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cheryl_shell
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Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

In the Barnes and Noble edition's Introduction, Jesse M. Lander asks the question of this message's title as he ponders the "paradox" that is the character of Macbeth: he seems to embrace evil, yet he remains attractive and even sympathetic to millions of playgoers over the centuries.

In the first act, are introduced to Macbeth as a fierce opponent, brave warrior, and loyal subject. We learn of his exploits in battle through a harrowing account delivered in dramatic fashion by one wounded captain, who collapses, near death, at court.

Soon, however, we see that Macbeth has another side, one that emerges when the witches give him cryptic messages about his present and future, and he learns that at least one part of the prophecy has proved true.

When he writes to his wife, we get yet another glimpse of his character. When he finally meets with her, more of him is revealed.

But later, when he has doubts, the picture is complicated.

Yet, by the end of act one, he has committed to murder.

Questions:

Who is the "real" Macbeth? The warrior hero or the ruthless killer?

What drives Macbeth to turn his thoughts into action?

How much does Lady Macbeth contribute to his decision to act?

Did he secretly harbor a wish to kill the king that was uncovered by the witches?

How are we supposed to feel about him?
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stratford
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

I have just been self-diagnosed with a non-fatal disease: “Macbeth myopia.” Hopefully by sharing the following thoughts, no other members of the book club will succumb to this horrible illness. I have always been a proponent of seeing live performances of Shakespeare to the apparent detriment of regular readings of the plays. I reasoned that since Shakespeare wrote them to be seen and not necessarily read that this would be a wise course of action to follow. In the case of “Macbeth” it has given me a distorted viewpoint concerning the title character. According to the programs and ticket stubs that I have started saving in recent years, I have seen at least six productions of “Macbeth” and will be seeing another one in April. I have come away from those productions thinking of Macbeth as a flat, one-dimensional character: the villain of the play, consummately evil. Before I reread the play this weekend I did a little research, and that along with Cheryl’s introductory comments and prodding questions, made me come to the realization that Macbeth is anything but a flat, one-dimensional character. In the live productions I apparently missed a lot in Act I that tells us of the goodly nature of Macbeth. He is variously referred to as: brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name (Captain); O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman! (King); noble Macbeth (King); My noble partner (Banquo); most worthy thane! (Ross); Worthy Macbeth (Banquo); O worthiest cousin! (King); My worthy Cawdor! (King). Macbeth is certainly brave, noble, and worthy; he is commended by many around him; he is elevated by the King. He must indeed be a good and deserving soul. But Macbeth is not only good, he becomes victimized. He falls victim to the predictions of the Witches and the malignant entreaties of his wife. I have to believe that had Macbeth not encountered the Witches and their prophecy of future kingly glory that regicide probably would not have been on his to-do list once he had been promoted to Thane of Cawdor. And he tells his wife, “We will proceed no further in this business.” Had he a slightly more timid wife, again, I have to believe he would not have proceeded with the assassination. But for some reason, I suppose the ubiquitous dramatic “tragic flaw,” Macbeth lets his goodly nature be overwhelmed by the circumstances of the moment and he does definitely devolve into a spiral of great and bloody consequence, and although not flat and one-dimensional he definitely earns his badge of villainy. In the final analysis, you are responsible for your own actions even if you are good and strong, but not quite good and strong enough, and even if you are a victim of circumstances. In Macbeth’s opening speech of Scene VII he consigns himself to Dante’s Hell, and the lowest portion of it, Giants’ Well, at that. Macbeth says, “He’s here in double trust:/First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,/Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,/Who should against his murderer shut the door,/Not bear the knife myself.” The Ninth Circle of Dante’s Hell is reserved for Betrayers of Kin, Political Traitors, Betrayers of Guests, and Betrayers of Benefactors. According to this scheme of Dante’s Hell the only problem will be deciding which part of Giants’ Well to consign Macbeth to as he is equally guilty of all four crimes and equally likely to be consigned to any of its four parts. Yes, I was wrong. Macbeth is definitely not a flat and one-dimensional character. And as I read the play yet again I will try to keep the “good” Macbeth and the “victim” Macbeth in mind as he proceeds on his bloody path so I can hopefully gain a fuller appreciation of the completely fleshed out character presented us by Shakespeare.



cheryl_shell wrote:
In the Barnes and Noble edition's Introduction, Jesse M. Lander asks the question of this message's title as he ponders the "paradox" that is the character of Macbeth: he seems to embrace evil, yet he remains attractive and even sympathetic to millions of playgoers over the centuries.

In the first act, are introduced to Macbeth as a fierce opponent, brave warrior, and loyal subject. We learn of his exploits in battle through a harrowing account delivered in dramatic fashion by one wounded captain, who collapses, near death, at court.

Soon, however, we see that Macbeth has another side, one that emerges when the witches give him cryptic messages about his present and future, and he learns that at least one part of the prophecy has proved true.

When he writes to his wife, we get yet another glimpse of his character. When he finally meets with her, more of him is revealed.

But later, when he has doubts, the picture is complicated.

Yet, by the end of act one, he has committed to murder.

Questions:

Who is the "real" Macbeth? The warrior hero or the ruthless killer?

What drives Macbeth to turn his thoughts into action?

How much does Lady Macbeth contribute to his decision to act?

Did he secretly harbor a wish to kill the king that was uncovered by the witches?

How are we supposed to feel about him?


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Everyman
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?



stratford wrote:
I have just been self-diagnosed with a non-fatal disease: “Macbeth myopia.” Hopefully by sharing the following thoughts, no other members of the book club will succumb to this horrible illness. I have always been a proponent of seeing live performances of Shakespeare to the apparent detriment of regular readings of the plays. I reasoned that since Shakespeare wrote them to be seen and not necessarily read that this would be a wise course of action to follow.

You have discovered my concern with live performances, particularly many contemporary ones. Each one represents one director's interpretation of the play, which might not be Shakespeare's at all. (For two reasons: one, they may not care about Shakespeare's interpretation, and second, they may care but be inadequate to it).

Since Shakespeare himself was around and prominent in the company at the time the plays were presented originally, he was there to say what he meant, and to make sure that the actors interpreted their parts according to his intentions. So yes, live performance in S's day could be reasonably assumed to represent what he intended.

But since then, since we have very little material describing how the plays were intended to be performed, it's just a matter of how a given director and actor choose to interpret the role. Which can be interesting (or not, depending on the director and actor), but IMO is no substitute for the way in which I as a reader choose to interpret the play by reading and thinking about it for myself.
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Laurel
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

Stratford wrote:

"Macbeth is definitely not a flat and one-dimensional character. And as I read the play yet again I will try to keep the “good” Macbeth and the “victim” Macbeth in mind as he proceeds on his bloody path so I can hopefully gain a fuller appreciation of the completely fleshed out character presented us by Shakespeare."

Reading like this should lead us to say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

(I don't care for the word 'victim' here, though.)
"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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LizzieAnn
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Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

I'm a novice at Shakespeare, and it's been over 30 years since I last read Macbeth. All I remember is how much I disliked this play, the 3 witches, "double, double, toil & trouble" and "Out damn spot" Not an auspicious beginning, huh? I have to say that I didn't find the first act as difficult to get through as I anticipated.

Macbeth may be a ferocious warrior, but he is ruthless killer. When he first hears of the prophecy, he begins to think of murder:

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? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.
My though, whose murder yet is but fantastical,


and

Come what may,
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.
He does seem to loss his nerve in scene 7, and Lady Macbeth convinces him (shames him may be more apt); but that doesn't mean that he wouldn't have done it at some point in time. He's too enticed by the idea of being king to leave it completely.

I don't know how we are supposed to feel about him, what Shakespeare's intention was; but I don't find him likeable at all.
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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Everyman
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?



LizzieAnn wrote:
I'm a novice at Shakespeare, and it's been over 30 years since I last read Macbeth.

In understanding, Lizzie, you're no novice. Your readings are insightful and interesting.
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LizzieAnn
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Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

Thank you! I haven't read much of Shakespeare's works, but I'm looking forward to becoming more familiar with them. I am enjoying both the reading and trying to understand the plays. I'm also getting used to some of the language. Fortunately, the book I have (the one recommended by B&N), defines words and phrases that I wouldn't otherwise understand. But there are now some that I don't have to check out, because I either now know them or can pick them up from context.



Everyman wrote:


LizzieAnn wrote:
I'm a novice at Shakespeare, and it's been over 30 years since I last read Macbeth.

In understanding, Lizzie, you're no novice. Your readings are insightful and interesting.


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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Choisya
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Re: Macbeth is a Play first.

Shakespeare was a playwright, not a writer of novels, and so I have always felt that it is essential to read his plays as if they were 'productions', to think about the stage directions etc. and why things are happening as they are. There have been thousands of interpretations since he died, some good, some bad, but in seeking to interpret his plays as plays, we are doing what he would have intended and so being more faithful to his memory. We are not Elizabethans - to start with we have men and women on the stage and we are far more respectful of playwrights than Elizabethans were, so it follows that since his time different interpretations have been made, different sorts of theatres have been built etc etc. I do not feel that he would have thought producers disrespectful if they interpreted plays differently to himself. Many playwrights who are alive today see this happening all the time but are nevertheless pleased to see their work being kept alive. For me The Play's The Thing and I have rarely seen a performance which I did not enjoy in one way or another because when all is said and done the words are Shakespeare's and they stand above any production. If I don't like a production, I just listen more carefully to the words. If we pay attention to the language of Act I, for instance, we will always learn, whatever the production, that Macbeth was brave, valiant and noble etc.

(Beware of SPOILERS below.)




stratford wrote:
I have just been self-diagnosed with a non-fatal disease: “Macbeth myopia.” Hopefully by sharing the following thoughts, no other members of the book club will succumb to this horrible illness. I have always been a proponent of seeing live performances of Shakespeare to the apparent detriment of regular readings of the plays. I reasoned that since Shakespeare wrote them to be seen and not necessarily read that this would be a wise course of action to follow. In the case of “Macbeth” it has given me a distorted viewpoint concerning the title character. According to the programs and ticket stubs that I have started saving in recent years, I have seen at least six productions of “Macbeth” and will be seeing another one in April. I have come away from those productions thinking of Macbeth as a flat, one-dimensional character: the villain of the play, consummately evil. Before I reread the play this weekend I did a little research, and that along with Cheryl’s introductory comments and prodding questions, made me come to the realization that Macbeth is anything but a flat, one-dimensional character. In the live productions I apparently missed a lot in Act I that tells us of the goodly nature of Macbeth. He is variously referred to as: brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name (Captain); O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman! (King); noble Macbeth (King); My noble partner (Banquo); most worthy thane! (Ross); Worthy Macbeth (Banquo); O worthiest cousin! (King); My worthy Cawdor! (King). Macbeth is certainly brave, noble, and worthy; he is commended by many around him; he is elevated by the King. He must indeed be a good and deserving soul. But Macbeth is not only good, he becomes victimized. He falls victim to the predictions of the Witches and the malignant entreaties of his wife. I have to believe that had Macbeth not encountered the Witches and their prophecy of future kingly glory that regicide probably would not have been on his to-do list once he had been promoted to Thane of Cawdor. And he tells his wife, “We will proceed no further in this business.” Had he a slightly more timid wife, again, I have to believe he would not have proceeded with the assassination. But for some reason, I suppose the ubiquitous dramatic “tragic flaw,” Macbeth lets his goodly nature be overwhelmed by the circumstances of the moment and he does definitely devolve into a spiral of great and bloody consequence, and although not flat and one-dimensional he definitely earns his badge of villainy. In the final analysis, you are responsible for your own actions even if you are good and strong, but not quite good and strong enough, and even if you are a victim of circumstances. In Macbeth’s opening speech of Scene VII he consigns himself to Dante’s Hell, and the lowest portion of it, Giants’ Well, at that. Macbeth says, “He’s here in double trust:/First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,/Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,/Who should against his murderer shut the door,/Not bear the knife myself.” The Ninth Circle of Dante’s Hell is reserved for Betrayers of Kin, Political Traitors, Betrayers of Guests, and Betrayers of Benefactors. According to this scheme of Dante’s Hell the only problem will be deciding which part of Giants’ Well to consign Macbeth to as he is equally guilty of all four crimes and equally likely to be consigned to any of its four parts. Yes, I was wrong. Macbeth is definitely not a flat and one-dimensional character. And as I read the play yet again I will try to keep the “good” Macbeth and the “victim” Macbeth in mind as he proceeds on his bloody path so I can hopefully gain a fuller appreciation of the completely fleshed out character presented us by Shakespeare.



cheryl_shell wrote:
In the Barnes and Noble edition's Introduction, Jesse M. Lander asks the question of this message's title as he ponders the "paradox" that is the character of Macbeth: he seems to embrace evil, yet he remains attractive and even sympathetic to millions of playgoers over the centuries.

In the first act, are introduced to Macbeth as a fierce opponent, brave warrior, and loyal subject. We learn of his exploits in battle through a harrowing account delivered in dramatic fashion by one wounded captain, who collapses, near death, at court.

Soon, however, we see that Macbeth has another side, one that emerges when the witches give him cryptic messages about his present and future, and he learns that at least one part of the prophecy has proved true.

When he writes to his wife, we get yet another glimpse of his character. When he finally meets with her, more of him is revealed.

But later, when he has doubts, the picture is complicated.

Yet, by the end of act one, he has committed to murder.

Questions:

Who is the "real" Macbeth? The warrior hero or the ruthless killer?

What drives Macbeth to turn his thoughts into action?

How much does Lady Macbeth contribute to his decision to act?

Did he secretly harbor a wish to kill the king that was uncovered by the witches?

How are we supposed to feel about him?





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Laurel
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

Here's what the Scots say about Macbeth:

http://www.scotlandspast.org/macbeth.cfm
"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: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

So Shakespeare may have falsely blackened Macbeth's name as he did with Richard III?

Certainly he skewed history by ignoring the seventeen years Macbeth ruled. The play makes it appear as though the events all happened in pretty short order.

Showing yet again that we should look to Shakespeare for our drama, but not for our history!
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Carmenere_lady
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?



Everyman wrote:
So Shakespeare may have falsely blackened Macbeth's name as he did with Richard III?

Certainly he skewed history by ignoring the seventeen years Macbeth ruled. The play makes it appear as though the events all happened in pretty short order.

Showing yet again that we should look to Shakespeare for our drama, but not for our history!




Thank you for clarifying the timeline. I have been intending to Google Macbeth but haven't had the time. I thought it strange that all events happened in such rapid succession.
Lynda

"I think of literature.....as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach."
The Uncommon Reader


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"Um, maybe."
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It is with books as with men; a very small number play a great part.
Voltaire
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Laurel
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?



Everyman wrote:
So Shakespeare may have falsely blackened Macbeth's name as he did with Richard III?

Certainly he skewed history by ignoring the seventeen years Macbeth ruled. The play makes it appear as though the events all happened in pretty short order.

Showing yet again that we should look to Shakespeare for our drama, but not for our history!




I think any British schoolboy could tell you that.
"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: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?



Laurel wrote:
I think any British schoolboy could tell you that.

Schoolchild, please. We must be politically correct!
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Choisya
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Re: Macbeth: Real or fictional heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

[ Edited ]
Yes and No. The real Macbeth did commit regicide, which is what the plot of the play revolves around - Shakespeare was a dramatist after all and the play is a work of fiction. Nor did he blacken Richard's and Macbeth's name - he was merely using accounts which did. The job of a dramatist is not to write accurate history nor to research to see if the stories used are accurate. They can write that the moon is made of green cheese if it makes a good play/story.

It is only fairly recently that playwrights/authors have been meticulous in their historical research and that is because they are writing for a much more sophisticated and well read public. Previous readers/audiences, without books/radio/film/TV, were much less demanding and just wanted a good tale, well told.





Everyman wrote:
So Shakespeare may have falsely blackened Macbeth's name as he did with Richard III?

Certainly he skewed history by ignoring the seventeen years Macbeth ruled. The play makes it appear as though the events all happened in pretty short order.

Showing yet again that we should look to Shakespeare for our drama, but not for our history!

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-06-200704:04 AM

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Laurel
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?



Everyman wrote:


Laurel wrote:
I think any British schoolboy could tell you that.

Schoolchild, please. We must be politically correct!




I meant to go back and change this, but I was too late. Here's what I meant to say:

I think any British schoolgirl could tell you that--and some of the boys, too.
"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: Real or fictional heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?



Choisya wrote:
Yes and No. The real Macbeth did commit regicide, which is what the plot of the play revolves around

Are we actually sure that he did? The history seems not to support Shakespeare's version. The history of that time is fairly obscure, but my reading suggests pretty clearly that Macbeth did not murder Duncan in his (Macbeth's) castle. Shakespeare seems to have invented this, perhaps basing the murder scene on the Donwald's assassination of the Scottish king Duff.

It may be that Macbeth killed Duncan in battle, though even that isn't certain, but it's virtually certain that all the murder aspects were made up out of whole cloth.

We should also be aware that Macbeth, far from thinking that being King "stands not within the prospect of belief," was a prominent member of the royal family when the succession of Scottish kings was based not on primogeniture but on selection from within the royal family. (The same is true in Hamlet's Denmark; the time periods of the two plays is similar.) So on Duncan's death the real Macbeth, as a well regarded soldier and leader, stood a perfectly good chance of being named king.

But none of this would have made nearly as good a play as Shakespeare wrote. One wonders whether Macbeth, looking down from Heaven (or up from the other place) thinks that having his name on the lips of educated readers for hundreds of years is adequate justification for the slanders imposed on his name.
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

Who really killed Duncan? Here's one viewpoint:
http://www.sd84.k12.id.us/SHS/departments/Language/edaniels/English%20IV%20(H)/Macbeth/MacbethThurber.htm
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Choisya
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Re: Macbeth: Real or fictional heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

[ Edited ]
According to the BBC link I gave, and they are usually accurate, Macbeth killed Duncan I in August 1040 in a battle near Elgin. Whether or not killing a king in battle counts as regicide I don't know, Everyman, but as a lawyer I am sure you do.:smileyhappy: Macbeth did not come from a long line of kings, he was only an Earl before he killed Duncan I and gained the throne. In 1054 the Earl of Northumbria challenged his right to the throne and tried to get Duncan's son, his nephew Malcolm III, back. Malcolm killed Macbeth in battle in 1057 and succeeded to the throne. Another link here:-

http://www.rampantscotland.com/famous/blfammacbeth.htm




Everyman wrote:


Choisya wrote:
Yes and No. The real Macbeth did commit regicide, which is what the plot of the play revolves around

Are we actually sure that he did? The history seems not to support Shakespeare's version. The history of that time is fairly obscure, but my reading suggests pretty clearly that Macbeth did not murder Duncan in his (Macbeth's) castle. Shakespeare seems to have invented this, perhaps basing the murder scene on the Donwald's assassination of the Scottish king Duff.

It may be that Macbeth killed Duncan in battle, though even that isn't certain, but it's virtually certain that all the murder aspects were made up out of whole cloth.

We should also be aware that Macbeth, far from thinking that being King "stands not within the prospect of belief," was a prominent member of the royal family when the succession of Scottish kings was based not on primogeniture but on selection from within the royal family. (The same is true in Hamlet's Denmark; the time periods of the two plays is similar.) So on Duncan's death the real Macbeth, as a well regarded soldier and leader, stood a perfectly good chance of being named king.

But none of this would have made nearly as good a play as Shakespeare wrote. One wonders whether Macbeth, looking down from Heaven (or up from the other place) thinks that having his name on the lips of educated readers for hundreds of years is adequate justification for the slanders imposed on his name.

Message Edited by Choisya on 03-06-200702:39 PM

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Choisya
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Re: Macbeth: Heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?

That link did not work Everyman - could you post it again. Thanks.




Everyman wrote:
Who really killed Duncan? Here's one viewpoint:
http://www.sd84.k12.id.us/SHS/departments/Language/edaniels/English%20IV%20(H)/Macbeth/MacbethThurber.htm


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Re: Macbeth: Real or fictional heroic Criminal or Criminal Hero?



Choisya wrote:
According to the BBC link I gave, and they are usually accurate, Macbeth killed Duncan I in August 1040 in a battle near Elgin.

I agree that that's the more common version, though not, as the link I posted points out, not the only version.

We also have to keep in mind that often the activities of an army are personified in the name of the leading general, so that actions attributed to the general might have been carried out by somebody else.

But whatever the truth, which may never be known with certainty, it seems certain that Macbeth did not kill Duncan in his sleep, and that Lady Macbeth had nothing to do with it. Which makes the play a wonderful tragedy but, as I noted before, a slander on Macbeth's good name, killing somebody in his sleep being dishonorable at the time but killing somebody in battle more often being a glorious and noble feat of arms.

Shakespeare -- trasher of reputations!
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