Friday, April 20, 2012

Frank McGuinness on 'Macbeth'

Yesterday afternoon at the Abbey Theatre, as part of the UCD/Abbey Shakespeare Lecture Series 2012, the playwright Frank McGuinness gave a lecture on Macbeth. Here are some notes from what he said:-
  • The opening scene poses the key question: do you believe in magic / black magic / witchcraft? It presents us with a world where the abnormal is normal. The play erupts in a series of shocks. It will be a play of extremes. Nothing is certain. In this void, anything can happen.
  • The witches create the geography of a perilous terrain. 'Fair is foul, and foul is fair' reverberates everywhere.
  • The play, which will be full of frenzy, starts in that most patient of actions: waiting.
  • Scotland seems to be on the edge of Armageddon, but the expected calamity does not happen. The country is saved by two men. - Macbeth and Banquo. But only the former is rewarded by Duncan. Is he sowing the seeds of discord between the two men to deflect attention from his appointment of Malcolm as heir? Is he protecting his family priorities?
  • Omens (such as appointing Macbeth Thane of Cawdor) undermine ideas of success, both political and personal.
  • In Shakespeare, regicide is always cataclysmic - a crime against soul, state, self.
  • In her first appearance, Lady Macbeth is reading a letter; in The Playboy of the Western World, Pegeen Mike first appears writing a letter. Both are eventually destroyed - Lady Macbeth by the witches and her husband's ambitions, Pegeen Mike by the peasant society in which she lives.
  • Children haunt the play. Central is the issue of the Macbeths' child. Lady Macbeth is fantasising: her imaginary 'child' is a strategy to deny suffering. Her idea that she would kill her own child is the darkest territory in a dark play. Macbeth has been a success in everything, but in this one area he has failed.
  • The Macbeths pervert their heterosexual relationship in their consummation of their marriage by murder. They are deeply energised by the reversal of roles, turned on by their violent fantasies.
  • In the soliloquy ("If it were done...") in I vii we see the strands which hold Macbeth's sanity together. This a mind trying to make sense of itself. It is different to Hamlet's soliloquising: he is trying to rationalise. Then Lady Macbeth demolishes his arguments.
  • After the murder, the constructions that they have built for themselves start to fall apart. They no longer talk to each other, but at themselves.
  • Macbeth has a uniquely uneasy sense of self, endlessly making and unmaking himself. He obliterates his own substance, and becomes an apparition.
  • Shakespeare makes sure that Macbeth has no rival in terms of poetic eloquence.
  • Macbeth is the loneliest of all Shakespeare's heroes.
  • In the "Tomorrow" speech, each image is deliberately dissociated from the one before it. Macbeth has reduced himself to a walking shadow, a poor player.
  • In this play, self-knowledge offers no self-protection.
  • At the end it might seem that right has reasserted itself, that humanity has defeated witchcraft, but witchcraft has also defeated humanity.
  • This is the most mad and also the most wise of dramas.

No comments: