6 Reasons to Read Macbeth

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Macbeth is definitely my favorite Shakespeare play…so far (I am more widely read in Shakespeare than the average person, but I am still woefully ignorant of the entire Shakespeare canon). However, spending any time at all among Shakespeare’s works quickly enlightens us as to why the Elizabethan playwright is so profoundly famous and global: his fantastical use of history, myth, and folklore as the backdrop to his stories; his ability to tap into the human predicament with violent images and lovely romances; his wordsmithing and timeless passages. All these and more have made his legacy timeless. We may not all be the lovesick youth of Romeo and Juliet. We may not all be the desperate and revengeful Danish prince, Hamlet. But Shakespeare has tapped into the universal human longings for love and justice, the plots in all of our lives that merely take various forms.

This morning I was reading in Jerram Barrs’ Echoes of Eden, and in his chapter “Shakespeare and a Christian Worldview,” Barrs goes into a more thorough examination of Macbeth. This of course summoned in me all the passionate emotions I have experienced during my multiple readings of the play. So here are five reasons why you should take some time to read Macbeth this fall.

1. The supernatural elements are great for your fall/October/Halloween reading list.

Witches, spells, curses, ghosts, visions of floating daggers, murder. Here is a fantastic backdrop for your spooky seasonal reading. “Double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn, and cauldron bubble” (4.1.10-11).

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2. The Scottish setting

Scotland is the more rugged, wild neighbor to the north of England. The misty, green landscape is the perfect backdrop to the evil machinations of Macbeth. Though Shakespeare takes great liberties, there is a historical connection to the play’s characters.

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Dunsinane Hill from Wikipedia

3. The universal themes

Fate versus free will. The thirst for power. The meaninglessness of life. Here are themes that have been gripping audiences throughout all eternity. Biological determinism is a contentious idea today. Greedy capitalism drives men and women to do unspeakable things in order to get ahead. And sometimes we feel like the arbitrary puppets of a madman.

…[Life] is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing. (5.5.30-31)

Basically, Macbeth uses vivid images to examine what is actually in humanity’s hearts. Your life might not be surrounded by royal bloodshed, but it does not mean that a battle doesn’t rage just below the surface of what’s seen.

4. The enticing plot

From the very beginning of the play, Shakespeare’s plot moves quickly from royal prophecy to bloodshed to massacre to madness and finally to its gripping conclusion. Don’t be fooled by the fancy language; this is a fast-paced story!

5. The brilliant writing

Books have been written about Shakespeare’s contribution to language. He is responsible for penning new words and phrases that are still in use today. His ability to express the depth of the human experience in profound ways is unparalleled. Yes, it may be difficult for the untrained reader, but keep at it; there’s treasure to be had. Here is the expanded passage of the lines already quoted above, my favorite of the whole play.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (5.5.22-31)

6. The great adaptations

Okay, so perhaps I can’t speak immensely into all the adaptations because truthfully I’ve only seen the Michael Fassbender film. But I really enjoyed the interpretation. I felt that Fassbender played the part well, the cinematography was top notch, and only the original dialogue was used. It was a great treat for the class I was teaching last year. However, I still need to check out other adaptations.

 

Finally, if reading Shakespeare is daunting, I highly recommend the Folger editions of the texts. On the right page is the original text, but on the left page are thorough notes to help with more challenging words and phrases as well fascinating factoids.

So, what’s your favorite Shakespeare play?

11 Greatest (Fictitious) Villains

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I was talking to one of my students today, and we were discussing a book he’s reading, how much he hates a certain character, and how a sign of good story-telling is based upon how much we emotionally hate (secretly love how much we hate) the villain. Thus, my non-expert list of Top Eleven Greatest Villains. Obviously this is pretty broad since I’ve included literary characters as well as film and television characters.

11. Daniel Quilp

Image result for daniel quilpThis one probably is unfamiliar to most people, but he is the main antagonist in Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop. Described as rather dwarfish, Quilp is a brute who treats his wife terribly, constantly prevents the other beloved characters from achieving respite from his wiles, and creepily wants to get rid of his wife and marry beautiful, sweet Little Nell. Thus, though lesser known, he makes the bottom of my list.

10. Thomas Barrow

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Yes, I was a Downton Abbey junkie. The early 20th century history drama on PBS follows a British, aristocratic family as they adapt to strong social changes. Thomas Barrow was evil in many of his machinations, but he was tragic. He is a great villain because, like all great characters, he was extremely complex. He had his enemies and his loves. I went from despising him in the first season to rooting heartily for him in the last.

9. Ambrose

Found at The Kingkiller wiki page

Another lesser-known villain, Ambrose is a protagonist in Patrick Rothfuss’ hit fantasy  book series The Kingkiller Chronicle. Ambrose is a classic school rival: rich, egotistical, spoiled, jealous. He’s just talented enough to cause problems (he’s responsible for Kvothe being kicked out of the famous library, being whipped publicly, and being tortured a bit by a sort of voodoo doll), and his misogynist treatment of women makes you want to kick him in the bad place. I didn’t like Draco Malfoy, but I think I’d choose him as a friend over Ambrose Jakis.

8. Saruman 

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R.I.P. Christopher Lee (2015). Saruman both in the film and the book made such a great villain because of his change of alliance. Fighting for good when he thought it was a winning battle, he changed teams when Sauron grew strong. Though Sauron proved to be a stronger villain, Saruman was more human, more prominent to the readers. It made his betrayal all the worse. Nevertheless, as Gandalf prophesied, “There is only one lord of the rings, and he does not share power.”

7. Clubber Lang

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Here we go; here’s a fun one. “I pity the fool” who cannot understand the genius of this hard-hitting, boxing bad guy. This villain is not so much twisted as simply iconic. Plus, the best song of the Rocky saga is featured in Rocky III: “Eye of the Tiger.”

6. Macbeth

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Was Macbeth really a villain? Though he was the tragic hero of my absolute favorite Shakespeare play, his hunger for power made him a villain, another one of those complex bad guys whose evil was so profound (he slaughtered the family of Macduff) and yet who managed to elicit pity from the audience. Who cannot but feel some twinge of pity for the man who recognized his inability to wade out of the river of blood he’d stepped in, the man who recognized tortuously that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury / Signifying nothing” (Act V, Scene 5)? P.S. I’m a fan of the Michael Fassbender adaptation.

5. Joker 

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“Why so serious?” Okay, so Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was inspired. The only reason he’s not ranked higher is because, well, number 4 is too classic, and my top 3 were decided more on their cringe-worthiness. But Ledger’s performance was incredible; that maddening Joker was terrifying in his unpredictability. R.I.P. Heath Ledger (2008).

4. Darth Vader

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Trivia: “Luke, I am your father,” is actually a misquotation. Seriously. Check it out here. So…classic of classics here. He might be the most recognized super villain of all time after Satan himself perhaps. Complicated backstory. Redemptive final act to save his son. Great costume. Awesome voice (James Earl Jones). He may not be the villain that makes you wanna squirm like my top 3, but seriously, Darth Vader rocks.

3. Eli Sunday

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Though Daniel Plainview was not exactly a good guy, I HATED Eli Sunday. He was an absolute creep in the award-winning There Will Be Blood. Maybe it’s his fanatic, hypocritical, money-grubbing religion that makes him so hateful. But let’s be honest [SPOILER ALERT], no one was upset when his head got smashed in with a bowling pin at the end of the movie.

2. Dolores Umbridge

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There were some great villains in Harry Potter–Bellatrix, Greyback, and of course Voldemort himself–but no one truly bugged me like Umbridge. In fact, it was Umbridge more than any character that made me appreciate the genius of Rowling’s characterization; Umbridge legitimately ticked me off. Dressed in pink, acting all cute and sweet, that woman was the devil! She absolutely refused to admit the presence of danger and instead spent her energy torturing Harry or politely (ehem, severely) turning Defense Against the Dark Arts class into a textbook affair. Yeah, I’ll be joining the D.A. thank you very much.

1. Negan [SEASON 7 SPOILER]

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Is there really anyone else? At once smiling, at once intense and spilling your guts, the leader of the Saviors in The Walking Dead freaks me out. He is exact. He is unforgiving. HE KILLED GLEN! With his barbed wire bat, Lucille, he seems to have qualms about nothing. He’s sickeningly entertaining. He’s the alpha-male, the head patriarch. He’ll steal your wife and make you thank him for it. What?! Rick, please beat this guy.

Okay, what about you? What do you think about the list? Who would you add/subtract?