Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Out Damned Spot...Out I Say!

Anyone who's been through a halfway decent English class (and I can definitely say that Mrs. White's English class at Richland was so much more than decent) you have heard that particular line. If you are a senior in high school, it's so cool to say the line as Lady Macbeth slides deeper into insanity. Yes, it's cool then because you get to say a cuss word in class and nobody will get onto you for it. But as time passes, you have to wonder if any of the famous Shakespeare play is true.

The answer to that is sort of...

According to Shakespeare, Macbeth was a young Scottish noble who protected the country from an invasion by troops from Norway and Ireland. As a reward, the elderly king Duncan gives the hero a title. Witches tell Macbeth that he will become king at Duncan's death, so strong a ruler that he would only be defeated by a man not of woman born. They also tell Macbeth's friend Banquo that he (Banquo) will father a long line of kings. When Duncan visits Macbeth's castle, Lady Macbeth can't wait for the elderly king to die and make the prophecy come true so she goads her husband into killing the king so he can take the throne. Banquo doesn't quite believe the husband and wife tale that the guards did it so he definitely doesn't trust new King Macbeth. Macbeth doesn't trust Banquo either because of the prophecy and sets out to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance. He halfway accomplishes this because Fleance gets away. Lady Macbeth loses it because she thinks Duncan's blood is on her hands and she dies, most likely by suicide. The Scottish nobles turn against Macbeth and he is ultimately defeated by the young Macduff. How did Macduff win? Well, he wasn't actually "born;" he was delivered by Caesarean section.

Historically, Duncan was a very young man when he was king. So young in fact that he turned to older, more experienced men to help him rule his kingdom. One of these men was a seasoned soldier named Macbeth. Essentially, Macbeth (who already had a title, BTW) was the power behind the throne. Despite this power, Macbeth couldn't keep Duncan from entering into several ill-planned battles, including one in Macbeth's own territory in Scotland. But Macbeth still stood behind Duncan, advising him to the bitter end. Ultimately, Duncan's penchant for bad battles gets him killed in August 1040. This had nothing to do with Gruoch, Lady Macbeth, so she didn't have to wash out any damned spots. Duncan's queen and 2 young sons are forced to flee Scotland when Macbeth is named the new king. Macbeth actually rules for 17 years but it's not an easy rule. He was faced by infighting amongst his own nobles (if you know anything about Scottish history, this shouldn't come as a surprise) and invasions from England and Ireland. 17 years and 2 days after taking the throne, Macbeth loses it when Duncan's son Malcolm invades Scotland and retakes the title for himself, killing Macbeth in battle.

Where does Banquo fit into all of this? According to Scottish history, the witches' prophecy came true because King James VI (the one famous for the King James Version of the Bible) claimed that he was descended from Banquo. Lesson learned- never doubt Shakespeare's witches.

Did Lady Gruoch Macbeth commit suicide like Shakespeare insinuated? Nobody knows because she simply disappears from history once Malcolm took the throne. But you have to admit, the story is cool and even though it's been over 20 years since I was in an English class, it's still fun to wring my hands and say the line, "Out damned spot...out I say!"

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