By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…
Yesterday, we went to see a new version of Macbeth at The Globe. Since studying Macbeth both in primary and secondary school, it is one of my most loved of his plays. As a tragic hero, I think Macbeth is one of the most sympathetic. Ambition is an understandable fatal flaw. Hamlet’s indecisiveness, King Lear’s blindness, Othello’s jealousy are all on some level incredibly frustrating whereas Macbeth’s ambition could be a wonderful thing, until it becomes ‘vaulting ambition, which o’er leaps itself’ as he says himself. Credit to him for self-awareness!
Macbeth’s soliloquy towards the end of the play after (*spolier alert!) Lady Macbeth has died is etched into my memory after committing it there for an exam.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
It is hard to think of a more despairing but beautiful speech. I always thought that this reaction to Lady Macbeth’s death was strangely muted, but perhaps the more tragic for it. It seems Macbeth knows there is no hope for him and, without her, feels it doesn’t matter anyway, as life is an illusion that signifies nothing. This speech is also a dose of healthy scepticism about theatre as well, if life is just a poor player that signifies nothing as well. At the end of his career when he wrote Macbeth, does this say that Shakespeare tiring of theatre? I can’t agree that theatre signifies nothing. I think it is an important mechanism for culture, art, release, social and political commentary and entertainment. However, does it have a tendency to take itself a little too seriously? Yes, sometimes, and I love Shakespeare all the more for his commentary on his own profession.
Every time I see Shakespeare, I marvel at his continuing relevance and beautiful words. His deep knowledge of what makes human beings tick, despite writing four hundred years ago, knocks me for six every time.