Macbeth (Folger Shakespeare Library)
Macbeth (Folger Shakespeare Library)
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In 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne, becoming James I of England. London was alive with an interest in all things Scottish, and Shakespeare turned to Scottish history for material. He found a spectacle of violence and stories of traitors advised by witches and wizards, echoing James’s belief in a connection between treason and witchcraft.
In depicting a man who murders to become king, Macbeth teases us with huge questions. Is Macbeth tempted by fate, or by his or his wife’s ambition? Why does their success turn to ashes?
Like other plays, Macbeth speaks to each generation. Its story was once seen as that of a hero who commits an evil act and pays an enormous price. Recently, it has been applied to nations that overreach themselves and to modern alienation. The line is blurred between Macbeth’s evil and his opponents’ good, and there are new attitudes toward both witchcraft and gender.
The authoritative edition of Macbeth from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Newly revised explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An up-to-date annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Susan Snyder
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
therefore meaning the same as) “chief nourisher,” is explained by a historian of table manners as follows:“The second course began after all or most of the dishes of the first course had been removed from the table . . . This consisted of the really big pieces . . . various roasts, and the spectacular items which the French call pièces de résistance” (Margaret Visser, The Rituals of Dinner [New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991], 99) 45 banquet, sumptuous meal* 46 building (the castle) 47 weaken,
Europe). Queen Elizabeth had been the target of many assassination plots; so too had James VI of Scotland, who in 1603 ascended to the English throne as James I xx introduction and thus became, on the international stage, both a more visible and politically an even more important monarch. What are now the historically more dimmed, virtually forgotten, aspects of Macbeth’s social and religious background require explication. But it must also be made very clear that, for a writer like
As little is the wisdom, where the flight So runs against all reason. Ross My dearest coz,7 I pray you, school8 yourself. But9 for your husband, 15 1 Macduff 2 possessions 3 quality, capacity, feeling 4 diminutive 5 (comparatively large and fearsome,as well as a legendary hunter) 6 (i.e., fear is everything, in this, and love is nothing) 7 cousin (familiar and fond) 8 discipline, control (verb) 9 as 119 act 4 • scene 2 He is noble, wise, judicious, and best knows The fits10 o’ the
himself seems devoid of will. The Weird Sisters, Macbeth’s Muses, take the place of that will; we cannot imagine them appearing to Iago, or to Edmund, both geniuses of the will. They are not hollow men; Macbeth is. What happens to Macbeth is inevitable, despite his own culpability, and no other play by Shakespeare, not even the early farces, moves with such speed (as Samuel Coleridge noted). Perhaps the rapid-ity augments the play’s terror; there seems to be no power of the mind over the
if Macbeth ever went mad, but he cannot, if only because he represents all our imaginations, including our capacity for anticipating futures we both wish for and fear. At his castle, with Duncan as his royal guest, Macbeth attempts a soliloquy in Hamlet’s mode, but rapidly leaps into his own: If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly. If th’ assassination Could trammel up the consequence, and catch With his surcease success, that but this blow Might be the be-all