Macbeth, Knights asserts, attempts to restore order to the confusion caused by Duncan's murder, but fails tragically because his efforts rely on murder. He further states that the natural order is reestablished by the forces of Malcolm and Macduff, who are associated with supernatural grace.] Macbeth is a statement of evil. I use the word "statement" (unsatisfactory as it is) in order to stress those qualities which are "nondramatic," if drama is defined according to the canons of William Archer or Dr. Bradley. It also happens to be poetry, which means that the apprehension of the whole can only be obtained from a lively attention to the parts, whether they have an immediate bearing on the main action or "illustrate character," or not. Two main themes, which can only be separated for the purpose of analysis, are blended in the play,-the themes of the reversal of values and of unnatural disorder. And closely related to each is a third theme, that of the deceitful appearance, and consequent doubt, uncertainty and confusion. All this is obscured by false assumptions about the category "drama"; Macbeth has greater affinity with The Waste Land than with The Doll's House. Each theme is stated in the first act. The first scene, every word of which will bear the closest scrutiny, strikes one dominant chord: Faire is foule, and foule is faire, Hover through the fogge and filthie ayre. [I. i. 11-12] It is worth remarking that "Hurley-burley" implies more than "the tumult of sedition or insurrection." Both it and "when the Battaile's lost, and wonne"[I. i. 4] suggest the kind of metaphysical pitch-and-toss which is about to be played with good and evil. At the same time we hear the undertone of uncertainty: the scene opens with a question, and the second line suggests a region where the elements are disintegrated as they never are in nature; thunder and lightning are disjoined, and offered as alternatives. We should notice also that the scene expresses the same rhythm as the play as a whole: the general crystallizes into the immediate particular ("Where the place?"- "Upon the Heath."-"There to meet with Macbeth." [I. i. 6-7] and then dissolves again into the general presentment of hideous gloom. All is done with the greatest speed, economy and precision. The second scene is full of images of confusion. It is a general principle in the work of Shakespeare and many of his contemporaries that when A is made to describe X, a minor character or event, the description is not merely immediately applicable to X, it helps to determine the way in which our whole response shall develop. This is rather crudely recognised when we say that certain lines "create the atmosphere" of the play. Shakespeare's power is seen in the way in which details of this kind develop, check, or provide a commentary upon the main interests which he has aroused. In the present scene the description Doubtfull it stood, As two spent Swimmers, that doe cling together, And choake their Art [I. ii. 7-9] applies not only to the battle but to the ambiguity of Macbeth's future fortunes. The impression conveyed is not only one of violence but of unnatural violence ("to bathe in reeking wounds"[I. ii. 39]) and of a kind of nightmare gigantismWhere the Norweyan Banners flowt the Skie, And fanne our people cold. [I. ii. 49-50] (These lines alone should be sufficient answer to those who doubt the authenticity of the scene). When Duncan says, ‘What he hath lost, Noble Macbeth hath wonne" [I. ii. 67], we hear the echo, So from that Spring, whence comfort seem'd to come, Discomfort swells, [I. ii. 27-8] -and this is not the only time the Captain's words can be applied in the course of the play. Nor is it fantastic to suppose that in the account of Macdonwald Shakespeare consciously provided a parallel with the Macbeth of the later acts when "The multiplying Villanies of Nature swarme upon him" [I. ii. 11]. After all, everybody has noticed the later parallel between Macbeth and Cawdor ("He was a Gentleman, on whom I built an absolute Trust" [I. iv. 13-14]). A poem works by calling into play, directing and integrating certain interests. If we really accept the suggestion, which then becomes revolutionary, that Macbeth is a poem, it is clear that the impulses aroused in Act I, Scenes I and II, are part of the whole response, even if they are not all immediately relevant to the fortunes of the protagonist. If these scenes are "the botching work of an interpolator" he botched to pretty good effect. In Act I, Scene III, confusion is succeeded by uncertainty ... The whole force of the uncertainty of the scene is gathered into Macbeth's soliloquy, This supematurall solliciting Cannot be ill; cannot be good ... [I. iii. 130-31] which with its sickening see-saw rhythm completes the impression of "a phantasma, or a hideous dream" [Julius Caesar, II. i. 65]. Macbeth's echoing of the Witches’ "Faire is foule" has often been commented upon. In contrast to the preceding scenes, Act I, Scene IV suggests the natural order which is shortly to be violated. It stresses: natural relationships-"children," "servants," "sons" and kinsmen"; honourable bonds and the political order-"liege," "thanes," "service," "duty," "loyalty," "throne," "state" and "honour"; and the human "love" is linked to the more purely natural by images of husbandry. Duncan says to Macbeth, I have begun to plant thee, and will labour To make thee full of growing. [I. iv. 28-9] When he holds Banquo to his heart Banquo replies, There if I grow, The Harvest is your owne. [I. iv. 32-3] Duncan's last speech is worth particular notice, ... in his commendations, I am fed: It is a Banquet to me. [I. iv. 55-6] At this point something should be said of what is meant by "the natural order." In Macbeth this comprehends both "wild nature"-birds, beasts and reptiles-and humankind since "humane statute purg'd the gentle Weale" [III. iv. 75]. The specifically human aspect is related to the concept of propriety and degree,- communities, Degrees in Schooles and Brother-hoods in Cities, Peacefull Commerce from dividable shores, The primogenitive, and due of byrth, Prerogative of Age, Crownes, Scepters, Lawrels. [Troilus and Cressida, I. iii. 103-07] In short, it represents society in harmony with nature, bound by love and friendship, and ordered by law and duty. It is one of the main axes of reference by which we take our emotional bearings in the play. In the light of this the scene of Duncan's entry into the castle gains in significance. The critics have often remarked on the irony. What is not so frequently observed is that the key words of the scene are "loved," "wooingly," "bed," "procreant Cradle," "breed, and haunt," all images of love and procreation, supernaturally sanctioned, for the associations of "temple-haunting" colour the whole of the speeches of Banquo and Duncan. We do violence to the play when we ignore Shakespeare's insistence upon the "holy supernatural" as opposed to the "supernaturall solliciting" of the Witches. I shall return to this point. Meanwhile it is pertinent to remember that Duncan himself is "The Lords anoynted Temple" [II. iii. 68]. The murder is explicitly presented as unnatural. After the greeting of Ross and Angus, Macbeth's heart knocks at his ribs "against the use of Nature" [I. iii. 137]. Lady Macbeth fears his "humane kindnesse"; she wishes herself "unsexed," that she may be troubled by "no compunctious visitings of Nature," and invokes the "murth'ring Ministers" who "wait on Natures Mischiefe" [I. v. 17-50]. The murder i when Nature seemes dead, and wicked Dreames The Curtain'd sleepe, and it is accompanied by portents "unnaturall, deed that's done" [II. iv. 10-11]. The sun remai and Duncan's horses "Turn'd wilde in nature" (pp. 34-41) "Confusion now hath made his Master-peece" and in the lull that follows the discovery of the r and an Old Man as chorus, echo the theme of u order. The scene (and the act) ends with a "sent Old Man which is capable of three interpretation Gods benyson go with you, and with those That would make good of bad, and Friends It may refer to Ross who intends to make the t business, by accepting Macbeth as king. It may duff who is destined to "make good of bad" b the evil. More important, in its immediate appli refer to Macbeth, for the next movement is conce attempt to make good of bad by restoring the n the tragedy lies in his failure. A key is found in Macbeth's words spoken to th to murder Banquo [III. i. 91-100]. When Dr. Bi cussing the possibility that Macbeth has been ab marks ..., "surely, anyone who wanted to cut tl would have operated, say, on Macbeth's talk w murderers, or on Act III, Scene VI, or on the very 1 of Malcolm and Macduff, instead of reducing the r part of the drama." No, the speech to the mur very "exciting"--but its function should be obvio who is not blinded by Dr. Bradley's preconce "drama." By accepted canons it is an irrelevanc stands as a symbol of the order that Macbeth wish In the catalogue Hounds, and Greyhounds, Mungrels, Spaniels Showghes, Water-Rugs, and Demy-Wolves are merely "dogs," but Macbeth names each one and the valued file Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the sub The House-keeper, the Hunter, every one According to the gift, which bounteous N Hath in him clos'd. It is an image of order, each one in his degree. At I of the scene, we remember, Macbeth had arrange "a solemn supper," at which "society" shou come." And when alone he suggests the ancient I rejecting in idea the symbols of their contrariesCrowne," "a barren Scepter," and an "unlineall’ But this new "health" is "sickly" whilst Banqi can only be made "perfect" by his death. In recreate an order based on murder, disorder ma roads. This is made explicit in the next scene (A II). Here the snake, usually represented as the mi of creatures, stands for the natural order which is committed "scotched" but which will "close, and be her selfe" [III. ii. 13-14]. abuse At this point in the play there is a characteristic confusion. At the end of Act III, Scene II, Macbeth says, "Things bad begun, [II. i. 50-1] make strong themselves by ill" [III. ii. 55-6], that is, all that even like the he can do is to ensure his physical security by a second crime, ns obscured, although earlier [III. i. 106-07] he had aimed at complete [II. iv. 16]. "health" by the death of Banquo and Fleance, and later he says that the murder of Fleance would have made him [II. iii. 66], perfect, nurder, Ross Whole as the Marble, founded as the Rocke. nnatural dis[III. iv. 20-1] ence" by the The two possibilities are only gradually disentangled. (pp. 43-6) s: Although the play moves swiftly, it does not move with a of Foes. simple directness. Its complex subtleties include cross currents, [II. iv. 40-1] the ebb and flow of opposed thoughts and emotions. The scene in Macduff's castle, made up of doubts, riddles, paradoxes and best of a bad uncertainties, ends with an affirmation, "Thou ly'st thou shaggerefer to Macear'd Villaine." But this is immediately followed, not by the Ly destroying downfall of Macbeth, but by a long scene which takes up once cation it may more the theme of mistrust, disorder and evil. red with his iatural order; The conversation between Macduff and Malcolm has never been adequately explained. We have already seen Dr. Bradley's opinion of it. The Clarendon editors say, "The poet no doubt he men hired felt this scene was needed to supplement the meagre parts radley is disassigned to Malcolm and Macduff." If this were all, it might ridged he rebe omitted. Actually the Malcolm-Macduff dialogue has at least he play down three functions. Obviously Macduff's audience with Malcolm ith Banquo's and the final determination to invade Scotland help on the story, long dialogue but this is of subordinate importance. It is clear also that Malmost exciting colm's suspicion and the long testing of Macduff emphasize derers is not the mistrust which has spread from the central evil of the play. us to anyone But the main purpose of the scene is obscured unless we realize eptions about its function as choric commentary. In alternating speeches the :e; actually it evil which Macbeth has caused is explicitly stated, without es to restore. extenuation. And it is stated impersonally.... With this approach we see the relevance of Malcolm's self-accusation. He Curres, has ceased to be a person. His lines repeat and magnify the evils which have already been attributed to Macbeth, acting as [III. i. 92-3] a mirror wherein the ills of Scotland are reflected. And the statement of evil is strengthened by contrast with the opposite individually; virtues, "As Justice, Verity, Temp'rance, Stablenesse" [IV. iii. 92]. There is no other way in which the scene can be read. And if *tle, dramatic fitness is not sufficient warrant for this approach, we can refer to the pointers which Shakespeare has provided. MacNature beth is "luxurious" and "avaricious," and the first sins mentioned by Malcolm in an expanded statement are lust and av[III. i. 94-8] arice. When he declares, the beginning Nay, had I powre, I should ed "a feast," Id "b "fwel Poure the sweet Milke of Concord, into Hell, armoies by Uprore the universall peace, confound harmonies by Sa fruitlesse All unity on earth, "a ruitlccession. [IV. iii. 97-100] " succession. uo lives, and we remember that this is what Macbeth has done. Indeed Macan attempt to duff is made to answer, kes fresh inAct III, Scene These Evils thou repeat'st upon thy selfe, ost venomous Hath banish'd me from Scotland. Macbeth has [IV. iii. 112-13] Up to this point at least the impersonal function of the speaker is predominant. And even when Malcolm, once more a person in a play, announces his innocence, it is impossible not to hear the impersonal overtone: For even now I put my selfe to thy Direction, and Unspeake mine owne detraction. Heere abjure The taints, and blames I laide upon my selfe, For strangers to my Nature. [IV. iii. 121-25] He speaks for Scotland, and for the forces of order. The "scotch'd Snake" will "close, and be herselfe." There are only two alternatives; either Shakespeare was a bad dramatist, or his critics have been badly misled by mistaking the dramatis personae for real persons in this scene. Unless of course the ubiquitous Interpolator has been at work upon it. I have called Macbeth a statement of evil; but it is a statement not of philosophy but of ordered emotion. This ordering is of course a continuous process (hence the importance of the scrupulous analysis of each line), it is not merely something that happens in the last act corresponding to the denouement or unravelling of the plot. All the same the interests aroused are heightened in the last act before they are finally "placed," and we are given a vantage point from which the whole course of the drama may be surveyed in retrospect. There is no formula which will describe this final effect. It is no use saying that we are "quietened," "purged" or "exalted" at the end of Macbeth or of any other tragedy. It is no use taking one step nearer the play and saying we are purged, etc., because we see the downfall of a wicked man or because we realize the justice of Macbeth's doom whilst retaining enough sympathy for him or admiration of his potential qualities to be filled with a sense of "waste." It is no use discussing the effect in abstract terms at all; we can only discuss it in terms of the poet's concrete realization of certain emotions and attitudes. At this point it is necessary to return to what I have [said elsewhere] . . . about the importance of images of grace and of the holy supernatural in the play. .. . [For] the last hundred years or so the critics have not only sentimentalized Macbethignoring the completeness with which Shakespeare shows his final identification with evil-but they have slurred the passages in which the positive good is presented by means of religious symbols. In Act III the banquet scene is immediately followed by a scene in which Lennox and another Lord (both completely impersonal) discuss the situation; the last half of their dialogue is of particular importance. The verse has none of the power of, say, Macbeth's soliloquies, but it would be a mistake to call it undistinguished; it is serenely harmonious, and its tranquillity contrasts with the turbulence of the scenes which immediately precede it and follow it, as its images of grace contrast with their "toile and trouble." Macduff has fled to "the Pious Edward," "the Holy King," who has received Malcolm "with such grace." Lennox prays for the aid of "some holy Angell," that a swift blessing May soone returne to this our suffering Country, Under a hand accurs'd. [III. vi. 45-9] And the "other Lord" answers, "Ile send my Prayers with him" [III. vi. 49]. Many of the phrases are general and abstract-"grace," "the malevolence of Fortune," "his high respect"-but one passage has an individual particularity that gives it prominence: That by the helpe of these (with him above To ratifie the Worke) we may againe Give to our Tables meate, sleepe to our Nights: Free from our Feasts, and Banquets bloody knives; Do faithful Homage, and receive free Honors, All which we pine for now. [III. vi. 32-7] Food and sleep, society and the political order are here, as before, represented as supernaturally sanctioned. I have suggested that this passage is recalled for a moment in Lady Macduff's answer to the Murderer [IV. ii. 81-2], and it is certainly this theme which is taken up when the Doctor enters in Act IV, Scene III; the reference to the King's Evil may be a compliment to King James, but it is not merely that. We have only to remember that the unseen Edward stands for the powers that are to prove "the Med'cine of the sickly Weale" [V. ii. 27] of Scotland to see the double meaning in there are a crew of wretched Soules That stay his Cure .... [IV. iii. 141-42] Their disease "is called the Evill" [IV. iii. 146]. The "myraculous worke," the "holy Prayers," "the healing Benediction," Edward's "vertue," the "sundry Blessings . . . that speake him full of Grace" [IV. iii. 147-59] are reminders not only of the evil against which Malcolm is seeking support, but of the positive qualities against which the evil and disorder must be measured. Scattered notes ("Gracious England," "Christendome," "heaven," "gentle Heavens") remind us of the theme until the end of the scene when we know that Macbeth (the "Hell-Kite," "this Fiend of Scotland") Is ripe for shaking, and the Powers above Put on their Instruments. [IV. iii. 238-39] The words quoted are not mere formalities; they have a positive function, and help to determine the way in which we shall respond to the final scenes. (pp. 49-57) We have already noticed the association of the ideas of disease and of the unnatural in these final scenesunnatural deeds Do breed unnatural troubles, [V. i. 71-2] and there is propriety in Macbeth's highly charged metaphor, My way of life Is falne into the Seare, the yellow Leafe. [V. iii. 22-3] But the unnatural has now another part to play, in the peculiar "reversal" that takes place at the end of Macbeth. Hitherto the agent of the unnatural has been Macbeth. Now it is Malcolm who commands Birnam Wood to move, it is "the good Macduff" who reveals his unnatural birth, and the opponents of Macbeth whose "deere causes" would "excite the mortified man" [V. ii. 5]. Hitherto Macbeth has been the deceiver, "mocking the time with fairest show" [I. vii. 81]; now Malcolm orders, Let every Souldier hew him downe a Bough, And bear't before him, thereby shall we shadow The numbers of our Hoast, and make discovery Erre in report of us. [V. iv. 4-7] Our first reaction is to make some such remark as "Nature becomes unnatural in order to rid itself of Macbeth." But this is clearly inadequate; we have to translate it and define our impressions in terms of our response to the play at this point. By associating with the opponents of evil the ideas of deceit and of the unnatural, previously associated solely with Macbeth and the embodiments of evil, Shakespeare emphasizes the disorder and at the same time frees our minds from the burden of the horror. After all, the movement of Biram Wood and Macduff's unnatural birth have a simple enough explanation. There is a parallel here with the disorder of the last Act. It begins with Lady Macbeth sleepwalking-a "slumbry agitation’-and the remaining scenes are concerned with marches, stratagems, fighting, suicide, and death in battle. If we merely read the play we are liable to overlook the importance of the sights and sounds which are obvious on the stage. The frequent stage directions should be observed-Drum and Colours, Enter Malcolm ... and Soldiers Marching, A Cry within of Womenand there are continuous directions for Alarums, Flourishes, and fighting. Macduff orders, Make all our Trumpets speak, give them all breath, Those clamorous Harbingers of Blood, and Death, [V. vi. 9-10] and he traces Macbeth by the noise of fighting: That way the noise is: Tyrant shew thy face. ... There thou should'st be, By this great clatter, one of the greatest note Seemes bruited. [V. vii. 14-22] There are other suggestions of disorder throughout the Act. Macbeth cannot buckle his distemper'd cause Within the belt of Rule. [V. ii. 15-16] He orders, "Come, put mine Armour on," and almost in the same breath, "Pull't off I say" [V. iii. 48, 54]. His "Royal Preparation" is a noisy confusion. He wishes "th’ estate o’ th’ world were now undon" [V. v. 49], though the tone is changed now since he bade the Witches answer him, Though bladed Come be lodg'd, and Trees blown downe, Though Castles topple on their Warders heads: Though Pallaces, and Pyramids do slope Their heads to their Foundations. [IV. i. 55-8] But all this disorder has now a positive tendency, towards the good which Macbeth had attempted to destroy, and which he names as "Honor, Love, Obedience, Troopes of Friends" [V. iii. 25]. At the beginning of the battle Malcolm says, Cosins, I hope the dayes are neere at hand That Chambers will be safe, and Menteith answers, "We doubt it nothing" [V. iv. 1-2]. Siward takes up the theme of certainty as opposed to doubt: Thoughts speculative, their unsure hopes relate, But certaine issue, stroakes must arbitrate, Towards which, advance the warre. [V. iv. 19-21] And doubt and illusion are finally dispelled: Now neere enough: Your leavy Skreenes throw downe, And shew like those you are. [V. vi. 1-3] By now there should be no danger of our misinterpreting the greatest of Macbeth's final speeches. Life's but a walking Shadow, a poore Player, That struts and frets his houre upon the Stage, And then is heard no more. It is a Tale Told by an Ideot, full of sound and fury Signifying nothing. [V. v. 24-28] The theme of the false appearance is revived-with a difference. It is not only that Macbeth sees life as deceitful, but the poetry is so fine that we are almost bullied into accepting an essential ambiguity in the final statement of the play, as though Shakespeare were expressing his own "philosophy" in the lines. But the speech is "placed" by the tendency of the last Act (order emerging from disorder, truth emerging from behind deceit), culminating in the recognition of the Witches’ equivocation ("And be these Jugling Fiends no more believ'd ..." [V. viii. 19]), the death of Macbeth, and the last words of Siward, Macduff and Malcolm.... This tendency has behind it the whole weight of the positive values which Shakespeare has already established, and which are evoked in Macbeth's speechMy way of life Is falne into the Seare, the yellow Leafe, And that which should accompany Old-Age, As Honor, Love, Obedience, Troopes of Friends, I must not looke to have: but in their stead, Curses, not lowd but deepe, Mouth-honor, breath Which the poore heart would faine deny, and dare not. Dr. Bradley claims, on the strength of this and the "To-morrow, and to-morrow" speech, that Macbeth's "ruin is never complete. To the end he never totally loses our sympathy.... In the very depths a gleam of his native love of goodness, and with it a tinge of tragic grandeur, rests upon him" [see excerpt above, 1904]. Dr. Bradley's emotion is out of place; the statement is impersonal. It is the keystone of the system which gives emotional coherence to the play. Certainly the system will remain obscured if we concentrate our attention upon "the two great terrible figures, who dwarf all the remaining characters of the drama," if we ignore the "unexciting" or "undramatic scenes," or if conventional "sympathy for the hero" is allowed to distort the pattern of the whole. (pp. 59-64) L. C. Knights, in his How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth? An Essay in the Theory and Practice of Shakespeare Criticism, The Minority Press, 1933, 70p.
Source Citation
Knights, L. C. "Article by L. C. Knights." Shakespearean Criticism, edited by Laurie Lanzen Harris and Mark W. Scott, vol. 3, Gale, 1986. Literature Criticism Online, Accessed 14 Dec. 2017. Originally published in How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth? An Essay in the Theory and Practice of Shakespeare Criticism, The, by L. C. Knights, Minority Press, 1933.

Gale Document Number: GALE|IXYRKQ139205073