Shakespeare in the Spring: Macbeth

macbethMacbeth by William Shakespeare
First Performed in April 1611
Classic/Play
Format: e-book; 132 pages
Also From This Author: Romeo and JulietHamletMuch Ado About Nothing
Goodreads | Amazon
My Rating: 3/5

If I could have, I would have avoided making my first “Shakespeare in the Spring” post about Macbeth, but I read it back in October (it’s perfect Halloween reading) and I never got around to writing my post about it.

So, why the avoidance?

I adore Shakespeare. I love quoting him, I love watching film adaptations of his plays, and I love talking about his works with bookworms and non-bookworms alike. However, there is one thing about Shakespeare that I don’t like: I do not like his Scottish Play, Macbeth.

Shakespeare’s tragedies are my favorites. In 8th grade we read both As You Like It and Hamlet. I did like As You Like It (we even took a field trip to see the play–my first!), but when we started Hamlet I fell in love. It had everything a “wanna-be gothic” pre-teenage girl could want to read (yes, embarrassingly enough, that is how I classify that epoque of my life). And since then, I have greatly admired Shakespeare’s tragedies. I love reading them and experiencing them all over again, except for Macbeth.

I’ve read Macbeth twice now and both times I’ve been unhappy about it. It’s not because of Shakespeare’s writing (his words and themes I actually did like), but I think it’s because of Macbeth and even more so, Lady Macbeth. Let me compare these two characters to another Shakespearean tragic hero: Hamlet. Despite the indecisive masochistic behavior of Hamlet, I still root for him. Even though his identity as a tragic hero means he’s doomed, I still want good things for him. I cannot say the same for Macbeth and his wife. I really wanted them to die the whole time. Well, maybe not Macbeth, but definitely his wife.

It’s wonderful that Shakespeare created such a strong and dominate female lead. I really did appreciate that she broke the model for a traditional female character. She was actually more of a male figure than Macbeth: she’s strong-willed, ambitious, and violent. However, I really viewed Lady Macbeth as more of a disease; after Macbeth hears from the weird sisters that he will be king, his wife immediately begins feeding him poisonous thoughts about power and it is she who provides Macbeth with the plot to kill King Duncan. Macbeth is barely able to summon enough “courage” (if you can call it courageous to kill your friend and king) to commit the murder, and it is Lady Macbeth who guiltlessly adds the finishing touches needed to successfully frame two of the king’s men.

This murder and great conflict occurs early on in the play in Act II, and in the remaining three acts we witness how the deepening guilt destroys Macbeth and his wife. For those who have read Macbeth, you know there are plenty of memorable themes going on. Obviously, don’t murder someone in order to take their place! The guilt will literally be the end of you. Hamlet taught that to us as well. I think my favorite theme from Macbeth, however, was that not everything is as it seems, or as Macbeth so eloquently puts it, “fair is foul, foul is fair.” What seems like a fortuitous future may actually bring us nothing but regret and guilt, our friends could end up being our enemies, and even those characters who would appear angelic and hospitable (such as Lady Macbeth) could actually be the most ruthless of them all.

I know that Macbeth  is one of Shakespeare’s most admired plays, and I understand why, but I have a question for those of you who love it: what do you find most enjoyable about it? Like I said, I’ve read it twice already and I don’t anticipate ever reading it again, but if anyone wants to take on the challenge of changing my mind about it, please try!

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6 thoughts on “Shakespeare in the Spring: Macbeth

  1. I am right there with you. Not a fan at all. I don’t like King Lear either, for similar reasons — unlikable characters!

    However, I did read a really good YA book called Lady MacBeth’s Daughter by Lisa Klein that I enjoyed even more than Klein’s Ophelia. And I think Terry Pratchett’s Discworld retelling, Wyrd Sisters, is hilarious.

  2. I also could never get into Macbeth, for the same reason I can’t get into watching House of Cards on Netflix with Justin. I just can’t root for the protagonist! Even if the protagonist is a bad guy, I need to want him to win…not eagerly anticipate him getting caught (or dying).

  3. Pingback: Shakespeare in the Spring: Much Ado About Nothing | An American in France

  4. Interesting thoughts on Macbeth! I had read it only once in high school but I remember thinking it very interesting (how their ambitious led them to them to commit such acts, only for those actions to haunt them later on). It’d be interesting to revisit this play at some point (though maybe not as part of the Shakespeare RC–got plenty of other plays lined up that I’ve never read before!) :)

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