BG/BRG Kufstein Schillerstraße Kufstein. Fachbereichsarbeit Englisch 2003/2004 MACBETH. Shakespeare s Last Great Tragedy. by Klaus Reitberger - PDF

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BG/BRG Kufstein Schillerstraße Kufstein Fachbereichsarbeit Englisch 2003/2004 MACBETH Shakespeare s Last Great Tragedy by Klaus Reitberger Betreuungslehrer: Mag. Christoph Held Abgabetermin:

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BG/BRG Kufstein Schillerstraße Kufstein Fachbereichsarbeit Englisch 2003/2004 MACBETH Shakespeare s Last Great Tragedy by Klaus Reitberger Betreuungslehrer: Mag. Christoph Held Abgabetermin: Contents 1 Foreword 4 2 The Great Four (being Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth) Why are these four so great? Common characteristics On the rough Getting closer Certain Circumstances Conflict The Heroes The Essence Argument Death 15 3 Macbeth The Scottish Piece at first glance The Blackness The Blood The Supernatural On Irony 20 2 3.2 Peculiarities On numbers The Story behind One Man in the Audience The Cycle The central motif Characterisation Lady Macbeth Macbeth 32 4 Is Macbeth the Last Great Tragedy? Dr. Forman Internal Clues 37 5 Afterword 38 Bibliography 40 3 1 Foreword F our hundred years ago a playwright, unique in the human history of literature, was in his prime. Well acknowledged at his time, legendary today, William Shakespeare is probably amongst the most read, most quoted and, quite certainly, the most written about authors of all time. Even the most common person totally unacquainted with literature is likely to have at least once heard of Hamlet, and is perhaps even able to associate him and his cryptic, most quoted, immortal starting words of the suicide-soliloquy To be or not to be although probably being quite ignorant of the fact that this phrase has anything to do with contemplating to kill oneself with the name of Shakespeare. There are, of course, multitudinous reasons why one single man, son of a probably illiterate tradesman, born in the midst of sixteenth century Elizabethan England, was by the mere means of his plume, his mind and little theatre-ensemble able to establish for himself this immortal fame. Shakespeare must have been a person of extraordinary talent and creative power, but there was more. One might say that he had many faces in the meaning of versatility. The variety in his work ranges from pure comedy over historical accounts and heart-rending romance to deadly-sadly-dark tragedy. Many critics and ordinary readers still startle at the astounding fact that A Midsummernight s Dream, Othello, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet and others whose difference could not be greater, are actually off-springs of the same mind. This diversity of Shakespeare s creation is just another reason for his success. In here, I will focus on the latter of the above mentioned categories comedies, histories, romances and tragedies in which the great playwright s work is classified. Having thus cut down the immense number of Shakespearean dramas to a mere eleven, I have to carry out another distinction. In the tragic forest where pines like Anthony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus and Romeo and Juliet grow, four great oaks tower above all the other trees, letting these appear to be nothing more than shrubbery. Ancient, gnarled and deeply rooted this quartet of giants seems to be, and out of its wood the mighty rump of Shakespeare s tragic work is built. These are the so-called Four Great Tragedies, being Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. Originally I intended to focus on every single one of them, but soon this plan revealed itself to be too farfetched since the dimension of this study must be limited. Had I carried out my initial plan and still kept to the necessary limitations of length, I just would 4 have been able to sketch the coastline of each tragedy without ever really setting firm foot on the fertile earth beyond. But since I always wanted to climb those secret mountains hiding behind the coastal fog of the island a Shakespearean Tragedy consists of, I could not proceed on this fatal path. Thus, I was forced to narrow my field of work. Hence, I decided to credit only one of the Great Four with closer observation. My choice fell on the tragedy of Macbeth, to which the greater part of this study is devoted to. Along with preparing for this task I gradually came to the conviction that writing an interpretation on a Shakespearean Tragedy is much harder than I thought at first. Not because there is little to write about, not at all. There are whole books to fill with thoughts on Macbeth and the other tragedies. The problem is of a quite different nature: These books have already been written. For almost four-hundred years Shakespeare s descendants have had time to think and write about his works and there have been many to do so. There is not really much that has not been said yet. Thus, the interpreter of today cannot do much but repeat, quote and compare the thoughts of his predecessors of yore, unless he stumbles over some totally new ideas. But even then like it happened to me with the unfinished ending theory I am going to discuss in as he is doing further study, he will see that there was someone a hundred years ago who had the same thoughts before. Therefore, many of the ideas present in this study here may resemble those of other students of Shakespeare that went before me and whose works are listed in the bibliography. But apart from this, I still hope to have stated some new ideas in here which have not yet been written. Enough of this. The time has come to set forth into the matter itself. My study opens with a chapter on the Four Great Tragedies, comparing them and explaining their singular position amongst Shakespeare s works. Then in Chapter Three I will concentrate fully on Macbeth, bringing light into its darkest spots. Neither do I intend to include all the features that are thought to be characteristic for a classical interpretation, nor do I want to mention everything that seems to be essential. The borders these definitions have, are not stable and move to and fro. What I am trying to do is simply to say everything that is interesting and appears worthy to be mentioned, which is enough. In Chapter Four I will discuss the matter whether Macbeth really is the last of the Four Great Tragedies. Finally a Conclusion will be drawn. Before I begin, one point has yet to be stated. It does not make much sense to examine the following if the reader is not acquainted with Shakespeare s play to a certain extent. If he has never read Macbeth before, or there have been whole decades passing by since he last 5 did, not much understanding will be derived from this study. In every word I write, I anticipate that the reader is familiar with the tragedy. Of course I could have written a study which is intelligible to everyone, but that would just be like composing a scientific essay about the Earth s atmosphere and saying within that the sky is blue and sometimes full of clouds that can let it rain when the weather is bad. The reader of this study is supposed to be well-acquainted with the topic. Now all there was to say, is said. Continue, dear reader, and be introduced to the power and the genius of one of the greatest artists of all time. The sources of all the illustrations this study contains will be given at the end of the bibliography which is to be found on page 40. Quoted commentaries are marked either by the name of the author and if necessary the number of the page or, if the quote is taken from the Internet, by the letter I and a certain number. In both cases this indication is placed within parenthesis right after the quote, be it direct or indirect. In addition direct quotes are illustrated by quotation marks as it is commonly done. All the works quoted are fully named in the bibliography. Quotes taken from Shakespeare s Macbeth directly which is, of course, the chief source of this study, are solely marked by the numbers of Act, Scene and Verse without the uneccessary repetition of the playwright s name. Thus, each quote can be assigned easily to its source without much ado as it should be. 6 2 The Great Four T here was a time approximately between 1599 and 1606 when William Shakespeare, at the height of his dramatic power, produced in rather quick succession four tragedies which are, to speak metaphorically, the rump of his tragic work, the pillars of his hall of falling down, or as the Cambridge History of English and American Literature puts it, the four wheels of his chariot, the four wings of his spirit, in the tragic and tragicomic division (I1). These four works are commonly know as Shakespeare s Great Tragedies, being Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. 2.1 Why are these four so great? Before we try to find the source of the singularity of the four works named above, it is at first easier to formulate the question thus: What makes the other tragedies not so great? Why are they inferior? Different critics offer different answers to that question. Let us begin with the tragedies of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, written approximately before and after, or even while, completing the Great Four. What makes them so different? A.C. Bradley, professor of English Language and Literature as well as Poetry, to whom I owe most of the information this Chapter contains, offers the brief explanation that these two Roman plays, in addition with Richard III and Richard II are mere tragic histories or historical tragedies (Bradley 21) than actual pure tragedies, whatever that means. They show considerable deviations from that standard (21) since Shakespeare was obliged to stick to the historical pattern these plays are based on, and thus could not let his intuition solely choose the story s path. His genius was, so to say, trapped within certain limits. (cf. Bradley 21) Well, that may be true regarding the Roman plays, but concerning Richard II and Richard III Bernard McElroy, author of Shakespeare s Mature Tragedies, offers a more thorough explanation: These two are at whole still on a quite different scale than the Four, meaning that they are not yet mature and to some extent imperfect or maybe even faulty. When Richard III is struck with doubt on the eve of Bosworth, nothing about it comes close to being worthy of the word collapse, which is central in the development of the heroes in the Great Four. His inner struggle is isolated and does not at all interfere with the outer 7 action. On the morning after Richard continues his business as ever before and naught can be observed of a divided soul (cf. I4). This shows very well that in this early phase of Shakespeare s work inner and outer conflict has not yet started to mingle. Different is the case of this king s predecessor Richard II whose story the great playwright dramatised years after. As McElroy says, it constitutes an important milestone in Shakespeare s development (I4). In it much reminds of the mature tragedies. However, the play is less concerned with questions of universal order than with questions of political order. (I4) Shakespeare did not yet quite dare to touch those mighty matters beyond the drama s surface but they are there all the same. (cf. I4) There are still some more dramas to single out. Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare s first tragedy, for instance. A.C. Bradley briefly declares that he shall leave [this tragedy] out of account, because, even if Shakespeare wrote the whole of it, he did so before he had either style of his own or any other characteristic tragic conception. (Bradley 21). He probably did not like it very much. Bernard McElroy focuses somewhat more on the matter stating that Titus Andronicus is a clear marker on the long road to King Lear. (I4), because it contains psychic dissolution signalling the collapse of the subjective world (I4). However, it makes no sense to talk of Titus subjective world because the character is not that elaborately drawn. (I4). The tragedy of Timon of Athens is on the whole not attributed to Shakespeare (cf. Bradley 21) and the complementary balance characteristic ( ) [has] completely broken down (I4). It is clearly no great tragedy either. There remains one that cannot be set aside for any of those reasons. One that surely is a pure tragedy (Bradley 21) and probably amongst Shakespeare s most famous. Why is it that Romeo and Juliet, the tragedy that is, although not history, closer to reality than all the other Shakespearean works, and still, be it on stage or screen, makes people cry today, is not granted with the title of greatness? It is an early work and thus immature (Bradley 21) the famous critic explains. But is that really the case? To me, the ancient story of Romeo and Juliet is as mature and as perfectly masterly as any of the Great Four can be. The real difference is that it is another kind of tragedy, no great man s fall, no single being struggling against the evil world, no, it is a tragedy of love and thus singular amongst Shakespeare s other masterpieces. In the 8 matters it touches and the clearness these are drawn in, Romeo and Juliet is as well greater and smaller, more and less than Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth can ever be. Now, as it is finally said why the others are not great, whatever that means, it is easy to arrive at the conclusion that the reason for the singularity of the Four merely lies in the inferiority of the rest. But since speech exists it never sufficed to state what something is by just saying what it is not. Thus, one paragraph is still to be added here. The four tragedies of Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth are singular amongst Shakespeare s work because of the power they have in common. There is something about them: a certain grimness, darkness, sadness the tragic fact. Most striking are their complexity, their ambiguity and, most of all, their depth. There are lines, enigmatic and yet not understood, maybe never intended to be understood, destined to be eternal mysteries and yet clear as an azure sky on a September morning. Those tragedies do not take place only on the stage, they are set in our minds showing human failure as well as strength. One might say they are even haunting, in the meaning of persistently recurring to the mind; difficult to forget (cf. King 139). They are one of the greatest combination of the twentysix letters of the alphabet plus dots and commas, the human mind has ever accomplished, and thus they are because they contain and consist of what the following chapter is all about. 2.2 Common characteristics Most of the information and speculation the following part of this chapter contains is more or less extracted from or at least based on the first chapter, The Substance of Tragedy, of A. C. Bradley s book Shakespearean Tragedy. If some part is to be credited to some other person, the information will be given. It is important to note that many of the features pointed at in this chapter are also true for other Shakespearean plays than the Four Great Tragedies. However, in no other are they thus thoroughly developed On the rough 9 Opening a booklet containing one of the Great Tragedies or seeing it on stage, it does not matter for the first time and reading through it, one will instantly observe the following: There are a whole lot of dramatis personæ in it It is the story of one person, the hero The hero always is a person of high degree and great importance At the end, the hero must die Suffering and calamity precede and conduct to the hero s death The suffering and calamity are exceptional, unexpected and in contrast to previous happiness or glory This is what the medieval mind conceived as tragic fact. Should one of these six points except perhaps the first one be amiss, the tragedy would not be really tragic. If there were no hero to focus on, the play would be destined to fall apart. If the hero were a peasant, his fall could never be as great as a prince s because his nation or empire would fall with him. If the hero s death were instantaneous, like a stroke, it would not be accepted by the audience. If the suffering preceding death were not unexpected and the hero were instead slowly rotting away by disease, the tragedy would not be good at all. The tragic fact must be maintained to achieve a pure tragedy Getting closer But is this all? Many playwrights in the history or literature, before and after William Shakespeare, have kept to those points above and yet achieved nothing like Hamlet. There must be more. The Shakespearean idea of the tragic fact must go beyond that. And it does. So let us ask again: What is a Shakespearean tragedy? Thus far we are: it is a story of exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man in high estate. (Bradley 28) It is not right. There is something important yet to be added here. These calamities, be it Lear s madness, Iago s evil soliciting and its causes, or Claudius poison plot, are never accidental. Unlike a stroke of lightening, they do not simply happen ( ) [but] proceed mainly from ( ) the actions of men. (28) The characters on the stage, solely or in unison, execute certain actions. And these actions beget others, and these others beget others again, ( ). (28) Everything ends in the 10 catastrophe which does not simply happen but is caused by the persons concerned. The hero always contributes in some measure to the disaster in which he perishes. (28) A single stone cast adrift by the erring feet of a lonely wanderer may set many others in motion while speeding down the mountainside. In the end, whole rocks may be falling and the mountain can collapse beneath the wanderer. Shakespearean Tragedy thus is a story of human actions producing exceptional calamity and ending in the death of (..) a man[of high estate]. (32) Certain Circumstances In Shakespearean tragedy it is quite impossible to foresee at the beginning of the play what the end will be like. Even if it is possible to mark the tragic potential present in the hero or other personages, it is very hard to depict if this potential will ever be initiated and thus gain the name action, for had [they] not met with peculiar circumstances, [many characters] would have escaped a tragic end, and might even have lived fairly untroubled lives (30). These circumstances do not have to be necessarily characteristic deeds but may issue from quite different sources. Those may be subordinate since Shakespeare does not use them often and lets the human action be dominant, but still they are there. A.C. Bradley sets them in three categories. Abnormal Conditions of Mind Insanity manifested in somnambulism or hallucinations is not really a deed or action executed by certain characters. Not being subject to control gives madness a special significance. However, it is important to note that an abnormal condition of mind is never the direct source of any dramatic deed leading to catastrophe. It seldom has any real influence. Macbeth did not murder Duncan because he saw a dagger in the air: he saw the dagger because he was about to murder Duncan. (30). Neither did any real insanity as of Lear or Ophelia cause any tragic conflict, being just a result already. The Supernatural 11 There are ghosts in the dramatic world of Shakespeare as well as witches. Being more than just off-springs of a troubled mind others can see them too they are a striking sight to the audience, most notably in Hamlet and in Macbeth. It is quite important to note at least for Bradley that these supernatural beings neither force anyone to do something nor initiate any action directly. Their power is limited to confirming inward movements already present and exerting an influence (30). Chance Any occurrence (not supernatural, of course) which enters the dramatic sequence neither from the agency of a character, nor from the obvious surrounding circumstances (31) may be called chance or accident. Things happen, and there is nothing to do about it: lightening may strike; Romeo may miss a message; Juliet awakes a minute too late; Desdemona drops her handkerchief at the wrong moment. Bad luck, one might say. Fact is that these accidents or chances occur. Never will anyone be able to foresee or even control them. We are all slaves of chaos that may strike at anytime Conflict Were there no conflict, there would not be a crisis either and thus no tr
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