It has not taken long for my summer plan to collapse upon itself like a dying star, though I would give my faithful female followers some hope in stating that I am nearly through with Jane Eyre (so far: lovely), and I will continue the endeavor I began, though I am sure many novels I long to read this summer will have to be put on hold. The reason for all of this has been many distractions including the fact that I have read Macbeth once again. I was fortunate enough to get placed for student teaching in May and subsequently meet my mentor teacher who gladly informed me I will be in a British literature class of college prep seniors and will more than likely be teaching the aforementioned play for my weighty teacher work sample (TWS). This news was received with both glee and absolute fear.
Who — alive or dead, old or young, studied or unstudied — can really give Shakespeare justice? I am alive, young and painfully unstudied, and as incredible, as enjoyable, as momentous as teaching Shakespeare can (and will) be, what exactly does a young man have to say with any sort of authority at all on the greatest English writer who has ever lived? Can a child — or perhaps even an aspiring parent — really critique a parent? Can they even praise as thoroughly as they should? They can certainly stand back in awe. We can stand in awe of something we do not understand but to genuinely praise something that is so far above us is far more difficult. Does Mr. Snodgrass critique Milton? The aspiring writer as with any one of expertise cannot be too modest. Thus, it is because of my knowledge of myself and the reverence I give Shakespeare that I will be spending a lot more time on the play this summer than was originally planned. And this is what we should get on to for I am sick of speaking abstractly about my incompetence.
I decided to re-read Macbeth (and we should remember that we have not read a book until we have read it twice) quickly as one would read any book before diving into the play and analyzing it. This, in my opinion, is really how all reading should be done the first time around. Of course, note taking is fine as I take notes on characters and plot just to help myself with the story. But reading should really be enjoyable, and so that is what I did the second/first time through (as the first time was in high school probably five or six years ago).
Therefore, much like reading should be an enjoyable process, everyone, in my biased argument, should read Shakespeare but should only do so out of enjoyment. Because Shakespeare is so deep, so rich linguistically that enjoying him is really not all that difficult. If you like words, you can and should like Shakespeare, and I would venture to guess that no one has any issues with words in general. A professor of mine once asked the class what constitutes good writing, and a very bright student said (in doubtful so many words) it was the ability to describe something, an action — be it ordinary or not — in such a way that no one has done before. I believe she was exactly right, and this is what one experiences with poetry, and Shakespeare is the best poet.
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, / The instruments of darkness tell us truths, / Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s / In deepest consequence — Banquo
There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face — Duncan
Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires: / The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, / Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. — Macbeth
False face must hide what the false heart doth know. — Macbeth
Why I find Shakespeare so fascinating though is because I am very much interested in narrative and story (this is why musicals frustrate me, for they interrupt the story). Likewise, as my fellow student was so astute to point out, I believe stories told in ways uncommon to us are the best told. To see an action from a different perspective is enlightening and altogether enjoyable. This is why stories told in poetry, in my opinion, are often much better than those in prose. The reader of prose will certainly be rewarded at the end of his story but it, in my mind at least, cannot compare to the reward of the one who reads poetry. For the one who reads poetry has both the battles and the war. Every line of poetry in a Shakespeare play has to almost be read six or seven times before the modern reader (me) can even figure out what it is saying let alone interpret it which is another matter entirely. This, I am sure is what frustrates Shakespeare’s readers so much. Frankly, it does take a lot of work, but I do promise that the work will not go unrewarded. When you finally get it, you begin to see what that brilliant man was doing all along (or perhaps, in some plays, trying to do), and the effect is amazing.
In Macbeth we see a man promised a fortune from a fiend and how he slowly corrupts himself with visions of grandeur. “If no one sees — if there are no consequences — does that make it a sin?” seems to be the question asked in his pondering to kill Duncan.
If it were done — when ’tis done — then ’twere well / It were done quickly: if th’ assassination / Could trammel up the consequence, and catch, / With his surcease, success; that but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all here, / But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, / We’ld jump the life to come. But in these cases / We still have judgement here; that we but teach / Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return / To plague th’ inventor: this even-handed justice plagues / Commends th’ ingredients of our poison’d chalice / To our own lips. — Macbeth
His folly follows him and corrupts his wife who is also destroyed by her own lusts as she can see her own wickedness and doom in proclaiming: “Out damned spot! out, I say!–One, two; why then ’tis time to do’t,–Hell is murky!” It really is Lady Macbeth in my opinion who not only controls Macbeth but who nearly controls the entire play. Unlike Richard III and Hamlet who do not seem to be influenced (though perhaps Hamlet is by the Ghost now that I think about it), Macbeth is really driven by his lunatic wife who calls him a coward and emasculates him to the point of his ill deed.
Yet we must close this brief and insufficient analysis on a good note, and that is a distinguishing trait I have noticed in the few Shakespeare tragedies I have read: the inclusion of humor. Dickens used this same technique as his novels displayed humor in action in between the serious moments of his stories. Macbeth has a brief bit of humor in the porter’s analysis of strong drink and what it provokes, and though I’m certainly not a moralist or a prude, as I read this joke again it is actually a bit too crass for this particular blog (a family friendly blog no doubt!). I will say it is funny however, and this leads to my last point anyways, and that is the challenge for you to include some Shakespeare into your life. Do not overdue it. I would suggest a play a year. Read it, study it, analyze it (use Spark notes, very helpful! but do challenge yourself), but above all enjoy it for what it is. I could go another blog on the benefits of doing so, but perhaps this post did enough. If the Lord is so gracious, I will be writing/updating about my experience of teaching such a daunting task. Come December, when that glorious shining orb brightly called “the degree” sets eternally and the future beckons anew as the “punctual servant of all work,” my future, rises on the other side of our globe and a new season of sorts begins, I dearly hope I can proudly say I was not “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”