yet.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Evil Ambition

One of the things that struck me most during our lecture with Professor Kassel was our discussion of the nature of evil and how it is represented in the play. Professor Kassel said that he believes that evil is everywhere, a piece of everything. He said that he was planning on using this idea in his performance of Macbeth by having the Weird Sisters possess certain characters in the play when they would seem most susceptible to embody evil. While reading the end of Macbeth I kept thinking about this last class in McKenna Theater and this portion of our lecture. I found myself examining the theme of evil and asking myself “do the Weird sisters really represent evil?”

I don’t think they do. First of all, they are three women who seem to tell the future.  Therefore, in my eyes they represent The Fates and although commonly represented as evil, they actually aren’t. Disney movies such as Hercules and other pop culture products have construed this idea, but in Greek mythology the fates were deciders of lives. Together they had the power to grant one a good life, a bad one or some sort of life in between these two extremes (greekmythology.com). If Shakespeare was modeling his weird sisters after The Fates then I would assume that they are not evil but that they are only bestowing evil on Macbeth.

When I came to this conclusion I began to ask myself how the theme of ambition could play into this. It is widely agreed upon that Macbeth is a play about ambition but how can someone be ambitious, a word signaling a desire or plan to change, when their fate is already decided? Is Macbeth’s fate already decided?

In Greek mythology no one was willing to cross The Fates (greekmythology.com). This was assumedly because they had the power not only to decide a person’s fate, but to change that decision at any moment. If this is the case, then Macbeth’s fate is not decided and if it is not decided then there is room for him to be ambitious. Although, Macbeth is not only ambitious, he’s greedy and disrespectful of those who bestowed this knowledge upon him. Macbeth attempts not only to gain the thrown for himself but for his children as well, determining to kill Banquo and his family even though The Weird Sisters had decided that Macbeth was not to beget Kings. In addition, Macbeth calls the sisters “Hags” and demands answers of them, though he has done nothing to deserve answers (IV.I, 64). Therefore, maybe it is only because of Macbeth’s greed and disrespect of The Fates that they decide that he will die in the way he does. In the end Macbeth claims that life “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (V.V, 25-27). Maybe this is not to say that life is meaningless, but that the “idiot”, or common man, cannot control it. Maybe he's only saying that there is no point in being ambitious in one’s own right. I wonder if Shakespeare is trying to tell his audience that instead of taking matters into their own hands that they should appeal to a higher power?


In Act 4, I can't help but to be drawn by the witches, what interesting characters! I think it's obvious that they play the role of giving Macbeth false hope...

I find Act 5 most interesting; the development of chaos begins; we see the battlefield setting up outside the castle. "Let's make us medicines of our great revenge to cure deadly grief." (4.3 2623) Not only do we see the setup of the battle, the witches' prophecies are now being filled.

I found Lady Macbeth’s guilty conscious interesting; she’s not only sleep walking but claiming that she cannot clean her hands, they are forever stained with blood, “It is accustomed action with her, to seem thus washing her hands. I have known her continue in this a quarter hour” “Yet here’s a spot.” (5.1 2624) It’s interesting to see how much her character has changed throughout the play? At first she insists on the murder, and now that the guilt has taken over it’s too late. This part makes think back to Macbeth’s hallucinations after the murder where he thinks a voice cries, “Sleep no more, Macbeth does murder sleep..” (2.2 2593) He also becomes obsessed with knocking; “I hear a knocking” “Knock Knock Knock. Who’s there, i’th’ name of Beelzebub?” (2.3 2595)

Lady Macbeth’s suicide plays a big part in the ending; Macbeth begins to feel hopeless, he finally realizes the end is nearing: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” (5.5 2628) “Signifying nothing” meaning his crimes were pointless, it did nothing.

What does Macbeth’s death represent? Possibly relief; Scotland can now be saved.

Lady Macbeth's Transformation

Sam Montagna
Professor Mulready
Shakespeare I
26 November 2012

           One character stands out: Lady Macbeth. Judging by Act I, she is probably one of the most, if not the most, independent and strongest female characters from a Shakespeare play. To start, one can tell by her name. Her first name is not given; she is not called Ms. Macbeth or Macbeth's wife. She is called Lady Macbeth, her very own noble title. Next, she is much more ambitious than her husband. She pushes him more than he pushes himself to kill the king. She helps set everything up and and helps set up the guards for the murder. What is surprising is that she is a woman. In this time, a woman's role was to cook, clean and have babies. She is willing to completely reject this role. She says “unsex me here,/ and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/ or direst cruelty” (2587.39-41). She even says she would kill her own child to accomplish her goal. She says “I have given suck, and know/ how tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me./ I would, while it was smiling in my face,/ have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums/ and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn/ as you have done to this” (2590.54-59). She seems not to care how this persona she has will look to her husband. She seems completely oblivious to how a woman should act according to her society. She is a one woman wrecking ball of ambition and brutality.
           What is even more shocking than Lady Macbeth's attitude towards killing the king is her transformation. She went from this ruthless woman who wanted to help her husband kill the king by any means to a guilt-ridden, lost woman who sleep walks. Her subconscious has taken over and it shows that Lady Macbeth is no longer who she used to be. She does not know who she is. “The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she/ now?” (2624.36-37). She knows that her role in the murder was wrong and there is nothing she can do to change it. “Here's the smell of the blood still. All the per-/fumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” (2624.42-43). The old Lady Macbeth did not care about committing murder; she only cared about becoming Queen. The doctor leaves the scene saying that she needs a priest instead of a doctor because she is obviously troubled. In the beginning of the play, it is hard to believe that Lady Macbeth could ever be troubled because she seems so sure of herself and filled with confidence. Lady Macbeth's transformation is very drastic and leaves the reader confused about who the real Lady Macbeth is. Is she the ruthless woman who would kill her own child? Or, is she the woman who feels so guilty that she sleep walks and has lost faith in who she is?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lady Macbeth

              Lady Macbeth is the leading female character in this play. She lusts for power and her position as Queen . She is much more of a stronger character in the beginning of the play. She has more power over Macbeth.
             Lady Macbeth proves she has nerves of steel after evoking the spirits, to push Macbeth to commit the stabbing of Duncan. She tells him "screw your courage to the sticking place and we'll not fail."(1.7. 60) After He kills the king, His mental state starts to fall apart. Lady Macbeth insists on keeping a calm face, before Banquo and the others. even as Macbeth is asking if all of Neptune's ocean would not wash the blood clean from his hands, she replies "a little water clears us of this deed."(2.2.65)  Its only later on the guilt begins to erode her sanity that she also starts to hallucinate.
           Lady Macbeth cannot sleep, she walks the castle halls all night murmuring to herself in her despair and guilty conscience shown by her saying "all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." (5.1.42) She becomes frail and unstable. Sleep deprivation exacts its revenge. The Doctor who is called to see about her, comments on her strange actions of wringing or the imitation of washing her hands. He comments "More needs she the divine than the physician."  (5.1.64)        
          In the end, Macbeth is strong and lady Macbeth is mad. Macbeth tells the doctor to minister to her "diseased mind" and cleanse her thoughts. He is more concerned with the oncoming battle with Malcolm and Macduff. While Macbeth is pre-occupied Lady Macbeth commits suicide.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Importance of Being "Manly"

It is hard to believe that this is my last blog post of the semester!  Where did the time go?  Being that the majority of my posts explore the characteristics of a patriarchal society, I am going to revisit the topic of gender in this final entry.  I cannot help but note that the characters in Macbeth frequently refer to gender issues, especially regarding the power of one’s masculinity.  Through an examination of its major characters, it becomes evident that there is a strong connection between cruelty and masculinity throughout the play.  What is Shakespeare trying to exhibit through this link?  Is he further questioning a patriarchal society?

In order to get her way, Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband to kill by questioning his manhood.  As she questions Macbeth, “Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire?” (1.7.39-41).  Her technique works, and Macbeth carries out the murder.  According to Macbeth, “I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none” (1.7.46-47).  Perhaps this portrays the significance of one’s masculinity during Shakespeare’s time.  I am guessing that the male members of Shakespeare’s audience would have been able to relate to Macbeth.  More than likely, just like a woman’s chastity, a man’s masculinity was extremely important.  Interestingly enough, in the exact same way that Lady Macbeth provokes her husband to murder, Macbeth also instigates his hired murderers to kill Banquo by questioning their manhood.  He states, “Now, if you have a station in the file, not I’th’ worst rank of manhood say’t, and I will put that business in your bosoms whose execution takes your enemy off” (3.1.103-106).  This further validates my inference that one’s masculinity was highly valued during Shakespeare’s time.  Similarly, as illustrated during the scene where Macduff learns of the murders of his wife and child, Malcolm consoles Macduff by encouraging him to take the news in “manly” fashion.  This involves seeking revenge upon Macbeth.  As Malcolm suggests to Macduff, “Dispute it like a man” (4.3.221).  Macduff replies, “I shall do so. But I must also feel it as a man” (4.3.222–223).     
On another note, it is evident that women are also sources of violence and evil in the play. The witches’ prophecies spark Macbeth’s ambitions, and then consequently encourage his violent behavior.  Furthermore, Lady Macbeth provides the intelligence and the motive behind her husband’s plotting. Arguably, Macbeth traces the root of chaos and evil to women.  Thus, perhaps this is one of Shakespeare’s most misogynistic plays.  While the male characters are just as violent and prone to evil as the women, the aggression of the female characters is more striking because it goes against prevailing expectations of how women were expected to behave.  As illustrated when she instigates Macbeth to kill, Lady Macbeth’s behavior certainly shows that women can be as ambitious and cruel as men.  Whether it is due to the constraints of her society, or simply because she is not fearless enough to kill, Lady Macbeth relies on deception and manipulation rather than violence in order to achieve her goal.  Therefore, with that said, it is difficult to understand Shakespeare’s message.  Is he equating masculinity with violence, or is he validating a patriarchal society by portraying women as the source of evil?  I would love to have a chat with Shakespeare about this play!  It is truly a fascinating, mind-boggling piece of literature.    

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bad Parenting

Ophelia has legitimately gone insane, and it is largely due to bad parenting on the part of Polonius. She is a fairly flat character, who, like various other women in Shakespeare’s plays (Gertrude being one of them), is seen in terms of her sexuality, chastity, and ability to reproduce, and shows no evidence of having a mind of her own as she is consistently told what to do and think by the men in her life, particularly her father. Because she is accustomed to having little to no control over her life and to live off of the instructions given to her by men, she becomes lost after her father’s death and goes completely mad. She speaks mostly through song in act 4; this is a moment in Shakespeare play where song is meaningful and the lyrics should be closely considered (like a couple of the songs in Much Ado About Nothing).
Right away, in her talk with Gertrude in scene five, she sings, “How should I, your true love know / From another one?” (IV.v.22). She expresses confusion and is perhaps questioning her feelings for Hamlet which stands to reason given the history of their relationship. Throughout Ophelia’s entire relationship with Hamlet, she has been told how to act and feel by her father and Laertes. In fact, it is quite likely that throughout her entire relationship with Hamlet, she never acted on account of solely her own feelings, without the influence of her father and brother’s opinions and demands. Because of her dependency on her father--especially in relation to her relationship with Hamlet--she is left not only without a father, but also with a lack of direction and mind of her own. 

It is part of a parent’s job to encourage their children to think for themselves and to make their own decisions in order to better prepare them to go out into the world as an individual, away from their parents. Polonius does not prepare Ophelia for a life without him at all. He essentially raises her to be dependent on the men in her life, not encouraging her to develop her own sense of self, individuality, or independence. He does not account for their potential separation/his death and therefore leaves her feeling lost, confused, and vulnerable which leads to her eventual insanity. Maybe it was normal to raise daughters to be dependent on men in those days, or maybe this situation just further characterizes Polonius as being controlling of his daughter. Either way, it is an irresponsible and unfair way to raise a child as it leaves them defenseless against the world on their own. Polonius illustrates a sheer lack of good parenting throughout the play. Not only is he controlling of Ophelia, but he shows little concern for Laertes as well, and when he does concern himself with him, it is only to ensure that he is not tarnishing the reputation of the family as Laertes is said to be somewhat of a reckless young man who gets into trouble without regard for others--a stereotypical product of bad parenting.

Action and Inaction in Act IV

One of the things that I wondered upon most in my reading of acts I through III was the reasoning behind Hamlet's inaction against Claudius. The murder of his father plagues his mind, and he very obviously has a lot a hatred towards Claudius that could be used to fuel some type of revenge, but he fails to act. I was most surprised that even after Hamlet is struck by the player's ability to act on false feeling, he was still unable to act upon his own very real emotions. Although he did act by finally confiding in his mother, he makes no real move towards confronting the king himself.
I was sure that Hamlet's reaction to the players would have him moving towards some form of action against Claudius in Act IV, but instead I found another very interesting comparison of action and inaction in the scene. While on his way to the ship to England, Hamlet runs into Fortenbras, who is on his way to Poland. They engage in a discussion about Fortenbras's planned attack against Poland, and Hamlet asks what exactly the battle will be over. Fortenbra replies that they will be fighting over "a little patch of land/ That hath in it no profit but the name" (Act IV scene iv). This struck me because of it's similarity to the comparison presented by the players. Fortenbras represents action, but his actions are motivated by seemingly nothing of any significance. All it takes is a patch of unimportant land for Fortenbras to move into a dangerous and violent battle against Poland. This is probably a place that not many care about, and yet lives will be lost just to gain its possession.
On the other hand, Hamlet have every reason in the world to move into action, but instead represents inaction throughout the play. His cause and motivation is very significant, and yet he is, for some reason, not acting out to get revenge on Claudius.
I am curious to see if making this comparison himself, Hamlet will finally become proactive in his revenge against Claudius. Maybe this was just the spark he needed to finally do something, or maybe this is just another comparison to shine light on Hamlet's inability to act at all in the play.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Representation of Women

Throughout many of Shakespeare's plays that we have read throughout the semester so far, we have encountered many dependent, weak and unspoken female characters. In Shakespeare's world women are portrayed as people who do not display any sort of power or authority over anything/anyone, including themselves. The way Ophelia and Gertrude are treated and looked upon throughout "Hamlet" further conveys the loss of control and absence of rights that they experience in their lives. Their honor and virginity is closely examined and protected by the male figures in their lives. Both Gertrude and Ophelia are are seen in sexual ways and are both looked down upon by Hamlet, because of the supposedly "whorish" actions they portray. Ophelia is overly protected by her brothers and her father, as they focus much of their attention on the reputation on their family, as it lies in the hands of Ophelia. Both female characters are given instructions by the male figures in their families, as they both obey them.

It is interesting to me, how unimportant and empty the female characters are portrayed as, but are ironically a necessity to the men's lives and the reputation of the family combined. Ophilia is seen as this "empty vessel" but in reality she is a very important part of her family. She could technically become more powerful than her brothers and father combined. I think that in reality, Ophelia is a potential threat to her family and that's why they are so protective over her virginity and chasity, as her chasity does hold her value and therefore the value of their family.

Everyone has gone mad? Or have they?

In this week’s blog post I am going to be a little more risky. I typically would write about Ophelia, keeping with my theme of women in the play, but I am thinking that I might look at Ophelia and Hamlet and the way that my own religion helps me to determine if they have gone mad.

For some time it has been debated whether or not Hamlet has gone mad. Many of the characters have shared with each other, and particularly with Claudius and Gertrude, that the boy has gone crazy after his father’s death.

Ironically we see Ophelia enter into a world of “madness” as well. “All from her father’s death, and now behold!” (4.5.74). Now we have two characters that are driven mad because of their father’s deaths. Quite frankly Claudius is to blame for both deaths. If he had not killed his brother, Hamlet would not be in this state of revenge. If he had not killed his brother, he would not be with Gertrude and she would not have been confronted by Hamlet the way that she was and Polonius would still be alive.

I think the real question here though is if the characters really are mad or not. Is Hamlet mad? In the eyes of those during Shakespeare’s time I would guess that majority of the audience would think that he was not mad but was simply seeing his father’s ghost and needing to put his father’s soul to rest through revenge.

I read this play from a Catholic perspective. When I read these moments where Hamlet sees the ghost and some see it yet others do not, I have to believe that this is true. I have to believe that he really is being visited from someone who has died, but remains in purgatory. In my own faith, when someone close to us dies, we are given prayer cards, and we must pray for that person every night for 30 days so that they will ascend from purgatory to heaven.

As I am reading this play I can only see Hamlet as doing the things that needs to be done to put his father to rest. In this play Claudius says, “…and we have done but greenly in hugger-mugger to inter him” (4.5.81-82). Claudius talks about not giving Polonius a proper funeral, and that is also what my faith believes will keep a soul from reaching heaven.

I am curious how my peers read into this. If you do not share the same faith as me, do you see Hamlet as being mad rather than faithful to God? Do you see God as being angry for not giving Polonius a proper funeral? (This is what I am chalking up to Ophelia’s madness)

Suicide of Hamlet

In the play, Hamlet one of the most interesting motif that I notice we have not discussed in class is the motif of suicide. Ironically, it is the one act of “murder” that Hamlet cannot commit. But, the question about this motif, is the question of why. Why can Hamlet not kill himself? Is he not grief stricken enough from his father’s death? Does he not feel the shame of the acts of his mother?  He cannot even grieve and take his time to grieve for his father, for everyone wants him to move on and forget about his father as if he never existed? If there are these circumstances surrounding Hamlet, why not kill himself? The first clue to why he cannot actually kill himself is the fact that the story would be over before it even began. Hamlet would be dead and his father would not be avenged and Hamlet would have failed as a son for avenging his father.  We see this in the scene when Hamlet's father comes to him in Act I as a ghost and tells him that King Claudius has murdered him and that Hamlet should avenge him. Hamlet is clearly upset  and all of the grief that he experiences leads Hamlet to contemplate suicide.  This is demonstrated through his famous soliloquy, "to be, or not to be; that is the question:" (3.1.58). But Hamlet is uncertain whether or not he should end his life, because now he is given a purpose. Kill Claudius.

Furthermore since Hamlet is a Christian, committing suicide is against his religion. Hamlet may not seem to be God-fearing, but through the quotes, "whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/ and, by opposing, end them" (3.1.59-62), we see that he may not be God-fearing, but he is a man of nobility. What bigger shame towards one’s lineage than suicide? If you are of noble descent, you are to be expected to act in that noble light. This is seen in the scenes in class where Claudius and Prontieaus would send out spies to look over his son to see if he is acting in an un-noble fashion. In addition to the idea of nobility, if Hamlet were to commit suicide, he would not be remembered for something brave. In fact he would be remembered for being crazy with grief and not even avenging his father. The dishonor that Hamlet would face is embarrassing for no one wants to be remembered as a crazy fool who was full of grief that he was not brave enough to live through life.  Although he does express how he would put an end to "the heartache and the thousand natural shocks/ that flesh is heir to" (3.1.64-65). He would have no worries and no more heartache. The pain of losing his father would not be there at all. However, it would not be the noble thing to do.