Monday, April 20, 2015

A post about Macbeth that I think I wrote, but forgot about for a few years

Poor little abandoned blog. Let's just pretend the extended hiatus never happened, shall we?

Ahem. (I had a baby and went on mat leave and changed schools again and took up weaving).

So, I think that English teachers should write the essays they assign. I've felt that way for a while, and this year, being back from maternity leave, I definitely have failed at this ideological resolution, but with the perspective motherhood brings comes the realization that failure is just life.

Discuss. Just kidding, that's what I'll do.

Anyway, I want to start posting things on this blog again, mostly to preserve in digital stone the experiments and ideas of my year back in the saddle. I found this post, which is an old essay that I think I wrote with the intention of publishing but never got around to it. It certainly reads like my attempt at impersonating Camille Paglia's poetic analysis, so there. So I'll post this here as a challenge of sorts to other practicing English teachers: those essays that merit the highest grades- could you write them? Though I admit the essay below is a little on the wordy side (read: someone loves her thesaurus), I think I could write a hundred-percent essay every time. Reading comprehension, well, that's different.

p.s. Did I plagiarize this? If anyone else wrote this, please let me know and I'll take it down or credit you. But I think I wrote it. (Three years ago- before I had a baby and so clearly had too much time on my hands.)

Macbeth's relationship with the state
For King and Country! The battle cry is brief and direct, and so is the meaning: in the hearts and minds of the British people that uttered them, King and Country are firmly and justly tied together. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the word King is amended to Tyrant and the image of country becomes that of a bleeding Christ. Instead of nurturing, right and holy, Macbeth's is unnatural, paradoxical and without sacrament. Macbeth's relationship with the land of Scotland is such that he hurts it, and leaves it changed, both ideologically and geographically. Just as Macbeth turned his back on God when he plunged his dagger into Duncan, so too did he turn his back on Scotland. 
The opening paradox of the play, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" (Act 1, scene 1, line 12) acquaints the attentive audience with the fundamental paradigm shift that is the basis of the play. In this play, their chanting tells us, what was right is now wrong, what was good is now bad, and what is clear is now murky. This paradox infects everything: Macbeth's integrity, the role of England and the meaning of patriotism, even the most basic action and word may become perverted, or backwards. The presence of pathetic fallacy beginning in Act 2 take this paradigmatic change and brings it into the physical diagesis of the play. Jacobean England was a time when social orders and expectations were clear and immovable, so it is only natural that when Macbeth instigates the perversion of that order by committing the ultimate sacrilege the ground literally shifts beneath their feet: "the earth/ Was feverous and did shake." (Act 2, scene 3, line 65). Unfortunately for Scotland, Macbeth's choices inflict even worse upon the land, and we hear that the Old Man in Act 2 senses right away that whatever is going on with the land is dreadful, strange and unnatural. By Act 4, the damage has escalated to the point where Malcolm shares, "I think our country sinks beneath the yoke;/ It weeps, it bleeds; and each new day a gash/ Is added to her wounds" (Act 4, scene 3, lines 39-41). Scotland is presented to the audience like a bleeding Messiah in a prolonged crucifixion scene, reminiscient of the other "Golgotha" (Act 1, scene 2, line 44) that Macbeth evoked back when he deserved the name "brave Macbeth" (Act 1, scene 2, line 18). The eclipse is another feature that ties the murder of Duncan to the crucifixion of Jesus, and we wonder," Is't night's predominance, or the day's shame,/ That darkness does the face of earth entomb,/ When living light should kiss it?" (Act 2, scene 4, line 9-11). 
Does the blame for Duncan's murder lie solely with Macbeth, the perpetrator of the act, or is his sin like Adam's, and all of humanity (in this case, Scotland) is left to suffer for his choice? It is certainly a frightening prospect that the lack of light in the kingdom may signal the complete control of the powers of darkness, but at this point in the play, the Macbeth's "are yet but young in deed." (Act 3, scene 4, line 144). This religious allusion likening Scotland's suffering to Christ's reinforces this possibility that though Macbeth has turned his back on God, God has not abandoned Scotland. We are not dealing with the vengeful and terse Old Testament God who abruptly threw the sinners out of the garden. Instead, "the heavens, as troubled with man's act,/ Threaten his bloody stage" (Act 2, scene 4, line 6-7), and the threat in this land is not an attack on the people of Scotland. Rather, since Scotland's new king has turned a deaf ear to God, these unnatural movements and sounds that plague the land is perhaps the only way God's will can still be heard. The reign that Macbeth brings to Scotland is so terrible and so damaging that he makes it ideologically impossible to be a patriotic Scot. By the end of Act 3, to be a true Scotsman is to be a traitor to the king, as Lennox voices aloud "that a swift blessing/ May soon return to this our suffering country/ Under a hand accursed! " (Act 3, scene 6, lines 4-10). That Lennox refers to whatever may relieve the country of Macbeth's hand as a "blessing" reveals his understanding (explicit or inuitive) of the taint that the witches have left on Macbeth's rule, since the notion of King and God should be revered as one and the same. The most lasting and physically impressive change that Macbeth's regime brings about in Scotland is the movement of Birnam wood to the foot of Scone. When Macbeth boastfully asks "Who can impress the forest, bid the tree/ Unfix his earth-bound root? " (Act 4, scene 1, lines 96-97), he is in his rights to ask, for even the King has no physical command over the trees and rocks that make up his Kingdom. 
Malcolm, in pursuit of the throne and revenge for his father's death, both of which are rightfully his, is desperate enough to save his country that he commands the English army to hack it to peices: "Let every soldier hew him down a bough" (Act 5, scene 4, line 6). This act, at once cunning and damaging, is another paradoxial example of hurting the country to save it, a paradox made possible only though Macbeth's unnatural reign. Which leads us to what it is that is so unnatural about Macbeth's reign. Nevermind the obvious fact that he was never born to be king, that the "borrowed robes", "fruitless crown and...barren sceptre" were stolen in a violent and bloody act of treason. That Macbeth acted on his ambition and attempted to rise in his station is almost admirable, and the desire for advancement is understandable, if not universal. It's that Macbeth made no attempt to forge the relationship with the country that a king should have, as decreed by God. 
Macbeth's time on the throne had nothing to do with Scotland, or its people. During his tortuous reign, Macbeth was fully consumed with one thing: himself. His schemes, his whispered conversations with his wife, focused all on "the golden round", the "throne" and being "safely thus". He abandoned the country when he abandoned his morality, and the country suffers in the same physical way that he did: no sleep becomes no silence, no prayers become no sun. Macbeth's relationship with the land isn't similar to his relationship with God, it is his with relationship with God: severed and abandoned.

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