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cheryl_shell
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King Duncan: Just Deserts?

King Duncan is a historical figure, though the medieval Scots might not recognize Shakespeare's version of the man. According to some historical sources, he was not very popular, and, it seems, for valid reasons. (See the post on the historical Macbeth for websites on medieval Scottish history.)

So how does he end up as this mild mannered fellow?

When we first meet Duncan, he is discussing not one rebellion, but two, seemingly astounded at the treachery of people whom he had grown to trust.

Are we supposed to wonder, do you think: how naive is this guy?

As soon as he has one traitor executed, he puts all his faith in another who is currently plotting his assassination. Not a great judge of character, wouldn't you say?

Or is he supposed to represent pure goodness to contrast with Macbeth's pure evil?
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mef6395
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?

I have come up with my own question: Why did Macbeth want to be king? Could it have been because he found Duncan too mild-mannered to firmly steer his subjects? Did Macbeth fear for Scotland's future under the reign of such a docile and too trusting king?
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cheryl_shell
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?


mef6395 wrote:
I have come up with my own question: Why did Macbeth want to be king? Could it have been because he found Duncan too mild-mannered to firmly steer his subjects? Did Macbeth fear for Scotland's future under the reign of such a docile and too trusting king?




I think you ask some good questions, Mef. And I think Shakespeare hints at that with the way he presents the character of Duncan.
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Everyman
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?



cheryl_shell wrote:

mef6395 wrote:
I have come up with my own question: Why did Macbeth want to be king? Could it have been because he found Duncan too mild-mannered to firmly steer his subjects? Did Macbeth fear for Scotland's future under the reign of such a docile and too trusting king?




I think you ask some good questions, Mef. And I think Shakespeare hints at that with the way he presents the character of Duncan.


I find it somewhat difficult to know whether I'm judging Duncan's character strictly from the text, of partly from the history I have read. Would we read the hints in the text the same way if we didn't have other versions of who Duncan was?

Really, what does Duncan do? He hears the news of Macbeth's triumph and praises and rewards him, and humanely sends the messenger off for treatment. As soon as he hears of the treachery of the The Thane of Cawdor, he orders him executed and gives the title to Macbeth. Actions of a king fully in control.

Yes, Shakespeare gives us a hint of his overtrustfulness when he has Duncan say of the prior Cawdor

There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.

at which point Macbeth promptly enters, and Duncan states his great trust in Macbeth. But that's a pretty subtle hint, isn't it?

He then names his son his heir, which is a smart thing for a king to do -- lay out the succession so there's not fighting for the crown when he's dead. Does he have any reason at this point to suspect treachery in one he has just rewarded and who has been loyal and forthright up to this point?

Then Duncan goes to spend the night at the home of his new favorite, which was a totally normal thing for kings to do back then -- they were always traveling around from castle to castle checking out things in their realm.

Where in all this is any hint that he is anything but a competent and forthright king in full command of his realm and dealing intelligently and fairly with his nobles?
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Laurel
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?

I think that the playgoers of Shakespeare's day would have viewed this play in light of their knowledge of the first two kings of Israel--Saul and David. Saul was a very bad king, and David was told by the prophet that he was eventually to replace him. When David had a chance to kill Saul, though, and take over the kingdom, he refused, saying he would not lay hand on the Lord's anointed. In due time, of course, David became king.



Everyman wrote:


cheryl_shell wrote:

mef6395 wrote:
I have come up with my own question: Why did Macbeth want to be king? Could it have been because he found Duncan too mild-mannered to firmly steer his subjects? Did Macbeth fear for Scotland's future under the reign of such a docile and too trusting king?




I think you ask some good questions, Mef. And I think Shakespeare hints at that with the way he presents the character of Duncan.


I find it somewhat difficult to know whether I'm judging Duncan's character strictly from the text, of partly from the history I have read. Would we read the hints in the text the same way if we didn't have other versions of who Duncan was?

Really, what does Duncan do? He hears the news of Macbeth's triumph and praises and rewards him, and humanely sends the messenger off for treatment. As soon as he hears of the treachery of the The Thane of Cawdor, he orders him executed and gives the title to Macbeth. Actions of a king fully in control.

Yes, Shakespeare gives us a hint of his overtrustfulness when he has Duncan say of the prior Cawdor

There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.

at which point Macbeth promptly enters, and Duncan states his great trust in Macbeth. But that's a pretty subtle hint, isn't it?

He then names his son his heir, which is a smart thing for a king to do -- lay out the succession so there's not fighting for the crown when he's dead. Does he have any reason at this point to suspect treachery in one he has just rewarded and who has been loyal and forthright up to this point?

Then Duncan goes to spend the night at the home of his new favorite, which was a totally normal thing for kings to do back then -- they were always traveling around from castle to castle checking out things in their realm.

Where in all this is any hint that he is anything but a competent and forthright king in full command of his realm and dealing intelligently and fairly with his nobles?


"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Everyman
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?

Interesting appoach. But I'm not quite sure how you think this would have affected their approach to the play. Are you saying that they would have seen Macbeth as wrong to kill Duncan because he was God's anointed? But of course, since Duncan had made Malcolm his heir, if Macbeth had held off it's unlikely he would ever have become king.

Or am I misunderstanding what you're saying about the Saul-David relationship?

Laurel wrote:
I think that the playgoers of Shakespeare's day would have viewed this play in light of their knowledge of the first two kings of Israel--Saul and David. Saul was a very bad king, and David was told by the prophet that he was eventually to replace him. When David had a chance to kill Saul, though, and take over the kingdom, he refused, saying he would not lay hand on the Lord's anointed. In due time, of course, David became king.
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Laurel
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?



Everyman wrote:
Interesting appoach. But I'm not quite sure how you think this would have affected their approach to the play. Are you saying that they would have seen Macbeth as wrong to kill Duncan because he was God's anointed? But of course, since Duncan had made Malcolm his heir, if Macbeth had held off it's unlikely he would ever have become king.

Or am I misunderstanding what you're saying about the Saul-David relationship?

Laurel wrote:
I think that the playgoers of Shakespeare's day would have viewed this play in light of their knowledge of the first two kings of Israel--Saul and David. Saul was a very bad king, and David was told by the prophet that he was eventually to replace him. When David had a chance to kill Saul, though, and take over the kingdom, he refused, saying he would not lay hand on the Lord's anointed. In due time, of course, David became king.





Yes, of course Macbeth was wrong to kill Duncan--not only because he was God's anointed, but because he was a human being.
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Everyman
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?



Laurel wrote:


Everyman wrote:
Interesting appoach. But I'm not quite sure how you think this would have affected their approach to the play. Are you saying that they would have seen Macbeth as wrong to kill Duncan because he was God's anointed? But of course, since Duncan had made Malcolm his heir, if Macbeth had held off it's unlikely he would ever have become king.

Or am I misunderstanding what you're saying about the Saul-David relationship?

Laurel wrote:
I think that the playgoers of Shakespeare's day would have viewed this play in light of their knowledge of the first two kings of Israel--Saul and David. Saul was a very bad king, and David was told by the prophet that he was eventually to replace him. When David had a chance to kill Saul, though, and take over the kingdom, he refused, saying he would not lay hand on the Lord's anointed. In due time, of course, David became king.





Yes, of course Macbeth was wrong to kill Duncan--not only because he was God's anointed, but because he was a human being.


Given the extreme violence of the age, I'm not sure that this humanistic viewpoint would have occurred to Shakespeare or his audience.
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Laurel
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?

Everyman wrote:


Laurel wrote:



Yes, of course Macbeth was wrong to kill Duncan--not only because he was God's anointed, but because he was a human being.


Given the extreme violence of the age, I'm not sure that this humanistic viewpoint would have occurred to Shakespeare or his audience.




Shakespeare and his contemporaries did not believe that murder was a sin? You leave me speechless.
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Everyman
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?



Laurel wrote:
>Shakespeare and his contemporaries did not believe that murder was a sin? You leave me speechless.

I obviously wasn't clear, since that's not at all what I intended to say. What I am saying is that they were much more accustomed to violent death than we are. There were battles and skirmishes up and down the country much of the time. There were public executions for offenses we would consider relatively trivial. There were much more frequent deaths of children and sudden deaths by disease or accident than we experience. And these took place in public or in the home, not hidden away in hospitals or nursing homes. The immediate presence of violent death was much more familiar to them than it is to us. Shakespeare is full of violent deaths that aren't viewed as sins. His audiences were also not unfamiliar with the practice of killing rulers to gain power.

My point was that the death by violence of a human being would not have struck them, I think, with the same abhorrence that it strikes a post-Humanist society. (And even today, killing for political purposes is an ongoing process in many parts of the world.)
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Choisya
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?

I have only just read your interesting approach here Laurel - thanks. Do you think they would have had this in their minds more than the history of their new king, James I, who was supposedly related to Banquo?

I was interested in what Cheryl said about Duncan being a contrast to Macbeth's pure evil. In Scene 4 I see contrast between Duncan and Banquo, who are open and direct; and Macbeth who is covert in his intentions. For Duncan stars shine whereas for Macbeth they 'hide their fires' so that darkness prevails. Duncan's remark 'There's no art/To find the mind's construction in thy face' contrasts with the evil in Macbeth's soliquoy. Duncan's trust of Macbeth will lead him to his death. I find all these contrasts are part of Shakespeare's way of showing what a good and worthy king Duncan is and how appalling a crime it will be for Macbeth to murder him. It is a foreshadowing of what is to come.




Laurel wrote:
I think that the playgoers of Shakespeare's day would have viewed this play in light of their knowledge of the first two kings of Israel--Saul and David. Saul was a very bad king, and David was told by the prophet that he was eventually to replace him. When David had a chance to kill Saul, though, and take over the kingdom, he refused, saying he would not lay hand on the Lord's anointed. In due time, of course, David became king.
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Laurel
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?



Choisya wrote:
I have only just read your interesting approach here Laurel - thanks. Do you think they would have had this in their minds more than the history of their new king, James I, who was supposedly related to Banquo?

I was interested in what Cheryl said about Duncan being a contrast to Macbeth's pure evil. In Scene 4 I see contrast between Duncan and Banquo, who are open and direct; and Macbeth who is covert in his intentions. For Duncan stars shine whereas for Macbeth they 'hide their fires' so that darkness prevails. Duncan's remark 'There's no art/To find the mind's construction in thy face' contrasts with the evil in Macbeth's soliquoy. Duncan's trust of Macbeth will lead him to his death. I find all these contrasts are part of Shakespeare's way of showing what a good and worthy king Duncan is and how appalling a crime it will be for Macbeth to murder him. It is a foreshadowing of what is to come.




Laurel wrote:
I think that the playgoers of Shakespeare's day would have viewed this play in light of their knowledge of the first two kings of Israel--Saul and David. Saul was a very bad king, and David was told by the prophet that he was eventually to replace him. When David had a chance to kill Saul, though, and take over the kingdom, he refused, saying he would not lay hand on the Lord's anointed. In due time, of course, David became king.





Yes, I think the average guy in the gallery would know more about Bible history than political history.
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Everyman
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Re: King Duncan: Just Deserts?



Laurel wrote:
I think the average guy in the gallery would know more about Bible history than political history.

Assuming you're saying he would know more about bible history than the political history of Macbeth's Scotland, I would agree with you.
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