Some of my work on Updike was discussed on The Dish with Andrew Sullivan.
Some of my work on Ross Macdonald was discussed on Pretty Sinister Books.
Here is my interview with superstar music impresario Wendy Starland.
Here is my interview with Pulitzer Prize nominee Olympia Vernon.
Here is my interview with the editor of Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor.
Here is my interview with acclaimed artist Emil Kazaz.
My musing on John D. Macdonald, Travis McGee, and the chicks was picked up on The Rap Sheet.

What Is MACBETH About?

What Is MACBETH About?

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          Of course, one could probably spend a lifetime trying to get to all the scholarship in existence about Macbeth – every book, every essay – and not succeed.  My own degree of reading is stuck in the novice stage at this point in time, but from what I have read I must say the work is considered by critics to contain immortal messages and eternal truths, characters larger than life, and to be dramatic art of the highest possible quality.  Doubtless this all is so, but here I am setting my sights a little lower, going in perhaps a different direction that emphasizes not so much the dialogue itself or the play’s themes or psychological insight into people but rather what the characters do; and what they do in large measure is deliver and receive messages, news bulletins and reports which, in the main, recipients do not question the veracity of and which, in the main, is true and accurate information.  Indeed, the words “report” and “news” and their synonyms appear quite often in the play.
            In most of these cases the news delivered concerns happenings that are absolutely essential to the narrative engine of the action and the drama.
Before looking at this a little more closely we might sample some snippets of criticism about the work:

            A.C. Bradley (Lectures on Shakespearean Tragedy):
            “The chief characters, built on a scale at least as large as that of Othello, seem to
attain at times an almost superhuman stature.”
            “Both are sublime, and both inspire, far more than the other tragic heroes, the feeling of awe.”

            Harold Bloom (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human):
            “I do not know whether God created Shakespeare, but I know that Shakespeare created us to an altogether startling degree.  In relation to his perpetual audience Shakespeare is a kind of mortal god; our instruments for measuring him break when we try to apply them.”

            Mark Van Doren (Macbeth):

            “Macbeth is incomparably brilliant as it stands, and within its limits perfect.  What it does, it does with flawless force.”

            Cleanth Brooks (The Naked Babe and the Cloak of Manliness):
            “Undoubtedly Macbeth is great, magnificently great…it is worth remembering that is this that Shakespeare, with his unshrinking clarity of vision, repeatedly sees him.”

            Marjorie Garber (Shakespeare and Modern Culture):
            “If we begin in the nineteenth century, and then move to the present day, what will be evident is the way the play of Macbeth crosses boundaries, spilling over from the stage to the street, from the past to an uncanny repetition in history and culture.  As we will see, the appearance in the twentieth and twenty first centuries of new media – including film, television, and 24/7 political journalism – has increased the rapidity and ubiquity with which this particular Shakespearean play is invoked.”

This quote from Caroline F.E. Spurgeon’s amazing book Shakespeare’s Imagery, while not specifically about the Scottish play, is also illustrative of the overall point:
            “No one could read Shakespeare closely for years without being reduced to a condition of complete humility…”

            Derivation in criticism is widespread and desirable, of course, but what is on the page – literally the print on the paper – is often more largely revealing of the author’s intentions.  Shakespeare’s stage directions are minimal to non existent (especially when compared to, say, Eugene O’Neill’s), so we may frequently want to look at different productions of the same play to help us gauge perhaps what the meaning or intention was.  I’ve studied four versions of Macbeth on DVD carefully enough to be fully convinced that my claim above about what the play is at least partially about - which is, again, the delivery of news and reports – is accurate.
            In what follows below I’ll present twenty examples from the drama to support the observation and comment briefly.
             Act 1, Scene 2 - Here the bloody man delivers a report – and Duncan actually says “He can report” – about Macbeth’s bravery and courage. 
            A word about this – Duncan seems to be excessively trusting.  Perhaps this is why he is habitually betrayed by people like Cawdor and Macbeth.  It seems a trifle odd to me that, for instance, he is relying on the contingency of a chance, accidental meeting with a wounded soldier for information about how his own army is performing.  Wouldn’t the king have an extensive network of spies and scouts?
            Act 1, Scene 2 – Ross arrives to report of Macbeth’s bravery versus Norway.  Again, Duncan appears to be relying on complete happenstance for this important information.  He doesn’t even recognize Ross, one of his own thanes!
            Act 1, Scene 3 – Here the three witches report to each other.  Largely irrelevant.
            Act 1, Scene 4 – Here Malcolm brings news to Duncan of Cawdor’s execution.  The scene is important because it stresses Duncan’s na├»ve consciousness.  He mentions his “absolute trust” in Cawdor – he is about to place the same in Macbeth, with a worse result. 
            Act 1, Scene 5 – Macbeth’s letter to Lady Macbeth fills her in on the prophecies of the witches and their subsequent coming true.  It’s important to note that the witches’ predictions early on are given full credence while, later on, the importance of their later ones is perhaps not fully appreciated by Macbeth.
            Act 1, Scene 5 – The servant brings Lady Macbeth the news that Duncan will visit that night.  Notice that in this brief conversation both “tidings” and “news” appear, thus strengthening the theme.
            Act 1, Scene 7 - “How now!  What news?”
            Act 2, Scene 2 – Macbeth reports to Lady Macbeth the killing of Duncan
            Act 3, Scene 1 – Macbeth reveals (to the audience) through his dialogue with the hired murderers that he has reported news of Banquo’s wrongdoings against the murderers to them, the murderers.  This is the one place where we might wonder if the news report in question is true or not.  It may not be – Banquo does not appear to have been the type for malicious foul play. 
            Act 3, Scene 4 – The Murderer brings the news of Banquo’s killing and Fleance’s escape to Macbeth.

            Act 3, Scene 6 – The unnamed LORD reports to Lennox that Malcolm and Macduff are in England seeking the aid of Edward.
            Act 4, Scene 1 – The apparitions deliver predictions which we may consider news by this point in the play, though I acknowledge this characterization might be questioned.
            Act 4, Scene 1 – Lennox reports to Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England.
            Act 4, Scene 2 - The messenger arrives to advise Lady Macduff to flee.
            Act 4, Scene 3 – Ross brings Macduff the dreadful news.
            Act 5, Scene 2 – Caithness provides Mentieth will military intelligence.
            Act 5, Scene 3 – “Bring me no more reports.”
            Act 5, Scene 5 - Seyton gives the news of Lady Macbeth’s death.
            Act 5, Scene 5 – The messenger reports that Birnam Wood is moving.
            Act 5, Scene 8 – Macduff gives the news that he is not of woman born.


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