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cheryl_shell
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Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

[ Edited ]
The first act of Macbeth, perhaps the most richly complex of the play, sets the stage for all the horrors to come: the murder of Duncan and the chaos that follows. It does that by introducing the principal characters and allowing us to get to know them, to watch them respond to each other and the chain of events that seems to lead inevitably to the Macbeths' fateful decision to commit regicide.

The act is long--seven scenes--but each scene adds a piece to the puzzle.

Scene 1: The witches are introduced, and we are led to wonder what they’re up to.

Scene 2: We are introduced to Macbeth and Banquo through the reports of the battles they heroically engage in. Here we are also introduced to King Duncan and his sons, and get a glimpse of their characters.

Scene 3: The witches reappear and we and they at last meet Macbeth and Banquo. We learn more of the witches and see their effect on Macbeth. Following the meeting, Macbeth and Banquo are informed of the fate of the Thane of Cawdor and Macbeth’s new title. Both begin to think about the predictions.

Scene 4: Macbeth and Banquo arrive at court and are praised by the king. We see their relationship with the king, and gain further insight into the king’s personality.

Scene 5: Back at Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth is reading her husband’s letter. We learn about their relationship, she reveals her inner self, and when she hears the king will come to visit, she starts plotting the murder. When Macbeth arrives, he does not dissuade her.

Scene 6: Duncan arrives at the castle and Lady M shows herself to be both the consummate hostess and the proverbial snake in the grass.

Scene 7: Macbeth is having doubts during the banquet. Lady M comes in and shores up his courage, goading him by insulting his manhood. They commit to doing the deed.

Question: I feel a terrible momentum building over the course of these scenes. Does anyone else feel it?

How does Shakespeare do it, do you think? I sense that it's produced through the careful use of soliloquy and asides. But perhaps there's more to it than that?

Message Edited by cheryl_shell on 03-04-200710:27 AM

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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope



cheryl_shell wrote:
I feel a terrible momentum building over the course of these scenes. Does anyone else feel it?

I can't think back to the first time I read Macbeth. I am wondering in my own mind how much of this sense of foreboding comes from the knowledge of what is to come, and how much would be evident to a first-viewing audience.

I wonder whether the audience of the time would have known this history, and how accurate it was. Choisya, I'm sure you've studied this period; how much of the history of Macbeth would have been familiar to Shakespeare's audiences? Would they have known the outlines of the plot, or would they have been seeing it with fresh eyes?
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Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

There is a momentum building up (Reminds me of when you would hear the shark music in Jaws - you knew something bad was coming).

I think Shakespeare does it with the dialog, constantly building on that which came before. We hear M & LM's thoughts - we see the escalation - we can anticipate. We hear the double-dealing and the double-talking.
Liz ♥ ♥


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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope



LizzieAnn wrote:
There is a momentum building up (Reminds me of when you would hear the shark music in Jaws - you knew something bad was coming).

I think Shakespeare does it with the dialog, constantly building on that which came before. We hear M & LM's thoughts - we see the escalation - we can anticipate. We hear the double-dealing and the double-talking.




We're impelled forward by thunder, lightning, rain, alarums, flourishes, oboes, torches, runners, horsemen. In seven short scenes we meet witches, royals, noblemen, servants, soldiers, messengers a-plenty. The lines are short, the scenes pass quickly; we hear constant references to sun, stars, and time. Things come upon us in twos, threes, and nines. We hear of bubbles, wind, and air, of things appearing and disappearing. A woman speaks of dashing her babes to death. If anything moves apace, it is this act. Surely something wicked this way comes.
"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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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

This act must be amazing to see on stage or on film.



Laurel wrote:

We're impelled forward by thunder, lightning, rain, alarums, flourishes, oboes, torches, runners, horsemen. In seven short scenes we meet witches, royals, noblemen, servants, soldiers, messengers a-plenty. The lines are short, the scenes pass quickly; we hear constant references to sun, stars, and time. Things come upon us in twos, threes, and nines. We hear of bubbles, wind, and air, of things appearing and disappearing. A woman speaks of dashing her babes to death. If anything moves apace, it is this act. Surely something wicked this way comes.


Liz ♥ ♥


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. ~ Francis Bacon
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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

Last night, script in hand, I put on the Ian McKellen/Dame Judi Dench Macbeth from the Royal Shakespeare Company, firmly planning to watch only Act 1 for now. Suddenly, it was past midnight and I was reading the final credits. And no, I did not fall asleep or even close my eyes once, though I did turn my head aside a few times.



LizzieAnn wrote:
This act must be amazing to see on stage or on film.



Laurel wrote:

We're impelled forward by thunder, lightning, rain, alarums, flourishes, oboes, torches, runners, horsemen. In seven short scenes we meet witches, royals, noblemen, servants, soldiers, messengers a-plenty. The lines are short, the scenes pass quickly; we hear constant references to sun, stars, and time. Things come upon us in twos, threes, and nines. We hear of bubbles, wind, and air, of things appearing and disappearing. A woman speaks of dashing her babes to death. If anything moves apace, it is this act. Surely something wicked this way comes.





"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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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

[ Edited ]
As you probably know Everyman, Shakespeare took the story from Holinshed's account, which was copied from the History of Scotland, but the history of the play is not particularly accurate and it is likely that the true version would be better known than Holinshed's account as history then was passed down by word of mouth, father to son:-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/macbeth.shtml

What would interest the Elizabethan audience more was the theme of Regicide, which would be very fearful to them as killing a king would upset the natural order of things - 'The Great Chain of Being', as ordained by God:

http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/Tillyard01.html

Macbeth was reportedly written to be performed before King James and there had recently been an assassination plot against him. Queen Elizabeth I's life was constantly being threated by those surrounding Mary Queen of Scots and others supporting the Stuart cause and so this theme was very real and very worrying to Elizabethans. They would certainly have a sense of foreboding about the events to be portrayed on stage, just because of the name of the play and, of course, Elizabethans believed in the evil of witches and witchraft, just as they believed in Fairies so Act I would be very frightening for them.

Here is some information on the history of famous performances of Macbeth, dating back to Shakespeare's day, which shows, amongst other things, how much the role of the witches have been changed, perhaps to reflect the decreasing belief in witchcraft:-

http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~maggieoh/Macbeth/history.html







Everyman wrote:


cheryl_shell wrote:
I feel a terrible momentum building over the course of these scenes. Does anyone else feel it?

I can't think back to the first time I read Macbeth. I am wondering in my own mind how much of this sense of foreboding comes from the knowledge of what is to come, and how much would be evident to a first-viewing audience.

I wonder whether the audience of the time would have known this history, and how accurate it was. Choisya, I'm sure you've studied this period; how much of the history of Macbeth would have been familiar to Shakespeare's audiences? Would they have known the outlines of the plot, or would they have been seeing it with fresh eyes?

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-05-200706:40 PM

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-05-200706:43 PM

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Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

I've heard that version is excellent. I love Judi Dench and enjoy Ian McKellen; I'll definitely have to check it out. Macbeth seems like a play you should listen to in the dark!




Laurel wrote:
Last night, script in hand, I put on the Ian McKellen/Dame Judi Dench Macbeth from the Royal Shakespeare Company, firmly planning to watch only Act 1 for now. Suddenly, it was past midnight and I was reading the final credits. And no, I did not fall asleep or even close my eyes once, though I did turn my head aside a few times.
Liz ♥ ♥


Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested. ~ Francis Bacon
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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope



Laurel wrote:


LizzieAnn wrote:
There is a momentum building up (Reminds me of when you would hear the shark music in Jaws - you knew something bad was coming).

I think Shakespeare does it with the dialog, constantly building on that which came before. We hear M & LM's thoughts - we see the escalation - we can anticipate. We hear the double-dealing and the double-talking.




We're impelled forward by thunder, lightning, rain, alarums, flourishes, oboes, torches, runners, horsemen. In seven short scenes we meet witches, royals, noblemen, servants, soldiers, messengers a-plenty. The lines are short, the scenes pass quickly; we hear constant references to sun, stars, and time. Things come upon us in twos, threes, and nines. We hear of bubbles, wind, and air, of things appearing and disappearing. A woman speaks of dashing her babes to death. If anything moves apace, it is this act. Surely something wicked this way comes.





Once again, as in MND, the scene takes place in the dark of night, when fairies and witches cast their magic spells. (It could happen in daylight too, I suppose I just can't remember any play of S that did) But that's not all, as you said Laurel, it is also stormy and there is a dense fog. How can one see clearly let alone think clearly. In The Friendly Shakepeare, Epstein writes, "Visual obscurity suggests moral obscurity, the boundries between good and evil incomprehensibly blurred."

As I write this I imagine that the Elizabethans spent much of their time in the dark. No pun intended. Would that be correct Choisya? Without electricity, and only a torch or lantern to light the way, I would think that their imaginations had many opportunities to get carried away. I would love to know how S's audience walked home after viewing M. Did the men tease the ladies, did they run home or hear strange sounds in the darkness? :smileyhappy:
Lynda

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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope



Choisya wrote:
As you probably know Everyman, Shakespeare took the story from Holinshed's account,

Yes, that's standard wisdom. But first, Holinshed's history has been significantly challenged for accuracy in the past few hundred years, and second, even where Holinshed was accurate, S tended to change even fairly significant facts to suit his dramatic purposes.

For years I've wanted to find a copy of Holinshed's history, but it was always priced way out of reach. It's been issued recently in eight volumes, but at nearly $100 per volume, it's still out of reach. Sigh. So I'm still stuck with using the Project Gutenberg editions, although I much prefer print editions to screen editions of books.
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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

There's little or no scenery, mostly just close-ups of faces in the dark. It is very effective.



LizzieAnn wrote:
I've heard that version is excellent. I love Judi Dench and enjoy Ian McKellen; I'll definitely have to check it out. Macbeth seems like a play you should listen to in the dark!




Laurel wrote:
Last night, script in hand, I put on the Ian McKellen/Dame Judi Dench Macbeth from the Royal Shakespeare Company, firmly planning to watch only Act 1 for now. Suddenly, it was past midnight and I was reading the final credits. And no, I did not fall asleep or even close my eyes once, though I did turn my head aside a few times.



"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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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

I think that one way the momentum builds up is by way of the witches' mysterious pronouncements. They provoke, they goad, they tease the imagination, they give the feeling that something momentous is going to happen sooner or later. And then there is also this thing of news overtaking the characters (for instance, news of Macbeth's victory reaching King Duncan or news of Macbeth's promotion being suggested to him by the 3 witches before King Duncan could tell it himself) and characters overtaking other characters. I think that all that helps in the build-up.
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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

Great observation mef6395.




mef6395 wrote:
I think that one way the momentum builds up is by way of the witches' mysterious pronouncements. They provoke, they goad, they tease the imagination, they give the feeling that something momentous is going to happen sooner or later. And then there is also this thing of news overtaking the characters (for instance, news of Macbeth's victory reaching King Duncan or news of Macbeth's promotion being suggested to him by the 3 witches before King Duncan could tell it himself) and characters overtaking other characters. I think that all that helps in the build-up.


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Re: Macbeth, Act I: (Off topic) Holinshed et al.

[ Edited ]
Yes, as you and I have recently observed re King John, Richard the Lionheart and Richard III, a lot of history has been turned on its head and I expect that will continue. What research Holinshed conducted would have been minimal compared with what modern historians can do with access to manuscripts worldwide, carbon dating etc etc. When I watch historical documentaries on TV I am always amazed at the journeys the historians make to find different records to put onto our screens. Being an historian these days does not mean sitting in a dusty library, it means travelling the world - I should have taken up a different profession! (Although, of course, some medieval scholars travelled too, especially throughout Europe, but their research was nothing to be compared with, say, Simon Sharma's on a generous BBC budget.)

One advantage of online editions of any of the books we refer to here is that we can search for relevant quotations and cut and paste them etc. Although we could scan the pages of our print editions, we would risk breaking the back of the book with a normal household scanner.

I hope a wealthy benefactor comes along and buys Holinshed for your birthday.:smileyhappy:




Everyman wrote:


Choisya wrote:
As you probably know Everyman, Shakespeare took the story from Holinshed's account,

Yes, that's standard wisdom. But first, Holinshed's history has been significantly challenged for accuracy in the past few hundred years, and second, even where Holinshed was accurate, S tended to change even fairly significant facts to suit his dramatic purposes.

For years I've wanted to find a copy of Holinshed's history, but it was always priced way out of reach. It's been issued recently in eight volumes, but at nearly $100 per volume, it's still out of reach. Sigh. So I'm still stuck with using the Project Gutenberg editions, although I much prefer print editions to screen editions of books.

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-06-200704:21 AM

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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

[ Edited ]
Once again, as in MND, the scene takes place in the dark of night, when fairies and witches cast their magic spells. (It could happen in daylight too, I suppose I just can't remember any play of S that did) But that's not all, as you said Laurel, it is also stormy and there is a dense fog. How can one see clearly let alone think clearly. In The Friendly Shakepeare, Epstein writes, "Visual obscurity suggests moral obscurity, the boundries between good and evil incomprehensibly blurred."

As I write this I imagine that the Elizabethans spent much of their time in the dark.
No pun intended. Would that be correct Choisya? Without electricity, and only a torch or lantern to light the way, I would think that their imaginations had many opportunities to get carried away. I would love to know how S's audience walked home after viewing M. Did the men tease the ladies, did they run home or hear strange sounds in the darkness? :smileyhappy:




That is an excellent quote CarmenereLady and one which shows the importance in the play of the Elizabethan concept of The Great Chain of Being, which I have outlined in another post. And yes, ordinary Elizabethans lived their lives from dawn until dusk, say 12 hours in the summer and 8 in the winter. Lanterns and candles were very expensive and fuel for a meagre fire had to be collected. Streets, except for main thoroughfares, were unlit. Night-time was full of fears - fairies, witches and of course thieves, murderers etc., because this was also a time when there was little law enforcement.

I think men have teased ladies throughout history Carmenere Lady:smileyhappy: and I expect that folks went home in groups as a protection against night time fears, footpads etc. Life was much more communal in those times. Evidence found when the Globe Theatre in London was reconstructed, shows that people also went to taverns before and after performances. Taverns were well lit and warm so an hour or two there could stave off the rigours of the night. Several of these taverns/pubs are around today:-

http://na.visitlondon.com/city_guide/pubs_bars/historic_pubs.html

http://www.pubs.com/pub_details.cfm?ID=144

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-06-200706:26 AM

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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope

One thing that may be bringing us to the edge of our seats in this act was previously mentioned: short lines. It is a stylistic device used by many playwrights and poets to help create a sense of urgency, worry, confusion, etc. Especially when performed correctly (true to the vision), this device can work beautifully to keep the audience begging for more, hiding their eyes, breathing shallow breaths, chewing their nails, and holding on to their hats. This among many other things is what I find truly great about literature and language; it's amazing what you can do with even the smallest amount of perfectly chosen words and structure! Another thing that makes Shakespeare great!!
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Re: Macbeth, Act I: At the top of the slippery slope



Choisya wrote:
Life was much more communal in those times. Evidence found when the Globe Theatre in London was reconstructed, shows that people also went to taverns before and after performances. Taverns were well lit and warm so an hour or two there could stave off the rigours of the night. Several of these taverns/pubs are around today:-

http://na.visitlondon.com/city_guide/pubs_bars/historic_pubs.html

http://www.pubs.com/pub_details.cfm?ID=144

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-06-200706:26 AM






Thanks so much for the links Choisya. Oh, how I long to visit England and have felt that way since I read the Paddington Bear stories as a kid. These links just entice me all the more :smileyhappy:
Lynda

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"Um, maybe."
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Re: Macbeth, Act I: (Off topic) Holinshed et al.



Choisya wrote:
I hope a wealthy benefactor comes along and buys Holinshed for your birthday.:smileyhappy:

Are you volunteering? [g]
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Momentum


mef6395 wrote:
I think that one way the momentum builds up is by way of the witches' mysterious pronouncements. They provoke, they goad, they tease the imagination, they give the feeling that something momentous is going to happen sooner or later. And then there is also this thing of news overtaking the characters (for instance, news of Macbeth's victory reaching King Duncan or news of Macbeth's promotion being suggested to him by the 3 witches before King Duncan could tell it himself) and characters overtaking other characters. I think that all that helps in the build-up.




And, mef, don't forget the news of Duncan's arrival at the castle reaching Lady Macbeth, first by Macbeth's letter, then by messenger.

I like this idea of news overtaking the characters, as if bounding ahead. I'm reminded of the image Macbeth conjures up for us in scene seven: "I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself / And falls on th' other" (1.7.25).
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Re: Momentum



cheryl_shell wrote:
And, mef, don't forget the news of Duncan's arrival at the castle reaching Lady Macbeth, first by Macbeth's letter, then by messenger.

I like this idea of news overtaking the characters, as if bounding ahead.

It is hard to really visualize living in a world with no telephones, no postal service, no TV or radio, no satellite transmissions of events, no airplanes, trains, or cars; news travelling only as fast as a man or woman could ride a horse, or as a ship could sail. We are so accustomed to easy and instant communications that the realities of living in such a world is almost beyond our realistic imagining.
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