Ridding ourselves of Macbeth
by: Lisa Low
"Unlike most tragic heroes, Macbeth is much less sinned against than sinning, which
makes him a strange candidate for our affections. He does not fall prey to infirmity like Lear, nor is he ignorant of what
he does like Oedipus. He is not like Romeo, well-intentioned but to hasty; nor is he like Hamlet, Romeo's inverse, too cool.
To hot to stop, to cool to feel. Macbeth is no Romeo and no Hamlet. He is a friend and a butcher. Standing before him
we cannot but be paralyzed with fear.
And yet, aknost against our wills, we are drawn to Macbeth. We
should not be, but we are. We are with him in his darkest hours and though we cannot especially hope for his success, we share
with him the uncomfortale feelings that what must be done must be done and that what has been done cannot be undone. Banquo,
who we come to feel us a threat to ourselves, however good, must be eliminated. So must Fleance, Macduff's wife and children,
or anyone else whos stangs in the highway of our intense progress. Thinking that "to be thus is nothing, but to be safely
thus," and wishing with "barefaced power" to sweep him from our sights, we stradle the play repelled by, but irresistibly
drawn to Macbeth.
We listen to Macbeth as we listen to the beatings of our hearts. Engaged in the play,
we think our hands are upon the wrists in blood and we startle at the knockings at our doors. Watching Macbeth, we suspect
the height and depth of our own evil, testing ourselves up to the waist in the waters if some bloody lake. Allowed to do that
which we must not do, guaranteed that we shall suffer for it, we watch Macbeth by laying our ears up against the door where
our own silent nightmares are proceeding. There we see ourselves projected, gone somehow suddenly wrong, participating in
the unforgivable, pursued by the unforgiving, which is most of all, ourselves.
Why should this be? Why
are we so drawn to Macbeth by whom we must be at last repelled? Two reasons suggest themselves. First, we identify with Macbeth
because identification is the condition of the theatre, especially in a nearly expressionistic play like Macbeth where
the stage is the meeting ground between the hero's psyche and ours. Second, we pity Macbeth, because like us, he moves within
breathing distance of innocence.
As moral obscurity is the world in which Macbeth stands at the beginning
of this play, so it is the world in which we are seated watching the play, for the stage is both an extension of Macbeth's
mind and the field of our imaginations. There in the domed, dimly lit theatre we watch like swaddled infants, this two hours'
traffic, this our own strutting and fretting upon a bloody stage. Before us the Macbeths move like shadowy players, breif
candles, little vaporous forms sliding behind a scrim. As if standing in Plato's cave, we see, but at once remove, we listen,
but only to echoes, until we find ourselves fumbling along the corridors of our own dark psyches. There, supping on evil,
dripping to the waist in blood, we watch the Macbeths go out at last in a clatter of sound, pursued by furies. The play over
and the brief candles out, night flees, vapors vanish, and light is restored.
We identify with Macbeth
because the theatre makes us suffer the illusion that we are Macbeth. We pity him because, like us, he stands next to innocence
in a world in which evil is a prerequisite for being human. Macbeth is motivelessly malicious. He savors no sadistic pleasure
in cruelty. Rather, set within reach of glory, he reaches and falls, and falling he is sick with remorse.
To have a clear conscience is to stand in the sun. To have a clouded conscience, one hovering between good and evil, between
desire and restraint, is to stand where most of us stand, in that strange and obscure purgatory where the wind is pocketed
with hot and cool trends, where the air is not nimble and sweet but fair and foul. This is the world of choice where thought
amd act and hand and eye are knit, but in a system of checks and balances.
Set within reach of triumph,
who is not tempted to reach? And who, plucking one, will not compulsively and helplessly pluck every apple from the apple
tree? For the line dividing self-preservation from ambition is often thin and we walk as if on a narrow cord above an abyss.
We have constantly to choose, almost against our wills, for good, for it is easier to fall than to fly. We identify with Macbeth
because we live in a dangerous world where a slip is likely to be a fall; but in the end, we must rip ourselves from him violently,
as of a curse, as of an intolerable knowledge of ourselves. Through him we pay our chief debts to the unthinkable are washed,
when we wake, up onto the white shores of our own innocence."