Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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But nothing could be further from the case with respect to this ‘great quell’ (I.vii.73). Macbeth walks towards Duncan’s chamber with the rapist ‘Tarquin’s ravishing strides’ ( Ibid ., 55) and the blood on the ‘blade, and dudgeon’ (46) of his imagined dagger is a reminder that, in some strange and twisted sense, he is engaged imaginatively in the rape of a virgin as well as the killing of a king. Shakespeare presents Duncan’s murder as a crime of passion and, indeed, one of derangement – though there is no objective reason why it should be so. Perhaps the best analogy would be with a modern pharmacologically-induced killing. After all, every step Macbeth takes towards Duncan’s chamber brings the audience closer to a horrifying world of phantasmagoria in which ‘Witchcraft celebrates’ (51) and ‘wither’d Murther’ (52) walks abroad; in which ‘one did laugh in’s sleep, and one cried, “Murther!”’ (II.ii.22), and in which Macbeth will, immediately after the killing, hear a supernatural ‘voice cry, “Sleep no more!...”’ ( Ibid .,34). Such impossible events at the time of the murder are later added to in the choric speech of Lenox, who tells Macbeth:

where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’th’air; strange screams of death, […]
some say, the earth
Was feverous, and did shake. (II.iii.53-60)


Most vivid of all, perhaps, is the passage in the next scene, when the Old Man discusses with Rosse how Duncan’s horses ate each other on the night the king was murdered.

All of these events and descriptions can be explained using conventional and traditional categories. They are omens of a great one’s death, or they are unnatural events in the world of nature, mimicking unnatural actions perpetrated among men. All this is true, but there is still a further sense in which these things begin to impress upon their auditors’ minds so powerfully that they start to share in the imaginative intensity of Macbeth’s own mental state – an intensity which, in his case, comes perilously close to madness. The audience’s reaction to the theatrical experience of such imagery is quite surprising: the effect is certainly repulsive, but it has its own visceral fascination for all that. The long scene between Macduff and Malcolm (IV.iii) was probably intended, among other things, to provide some relief from the play’s multiplying images of horror with some correspondingly resonant images of goodness and holiness. Many spectators, however, find that the scene drags – even though, viewed objectively, it is as well-written as many other scenes in Macbeth and it includes, in fact, a great deal of dramatic interest.

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William Shakespeare