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MacbethAh, the Scottish play.

This was really interesting because I listened to it on audiobook, which… well, it was like a halfway way of experiencing a play. I sometimes dislike reading plays because I know they were written to be performed, not read. In the audio version, it is performed (with a full cast of readers), just without the visual elements of performance. Also, they had a sort of “translator” who piped up here and there when a character said something especially middle-English-y that needed some interpretation, which was nice.

As for the story itself, well, Macbeth puts all his eggs in one basket—from which we learn that it’s a bad idea to act on the prophecies of witches, particularly when you don’t know whether they are for or against you. Mainly, he lets his wife talk him into committing murder, even though the man is king (so it’s an assassination) and kinsman (so it’s against nature) and guest in his house (so it’s against the laws of hospitality).

Aaaand things pretty much go downhill from there.

The whole “wife talking you into killing someone to get what you want” bit was very reminiscent of the Ahab/Jezebel story regarding Naboth’s vineyard from the Bible (see 1 Kings 21, if you aren’t familiar). However, Lady Macbeth isn’t quite as ruthless as Jezebel. You see, unfortunately for her, she has a conscience. Not enough to keep her from killing someone—just enough to haunt her after she does.

Speaking of which, Shakespeare’s psychological realism in this play is phenomenal. He shows the guilty consciences of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth with startling realism, including having Lady Macbeth sleepwalk and dream about washing her hands but not being able to get them clean. (An apt picture, since it was her hands that actually killed the king.)
Which is amazing because, you know, psychology as a discipline didn’t develop till the mid 1800’s, and then took some time to entire literature as the movement of psychological realism, and then it was even longer before dreams were recognized as having anything to do with psychology (thank you, Freud). So Shakespeare was only about 250 years ahead of his time. No big deal.

So basically, this play proved to me yet again just how amazing Shakespeare is. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

  • As Macbeth and his wife are planning their dark deed, they note that they must pretend to grieve when they hear the news later: “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” (1.7)
  • Donalbain, son of the murdered king: “To Ireland, I… Where we are there’s daggers in men’s smiles. The nea’er in blood, the nearer bloody.” (2.3) (‘Here, we can’t trust anybody. The closer you’re related to the king, the closer is the danger of being murdered.’)
  • “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death…” (5.5)

Another brilliant move of Shakespeare’s that I fully appreciate is this irony: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both envy the man they killed because he has nothing to worry about, while their consciences and fear of being found out are driving them mad.

An excellent play. Absolutely excellent.