The reader is not totally at ease in William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Macbeth. The play contains numerous instances which lack clear import or meaning. Let’s examine these in this paper.
In his book, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, H. S. Wilson comments on the ambiguities surrounding the Weird Sisters:
Scholars have been much exercised to determine the status of the Weird Sisters; but again theirs seems to be a case like that of the Ghost of Hamlet’s father: the ambiguities concerning these creatures are deliberate and meant to enhance our sense of their mystery without determining just what they are. They are something like the Norse fates in Holinshed, a good deal like ordinary English witches, and suggestive, besides, of a projection of Macbeth’s ambition and his consequent fears [. . .]. (72-73)
In Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack comments on the purposeful obscurity in which Shakespeare keeps the three Witches:
The obscurity with which Shakespeare envelops their nature and powers is very probably deliberate, since he seems to intend them to body forth, in a physical presence on stage, precisely the mystery, the ambiguity, the question mark (psychological as well as metaphysical) that lies at the root of human wrong-doing, which is always both local and explicable, universal and inexplicable, like these very figures. (185-86)
In “Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action” Francis Fergusson explains the irrational nature of the actions of Macbeth and his wife – a cause of ambiguity:
I do not need to remind you of the great scenes preceding the murder, in which Macbeth and his Lady pull themselves together for their desperate effort. If you think over these scenes, you will notice that the Macbeths understand the action which begins here as a competition and a stunt, against reason and against nature. Lady Macbeth fears her husband’s human nature, as well as her own female nature, and therefore she fears the light of reason and the common daylight world. As for Macbeth, he knows from the first that he is engaged in an irrational stunt: “I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself / And falls on the other.” In this sequence there is also the theme of outwitting or transcending time, an aspect of nature’s order as we know it: catching up the consequences, jumping the life to come, and the like.
Banquo – The Innocent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Banquo – The Innocent of Macbeth
The reader finds in Shakespeare’s Macbeth that the cunning and machinations of evilly inclined people do not pay off. On the other hand, the progeny of the honest will rule the kingdom. This paper is the story of Banquo the innocent.
Lily B. Campbell in her volume of criticism, Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion, discusses how fear enters the life of Banquo with the murder of Duncan and his two attendants:
And as Lady Macbeth is helped from the room, we see fear working in the others. Banquo admits that fears and scruples shake them all, even while he proclaims his enmity to treason. But Banquo fears rightly the anger or hatred of the Macbeth who has power to do him harm. (222)
In Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack explains how the Bard upgraded the Holinshed version of Banquo:
His [King James] family, the Stuarts, claimed descent from Banquo, and it is perhaps on this account that Shakespeare departs from Holinshed, in whose narrative Banquo is Macbeth’s accomplice in the assassination of Duncan, to insist on his “royalty of nature” and the “dauntless temper of his mind” (3.1.50). Many critics see a notable compliment to James in the dumb show of kings descending from Banquo (“What, will the line stretch out to th’ crack of doom?” (186)
Clark and Wright in their Introduction to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare comment that Banquo is a force of good in the play, set in opposition to Macbeth:
Banquo, the loyal soldier, praying for restraint against evil thoughts which enter his mind as they had entered Macbeth’s, but which work no evil there, is set over against Macbe…
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Clark, W.G. and Aldis Wright, eds. Introduction. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., n. d.
Frye, Northrop. Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1967.
Kemble, Fanny. “Lady Macbeth.” Macmillan’s Magazine, 17 (February 1868), p. 354-61. Rpt. in Women Reading Shakespeare 1660-1900. Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts, eds. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.
Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. http://chemicool.com/Shakespeare/macbeth/full.html, no lin.
Wilson, H. S. On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1957.