Welcome to The Valve

Valve Links

The Front Page
Statement of Purpose

John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Advanced Search

RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom


Powered by Expression Engine
Logo by John Holbo

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.



About Last Night
Academic Splat
Amardeep Singh
Bemsha Swing
Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogging the Renaissance
Butterflies & Wheels
Cahiers de Corey
Category D
Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
Chrononautic Log
Cogito, ergo Zoom
Collected Miscellany
Completely Futile
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Conversational Reading
Critical Mass
Crooked Timber
Culture Cat
Culture Industry
Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
Ferule & Fescue
Ghost in the Wire
Giornale Nuovo
God of the Machine
Golden Rule Jones
Grumpy Old Bookman
Ideas of Imperfection
In Favor of Thinking
In Medias Res
Inside Higher Ed
jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
John Crowley
Jonathan Goodwin
Kathryn Cramer
Languor Management
Light Reading
Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
Lime Tree
Limited Inc.
Long Pauses
Long Story, Short Pier
Long Sunday
Making Light
Maud Newton
Michael Berube
Motime Like the Present
Narrow Shore
Neil Gaiman
Old Hag
Open University
Pas au-delà
Planned Obsolescence
Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
Say Something Wonderful
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
Sorrow at Sills Bend
Sounds & Fury
Stochastic Bookmark
Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
The Intersection
The Litblog Co-Op
The Literary Saloon
The Literary Thug
The Little Professor
The Midnight Bell
The Mumpsimus
The Pinocchio Theory
The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
What Now?
William Gibson

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Macbeth and any half-decent contracts lawyer

Posted by Adam Roberts on 07/04/06 at 11:58 AM

Steven Saville and Alethea Kontis, moved by the suffering occasioned by the Asian tsunami, rounded up a group of SF writers to produce a charity volume: Elemental: The Tsunami Relief Anthology: Stories of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Tor 2006).  You should buy a copy, you know.

I wrote a story for it called ‘And Tomorrow And’; it’s one reason (really, one of least of many excellent reasons) to get the book.  The story is a comic-satiric take on Macbeth, starting from the premise that the prophesies that ‘do’ for Macbeth are really paper thin and shouldn’t ‘do’ for him at all.  For instance ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’ is clear enough, and watertight in terms of the play.  That Macduff was born by Caesarian section has no bearing in this charm; he’s still clearly born, and of woman too.  (It’s not as if the witches cast the spell that ‘none of woman vaginally born shall harm Macbeth’).  All the prophesies are like that, surely.  The story imagines an alternate ending for the play based on the charms doing precisely what Macbeth expects them to do.

Saville and Kontis asked all contributors to submit short pieces to head-up the stories, and I wrote the following.  I’m posting it here since it was more prolix than they needed and they only quote a small piece of it.  But it’s my perspective on the play as a comic tragedy, and follows up, in a way, what I was saying about Seneca.

With a writer as culturally ubiquitous and myriadminded as Shakespeare it seems to me inevitable that you encounter the plays as reflections upon your own consciousness rather than as objective entities in the outside world.  I have certainly learnt a number of important lessons from Macbeth, a play that has lived vividly inside my head ever since I first read it as a teenager.  When I was a school student I wrote an essay on the play which lifted its argument from the criticism of A C Bradley (I was as an impressionable youth, content to parrot the opinions of my elders and betters) that Macbeth was the only one of Shakespeare’s major tragic heroes without a sense of humour.  My English teacher, a great sensei called Derek Meteyard, scoffingly and quite properly, marked this essay right down.  ‘On the contrary, he has a very lively senses of humour,’ he told me, and pointed to, for instance, the scene where his hired assassin returns to report the successful murder of Banquo to Macbeth:

MACBETH:  There’s blood upon thy face.
FIRST MURDERER:  Tis Banquo’s, then.
MACBETH:  Tis better thee without than he within.

This last line—‘the blood is certainly better on your outside, than in Banquo’s inside’—is indeed darkly funny; and it is one example of many in the play.  From this episode I learnt a crucial lesson: don’t believe what a critic says just because they’re famous, or respected, or because they’ve gotten their opinion printed up in a book published by a University Press.  That’s a lesson that has served me well in my academic career.

Why was I so easily misled by Bradley?  The answer, of course, is that at the age of seventeen I read Macbeth through the lens of my miserable-teenager, melodramatic-depressive-gothic mindset – I read it, in other words, not as a play about a medieval Scottish King, but as about depression, and therefore, somehow, as about me; or more precisely about me at my most humourlessly glum and self-absorbed (‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow/creeps in this petty pace from day to day/and I am spottily adolescent/And can’t get girls to go out with me’ and so on).  Now I am forty [update; since last Friday that should read ‘forty-one’], and I find a different play when I read Macbeth.  It strikes me, indeed, as a quite astonishingly and perhaps horribly energetic play, aggressively and blackly comic at the same time as it rehearses its tragic dynamic.  It is a play based upon precisely the same misunderstandings and incongruities as farce, but it pushes its premise to a destructive, bloody exuberance that only gets more startlingly relevant in today’s world.  It is not a comedy in the conventional sense, of course.  But in today’s world it seems to me that there is also a need for that strong laughter in the face of disaster and death that is the expression of man and woman at their most heroic.  ‘I am going to die?  Ha-ha-ha!’

‘And Tomorrow…’ is a comic piece although not an especially cheery or giggly one.  I was intrigued by the disjunction between, on the one hand, the Gordian-knot vehemence with which Macbeth unleashes violence upon the things that restrict him, and, on the other, the pedantically legalistic terms of the prophesy that is his eventual undoing.  But I was more intrigued by the comic possibilities of reading this most bloody and murderous of Shakespeare’s plays as an articulation of a very modern sort of heroism, the refusal to simply crumple, the refusal to give up, the discovery of a strenuous and dark Joy in the face of extinction.  I was also struck that the pedantic and legalistic prophesies that doom Macbeth wouldn’t stand up ten minutes of cross-examination in a court of law by any half-decent contracts lawyer.


Add a comment:



Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below: