Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
Complete template (Sonnet numbers)
The previous commentaries in this volume followed the development of
Shakespeare’s philosophy through the long poems of 1593 and 1594 and the
shorter poems of 1601 and 1609, to show that the Sonnets were published
in 1609 as the definitive expression of a philosophy that had its gestation in
the period before the first plays written in the early 1590s. The commentaries
have also shown that Love’s Labour’s Lost (1596) and Measure for Measure
(1604) cannot be understood except as intended expressions of the
philosophy eventually articulated in the Sonnets.
Before considering the evidence for the philosophy in Shakespeare’s last
history play (Henry VIII, 1613), the present commentary will demonstrate that
the Tragedy of Macbeth (1606) cannot be understood except in terms of the
Sonnet philosophy. The priority of Nature, the dynamic of female and male,
the increase argument, and the logic of truth and beauty are pivotal to the
meaning of the play. Beginning with the forces of Nature and the Witches’
refrain of the first few lines that ends with, ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair’(1.1.12),
the play is based in Shakespeare’s appreciation of the natural logic of life.
By articulating his philosophy definitively in a set of sonnets, Shakespeare
avoided the issues of authenticity that arose when the plays were reworked for
varying performance conditions and for the unregulated publishing market.
However much a play was altered, cut, or rewritten for the playhouses and for
publication, the Sonnet philosophy provides a common point of reference for
the author’s content.
Because the Sonnet philosophy has not been understood for 400 years,
it has not been possible for commentators to determine the meaning of the
plays. Disputes over interpretation arise principally because of their ignorance
of the Sonnet philosophy. Their problems multiply when there are two
or more versions of the same play. In their desire to resolve real or perceived
difficulties, they criticise or offer remedies that invariably reveal their psychological
or religious prejudices.
Macbeth is one of eighteen plays for which the 1623 Folio provides the
only version. Unlike Hamlet, Othello and King Lear, there are no bad or
doubtful quartos to add to the complexity of interpretation. Yet the text of
Macbeth still arouses debate. Commentators, ignorant of the Sonnet philosophy,
are doubly dissatisfied when they expect the play to be sympathetic
to their traditional beliefs.
Because Macbeth is one of the shorter plays, they suggest Shakespeare or
someone else had a hand in its abridgment. Ironically, again, they remedy
the supposed difficulties according to their religious prejudices. While some
think the play was abridged, others think it is complete as it is. Even amongst
those who want changes or additions, there is an acceptance that the Folio
text is surprisingly coherent, leading to the circular suggestion that maybe
Shakespeare himself did the shortening.
The nature of the debate is symptomatic of the commentators’ ignorance
of the Sonnet philosophy. Because the philosophy articulated in the
Sonnets is the philosophy behind all the play and poems, an appreciation of
its logic is required to reveal the play’s meaning. And because the philosophy
corrects centuries of biblical and Platonic apologetics, the discomfort
commentators experience is a consequence of having their traditional psychological
expectations profoundly challenged by Shakespeare’s consistent
Analysis of Macbeth
Nature is the constant background against which the tragedy of Macbeth
unfolds and finds its resolution. The forces of Nature in the form of
‘Thunder and Lightning’ precede the first words of the Witches. And the
Witches speak first because they represent the logic of the female derived
from Nature, albeit in a form affected by the orthodox male-based delusions
typified by Macbeth.
Thunder and Lightning. Enter three Witches.
The priority of Nature over the female and the female over the male,
established in the first lines of Macbeth, is in keeping with the priority of
Nature over the sexual dynamic in the Sonnets. The word Nature/nature
occurs frequently throughout the play, whereas the word God occurs infrequently.
It appears in a greeting, as an expletive, or is used by a character
(principally Malcolm) whose initial youthful idealism is associated with the
adolescent psychology of traditional religious belief.
First Witch. When will we three meet again?
In Thunder, Lightning, or in Rain?
Second Witch. When the Hurley-burley's done,
When the Battle's lost, and won.
Third Witch. That will be ere the set of Sun.
First Witch. Where the place?
Second Witch. Upon the Heath.
Third Witch. There to meet with Macbeth.
First Witch. I come, Gray-Malkin.
All. Padock call anon: fair is foul, and foul is fair,
Hover through the fog and filthy air. (1.1.2-13)
Although the male God appears infrequently, his logical counterparts,
the Devil and the Witches, are ubiquitously present throughout the play.
The three Witches in particular represent the corruption of the feminine
intuition by the excessive male-based expectations idealised as God.
Shakespeare uses Macbeth’s self-serving faith in the Witches’ predictions
to parody the illogicality of belief in the priority of a male God over
The transformation of idealised good into its logical opposite evil is
addressed throughout the Sonnet sequence to the Master Mistress and
throughout the plays. Sonnet 14 is specific in dismissing faith in ‘heaven’
and the telling of ‘fortunes’ as a basis for truth and beauty. It argues in favour
of a logic based in the sexual dynamic in Nature. In Macbeth, Shakespeare
examines the consequences when sainted ‘nobleness’ and ‘honour’ are
divorced from natural logic. Macbeth’s transition from honour and goodness
to an illogical faith in the Witches reflects the self-regard behind his previous
But sonnet 14 not only dismisses faith and augury as a basis for judgment.
It also brings to a logical conclusion the increase argument of the first 14
sonnets. Without the possibility of increase, there can be no judgment or
knowledge. As the play unfolds, Macbeth’s disregard for natural logic is
apparent in both his dependency on self-serving ideals and in his (and Lady
Macbeth’s) explicit rejection of the logic of increase. Not surprisingly then,
as the Macbeths follow God/Satan into the hell of excessive idealism and
swear off children, they are haunted by the image of a baby, which recurs
throughout the play.
So, beginning with the Witches’ incantation, Shakespeare signals his
intention to examine the implosion that occurs when idealised belief shows
a disregard for natural logic. He begins with an acknowledgment of the
priority of the female in Nature but, by introducing the female in the form
of a witch, he indicates that the female is initially viewed through the
prejudice of male-based ideals.
In the Mistress sequence of the Sonnets, beauty and truth are derived from
the female, who is at unity with Nature. The logical progression from
Nature, through the sexual dynamic to beauty and then truth, means truth
is not a self-sufficient quality but a process of continuous judgment between
right and wrong based in natural logic. The Witches give witness to their
inherent female logic by expressing their sensitivity to the logic of truth with
their refrain ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’, and their prediction that the ‘battle’
will be ‘lost, and won’.
As with the Sonnet philosophy, the characters in Macbeth represent both
people in the world and personae in the mind. The play establishes a logical
relation between the characters in the drama and the psychological dynamic
of the mind. The Witches exist at the periphery of Macbeth’s everyday
world, but are also representatives of his state of mind under the influence
of excessive male-based idealism. Because Shakespeare’s logic is impeccable,
commentators who expect a literal history play or sympathy for their malebased
beliefs are seriously disturbed by the underlying philosophy, which
challenges both prejudices.
The first scene, then, establishes the play as a battleground where Shakespeare
will demonstrate his natural logic through characters that represent its
argument places. In the first few lines, he outlines the logic of the action that,
by the end of the play, shows a way out of the ‘foggy and filthy air’ of malebased
delusions. Consistent with the Witches’prediction that the battle will be
‘lost, and won’, Macbeth is the heroic winner who then loses his judgment.
But, by the play’s end, his loss enables Malcolm to become a more circumspect
winner. From Macbeth’s good comes evil, and from his evil comes good.
When scene 2 opens, the Witches’ allusion to a ‘battle’ is given dramatic
form in the ‘bloody’ fight between King Duncan and his foes. Appropriately,
Shakespeare introduces the male dynamic in scene 2, after Nature and the
female dynamic were introduced in scene 1. The distinction between female
and male is immediately apparent in that the female logic has an overview
of the battle, whereas the males are blindly immured within it.
The description of the battle by the sergeant/captain at the beginning
of the scene, establishes the play as a critique of the male-based excesses,
and in particular of Christ’s bloody sacrifice at Calvary. The ‘bloody man’
who enters in the first line, as a symbol of male intransigence, is compared
forty lines later to the definitive expression of male bloodletting epitomised
by the ‘reeking Wounds’ of Christ on ‘Golgotha’.
What bloody man is that? he can report,
Shakespeare begins Macbeth with the recognition that the pivotal moment
in biblical transcendence is a bloody consequence of the illogical prioritising
of the male over the female. When the sergeant/captain or ‘bloody man’
describes the ‘rebel’ forces of Macdonwald as ‘multiplying the Villainies of
Nature’, he gives voice to the dire contradictions that occur when male-based
aspirations prevail against the priority and balance of Nature.
As seemeth by his plight, of the Revolt
The newest state. (1.2.18-20)
Except they meant to bathe in reeking Wounds,
Or memorise another Golgotha. (1.2.60-1)
In keeping with the logic of the play, King Duncan and his son Malcolm
are both blind to the dire consequences of prioritising the male, so are unable
to give an account of their ‘plight’. Instead, their dilemma is expressed by
a bloodied sergeant/captain whose experience of males in ‘battle’ reminds
him of two swimmers who, in ‘clinging’ together, only increase their chance
of drowning. Before the play’s end, Duncan will die for his blindness, while
Malcolm will gain a partial insight into their transgressions.
In clinging together, and so rejecting the female, the males nearly choke
‘their Art’. In sonnet 14 ‘Art’ is the grounding in which ‘truth and beauty’
thrives through ‘store’ or increase. Ironically, these ‘good’ men are in danger
of drowning (‘choke their Art’) in the element associated with the female.
Doubtful it stood,
The fight between the ‘merciless…Rebel’ Macdonwald and ‘brave’
Macbeth, not only ‘multiplies the villainies of Nature’, or the worse possibilities
in Nature, but turns ‘Fortune’ into a ‘Whore’. Macbeth anticipates
his own fate by ‘disdaining Fortune’. When he ‘unseams’Macdonwald from
the ‘Nave to the Chops’ and cuts off his head, he rehearses the final moments
of Act 5 when he discovers Macduff was untimely ripped from his mother’s
womb in lieu of a natural birth.
As two spent Swimmers, that do cling together,
And choke their Art. (1.2.26-8)
The merciless Macdonwald
The Sonnet logic is again reinforced when the Captain compares the
progress of the battle to the forces of Nature. As mankind is part of Nature,
it comes as no surprise that the natural cycle, from the apparent ‘comfort’
of Spring to the ‘discomfort of shipwracking storms and direful thunder’,
is used to convey the fortunes of his wars.
(Worthy to be a Rebel, for to that
The multiplying Villanies of Nature
Do swarm upon him) from the Western Isles
Of Kerns and Gallogrosses is supplied,
And Fortune upon his damned quarry smiling,
Showed like a Rebel’s Whore: but all’s too weak:
For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that Name)
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished Steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution
(Like Valour’s Minion) carved out his passage,
Till he faced the Slave:
Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseamed him from the Nave to the Chops,
And fixed his head upon our Battlements. (1.2.28-42)
As whence the Sun ’gins his reflection,
When asked if Macbeth and Banquo were dismayed, the Captain again
uses Nature based metaphors to explain. He agrees they were dismayed but
notes with irony that they were as sparrows set on by eagles, or a hare by a
lion. As happens in Nature, the predator can be bested by its prey.
Shipwracking Storms, and direful Thunders:
So from that Spring, whence comfort seemed to come,
Discomfort swells: Mark King of Scotland, mark,
No sooner Justice had, with Valour armed,
Compelled these skipping Kerns to trust their heels,
But the Norwegian Lord, surveying vantage,
With the furbished Arms, and new supplies of men,
Began a fresh assault. (1.2.44-52)
Yes, as Sparrows, Eagles;
Each of the three times the Captain speaks he prefaces his account with
a metaphor from Nature. In the Sonnets Shakespeare establishes the priority
of Nature over the idealised Gods of man, because only in Nature are there
situations with logic comparable to the deeds of men. When he looks to
the idealised God, he sees a paragon bereft of the multiplicities of life. The
Captain’s triple affirmation of natural logic could be seen as a counterpoint
to the three denials of Peter before Christ’s crucifixion at Golgotha.
Or the Hare, the Lion: (1.2.55-6)
It should not surprise then that the Captain, when he ‘says sooth’ or tells
the truth about Macbeth and Banquo’s exploits, invokes the male-driven
bloodletting on Golgotha. The Gospels re-articulate the anti-Nature
prejudice of the male-based priority established in Genesis. As a ‘bloodied
sergeant’ who is fainting from his wounds, the Captain sees somewhat dimly
(‘I cannot tell’) into the illogicality of the situation.
If I say sooth, I must report they were
But Duncan, the King who is about to be murdered for his part in the
male charade, sees only a honourable correspondence between the Captain’s
‘words’ and his ‘wounds’. The mention of Golgotha elicits a paraphrase of
the idealistic doctrine, the ‘Word made Flesh’.
As Cannons over-charged with double Cracks,
So they doubly redoubled strokes upon the Foe:
Except they meant to bathe in reeking Wounds,
Or memorise another Golgotha,
I cannot tell: but I am faint,
My Gashes cry for help. (1.2.57-63)
So well thy words become thee as thy wounds,
When Ross and Angus enter, Lenox notes a peculiar look in Ross’ eyes.
They smack of Honour both: Go get him surgeons. (1.2.64-5)
What a haste looks through his eyes?
In the Sonnets, the eyes are the source of truth and beauty as the dynamic
of understanding. In Ross’ case there is ‘a haste’ in his ‘look’ contrary to the
logic of truth and beauty presented in the Sonnets. Shakespeare, within the
space of 50 or so lines, has characterised the relation of Nature to God (the
Witches), and female to male as contrary to the natural logic he articulates
in the Sonnets. With deliberate irony, he has Ross greet Duncan with the
entity who is the perpetrator of his battles and who is unable to save him
from the deadly consequences of Macbeth’s transition from the ideal to its
So should he look, that seems to speak things strange. (1.2.69-70)
God save the King. (1.2.71)
Ross not only brings news of the victory over the resurgent Norwegians,
he also signals the beginning of Macbeth’s slide into God-based evil. By
describing Macbeth as ‘Bellona’s Bridegroom’, he identifies the moment at
which Macbeth completely forgoes the logic of Nature and the sexual
dynamic to become the ‘bridegroom’ of the Goddess whose persona is
already over-weighted toward the masculine. Historically, the male God of
Genesis usurped the priority of the Goddess. The mention of Bellona
anticipates the shift to the masculine that will soon occur in Lady Macbeth as
she encourages her husband’s God-like ambition.
Till that Bellona’s Bridegroom, lapped in proof,
With Ross’ account of the battle, Shakespeare establishes a logical relation
between the fortunes of battle and the give and take of argument. He
reiterates the logical connection between the actions of his play and the
dynamic of truth and beauty. The play presents his natural logic because his
characters represent critical places in his argument.
Confronted him with self-comparisons,
Point against Point, rebellious Arm ’gainst Arm,
Curbing his lavish spirit: (1.2.79-82)
The King, on hearing of the Thane of Cawdor’s treachery awards the
Thaneship to Macbeth. Shakespeare has the King end the scene by
summarising the state of play.
What he hath lost, Noble Macbeth hath won. (1.2.94)
Scene 3 begins, as does scene 1, with the three Witches entering to the
sound of thunder. Shakespeare again uses the agency of the Witches to
establish the logical relationships articulated in the Sonnets between Nature,
the Mistress and the Master Mistress. As the Witches await the arrival of
Macbeth, who like the Master Mistress is an immature idealist, the first
Witch recounts how she intends to confront a ‘Wife’ and ‘Husband’ with
the logic of the sexual dynamic in Nature.
She relates that when the ‘Sailor’s Wife’, who has sex as if she
‘munched and munched’ on ‘Chestnuts in her Lap’, tells the ‘Witch’ to be
off she decides to teach the husband a lesson. Like a ‘sieve’, but unlike
him because she does not have a ‘tail’, she will drain him endlessly for
‘Seven nights, nine times nine’. Appropriately, the male is given the
number 9 (as is the Master Mistress of the Sonnets) to indicate the logical
requirement to recover his unity by recovering his relationship with the
Mistress, here represented by the three Witches with their parody of malebased
As they discuss their plans, the Witches recite a litany of sexual
allusions from ‘killing Swine’, to ‘Chestnuts in her Lap’, to ‘rump-fed
Ronyon’, to ‘the very Ports they blow’, to ‘I’ll drain him dry as Hay’, to
‘dwindle, peak and pine’, to ‘homeward he did come’. Also significant is
the paraphrase by the first Witch of the content of the second and third
quatrains of sonnet 116. The occurrence of words like Ports (‘ever fixed
mark’), Card (‘compass’), Bark and Tempest, indicate that the Witches in
Macbeth, through their overview of the female/male dynamic, act the part
of the Poet of the Sonnets in bringing about a return to natural logic.
The Witches’ intent within the context of the play is to rehearse the
logical redress for Macbeth’s idealised conceits.
First Witch. Where hast thou been, Sister?
Macbeth is the immature idealist for whom the Witches offer either a
recovery of his feminine sensibility or else a redoubling of his masculine
delusions. How he responds will determine his fate. He has the same logical
characteristics as the Master Mistress of the Sonnets whose overly idealistic
expectations lead him to act contrary to natural logic.
Second Witch. Killing Swine.
Third Witch. Sister, where thou?
First Witch. A Sailor’s Wife had Chestnuts in her Lap,
And munched, & munched, and munched:
Give me, quoth I.
Aroynt thee, Witch, the rump-fed Ronyon cries.
Her Husband’s to Aleppo gone, Master o’th’ Tiger:
But in a Sieve I’ll thither sail,
And like a Rat without a tail,
I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.
Second Witch. I’ll give thee a Wind.
First Witch. Th’art kind.
Third Witch. And I another.
First Witch. I my self have all the other,
And the very Ports they blow,
All the Quarters that they know,
I’th’ Ship-man’s Card.
I’ll drain him dry as Hay:
Sleep shall neither Night nor Day
Hang upon his Pent-house Lid:
He shall live a man forbid:
Weary Sev’nights, nine times nine,
Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine:
Though his Bark cannot be lost,
Yet it be Tempest-tost.
Look what I have.
Second Witch. Show me, show me.
First Witch. Here I have a Pilot’s Thumb,
Wrackt, as homeward he did come.
Third Witch. A Drum, a Drum:
Macbeth doth come.
All. The weird Sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the Sea and Land,
Thus do go, about, about,
Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
And thrice again, to make up nine.
Peace, the Charm’s wound up. (1.3.98-135)
When Macbeth and Banquo enter, Macbeth signals his inability to
appreciate the Sonnet logic by bemoaning the day in a phrase used by the
Witches at the end of scene 1. What for the Witches is an acceptance of
their logical relation to Nature, is for Macbeth an expression of his apprehension
So foul and fair a day I have not seen. (1.3.137)
Then, in a brilliant parody of male-based priorities, Banquo asks the
Witches if they are indeed ‘Inhabitants o’th’Earth’. The Witches seem like
the male God of the Bible who apparently does not ‘inhabit’ the Earth and
who ‘seems to understand’ but does not ‘speak’. And just as the male God
usurps the priority of the female in Nature, the Witches ‘should be Women’
but yet have ‘beards’. For Shakespeare the male God of the Bible who usurps
Mother Nature must be a cross-dressed female.
What are these,
The Witches predict that Macbeth will be Thane and then King.
Noticing that the predictions alarm Macbeth, Banquo wants to know, ‘in the
name of truth’, if the Witches are fantastical or real. Macbeth and Banquo’s
inability to discern the ‘truth’ is a consequence of their commitment to an
idealised view of the world, which has illogical consequences for the
dynamic of truth and beauty. If they were aware of the logic Shakespeare
articulates in the Sonnets, such a question would be redundant and their
subsequent actions and judgments would not be so self-serving.
So withered, and so wild in their attire,
That look not like th’Inhabitants o’th’Earth,
And yet are on’t? Live you, or are you aught
That man may question? You seem to understand me,
By each at once her choppy finger laying
Upon her skinny Lips: you should be Women,
And yet your Beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so. (1.3.138-46)
Good Sir, why do you start, and seem to fear
The Witches in Macbeth have a very specific function. Whenever they
appear they are contextualised by Nature and, as females who were introduced
before the males, they establish the logical priority of the female over
the male. They have none of the arcane powers and resources traditionally
attributed to witches. Their role, by contrast, is to ensure that the natural
order prevails against the abuses of the idealising imagination typified by
the only characters who see them, Banquo and Macbeth.
Things that do sound so fair? i’th’name of truth
Are ye fantastical, or that indeed
Which outwardly you show? (1.3.151-4)
In keeping with the injunction of sonnet 14, the Witches do not derive
their powers from the stars or the heavens, but from naturally occurring
animals and plants. And in keeping with the logic of the Sonnets, which
argue for the priority of increase over truth and beauty, the Witches predictions
are principally related to issues of human posterity or events, like the
movement of Birnam Wood, that seem to abjure the laws of Nature but
end up having a natural explanation.
Banquo’s next observation, based as it is on the predictions the Witches
have already made about Macbeth’s lineage, defines the logical focus of their
concerns. Banquo’s insight reveals that he is slightly more in touch with
natural logic than Macbeth.
If you can look into the Seeds of Time,
Macbeth demonstrates his inadequacy with the series of questions he puts
to the Witches after they have responded to Banquo. To Macbeth’s selfish
male-based expectations they seem like ‘imperfect Speakers’ who exhibit a
‘strange Intelligence’ with their ‘Prophetic greetings’. The capitals on the
critical words in the Folio highlight Macbeth’s double confusion.
And say, which Grain will grow, and which will not,
Speak then to me, who neither beg, nor fear
Your favours, nor your hate. (1.3.158-61)
Stay, you imperfect Speakers, tell me more:
Not only can Macbeth not understand how they are able to say what they
say, his adherence to a way of thinking in which ‘Speakers’ use their
‘Intelligence’ to make ‘Prophetic’ utterances (as in the Bible) prevents him
from appreciating the source of their insights. Appropriately, as he strives to
understand the Witches’powers using his iidealised self-regard, they disappear.
to be King,
Stands not within the prospect of belief,
Say from whence
You owe this strange Intelligence, or why
Upon this blasted Heath you stop our way
With such Prophetic greeting?
Speak, I charge you. (1.3.170-9)
The role of the Witches in the play is brought into focus when they
‘vanish’. As with other magical or otherworldly beings in Shakespeare, the
Witches have both a function in the theatrics of the drama and represent
personae in the mind of characters such as Macbeth. Shakespeare’s understanding
of the artificiality of drama, and his awareness of the logic of
external events and their internal equivalents, creates a perpetual slippage
between the characters as representatives of historical or imaginary persons
and the potential of the play to incite responses in the mind.
The differing responses of Macbeth and Banquo to the ‘vanishing’ cover
both possibilities. When Banquo relates their disappearance to earthly
phenomena like the bursting of bubbles, Macbeth raises the possibility of
them being not ‘corporeal’. He wishes they had stayed, which leads Banquo
to wonder if their own ‘reason’ is at fault. Again it is Banquo who points to
the primary cause of the Witches’appearance. They have come to correct the
male-based delusions that the Poet addresses in the Master Mistress sequence
of the Sonnets.
Banquo. The Earth hath bubbles, as the Water has,
To Ross’ announcement that Macbeth is now Thane of Cawdor Banquo
responds, ‘can the Devil speak true?’(1.3.213). Ross’ earlier hope that God
might save the King begins its slide as the Witches are cast in the role of the
Devil or God’s logical counterpart. Male-based prejudice blames the female
for the excesses of idealised expectations, while it refuses to acknowledge
that the idealisation of the male as God leads logically to evil consequences
(about to be addressed in the play).
And these are of them: wither are they vanished?
Macbeth. Into the Air: and what seemed corporal,
Melted, as breath into the Wind.
Would they had stayed.
Banquo. Were such things here, as we do speak about?
Or have we eaten on the insane Root,
That takes the Reason Prisoner? (1.3.170-7)
In Macbeth Shakespeare consciously parodies the writings of the Bible.
When Ross enters he mentions that the King ‘reads’ thy ‘personal Venture
in the Rebel’s fight’ and then that Macbeth ‘makes strange Images of death’,
as thick as ‘Tale’ can ‘Post with Post’. The editors of both the Cambridge
and Oxford editions emend the ‘Tale’ to ‘hail’. They replace Shakespeare’s
precise critique of literal belief in the written word with a vacuous proverbial
saying. Shakespeare anticipates the blindness of those who pervert his
critique of their inconsistent beliefs.
Macbeth, unable to evaluate the implications of his position, gloats
over the accuracy of the Witches’ prediction. Considering they were
merely articulating the consequences of his immature vision, he is doubly
blind. Again it is Banquo who muses on the philosophical implications.
But ’tis strange:
The Sonnet philosophy’s appreciation of the dynamic of truth and
beauty, because of its consistent derivation from Nature and the sexual
dynamic, provides a means to determine right from wrong that avoids
contradiction. True and false, fair and foul, are inherent in any circumstance.
The lesson of the Sonnets teaches the Master Mistress that calling
beauty or any form of sensation (smell or God) ‘Truth’ will result in
unintended consequences. Banquo notices the contradiction and apprehends
that it is a ‘consequence’ of what has transpired but, because he is
unable to acknowledge the priority of the female over the male, does not
know what to make of it.
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The Instruments of Darkness tell us Truths,
Win us with honest Trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence. (1.3.232-6)
If Banquo is confused about the logic of truth and beauty, then Macbeth
is doubly so. Constrained by the traditional inversion of natural logic, he
sees ‘Truth’ as a singular effect, as when it is associated with the idea of God,
so is disturbed when he is confronted with ‘two Truths’.
Two Truths are told,
Shakespeare intrudes elements of the Sonnet logic into Macbeth’s selfish
male-based confusion. As the Sonnet logic is the logic of humankind despite
its unwillingness to recognise it, Macbeth’s uncanny experience with the
Witches makes him have doubts about his previous certainties, forcing him
to rationalise the gap between ‘Truth’ and Nature.
As happy Prologues to the swelling Act
Of the Imperial Theme. I thank you Gentlemen:
This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill; cannot be good.
If ill? why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a Truth? I am Thane of Cawdor.
If good? why do I yield to that suggestion,
Whose horrid Image doth unfix my Heir,
And make my seated Heart knock at my Ribs,
Against the use of Nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible Imaginings:
My Thought, whose Murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of Man,
That Function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is, but what is not. (1.3.238-53)
‘Supernatural soliciting’ (of God or Devil) cannot be ‘good’ or ‘ill’,
because logically it involves the sensory realm of the unworded or untold.
The ‘two Truths’ only become distinct when they are ‘told’. Only in the
telling is the dynamic of truth engaged. Macbeth is at a loss because his
current belief system contradicts the natural logic of truth. He intuits,
though, that his potential for ‘Heirs’ is unfixed because his ambitions set him
against ‘Nature’. His need to murder the King, driven by his male-based
ambition, ‘shakes’ his belief in the ‘single state of Man’, whose primary
symbol is the biblical God. Ironically, his evil desires momentarily make him
aware that the traditional priority of the male over the female is a ‘surmise’.
He experiences the sense of abyss or void (‘what is not’) that occurs when
the traditional pretensions suddenly seem like ‘nothing’.
The tragedy of Macbeth is laid out in these 16 lines. It is the tragedy of
the belief in the priority of the male (God) over the female (Nature)
addressed logically in the Sonnets and articulated with terrifying precision
in the great tragedies. As commentators do not understand the natural logic
in the Sonnet philosophy, they wrongly decide that Macbeth’s confusion is
When Macbeth breaks from his ‘rapture’, his determination to be King
prevails. He calls on ‘Time, and the Hour’, as constructs of the human mind,
to see him through the ‘roughest Day’. He excuses his distraction by
dismissing his thoughts of Nature as a momentary lapse or ‘dullness of brain’
where ‘things forgotten’ attempt to reassert their natural logic against his
At the beginning of scene 4, the King asks if the Thane of Cawdor is
dead, to which his son Malcolm reports that he died repentant and was
equitable in death (consistent with Shakespeare’s appreciation of life and
death in the Sonnets). In light of the events to come, their exchange suggests
Macbeth wronged the Thane of Cawdor.
Nothing in his Life became him,
The King’s blindness to Macbeth’s ambition, despite his claim that he
can ‘find the Mind’s construction in the Face’ (1.4.293), is equaled by
Macbeth’s false allegiance of ‘Duty’. With sardonic wit Shakespeare has the
King offer Macbeth a place ‘full of growing’, as if naturally.
Like the leaving it. He died,
As one that had been studied in his death,
To throw away the dearest thing he owed,
As ’twere careless Trifle. (1.4.287-91)
I have begun to plant thee, and will labour
Banquo, again, is circumspect. He offers to return the ‘harvest’ proffered
by the King. And the King’s blindness to the meaning of his own words is
confirmed when he establishes his estate on Malcolm by evoking the ‘stars’,
which are proscribed by the Sonnet philosophy.
To make thee full of growing. (1.4.314-5)
But signs of Nobleness, like Stars, shall shine
Macbeth, in his previous aside, attempted to rationalise Banquo’s concern
for ‘Truth’. Now Shakespeare gets him to ruminate on the King’s mention
of ‘stars’ to show once again how close yet how far he is from natural logic.
On all deservers. (1.4.328-9)
The Prince of Cumberland: that is a step,
Shakespeare creates a clear distinction in sonnet 14 between those systems
of thought that look to the stars or heaven for guidance and the logical
derivation of truth and beauty from the eyes. So when Macbeth wishes to
shield his actions from the ‘stars’ he aligns his mind-set with those beliefs
considered illogical in the Sonnets. He does not want the ‘Light’ from the
stars to witness his black desires.
On which I must fall down, or else o’er-leap,
For in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires,
Let not Light see my black and deep desires:
The Eye wink at the Hand; yet let that be,
Which the Eye fears, when it is done to see. (1.4.336-54)
His desires, though, originate in his denial of the logic of the eyes, or
the logic of increase in Nature. Shakespeare has Macbeth unwittingly
acknowledge natural logic when he keeps the ‘Eye’ from seeing what the
hand does. Throughout Shakespeare’s works, the ‘Eye’ carries a double
reference to the eye of the face and the eye of sex. Macbeth’s problem and
the consequences of his devotion to the ‘single state of Man’ are epitomised
in his desire for power and in the language he uses to sustain his evil intent.
In scene 5 Lady Macbeth receives a letter from her husband that reveals
his susceptibility to fantasy. He reports that the Witches spoke with more
‘than mortal knowledge’, and vanished by turning themselves into ‘air’.
Upon reading of the Witches’ predictions for Macbeth, Lady Macbeth
expresses doubt about his capacity to fulfill his ‘metaphysical fate’.
Shakespeare sets out to demonstrate that the faith in fate, by those entranced
by metaphysical systems, is never sufficient to allow the run of events to self
fulfill. Macbeth is already thinking murder to achieve his ends. And now
his wife wants to lend a hand to ensure he does not fail. The Macbeths’
tragedy is in the preemption of ‘Nature’ by two humans who give their
masculine personae full rein (in imitation of the mythological male God and
his counterpart the Devil).
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
The Macbeth marriage is truly one made in male-based heaven. The
immature masculine Macbeth, who battles and fantasises his way to power,
is matched by his wife whose masculine ‘Spirits’ will chastise Macbeth so
that he will more ‘holily’ commit murder, against any remnants of his inner
nature, or feminine side. Macbeth’s longer speeches at 1.3.170 and 1.3.238,
are counterpointed by Lady Macbeth’s first words. Shakespeare establishes
the Macbeths (as he does with a number of the principal protagonists in the
other plays) as representatives of the illogicalities and consequent injustices
of biblical priorities.
What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy Nature,
It is too full o’th’ Milk of human kindness,
To catch the nearest way. Thou would’st be great,
Art not without Ambition, but without
The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly,
That would’st thou holily:wouldst not play false,
And yet would’st wrongly win.
Thould’st have, great Glamis, that which cries,
Thus thou must do, if thou have it;
And that which rather thou do’st fear to do,
Than wishest should be undone. High thee hither,
That I may pour mine Spirits in thine Ear,
And chastise with the valour of my Tongue
All that impedes thee from the Golden Round,
Which Fate and Metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crowned withal. (1.5.361-76)
Lady Macbeth’s next words, a few lines later, are even more explicit in
identifying the root cause of the tragedy. Her earlier mention of ‘Tongue’
(1.5.374) heralds her admission now of her determination to deny the
logic of increase in Nature. She calls on the male-based ‘Spirits’ to cover
her with their ‘Hell’ so that her inculcated fear of the God of ‘Heaven’ will
The Raven himself is hoarse,
Lady Macbeth intends to do Nature a ‘Mischief ’ by renouncing her
natural logic. She even dulls the guilt she might experience because of her
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my Battlements. Come you Spirits,
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the Crown to the Toe, top-full
Of direst Cruelty:make thick my blood,
Stop up the access, and passage to Remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of Nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
Th’effect, and hit. Come to my Woman’s Breasts,
And take my Milk for Gall, you murdering Ministers,
Where-ever, in your sightless substances,
You wait on Nature’s Mischief. Come thick Night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell,
That my keen Knife see not the Wound it makes,
Nor Heaven peep through the Blanket of the dark,
To cry, hold, hold. (1.5.389-406)
Shakespeare, over the last 5 scenes, has been relentless in identifying the
logical cause of the tragedy of Macbeth. To achieve their ambitions the
Macbeths reject their innate logic for the extempore logic of ‘time’ and male
priority. Their ability to deceive the King and others as the events unfold
is guaranteed by the King’s inability to read Macbeth’s ‘face’. Lady Macbeth
reinforces the male-based blindness when she talks of both ‘time’ and
Once the logic of Nature is abjured, then the capacity to tell good from
ill is forfeited. Lady Macbeth knows that a ‘face’ is ‘as a Book, where men
may read strange matters, which can readily be used to ‘beguile the time’.
She identifies the ‘Book’ with the Bible when she exhorts Macbeth to use
his ‘Eye, Hand, and Tongue’ to look like the innocent flower and hide his
‘Serpent’ persona beneath. Ironically, they will not achieve rapprochement
with ‘sovereign’Nature or achieve ‘Masterdom’over their immaturity. They
act contrary to the logic of Nature by failing to address the inadequacy
typified by the Master Mistress of the Sonnets.
Shall Sun that Morrow see.
Your face, my Thane, is as a Book, where men
May read strange matters, to beguile the time.
Look like the time, bear welcome in your Eye,
Your Hand, your Tongue: look like the innocent flower,
But be the Serpent under’t. He that’s coming,
Must be provided for: and you shall put
This Night’s great Business into my dispatch,
Which shall to all our Nights and Days to come,
Give solely sovereign sway, and Masterdom. (1.5.415-25)
In her previous statement Lady Macbeth could not be clearer in her
intent to go against her female logic and Nature. She then addresses the
implications of her scheme for the logic of truth. Consistent with the
dynamic of truth and beauty in the Sonnets, she appreciates that truth or the
process of saying, verbal or written, is susceptible to deceit (sonnet 138 deals
with this possibility explicitly). The function of the Rose in the Sonnets, as
a symbol of the logic of beauty, is evoked in her imagery of the ‘innocent
flower’ and ‘Serpent under’t’. Consistent with Shakespeare’s critique of
biblical contradictions in the play, she uses the serpent imagery associated
As Duncan approaches Macbeth’s castle, Shakespeare has him and
Banquo unwittingly contextualise the events about to unfold within the
castle by remarking on the enduring processes of Nature in the countryside
about and in the castle walls. While the castle’s ‘seat’ or environs ‘recommend’
themselves to the King’s ‘senses’, it is Banquo again who notices the
features that best evoke the fecundity of Nature, whose potentiality the
Macbeths have just forsworn.
King. This Castle hath a pleasant seat,
In a parody of what has gone before, Shakespeare not only makes the
King incapable of discerning natural logic except through his ‘senses’,
Banquo’s bird is ‘Temple-haunting’ and ‘must breed, and haunt’ in the
delicate ‘air’. In Macbeth and Banquo’s encounter with the Witches, who
are Church-derided females that haunt the Christian conscience, their
predictions are limited to lines of breeding and, when they seem to vanish,
they ‘haunt’ the ‘air’ of befuddled males.
The air nimbly and sweetly recommends it self
Unto our gentle senses.
Banquo. This Guest of Summer,
The Temple-haunting Barlet does approve,
By his loved Masonry, that the Heaven’s breath
Smells wooingly here: no Jutty frieze,
Buttress, nor Coign of Vantage, but this Bird
Hath made his pendant Bed, and procreant Cradle,
Where they must breed, and haunt: I have observed
The air is delicate. (1.6.434-44)
When the King greets Lady Macbeth, he further reveals his commitment
to the male-based hierarchy. For the second time in the play the word God
is interjected to reveal, in the light of future events, the meaninglessness of
such greetings. Immediately after Banquo has evoked the natural logic of
the ‘Temple-haunting Barlet’, Shakespeare has the King confound his
offering of ‘Love’ with the mention of ‘God’.
The Love that follows us, sometime is our trouble,
In Macbeth’s soliloquy at the beginning of scene 7, Shakespeare lets him
ponder the logic of truth and beauty, though from the vantage of his
‘Vaulting Ambition’. Macbeth wishes the guilty ‘consequence’ from a
murder, ‘if it were done quickly’, would be effervescent. He would prefer,
if the act was successful, there should be no judgment, as if ‘we’d jump the
life to come’. Like Duncan who can only ‘sense’ natural logic, and so has
his beauty dynamic divorced from his truth dynamic, Macbeth wants to
avoid the logic of truth, or the judgment of saying what is right and wrong.
Which still we thank as Love. Herein I teach you
How you shall bid God-ield us for your pains,
And thank us for your trouble. (1.6.446-9)
If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well,
The desire to defer judgment to a life to come, as in Christian dogma,
seems feasible when all value is posited in a God who inhabits the after life.
But in the Sonnet logic the idea of an absolute God is a fiction arising from
a heightened sensation in the mind. Macbeth’s ‘vaulting Ambition’ not only
exposes the illogicality of such an expectation, it also forces him to concede
that in the natural world ‘we still have judgment here’.
It were done quickly: If the Assassination
Could trammel up the Consequence, and catch
With his surcease, Success: that but this blow
Might be the be all, and the end all. Here
But here, upon this Bank and School of time,
We’d jump the life to come. (1.7.475-81)
But in these Cases,
Macbeth’s is a double dilemma. He is Duncan’s ‘Kinsman and his
Subject’. His allegiance is both natural toward a fellow human being and
formal toward the God invoking King. He wants to escape judgment both
‘here’ and, according to his beliefs, in ‘the life to come’ When he thinks of
murdering Duncan, Duncan’s virtues seem like ‘Angels’ compared with the
damnation he associates with the deed.
We still have judgment here, that we but teach
Bloody Instructions, which being taught, return
To plague the Inventor. This even-handed Justice
Commends the Ingredience of our poisoned Chalice
To our own lips. (1.7.481-6)
His double damnation is captured in the comparison of the natural image
of ‘a naked new-born-Babe’ and in the fantasy image of ‘Heaven’s Cherubin’.
Together they will ‘blow the horrid deed in every eye’. As in the Sonnets, the
‘eye’(both of head and body) is the source of truth and beauty. Macbeth senses
the absence of a natural motive that would ‘prick the sides of his intent’, and
also senses the inadequacy of his male-based ‘ambition’ to justify the deed.
And Pity, like a naked New-born-Babe,
Macbeth’s dilemma, at the heart of the tragedy of his play, arises from
the confusion of the natural and the imaginary in his mind. His struggle or
‘battle’ between natural logic and his inconsistent beliefs is a consequence
of his unconditional male-based ambitions. His inability to determine the
correct priority between Nature and God leaves him in a state of doubt,
susceptible to the machinations of a female who has intentionally denied
her female logic for masculine mind-based ambition.
Striding the blast, or Heaven’s Cherubin, horsed
Upon the sightless Couriers of the Air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no Spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting Ambition, which o’erleaps it self,
And falls on th’other. (1.7.495-502)
So when Lady Macbeth enters, and Macbeth tells her of his desire to
‘proceed no further in this Business’, she accuses him of an inability to ‘act’
on his ‘desire’. When he says he can go no further as a ‘man’ she challenges
his status as a ‘man’ and puts her status as a female on the line. The imagery
and the language of their exchange make it crystal clear that Shakespeare’s
critique is of the excesses of male-based religions and the social/political
expectations based on such illogical beliefs.
Lady Macbeth. Art thou afeared
Lady Macbeth’s admission that she has previously ‘suckled’ a child
compounds the implications of her willingness to repudiate her natural
disposition. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Jaquenetta is pregnant before the play
begins, as is Juliet in Measure for Measure. Their pregnancies establish the
background of natural logic against which the idealistic male-driven excesses
of the four Lords and Angelo (respectively) are redressed. In Macbeth the
realisation that the Macbeths had a child before the action begins both establishes
the base of natural logic and heightens the tragedy as the principals
disavow their natural selves for God-like ambition.
To be the same in thine own Act, and Valour,
As thou art in desire?
Macbeth. Prithee Peace:
I dare do all that may become a man,
Who dares no more, is none.
Lady Macbeth. What Beast was’t then
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man:
And to be more that what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time, nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given Suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the Babe that milks me,
I would, while it was smiling in my Face,
Have plucked my Nipple from his Boneless Gums,
And dashed the Brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this. (1.7.516-38)
The brain-driven nature of their intent is expressed graphically. Lady
Macbeth’s description of what she will do with the grooms is a perfect image
of the consequences of the denial of Nature. As Shakespeare’s critique is
directed principally at the Bible, the word ‘Swinish’ seems apt.
That Memory, the Warder of the Brain,
But Macbeth is still pondering the implications of Lady Macbeth’s
readiness to repudiate her female logic by prioritising her masculine persona.
He concludes that the world will become a male dominated preserve, a
logical consequence of taking traditional mythology literally.
Shall be a Fume, and the Receipt of Reason
A Limbeck only: when in Swinish sleep,
Their drenched Natures lies as in a Death, (1.7.546-9)
Bring forth Men-Children only:
In varying degrees and in differing ways Duncan, Banquo, Macbeth, and
Lady Macbeth are aware that they are in a compromised relationship with
Nature. The degrees of their faith in the male-based ideal are evident in
their varying ability to acknowledge the falseness of their beliefs. Duncan
is unreflective and will die because he is not circumspect enough to sense
the danger. Banquo has insights but does not see their relevance to the
circumstances, so he also dies. Lady Macbeth is completely cynical in that
she knows her natural status but decides to act against it for immediate
advantage so appropriately kills herself.
For thy undaunted Mettle should compose
Nothing but Males. (1.7.554-6)
Macbeth, because he is reflective, sees the inconsistencies. But because
he lacks the logic the Poet of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, he is unable to resist the
wiles of his masculinised wife. His intuitive awareness of the mind’s offence
against the body, with its negative consequences for truth and beauty, allows
him to sum up at the end of Act 1.
I am settled, and bend up
By applying the Sonnet logic it is possible to makes sense of the shift that
occurs in Macbeth’s personality when he is exposed to ‘Vaulting Ambition’.
Like the Master Mistress of the Sonnets, his already overly idealistic temperament
is susceptible to further male-based excesses. He responds to the
honours bestowed by the King, and to the predictions of the Witches, by
scheming to ensure his succession. But he is also assailed by doubts and might
have shelved his plans if Lady Macbeth had not disowned her feminine persona
to encourage his masculine ascendancy. Unlike the Mistress of the Sonnets,
who has her feminine and masculine personae in balance, Lady Macbeth
opts for the masculine immaturity epitomised by the Master Mistress.
Each corporal Agent to this terrible Feat.
Away, and mock the time with fairest show,
False face must hide what the false Heart doth know. (1.7.563-6)
As Act 2 begins, immediately after the Macbeths’ deepening descent into
male psychology, Shakespeare seems to mark the transition by reference to
a couple of secondary features of the Sonnet structure. The Mistress has 28
sonnets in her sequence suggesting a symbolic relation to the lunar cycle,
and the pattern of 12x12 sonnets within the whole set is a structural relation
that keys in the logic of time. And significantly the word time occurs only
in the Master Mistress sequence.
Banquo. How goes the Night, Boy?
So when Banquo asks Fleance ‘how goes the Night’, Shakespeare has
him say that ‘the Moon is down’ to which Banquo responds ‘and she goes
down at Twelve’. The first three lines of Act 2 indicate that the Mistress has
been downgraded to the status of the immature male who is beholden to
the audit of time.
Fleance. The Moon is down: I have not heard the
Banquo. She goes down at Twelve. (2.1.571-4)
Banquo then notes, in keeping with his other insights from Act 1, the
rousing of the powers of Nature in response to the Macbeths’ intent. He
observes that the stars are ‘out’ because the sexual dynamic (‘husbandry’) is
reasserting itself in ‘Heaven’. He pitifully calls on ‘Merciful Powers’ for assistance
to hold back the natural consequences of the day’s deeds.
There’s Husbandry in Heaven,
The conversation between Banquo and Macbeth, that follows
Macbeth’s entry, is a study in blindness and double talk. The king goes to
bed in ‘unusual pleasure’ and ‘measureless content’. Banquo’s account of
the King’s idealistic mind-set shows him doubly blind to the scheming
Macbeths. Macbeth’s response can be read either as a musing on his recent
acquiescence to Lady Macbeth or an apology for not giving the King his
Their Candles are all out: take thee that too,
A heavy Summons lies like Lead upon me,
And yet I would not sleep:
Merciful Powers, restrain in me the cursed thoughts,
That Nature gives way to in repose. (2.1.577-82)
And Macbeth and Banquo’s uneasy alliance over the promises of the
Witches is beginning to collapse. When Banquo tells Macbeth of a dream
about the three ‘Sisters’, they go through a pantomime of ‘Honour’ and
‘Allegiance’ without directly confessing their ambitions.
Our will became the servant to defect,
Which else should free have wrought. (2.1.592-4)
With the departure of Banquo, Fleance, and Macbeth’s servant, Macbeth
experiences delusions that reveal the psychological basis of his lust for power.
He sees a ‘Dagger’ before him but finds it is an illusion he cannot ‘Handle’.
He asks why it is not ‘sensible’ to touch as well as sight. He is forced to
recognise that it is ‘but a Dagger of the Mind’.
Is this a Dagger, which I see before me,
If the sexual symbolism of the Dagger is acknowledged, then Macbeth
is experiencing the consequences of his denial of the logic of the sexual
dynamic in Nature. The Dagger becomes a ‘fatal Vision’ because its imaginary
state creates a dangerous illusion in the Mind. Shakespeare’s point is
made clear when he calls such an illusion of the mind ‘a false Creation’.
Anti-Nature ‘Mind’ prioritising biblical thought is a ‘false Creation’
because the ‘bloody Dagger’ castrates the increase dynamic in Nature and
renders the truth and beauty dynamic inconsistent. The Macbeths’
masculine avowal in the previous Act aligns them with the masculine God
of traditional thought.
The Handle toward my Hand? Come, let me clutch thee:
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not fatal Vision, sensible
To feeling, as to sight? Or art thou but
A Dagger of the Mind. (2.1.613-18)
a false Creation,
Macbeth sees the illusory Dagger in a ‘form’ as palpable as the one he
draws from his scabbard. But its illusion is to the mind’s eyes alone, because
it is a ‘false Creation’ of the ‘Brain’, like the God of the Bible. The Dagger
takes form before the mind’s eyes so fooling the other senses (taste, smell,
touch, and hearing). In the Mistress sequence, the Poet not only sees the
Mistress, she is also evident to the other senses (sonnet 130). Macbeth can
see that the ‘Gouts of Blood’ are illusions generated by the ‘bloody Business’
he and Lady Macbeth are planning.
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed Brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable,
As this which now I draw.
Thou Marshall’st me the way that I was going,
And such an Instrument I was to use.
Mine Eyes are made the fools o’th’other Senses,
Or else worth all the rest: I see thee still;
And on thy Blade, and Dudgeon, Gouts of Blood,
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing:
It is the bloody Business, which informs
Thus to mine Eyes. (2.1.618-29)
As Macbeth rationalises the illusion, he draws a parallel to his experience
with the Witches. When he and Lady Macbeth kill half of Nature by definitively
renouncing the female logic of life, ‘Witchcraft’ is the consequence.
Macbeth affirms, with Shakespeare’s prompting, that the denial of natural
logic by male-based systems of thought, such as Judeo/Christian, creates of
the female a masculinised hag. Hecat’s paleness is a reflection of her diminished
femininity in the light of biblical dogma.
Now o’er the one half World
Ironically Macbeth compares himself to Tarquin, whose overcharged
male immaturity is documented in Lucrece. And he concedes that his blind
philosophical use of words to rationalise his situation could take the heat
out of his resolve. Despite his previous characterisation of Duncan as an
angel, he now accepts that Duncan when murdered could go to either
‘Heaven, or to Hell’.
Nature seems dead, and wicked Dreams abuse
The Curtain’d sleep:Witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecat’s Offrings: (2.1.629-32)
Lady Macbeth begins the second scene of Act 2 by affirming the pact
with ‘Death’, or the male God, she made with Macbeth against ‘Nature’ or
That Death and Nature do contend about them,
But even she is still susceptible to the natural logic of life. To show that
she cannot logically forsake her natural birth, Shakespeare has her fail to kill
the grooms because one of them resembled her ‘Father’. The incident recalls
the argument of sonnet 13, in which the youth is reminded he had a father.
Then to demonstrate further the self-willed paradox of avowing faith in a
male God, Shakespeare has Macbeth recount his inability to say ‘Amen’,
when one of the King’s sons stirs and says ‘God bless us’. Considering
Macbeth’s recent renewal of his male-based pact with his wife, his concern
at his inability to reply ‘Amen’, with a pun on the words ‘a men’, is a sardonic
piece of humour on Shakespeare’s part.
Whether they live, or die. (2.2.655-6)
But Shakespeare goes further when he more explicitly identifies why
Macbeth cannot say ‘Amen’. Ironically Macbeth invokes not the God of the
Bible to relieve his mind-driven crime, but the soothing ‘balm’ of Nature.
His problem, though, is that he has ‘murdered Sleep’ or his recourse to
Nature’s nourishment in ‘Life’s Feast’.
Me thought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no more:
Having taken a life, Macbeth becomes preeminently aware of the ‘course’
of life in which the ‘innocence of sleep’ is evidence of Nature’s benefit. He
recognises intuitively, thanks to Shakespeare, that the ‘balm’ for ‘hurt Minds’
is natural logic. Lady Macbeth, though, has closed her mind to Nature so
she asks, ‘What do you mean?’ Ironically, Macbeth responds as if he had
overheard her speech confounding ‘Death and Nature’.
Macbeth doth murder Sleep, the innocent Sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled Sleeve of Care,
The death of each day’s Life, sore Labor’s Bath,
Balm of hurt Minds, great Nature’s second Course,
Chief nourisher in Life’s Feast. (2.2.691-6)
Lady Macbeth, now committed to her masculine ambitions, draws the
connection between Macbeth’s previous nobility and his recent tendency
to think negatively.
why worthy Thane,
She persists in her cynical slippage from natural logic to a mind prioritised
mentality that blocks out the logic of the body and the world. In her
challenge to Macbeth’s ‘infirmness of purpose’, she effectively describes the
status of the Master Mistress of the Sonnets who wants to be immortalised
in poetry and whose ‘eye’ is the immature eye of idealising adolescence.
You do unbend your Noble strength, to think
So brain-sickly of things: (2.2.703-3)
the sleeping and the dead,
Macbeth responds by characterising her Ur-shift toward the masculine
as having world devastating consequences, as if the Ocean as Nature loses
its greenness to become bloody red.
Are but as Pictures: ’tis the Eye of Child-hood,
That fears a painted Devil. (2.2.712-4)
Will all great Neptune’s Ocean wash this blood
Macbeth’s apprehensive awareness of the magnitude of his crime, and
Lady Macbeth’s dismissive suggestion that a ‘little Water clears us of this deed’
(Pontius Pilate), is accompanied by a persistent sound of ‘knocking’. As the
Macbeth’s retire to clean off evidence of their deeds, they leave the Porter
to open the gate.
Clean from my Hand? no: this my Hand will rather
The multitudinous Seas incarnadine,
Making the Green one, Red. (2.2.721-4)
Before the knocking began, other than the murder of Duncan and
grooms by the scheming Macbeth’s, the atmosphere in Macbeth’s castle has
seemed ‘heavenly’. The ‘God-saved’ Duncan was called an ‘Angel’ by
Macbeth and is asleep in ‘measureless content’, Macbeth’s ‘nobleness’ and
virtues have been commended, and Lady Macbeth, the ‘most kind hostess’,
has been sent a ‘diamond’ by the King.
But when the bell rang at the end of Macbeth’s soliloquy, after he had
murdered Duncan, he equivocated as to whether Duncan will go to
‘Heaven, or to Hell’. So even before the Porter opens the gate it is not clear
whether those inside the castle are in ‘Heaven’ or in ‘Hell’. In sonnets 129
and 144, Shakespeare regards heaven and hell as interchangeable states in
which one’s heaven can be another’s hell. The theme appears in a number
of the plays and in the long poems. And the transformation of heavenly
characters into their devilish opposites is also a persistent theme.
So, when the Porter addresses Macduff and Lenox, who wait outside the
gate, he takes the vigour of their knocking as a sign of desperation. If they
are knocking to get into heaven, would they be so persistent, so they might
be knocking on the gates of hell. And the idea of ‘knocking’, with its sexual
overtones (continued in the sexual innuendoes in the ensuing exchange),
suggests the place to which they are so eager to gain entry is confused as to
whether it is heaven or hell.
Here’s a knocking indeed: if a man were
The image of the Farmer who hoarded his harvest for better prices,
but ironically killed himself when the next harvest was bumper, provides
an analogy for those who think they deserve to go to heaven but find their
imagined heaven to be a real hell. They mortgage their futures against
‘time’, hence the Porter welcomes impatient ‘time’ into the hell of it own
Porter of Hell gate, he should have old turning the
Key. Knock. Knock, Knock, Knock. Who’s there
i’th’ name of Belzebub? Here’s a Farmer, that hanged
himself on th’expectation of Plenty: Come in time, have
Napkin’s enow about you, here you’ll sweat for’t. (2.3.744-9)
At the next knock, the Porter asks Macduff and Lenox ‘Who’s there in
that other Devil’s name’. The ‘other Devil’ or the complement to ‘Belzebub’
is God, the Devil’s logical counterpart. Satan and God once co-existed in
unison so here God is given his alternate designation. The equivocation
between God and the Devil in the logic of ‘Faith’ sets ‘scale against either
scale’, hence committing ‘treason enough for God’s sake’.
The relationships in ‘Faith’ slip between the meanness of an ‘English
Tailor’ to the suggestiveness of ‘French Hose’. The Tailor, thinking he has
arrived at heaven, is invited in to ‘roast (his) Goose’.
Knock, Knock. Who’s there in the other Devil’s Name?
Faith here’s an Equivocator, that could swear in both
the Scales against either Scale, who committed Treason
enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to Heaven:
oh come in, Equivocator. (2.3.749-54)
The Porter does not ask ‘Who are you?’but ‘What are you?’ Is the equivocating
entity God or Devil. But, when he begins to feel the cold of the
night, he ceases his banter with a final quip about those of ‘all Professions’
who imagine their ‘Faith’ has them on the ‘Primrose way’ to heaven but are
headed instead for the ‘Bonfire’ of hell.
Knock, Knock. Who’s there? Faith here’s an English
Tailor come, hither, for stealing out of a French Hose:
Come in Tailor, here you may roast your Goose. Knock.
Knock, Knock. Never at quiet: What are you? But this
Place is too cold for Hell. I’ll Devil-Porter it no further:
I had thought to have let in some of all Professions, that
Go the Primrose way to the everlasting Bonfire. (2.3.754-61)
Sardonically, as Macduff and Lenox enter, the Porter asks to be remembered
in ‘prayer’. Macduff, who has overheard the Porter’s tirade against
equivocators, asks if the cause of the ‘lying’ or the need for prayer was the
Porter’s lateness to bed. The pun on ‘lie/lie’ recalls the couplet of sonnet
138. There the Poet intentionally equivocates with the Mistress to demonstrate
the logic of truth in words and its necessary connection to the increase
dynamic in Nature.
Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
And the Porter’s response recalls the equivocation of Peter before Christ’s
And in our faults by lies we flattered be. (Sonnet 138.13-14)
Faith Sir, we were carousing till the second Cock:
When asked to describe the three things, the Porter draws a logical
relationship between equivocation and the consequences of ‘drink’ on sexual
performance. By relating the equivocation of ‘Faith’ to the inability to sustain
sexual performance, Shakespeare identifies the erotic nature of all faiths that
deny the priority of increase (or the body dynamic) over the mind. The
faiths are ‘Lies’ because they do not acknowledge their basis in natural logic.
And Drink, Sir, is a great provoker of three things. (2.3.767-8)
Marry, Sir, Nose-painting, Sleep, and Urine.
To Macduff ’s observation that the ‘drink gave thee the Lie last Night’,
the Porter agrees but, in keeping with his role as Shakespeare’s insightful
persona-cum-gatekeeper he tells of how he ‘cast’ the ‘lie’ from his ‘Throat’.
Again, the Porter’s awareness of the logical connection between the sexual
and the verbal gives expression to the Sonnet philosophy.
Lechery, Sir, it provokes, and unprovokes: it provokes
the desire, but it takes away the performance. Therefore
much Drink may be said to be an Equivocator with
Lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on,
and it takes him off; it persuades him, and dis-heartens
him; it makes him stand to, and not stand to: in conclusion,
equivocates him in a sleep, and giving him the Lie,
leaves him. (2.3.770-8)
That it did, Sir, i’the very Throat on me: but I
Shakespeare, as he does with other characters of a similar social status, uses
the role of the Porter to bring to the surface of the play aspects of his
underlying philosophy that are pertinent to the action. The Porter’s lack of
religious prejudice and social pretension makes him an ideal vehicle through
which to summarise in colloquial language what is not evident to those who
consider themselves above him in station. Ironically, commentators dismiss
the Porter’s insights by insisting his part in the play reflects Shakespeare’s use of
a conventional character derived from morality plays to counterpoint St Peter
who mans the gate of heaven. But the opposite is the case as Shakespeare uses
the convention to show how his natural logic is already evident in the
thoughts and actions of an individual considered mean. The commentators’
embarrassment at the Porter’s language ironically reflects their inability to
accept the lying or equivocation in their own beliefs.
requited him for his Lie, and (I think) being too strong
for him, though he took up my Legs sometime, yet I
made a Shift to cast him. (2.3.780-3)
The philosophical interlude with the Porter precedes the discovery by
Macduff of the murdered Duncan. As Lenox and Macduff attempt to
account for the murder they reveal their remove from natural logic. Lenox
attributes to the night storm an ability to ‘Prophecy with Accents terrible’
and Macduff laments the murder of the King as the ‘sacrilegious’ breaking
open of the ‘Lord’s anointed Temple’. Their descriptions, immediately after
the Porter says he has ‘shifted’ past the debilities of drink, show their inability
to conceive of the gratuitous murder as a logical consequence of their malebased
When Lady Macbeth emerges, Macduff further demonstrates his blindness
to the logic of evil by patronising the over masculinised ‘Lady’.
O gentle Lady,
Macbeth, in keeping with the Porter’s analysis, covers his guilt with lies
and equivocation. And in equivocating, his language hints at his hidden
’Tis not for you to hear what I can speak:
The repetition in a Woman’s ear,
Would murder as it fell. (2.3.840-3)
Had I but died an hour before this chance,
Yet, unlike Macduff and Lenox, Macbeth does not turn to the God and
associated beliefs that have led to the calamity. Instead, as Shakespeare’s
protagonist, and after informing the King’s sons that the ‘Spring, the Head,
the Fountain of your Blood is stopped’, he talks of ‘Nature’. He is caught between
his gross desires and a raw consciousness of their natural implications.
I had lived a blessed time: for from this instant,
There’s nothing serious in Mortality:
All is but Toys:Renown and Grace is dead,
The Wine of Life is drawn, and the mere Lees
Is left this Vault, to brag of. (2.3.852-7)
Who can be wise, amazed, temp’rate, and furious,
Malcolm, who by the play’s end learns something of Shakespeare’s intent,
recognises in the bloody scene before him an ‘argument’ to which he and
Donalbaine should give ‘tongue’. Instead they decide to flee to England and
Ireland respectively for fear of being murdered themselves.
Loyal and Neutral, in a moment? No man:
Th’expedition of my violent Love
Out-run the pauser, Reason. Here lay Duncan,
His Silver skin, laced with his Golden Blood,
And his gash’d Stabs, looked like a Breach in Nature.
For Ruin’s wasteful entrance: there the Murderers,
Steep’d in the Colours of their Trade; their Daggers
Unmannerly breeched with gore: who could refrain,
That had a heart to love; and in that heart,
Courage, to make’s love known. (2.3.873-83)
Banquo sums up by invoking the conceit that has lead to the collapse of
heaven into hell.
Fears and scruples shake us:
Banquo’s comments convey Shakespeare’s brilliant heightening of the
irony where the embattled males are unable to perceive the logic of their
blindness to fate.
In the great Hand of God I stand, and thence,
Against the undivulged pretense, I fight
Of Treasonous Malice. (2.3.898-901)
As the others avow assent, Macbeth summaries the logical contradiction
evident in their expectation of help from the male-based God.
Let’s briefly put on manly readiness. (2.3.904)
Macbeth opened with the sounds and sights of Nature and the Witches
as females who were in accord with Nature. Since the introduction of the
embattled males, and Lady Macbeth’s determination to deny her feminine
side, the logic of Nature has been hidden from the Macbeths and other
characters. Their only recourse has been to invoke the male God whose
illogic is driving their unnatural acts.
So when Ross meets an Old Man identified as ‘Father’, or an aging
religious, he characterises the heaven’s as ‘troubled with man’s Act’ in which
Night seems to dominate Day’s shame, and the Old Man calls the weather
‘unnatural’. The Old Man cites the instance of an Owl that kills a Falcon
while defending its nest as evidence of the unnaturalness of the climate. Ross
adds the observation that Duncan’s horses ‘broke their stalls’ and bit each
other as if they were at ‘War with Mankind’.
Ross. Ha, good Father,
The Old man and Ross correctly identify the problem as ‘man’s Act’and
‘Mankind at War’, but are prejudiced by their male-based faith to see the
violent storm as evidence of unnatural occurrences or signs. In sonnet 14
Shakespeare dismisses such heavenly augury.
Thou see’st the Heavens, as troubled with man’s Act,
Old man. ’Tis unnatural,
Even like the deed that’s done:
Ross. Turned wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending ’gainst Obedience, as they would
Make War with Mankind. (2.4.929-45)
Then Shakespeare, with exquisite irony, has Ross note that Macbeth’s
accession to the throne is contrary to primogeniture.
’Gainst Nature still,
The Old Man, or Father, adds the final note of pious goodwill, which
Shakespeare’s play identifies as the cause of men’s ‘Thriftless Ambition’.
Thriftless Ambition (2.4.961-2)
God’s benison go with you, and with those
Banquo opens the third act with a tacit admission of complicity in the
murderous events that follow his encounter with the Witches. He ‘fears’ that
Macbeth has ‘foully’ (not fairly) attained the kingship, but he will not say so
(‘but hush, no more’) for fear of jeopardising the kingship for his ‘Posterity’.
That would make good of bad, and Friends of Foes. (2.4.977-8)
Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
When Macbeth enters to request Banquo’s presence at the ‘solemn
Supper’ (echoes of Christ’s Last Supper), Banquo confirms that he will put
self-interest ahead of justice.
As the weird Women promised, and I fear
Thou playd’st most foully for’t: yet is was said
It should not stand in thy Posterity,
But that my self should be the Root, and Father
Of many Kings. If there come truth from them,
As upon thee Macbeth, their Speeches shine,
Why by the verities on thee made good,
May they not be my Oracles as well,
And set me up in hope. But hush, no more. (3.1.982-91)
Let your Highness
Banquo further realises that his life and that of his son Fleance are in
danger. He resolves to ride until the hour of ‘Supper’ to avoid being killed
by Macbeth. With supreme irony, Shakespeare has Macbeth play his Christlike
hand by expressing a desire to be alone ‘till Supper’ and sardonically
wishing Banquo a ‘God be with you’.
Command upon me, to the which my duties
Are with a most indissoluble tie
For ever knit. (3.1.1000-3)
When alone, Macbeth ruminates on the logic of increase in ‘Nature’.
Shakespeare, immediately after he has Macbeth use the word God for the
first time, examines the relation between Macbeth’s own God-like ambition,
which has seen him and Lady Macbeth forswear the idea of posterity, and
Macbeth’s worry that Banquo and his ‘Seeds’ will benefit from his murderous
desire. Again the deep irony is in the comparison of Macbeth’s status with
the similar status of a biblical fatherless, motherless and childless God who
sends his ‘son’ to earth as a symbol of eternal childlessness to sustain the
priority of the imagination over physical increase.
Macbeth’s ‘Royalty’ has been achieved through a double murder. First
the murder of his natural self and then the murder of the lineal king Duncan.
Now he realises that Banquo is still capable of the ‘Royalty of Nature’.
To be thus, is nothing, but to be safely thus:
Macbeth sees a new threat in Banquo’s circumspection and his avoidance
of danger. And Banquo, unlike Macbeth, has not vowed to forsake his
natural logic. As evidence, Macbeth remembers that Banquo asked the
Witches to ‘speak’ of his prospects.
Our fears in Banquo stick deep,
And in his Royalty of Nature reigns that
Which would be feared. (3.1.1038-41)
He chid the Sisters,
The Macbeths’ tragedy is that they have forsworn both their own desire
for further offspring for the sake of Kingship, and are faced with the need
to murder all other pretenders to the throne who have children or wish to
have children. Their plight recalls the argument of sonnet 11, where the
youth is rebuked that if all were like him in their disregard for the logic of
increase, then in ‘three-score years the world would be done away’.
Macbeth’s similar idealised or God-like self-regard leads him to murder the
possibility of increase, starting with Banquo and Fleance, continuing with
Macduff ’s wife and children and ending only when he encounters one who
was ‘not of woman born’.
When first they put the Name of King upon me,
And bad they speak to him. Then Prophet-like,
They hailed him Father to a Line of Kings. (3.1.1047-50)
Upon my Head they placed a fruitless Crown,
Macbeth recognises that his actions have alienated him from his sexual
nature. He bemoans the loss of his sexual prowess or ‘eternal Jewel’ that has
become a ‘fruitless Crown’, and a ‘barren Scepter’. Because he would have
to murder all mankind to ensure his current God-like rule, he has made the
sexual propensity of ‘Man’ his ‘common Enemy’.
And put a barren Scepter in my Grip,
Thence to be wrenched with an unlineal Hand,
No Son of mine succeeding: if it be so,
For Banquo’s Issue have I filed my Mind,
For them, the gracious Duncan have I murdered,
Put Rancours in the Vessel of my Peace
Only for them, and mine eternal Jewel
Given to the common Enemy of Man,
To make them Kings, the Seeds of Banquo Kings. (3.1.1051-60)
When the murderers enter, Macbeth claims that Banquo was responsible
for the murderers’ previous bad ‘fortune’. Macbeth then argues that
neither the patience of their inner ‘nature’, nor their ‘Gospelled…prayer’
should distract them from their revenge. Shakespeare has his natural/
unnatural creation Macbeth equivocate between his natural inclinations and
his God-like desires. He has him question first the murderers’ inner ‘nature’,
and then their learned habits of prayer.
Do you find your patience so predominant,
Macbeth’s facetious comment that Banquo is a ‘good man’, or a man of
God who has ‘beggared’ the murderers’ kin, elicits from the first murderer
an affirmation that they are ‘men’.
In your nature, that you can let this go?
Are you so Gospelled to pray for this good man,
And for his Issue, whose heavy hand
Hath bowed you to the Grave, and beggar’d
Yours for ever? (3.1.1085-90)
We are men, my Liege. (3.1.1091)
From the moment the males were introduced in the first line of act 1
scene 2 with ‘What bloody man is that?’ Shakespeare, in the unfolding
tragedy, has critiqued the role of idealised masculine conceits. In act 1 scene
7 Macbeth asked if they should ‘bring forth Man-Children only’, and in act
2 scene 2 he could not ‘pronounce Amen’ to the ‘God save us’ from one of
Duncan’s sons. Now, after Macbeth characterises Banquo as hiding the dark
side of his maleness behind the one-sided goodness of the male God of the
Gospel, the murderers affirm their willingness to confront Banquo with the
hidden maleness of Banquo’s injustices, albeit transferred to him by Macbeth.
But Macbeth wants to be sure of his ‘men’. In the ‘Catalogue of men’
there are many types of men as there are many types of ‘Dogs’. But ‘Nature’
has also created a ‘valued file’ that distinguishes men by a ‘particular addition’.
If the murderers have a ‘station in the file’ above the ‘worst rank of
Manhood’, such as deceiving types like Macbeth/Banquo, then Macbeth
will entrust them with the mission to kill their common enemy.
Ay, in the Catalogue ye go for men,
Shakespeare, anticipating sonnets 67 and 68, has Macbeth appeal first to
the murderers’ inner ‘nature’ and then to their place in ‘Nature’ at large.
Consistent with the logic of the Sonnets, Nature is evoked as the primary
entity, while the God of the gospels is associated with the ‘good man’ or
the status of the adolescent idealising Master Mistress of the youth sonnets.
As Hounds, and Greyhounds, Mongrels, Spaniels, Curs,
Shoughs, Water-Rugs, and Demi-Wolves are clipt
All by the Name of Dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The House-keeper, the Hunter, every one
According to the gift, which bounteous Nature
Hath in him closed: whereby he does receive
Particular addition from the Bill,
That writes them all alike: and so of men.
Now if you have a station in the file,
Not i’th’worst rank of Manhood, say’t,
And I will put that Business in your Bosoms,
Whose execution takes your Enemy off,
Grapples you to the heart; and love of us,
Who wear our Health but sickly in his Life,
Which in his Death were perfect. (3.1.1092-108)
Ironically, like Barnardine the murderer in Measure for Measure, both
murderers state that they have come to care for neither life nor death. Despite
Macbeth’s elaborate rationale, they were already prepared to murder without
concern for their own lives.
Second Murderer. I am one, my Liege,
At the beginning of scene 2, when Lady Macbeth gives voice to her
doubts, Shakespeare has her reflect on the relation of ‘desire’ and ‘content’.
In an unguarded moment, he has her thoughts express the natural logic of
the Sonnets. In the Sonnet logic, desire motivated by an unnatural lust for
power lacks ‘content’. The issue is addressed in the first sonnet, where the
word ‘content’ refers to both peace of mind and the content of the Poet’s
verse that articulates the natural logic of life. And sonnet 55 is particularly
precise in relating ‘contents’ to the appreciation of the logic of increase in
Whom the vile Blows and Buffets of the World
Hath so incensed, that I am reckless what I do,
To spite the World.
First Murderer. And I another,
So weary with Disasters, tugged with Fortune,
That I would set my Life on any Chance,
To mend it or be rid on’t. (3.1.1109-16)
Nought’s had, all’s spent.
Not only is inner peace destroyed, it is evident to others that something
is awry. The analogy with biblical thought is inevitable. Despite the promises
of the male God, who dismisses Nature and increase as sinful, the Christian
mind is perpetually tormented by its relation to original sin. To outsiders
its discomfort is a consequence of the illogicality of biblical desires.
Where our desire is got without content:
’Tis safer, to be that which we destroy,
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy. (3.2.1157-60)
How now, my Lord, why do you keep alone?
Macbeth confirms the biblical allusions when he echoes Lady Macbeth’s
concerns. Like the God who consigned Satan to the everlasting fires of Hell,
Of sorriest Fancies your Companions making,
Using those Thoughts, which should indeed have died
With them they think on: things without all remedy
Should be without regard: what’s done, is done. (3.2.1162-6)
We have scorched the Snake, not killed it:
Shakespeare’s dramatic design, in which the Sonnet philosophy forms the
background to which the Macbeths and the other characters act out their
biblical-like fantasies and delusions, means that natural logic is the default
position for their deliberations. It is not surprising, then, to find the
Macbeths talking in terms of the arguments of the increase sonnets and
poetry and increase sonnets as they attempt to disguise their intentions. They
seek to conceal within their faces (‘the Mind to lie’) the beauty (‘eye’) and
truth (‘tongue’) of their ‘Hearts’.
She’ll close, and be her self, whilst our poor Malice
Remains in danger of her former Tooth.
But let the frame of things dis-joint,
Both the Worlds suffer,
Ere we will eat our Meal in fear, and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible Dreams,
That shake us Nightly: Better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace,
Than on the torture of the Mind to lie
In restless ecstasy.
Duncan is in his Grave:
After Life’s fitful Fever, he sleeps well,
Treason has done his worst: nor Steel, nor Poison,
Malice domestic, foreign Levy, nothing,
Can touch him further. (3.2.1167-82)
Lady Macbeth. Come on:
Lady Macbeth, who has already declared her willingness to forgo her
natural disposition to bear a child, reminds Macbeth that Banquo and
Fleance’s eternity can be curtailed by eliminating their capacity to increase
or copy themselves.
Gentle my Lord, sleek o’er your rugged Looks,
Be bright and Jovial among your Guests to Night.
Macbeth. So shall I Love, and so I pray be you:
Let your remembrance apply to Banquo,
Present him Eminence, both with Eye and Tongue:
Unsafe the while, that we must lave
Our Honors in these flattering streams,
And make our Faces Vizards to our Hearts,
Disguising what they are. (3.2.1183-92)
But in them, Nature’s Copy’s not eterne. (3.2.1196)
Macbeth, though, unbeknown to his wife, has already shortcut Nature
for Banquo and his son. His evocation of day turning to night is symptomatic
of his own shift from good and noble Macbeth to ‘bad’ Macbeth. He
projects onto the natural cycle of day to night his inevitable slide from an
idealistic male to an ‘embattled’ male.
ere the Bat hath flown
To affirm Macbeth’s complete acceptance of Lady Macbeth’s willingness
to act contrary to Nature, Shakespeare again uses the image of the ‘eye’ as
Macbeth describes how he will ‘tear to pieces’ the ‘Bond’ of increase.
His Cloister’d flight, ere to black Hecat’s summons
The shard-born Beetle, with his drowsy hums,
Hath rung Night’s yawning Peal,
There shall be done a deed of dreadful note. (3.2.1198-202)
Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest Chuck,
Not only are the Macbeths going against the logic of increase in Nature,
they also turn the logic of truth and beauty against itself. Shakespeare has
Macbeth gives voice to the illogicality in biblical thought where a male God
created world ironically perverting the relationship of good and evil,
resulting in greater evil.
Till thou applaud the deed:Come, feeling Night,
Scarf up the tender Eye of pitiful Day,
And with thy bloody and invisible Hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great Bond,
Which keep me pale. (3.2.1204-9)
Thou marvell’st at my words: but hold thee still,
When the murderer gives an account of Banquo’s death in scene 4, he
affirms the object of the assassinations is to kill ‘Nature’. Macbeth, when
told that Fleance lives, comforts himself that he will not ‘breed’ for a while.
Things bad begun, make strong themselves by ill: (3.2.1213-4)
Murderer. I, my good Lord: safe in a ditch he bides,
The context for the entry of the ghost of Banquo was established at the
beginning of the play. The Witches depart before the males enter in Act 1
scene 2 and only Macbeth and Banquo witness the Witches in Act 1 scene
3. While Duncan and the other Lords are characterised as having overly
masculine personae, with Ross and the Old Man in Act 2 scene 4 fantasising
at the events of the night’s storm (and later Lady Macbeth has her own
fantasy about blood), only Macbeth and Banquo are willing to intervene to
ensure their masculine ascendancy to Kingship. So with Banquo dead,
Macbeth is the only male who remains delusional about power.
With twenty trenched gashes on his head;
The least a Death to Nature.
Macbeth. Thanks for that:
There the grown Serpent lies, the worm that’s fled
Hath Nature that in time will Venom breed,
No teeth for th’present. (3.4.1285-91)
When the guests assemble for dinner, Lady Macbeth, in her attempt to
alleviate the concern of the Lords, extends the earlier allusions to Christ’s Last
Supper. Not only has Macbeth apparently been afflicted with his delusion
since young, his ‘Friends’, if they offend him, could extend his ‘Passion’.
Sit worthy Friends:my Lord is often thus,
Lady Macbeth’s rhetorical question ‘Are you a man?’ again brings into
focus the logical conditions that are behind the tragedy of Macbeth.
Shakespeare ironically has Lady Macbeth challenge Macbeth’s willingness
to be more of a man than his physical maleness provides. His delusory mind,
with its ‘Passion’ from youth, is a consequence of being more male than
maleness logically allows. Shakespeare has Macbeth acknowledge the nature
of the delusion when he says he is a ‘bold’ man who has gone past the ‘Devil’
who was cast off by God. He has become even more like God in his absolute
And hath been from his youth. Pray you keep Seat,
The fit is momentary, upon a thought
He will again be well. If much you note him
You shall offend him, and extend his Passion,
Feed, and regard him not. Are you a man? (3.4.1321-6)
Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that
Lady Macbeth’s response confirms Macbeth’s over-masculinised
condition, and her part in its manifestation is confirmed by his response to
the illusion before him. She characterises his ‘fear’ as if it were a return to
the natural logic of the ‘story’ of grandmother and mother that she has
Which might appall the Devil. (3.4.1327-8)
O proper stuff:
When Macbeth speaks to the apparition of Banquo, Lady Macbeth again
expresses her concern that he cannot handle being the absolute masculine
This is the very painting of your fear:
This is the Air-drawn-Dagger which you said
Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts
(Imposters to true fear) would well become
A woman’s story, at a Winter’s fire
Authorised by her Grandam: shame it self,
Why do you make such faces? When all’s done
You look but on a stool. (3.4.1329-37)
What? Quite unmanned in folly. (3.4.1344)
Macbeth persists in referring to the biblical Passion as he wonders why
those murdered ‘now rise again’.
Blood hath been shed ere now, i’th’olden time,
Appropriately there is no ‘speculation’ in the ghost’s ‘eyes’ in keeping with
the travesty of truth and beauty consequent on the abrogation of natural
logic. Macbeth, preferring a wild animal to the ghost, says he would insist
he is ‘the Baby of a Girl’ if Banquo would come to life again. Shakespeare
has him wish his logical connection to Nature was restored, but when the
ghost vanishes Macbeth again asserts he ‘is a man’.
Ere humane Statute purged the gentle Weal:
I, and since too, Murders have been performed
Too terrible for the ear. The times has been,
That when the Brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end: But now they rise again
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,
And push us from our stools. This is more strange
Than such a murder is. (3.4.1347-55)
Macbeth’s distraction is consistent with a belief in ‘augurs’ (3.4.1406) that
was dismissed in sonnet 14. The ‘secret’st man of Blood’ or Christ similarly
arises from such arcane expectations. Macbeth determines to seek out the
‘weird Sisters’ to discover ‘by the worst means, the worst, supposedly for
mine own good’. He is to return to the imaginary masculinised females to
find out how to do his masculine worst, for his own good. Such a good is
the ‘strange and self-abuse’ of idealistic fantasies. Lady Macbeth, for all her
masculine posturing, ironically recognises that ‘the season of all Natures’ or
sleep, will ease their fears.
The entry of Hecat in scene 5 was anticipated by Macbeth in scene 2.
Contrary to general opinion that the part of Hecat is an interpolation by
another playwright, her role is pivotal to establishing the logical centre of
the play. When the three masculinised Witches entered at the beginning of
the play, they established the female priority over the embattled males of
scene 2. Now just after the play’s mid-point Hecat enters to recover the
priority of the Witches’ feminine personae over their masculine personae.
She berates them for being ‘over-bold’ with Macbeth, and identifies herself
as the ‘Mistress’ of their charms.
Have I not reason (Beldams) as you are?
The Mistress of the Sonnets bears the same characteristics as Hecat, who
Shakespeare identifies as the Mistress’ dramatic counterpart. She is the female
in Nature who is in command of both her feminine and masculine personae
and, as the source of beauty and truth, can wisely contrive ‘harm’to others,
as well as direct adolescent males toward maturity. Her assessment of
Macbeth follows her words of rebuke to the three Witches.
Saucy, and over-bold, how did you dare
To Trade, and traffic with Macbeth,
In Riddles, and Affairs of death;
And I the Mistress of your Charms,
The close contriver of all harms,
Was never called to bear my part,
Or show the glory of our Art? (3.5.1432-9)
And which is worse, all you have done
The mention of the ‘Moon’ recalls the numerological identification of
the Mistress of the Sonnets with the lunar number 28, and further connects
the logical role of Hecat to Shakespeare’s natural logic.
Hath been for a wayward Son,
Spiteful, and wrathful, who (as others do)
Loves for his own ends, not for you. (3.5.1440-3)
This night I’ll spend
Hecat will employ ‘the glory of our Art’ to lead Macbeth to the fate his
selfishness warrants. By catching the profound ‘vap’rous drop’ from the
‘Corner of the Moon’ she will, with consummate irony, channel her parthenogenetic
autoerotic energies to form the ‘Artificial Sprites’ or virtual
apparitions to mimic the Macbeths’ ‘confused’ anti-Nature theology. Lady
Macbeth’s willingness to dash a baby’s head will be revisited on them when
a ‘Bloody Baby’ is conjured to prophesise their fate.
Unto a dismal, and a Fatal end.
Great business must be wrought ere Noon,
Upon the Corner of the Moon
There hangs a vap’rous drop, profound,
I’ll catch it ere it comes to ground;
And that distilled by Magic flights,
Shall raise such Artificial Sprites,
As by the strength of their illusion,
Shall draw him on to his Confusion. (3.5.1450-9)
Hecat’s final judgment of Macbeth identifies the ‘Mortals’ chiefest
Enemy’ as ‘Security’. Macbeth, like an adolescent idealist who bases his
thought on illogical male-based belief, places his ‘hopes’ in ‘Wisdom’ above
rather than trust ‘Fate’ and ‘Death’ that are part of the natural processes of
He shall spurn Fate, scorn Death, and bear
The conversation between Lennox and another Lord at the conclusion
of Act 3 establishes that they do not yet suspect Macbeth of the murders.
Neither is it clear whether the army Malcolm and Macduff are organising
is to act against Macbeth. The two Lords’ use of the words ‘Heaven’,
‘absolute’, and ‘holy Angel’ characterises their blindness to Macbeth’s deceit.
His hopes ’bove Wisdom, Grace, and Fear:
And you all know, Security
Is Mortals’ chiefest Enemy. (3.5.1460-3)
Act 4 opens with the Witches singing around a steaming cauldron.
Significantly the ingredients in the brew consist of natural plant, animal, and
human parts. While some of the ingredients are not commonplace and their
names are sometimes bitingly satirical none of them is other than natural.
When Hecat enters, she bids the Witches sing ‘like’ Elves and Fairies. Her
instruction to simulate ‘Elves and Fairies’ anticipates her magisterial control
of the childish illusions that will soon spellbind Macbeth. Hecat’s role as the
special effects director in Macbeth has its counterpart in Shakespeare’s patent
use of theatrical illusion in all his plays.
In keeping with the illusory status of the Witches, Macbeth’s first words
locate them in the realm of hallucinations or dreams. Effectively they are
personae of his mind.
How now you secret, black, and midnight Hags?
When he asks what they ‘do’ they respond in unison, ‘A deed without
a name’. The Witches employ intuitions that precede speech. According to
the Sonnet logic they are evoking the dynamic of sensations or beauty, which
is logically prior to the possibility of saying or truth. After all, Macbeth began
with the Witches as the female dynamic within Nature who appreciate the
logic of beauty and truth or the dynamic of ‘fair’ and ‘foul’.
What is’t you do? (4.1.1577-8)
Macbeth is aware that he ‘conjures’ the Witches, but wonders how they
can ‘know’ the future in advance. He runs through a list of his male-based
expectation of Witches until he exhausts them. Then he recalls the Witches’
specialty for predicting the ‘treasure of Nature’s Germaine’. (Germaine
relates to parenthood in the sense of ‘from the same race’ from the ME or
I conjure you, by that which you Profess,
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have already shown their willingness to risk
the ‘destruction’ of their powers of parenthood to achieve kingly power.
Appropriately, when given a choice between hearing his fate from the
Witches’ ‘mouths’ or from their ‘Masters’, Macbeth elects to hear from their
‘Masters’. Hecat has identified herself as the Mistress, so Macbeth’s preference
means he will hear from the equivalent of the Master Mistress or adolescent
male of the Sonnets. Shakespeare, in keeping with his critique of male-based
delusions, has the first Witch add to the brew the animal prohibited to Jews.
The ‘Sow’ that eats its ‘nine Farrow’ relates the ‘Masters’ to the number 9
associated with the Master Mistress in the Sonnets.
(However you come to know it) answer me:
Though you untie the Winds, and let them fight
Against the Churches: Though the yesty Waves
Confound and swallow Navigation up:
Though bladed Corn be lodged, and Trees blown down,
Though Castles topple on their Warder’s heads:
Though Palaces, and Pyramids do slope
Their heads to their Foundations: Though the treasure
Of Nature’s Germaine, tumble together,
Even till destruction sicken: Answer me
To what I ask you. (4.1.1580-91)
Pour in Sow’s blood, that hath eaten
Nature, as ‘Thunder’, again heralds the Witches’ revelations. They tell
Macbeth he cannot speak to the apparitions as they already ‘know his
thoughts’. Shakespeare emphasises the logical relationship that exists between
the characters of the play and their equivalents as personae in Macbeth’s mind.
Her nine Farrow: Grease that’s sweaten
From the Murderer’s Gibbet, throw
Into the Flame. (4.1.1598-601)
The first apparition is an ‘Armed Head’. It lacks a body because it represents
the logic of the embattled idealising males whose mind-based beliefs
deny the logic of their bodies. The second apparition is a ‘Bloody Child’
who announces, ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’. After the
characterisation of the males as ‘Bloody Men’ in the first Act, the ‘Bloody
Child’ characterises their adolescent idealistic mentality, with its disregard
for the logic of increase.
Macbeth finds no cause for concern in the first two revelations. He
reckons he will ‘sleep in spite of Thunder’, or the inevitability of Nature.
The third apparition is a ‘Child Crowned, with a Tree in his hand’ who
predicts that Macbeth will never be vanquished until Birnan Wood comes
to Dunsinane Hill. Again Macbeth is buoyed, feeling assured he will ‘live
the Lease Of Nature’ or his natural term of life. When he asks to know if
Banquo’s ‘issue’ will ‘Reign in the Kingdom’, the Witches refuse to say, but
he insists on knowing. He is shown a series of eight Kings with Banquo the
last holding a mirror that shows Banquo’s descendants as Kings.
Thou art too like the Spirit of Banquo:Down:
Macbeth distraught, calls the Witches ‘Filthy Hags’, but they sardonically
humour him by ‘Charming the Air’ and dancing before they ‘disappear’.
Thy Crown does sear mine Eye-balls. (4.1.1659-60)
Macbeth’s response, like that of any frustrated idealist, is to resort to a
greater ‘ill’ in an attempt to recover his disappearing good. On hearing of
Macduff ’s flight to England, he resolves to kill Macduff ’s wife and children.
Through Macbeth’s actions, Shakespeare characterises the terrible and
unrelenting consequences of any overly idealistic system of belief when
believed in literally.
And even now
So far, most of the males in the drama have had their characters defined.
The delusions of Macbeth and Banquo have been explored and Duncan has
revealed a surprising lack of prescience even for a King. The sons of Duncan
and Banquo have been characterised by their flight, while Ross and Lennox
have appeared as dutiful lords. The Porter revealed more of himself that the
others but then he was drunk and had nothing to lose, as was the case with
To Crown my thoughts with Acts: be it thought and done:
The Castle of Macduff, I will surprise,
Seize upon Fife; give to th’edge o’th’Sword
His Wife, his Babes, and all unfortunate Souls
That trace him in his Line. No boasting like a Fool,
This deed I’ll do, before this purpose cool,
But no more sights. (4.1.1701-8)
Macduff, the male character who plays a major role in the second half
of the play, so far has had little to say that has not been determined by the
action (the murder of Duncan) and what he has said has revealed his loyalty
to the King. Critically, though, he earlier revealed his patronising attitude
to Lady Macbeth.
O gentle Lady,
It should come as no surprise, then, that Macduff ’s wife has little regard
for her husband. After Hecat has characterised Macbeth as an immature
male, and after the Witches inform him that he will be harmed by ‘none
of woman born’, and before Macduff has a lengthy conversation with
Malcolm in Act 4 scene 3, Macduff ’s ‘unnaturalness’ is explored.
In scene 2 Shakespeare adds a male-driven idealism to Macduff ’s
character that makes him both of unnatural birth and an immature idealist.
’Tis not for you to hear what I can speak:
The repetition in a Woman’s ear,
Would murder as it fell. (2.3.840-3)
The telling irony in Macbeth is that Shakespeare has Macbeth killed by a
fellow idealist. Of the principal characters, only Malcolm will rise out of
the bloodletting of the embattled males as one who best recognises that the
evil of self-delusion exhibited by his father can only be conquered by a
critical reappraisal of his female and male personae.
Macduff ’s wife begins scene 2 by challenging Ross’ patronising attitude.
Wife. What had he done, to make him fly the Land?
Significantly, Macduff ’s wife is not called ‘Lady Macduff ’ in the Folio.
Shakespeare, as he does with the Witches who precede the males in the first
Act, represents the females countering the presumptuousness of the male.
The wife’s response to Ross’ claim that Macduff could act with ‘wisdom’ is
scathing. Macduff is not only incapable of acting according to reason, he
does not show ‘love’ and, says his wife, he lacks the ‘natural touch’.
Ross. You must have patience Madam.
Wife. He had none:
His flight was madness: when our Actions do not,
Our fears do make us Traitors.
Ross. You know not
Whether it was his wisdom, or his fear. (4.2.1712-8)
Wisdom? To leave his wife, to leave his Babes,
The reasoning of Macduff ’s wife anticipates the logic of Shakespeare’s
Sonnets. Her complaint is that Macduff ’s flight to save his own life reveals
his selfishness. It exposes his willingness to act contrary to Nature, so that
the priority of the female over the male and the logic of increase and the
basis of reason or truth and beauty is distorted. The Sonnet ‘Wisdom’ respects
the priorities in Nature and so delivers according to reason.
His Mansion, and his Titles, in a place
From whence himself does fly? He loves us not,
He wants the natural touch. For the poor Wren
(The most diminutive of Birds) will fight,
Her young ones in her Nest, against the Owl:
All is the Fear, and nothing is the Love;
As little is the Wisdom, where the flight
So runs against all reason. (4.2.1719-27)
But Ross will not be deterred from intensifying his patronisation of the
female and the lionising of his fellow male.
My dearest Coz,
Ross’ speech is a bizarre mixture of condescension, pretentiousness,
misapplied natural metaphors (‘Seasons’, ‘wild and violent Sea’), pious hopes,
and a final condescension accompanied with a fatuous blessing. His malebased
inability to address the issues of natural logic, outlined by Macduff ’s
wife, leads her to brush off his waffle and state the logical crux directly.
I pray you school your self. But for your Husband,
He is Noble,Wise, Judicious, and best knows
The fits o’th’Season. I dare not speak much further,
But cruel are the times, when we are Traitors
And do not know ourselves: when we hold Rumour
From what we fear, yet know not what we fear,
But float upon a wild and violent Sea
Each way, and move. I take my leave of you:
Shall not be long but I’ll be here again:
Things at the worst will cease, or else climb upward,
To what they were before. My pretty Cousin,
Blessing upon you. (4.2.1728-40)
Father’d he is,
As Macduff is the father of his son, his actions have made his son fatherless.
The implication, in the context of the wife’s ‘natural’ thought and Ross’
idealistic wishful thinking, is that the Christ-like son cannot have a father
if after fatherhood the ‘father’ does not act like a natural father. The critique
of the excesses of male-based idealism in Macbeth, and in the Master Mistress
sequence of the Sonnets, is brought into focus immediately before Macduff
sets out to overcome Macbeth in ‘battle’.
And yet he’s Father-less. (4.2.1741-2)
Ross senses he has been bested, so he plays the ‘fool’ and departs before
being further embarrassed by the wise wife.
I am so much a Fool, should I stay longer
Macduff ’s son has listened with interest to the exchange between his
mother and Ross. She, aware that he has not missed anything, in mockserious
banter suggests his father is dead. The son responds by mimicking
her complaint about Macduff ’s unnatural flight.
It would be my disgrace, and your discomfort.
I take my leave at once. (4.2.1743-5)
Wife. Sirra, your Father’s dead,
The son then switches the by-play by interjecting that his ‘Father is not
dead for all your saying’. Consistent with the Sonnet logic, that ‘saying’ is
the dynamic of truth, Shakespeare has the son distinguish between the effect
of words and their basis in fact. The mother, hearing her son make the
distinction, insists that his father is dead (because for her Macduff is dead to
his natural self), and asks the son what he will do to get another ‘Father’. In
keeping with the logic of the increase argument, the mother and son play
with the idea that any man could have been the son’s father.
And what will you do now? How will you live?
Son. As Birds do Mother.
Wife. What with Worms, and Flies?
Son. With what I get I mean, and so do they. (4.2.1746-50)
Wife. Yes, he is dead:
The wife recognises that her son is drawing on his resources of natural
logic to keep up with her double talk, which simultaneously takes account
of Macduff ’s flight and the male-based idealism that drives it and his
inability to ‘touch’ her naturally. Her son speaks, despite the youthfulness
of his wit, with ‘wit enough’ to appreciate her drift. (The editors’ emendation
of ‘withal’ to ‘with all’ removes the sense that the son is responding
with the intuitive correctness of natural logic from his as yet unprejudiced
How wilt thou do for a Father?
Son. Nay how wilt thou do for a Husband?
Wife. Why I can buy me twenty at any Market.
Son. Then you’ll buy ’em to sell again.
Wife. Thou speak’st withal thy wit,
And yet i’faith with wit enough for thee. (4.2.1757-63)
The son shows his awareness of his mother’s intended meaning when
he asks if his father is a ‘Traitor’. For the mother, Macduff is a traitor to his
logical role as a male in relation to her and her son. As the son has heard
Ross’ disingenuous excuses, he quickly realises that the ‘fool’ Ross, who has
sworn allegiance to the priority of both the male God and King, cannot
help but ‘lie’.
Son. Was my Father a Traitor, Mother?
The relationship between swearing and lying is explored in the Mistress
sonnets that consider the logic of truth (sonnets 138 to 152). Sonnets 138
and 152 particularly consider the act of swearing and the implications for
saying what is true or false. Because the Poet of the Sonnets is establishing
his logical relation to the Mistress, and because she is unrelenting in
expecting him to act and think maturely, the exchange between Macduff ’s
wife and her young son is particularly poignant. Her reference to ‘honest
men’ is wonderfully oxymoronic in its identification of the logical cul-de-sac
created by idealistic males.
Wife. Ay, that he was.
Son. What is a Traitor?
Wife. Why one that swears, and lies.
Son. And be all Traitors, that do so?
Wife. Every one that does so, is a Traitor,
And must be hanged.
Son. And must they all be hanged, that swear and lie?
Wife. Every one.
Son. Who must hang them?
Wife. Why, the honest men.
Son. Then the Liars and Swearers are Fools: for there
Are Liars and Swearers enow, to beat the honest men,
And hang up them. (4.2.1764-77)
With deeply sardonic humour, in the same breath as the ‘Wife’ asks ‘God’
for help she acknowledges her son’s natural lineage from the monkey. The
son accepts the logic that if God the Father were dead then he could ‘quickly
have a new Father’.
Wife. Now God help thee, poor Monkey:
The wife’s final comment to her son recognises how successfully he has
mimicked the readiness of idealists to recreate themselves under new male
Gods. The recreation has occurred a multitude of times in mythologies since
the time of the monkey. Shakespeare, as he does so decisively in the Sonnets,
and in the poems and other plays, characterises the illogical belief in the literalness
of the Christian mythology as the prattle of adolescent males.
But how wilt thou do for a Father?
Son. If he were dead, you’d weep for him: if you
would not, it were a good sign, that I should quickly
have a new Father.
Wife. Poor prattler, how thou talk’st. (4.2.1778-83)
A messenger enters, and before he warns the Wife of impending danger,
he acknowledges her ‘state of Honour’ as ‘perfect’. While determined not
to ‘fly’ because she has not ‘done harm’, she recognises there are evil consequences
to everyone from those whose thoughts or actions generate
potential for ‘harm’.
Whether should I fly?
Editors emend ‘whether’ to ‘whither’. In so doing they destroy the Wife’s
philosophic deliberation and replace it with the psychology of religious fear.
The Wife is at ease in herself as she reflects on the relation between her
womanly ‘reason’ and the ‘folly’ of Macduff. In the Sonnets, the Mistress
similarly is the repository of truth and beauty who continually reminds the
Poet of the illogical consequences of reverting to his adolescent idealism.
The emendation removes the priority from the female, making her seem
lost without the guidance of a male. The tragedy of Macbeth is due to the
prejudiced presumption against the natural logic of life typified by maledriven
idealists who belittle ‘womanly defence’.
I have done no harm. But I remember now
I am in this earthly world: where to do harm
Is often laudable, to do good sometime
Accounted dangerous folly. Why then (alas)
Do I put up that womanly defence,
To say I have done no harm? (4.2.1794-800)
With the death of Macduff ’s wife and child, the next scene examines
the effects of the recent events on Malcolm and Macduff and the consequences
when Macduff discovers his family is murdered. Commentators and
critics have called this scene the ‘only tedious one in the play’ (Chambers
1923?) and that in some passages Malcolm’s language has ‘the formality of
courtesy complicated by suspicion’(Oxford 1990). Their belittlement of the
scene corresponds to their similar claim that Cordelia’s response to Lear
(1.1.102-10) is a formal statement without meaning.
Yet, for the way it points to the critique of the Master Mistress in the
Sonnet philosophy, the scene is most significant in the tragedy of Macbeth.
Malcolm, of all the characters in Macbeth, is prepared to examine his own
culpability in the battle of male-based ideals. Malcolm’s reflections are those
of a young man who has glimpsed something of the natural logic of his
birthright despite his exposure to the illogical consequences of prioritising
the male over the female in the male-God based world of his father, King
Malcolm’s first words establish his empathy for his feminine side. In
imagery loaded with sexual symbolism he wants to restore his maleness to
a balance with its female roots.
Let us seek out some desolate shade, and there
If Malcolm is the Master Mistress of the Sonnets who, under the influence
of the Poet, has begun to reconcile his male driven desire for power with
the priority of the female, then Macduff, as correctly characterised by his
wife, is still a headstrong male. He counters Malcolm’s statement with
imagery whose symbolism equates his belligerence with that of ‘Heaven’.
If Malcolm wishes to ‘weep’ in the woman’s ‘shade’, Macduff will hold his
‘mortal’ or penile sword like ‘good men’ against their ‘downfall’ which,
consistent with the doctrine of original sin, is their ‘Birthdom’.
Weep our sad bosoms empty. (4.3.1814-5)
Let us rather
While Shakespeare allows Malcolm a simple statement of his feelings,
Macduff speaks with the oratorical falsity of a male sundered from his
birthright. The ‘Widows’ and ‘Orphans’ who want to ‘strike Heaven (or
God) on the face’ are victims of good men with mortal swords who deny
their natural logic. Dramatically, Shakespeare has Macduff pontificate before
an audience that has heard his wife accuse him of neglecting her and their
Hold fast the mortal Sword: and like good men,
Bestride our downfall Birthdom: each new Morn,
New Widows howl, new Orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike Heaven on the face, that it resounds
As if it felt with Scotland, and yelled out
Like Syllable of Dolour. (4.3.1816-22)
Malcolm, having identified his logical roots in the female, is now able
to comment with insight on his and Macduff ’s opposing views. When
Macduff raises the ‘Syllable of Dolour’, Malcolm says that if he believed, as
Macduff does, in such a God he too would ‘wail’. He only believes, though,
in what he ‘knows’ and not in an imaginary God. So he will ‘redress’wrongs
only on the basis of friendship.
What I believe, I’ll wail;
Taking Macduff to task, Malcolm points out that the same Macbeth who
now is so hated was once ‘thought honest’ and even ‘loved’ by Macduff.
While Malcolm is younger than Macduff, he mockingly offers himself as
the sacrificial ‘Lamb’ to appease Macduff ’s ‘angry God’. Within the first few
lines of the scene, Shakespeare equates the illogicalities of the Christian faith
with Macduff ’s belligerent attitude.
What know, believe; and what I can redress,
As I shall find the time to friend: I will. (4.3.1823-5)
What you have spoke, it may be so perchance.
Malcolm draws the predictable response from the blind idealist Macduff,
and then subjects Macduff to another biblical analogy to show the dangers
of belief in an absolute God.
This Tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues,
Was once thought honest: you have loved him well,
He hath not touched you yet. I am young, but something
You may discern of him through me, and wisdom
To offer up a weak, poor innocent Lamb
To appease an angry God. (4.3.1826-32)
Macduff. I am not treacherous.
Shakespeare puts in Malcolm’s mouth a withering attack on the pious
falseness of maintaining a belief in the absolute goodness of a God who
gives birth to the greatest evil. Malcolm realises he will not change Macduff ’s
beliefs with ‘thoughts’. He realises that it took the death of his father,
Duncan, to make him see the reality behind the ‘Grace’ (that) must ‘look
Malcolm. But Macbeth is.
A good and virtuous Nature may recoil
In an Imperial charge. But I shall crave your pardon:
That which you are,my thoughts cannot transpose;
Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.
Though all things foul, would wear the brows of grace
Yet Grace must still look so. (4.3.1833-40)
Macduff responds to Malcolm’s challenge like a disenchanted idealist
who swings from impossible hope to forlorn scepticism. Malcolm suggests
that the way for Macduff to resolve his doubts is in the ‘strong knots of Love’
or the logic of increase within Nature.
Macduff. I have lost my Hopes.
Malcolm’s circumspection, though, does not have the desired effect.
Instead, Macduff postures again as if the source of ‘Tyranny’ comes
completely from without, and so requires no personal reassessment. Not
hearing Malcolm’s logic, he avows he would not be a ‘Villain’.
Malcolm. Perchance even there
Where I did find my doubts.
Why in that rawness left you Wife, and Child?
Those precious Motives, those strong knots of Love,
Without leave-taking. I pray you,
Let not my Jealousies, be your Dishonours,
But mine own Safeties: you may be rightly just,
Whatever I shall think. (4.3.1841-9)
Bleed, bleed poor Country,
Malcolm matches Macduff ’s absolutes with an absolute in return.
Great Tyranny, lay not thy basis sure,
For goodness dare not check thee:wear thou thy wrongs,
The Title, is affeared. Fare thee well Lord,
I would not be the Villain that thou think’st,
For the whole Space that’s in the Tyrant’s Grasp,
And the rich East to boot. (4.3.1850-6)
Be not offended:
Malcolm attempts to make it clear to Macduff that he is not concerned
with what he can expect from ‘gracious England’. His issue is with the philosophic
conditions that enable such acts of ‘tyranny’ to rise from seemingly
‘good men’ who believe in an absolute God.
I speak not as in absolute fear of you: (4.3.1857-8)
But for all this,
Macduff is still unable to relate the condition of the ‘Country’ to a
malaise that affects all individuals who have a personal faith in such a God.
So again Malcolm addresses his own culpability, and again makes the logical
connection to the ‘Lamb’ of God.
When I shall tread upon the Tyrant’s head,
Or wear it on my Sword; yet my poor Country
Shall have more vices that it had before,
More suffer, and more sundry ways than ever,
By him that shall succeed. (4.3.1864-9)
Macduff. What should he be?
Unlike Malcolm, who has been given a capacity for philosophic
overview by Shakespeare, Macduff cannot see beyond his immediate self
interest and the immediacy of the current tyranny. In order to awaken
Macduff to the blindness of his external faultfinding, Malcolm takes upon
himself the possibility of being more evil than Macbeth. And Shakespeare,
to point to the human desire most denigrated by believers like Macduff,
sweeps aside all forms of ‘sin’ to focus on the sin of ‘Lust’, the original sin
characterised ironically by Malcolm in the language of those who make
increase a ‘sin’.
Malcolm. It is myself I mean: in whom I know
All the particulars of Vice so grafted,
That when they shall be opened, black Macbeth
Will seem as pure as Snow, and the poor State
Esteem him as a Lamb, being compared
With my confineless harms. (4.3.1870-6)
Macduff. Not in the Legions
Macduff ’s response is classic bigotry. Because he hears Malcolm’s words
but not his meaning, he villainises such ‘intemperance’ as a ‘Tyranny of
Nature’. He blames sexual excess for the dethroning of many Kings, but goes
on to assure Malcolm that when he succeeds Duncan as King ‘willing
Dames’ will be laid on to satisfy his ‘inclinations’. Shakespeare has Macduff,
in a representation of all that is wrong with the males in Macbeth and all that
is illogical in a religion based on the priority of a male God, offer the evil
to Malcolm which Malcolm abhors in principle. Macduff blames ‘Nature’
instead of God.
Of horrid Hell, can come a Devil more damn’d
In evils, to top Macbeth.
Malcolm. I grant him Bloody,
Luxurious, Avaricious, False, Deceitful,
Sudden, Malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name. But there’s no bottom, none
In my Voluptuousness:Your Wives, your Daughters,
Your Matrons, and your Maids, could not fill up
The Cistern of my Lust, and my Desire
All continent Impediments would o’er-bear:
That did oppose my will. Better Macbeth,
Than such an one to reign. (4.3.1877-89)
But Shakespeare/Malcolm has not yet finished revealing the cupidity of
the man who lacks the ‘natural touch’. Rather than challenge Macduff ’s own
dishonesty over matters sexual, Malcolm ups the ante by making an issue
of his own ‘avariciousness’. Macduff obliges by again offering to bend the
rules of his man-God faith.
In Nature is a Tyranny: It hath been
The untimely emptying of the happy Throne,
And fall of many Kings. But fear not yet
To take upon you what is yours: you may
Convey your pleasures in a spacious plenty,
And yet seem cold. The time you may so hoodwink:
We have willing Dames enough: there cannot be
That Vulture in you, to devour so many
As will to Greatness dedicate themselves,
Finding it so inclined. (4.3.1890-900)
Malcolm. With this, there grows
Malcolm takes his trial of Macduff ’s personal tyranny to its logical
conclusion when he claims he has none of the ‘King-becoming Graces’.
Worse, he would ‘pour the sweet Milk of Concord, into Hell’, to confound
‘all unity on earth’. Macduff, unable to offer a kickback to such a universal
evil, ironically cries ‘O Scotland, Scotland’, the same Scotland he would
trade away to satisfy the seeming evils of Malcolm.
In my most ill-composed Affection, such
A staunchless Avarice, that were I King,
I should cut off the Nobles for their Lands,
Desire his Jewels, and this other’s House,
And my more-having, would be as a Sauce
To make me hunger more, that I should forge
Quarrels unjust against the Good and Loyal,
Destroying them for wealth.
Macduff. This Avarice
Sticks deeper: grows with more pernicious root
Than Summer-seeming Lust: and it hath bin
The Sword of our slain Kings: yet do not fear,
Scotland hath Foisons, to fill up your will
Of your mere Own. All these are portable,
With other Graces weighed. (4.3.1901-16)
Malcolm claims he is ‘as I have spoken’, forcing Macduff to identify the
reason behind Duncan’s inability to preempt the evil potential in Macbeth.
The ‘Sainted-King’ and his Queen, who was more dead than alive in prayer,
have given Malcolm his insight into human nature that Macduff, as revealed
by his wife, completely lacks.
Fit to govern? No not to live. O Nation miserable!
Malcolm had earlier stated his belief that nothing he could say would alter
Macduff ’s ingrained beliefs. Faced with such duplicitous blindness, a quality
Macduff shares with Duncan and the other males beside the Porter, Malcolm
is reduced to patronising him but in terms that clearly identify the childishness
of self-deceit. Macduff refuses to be anything other than the adolescent
Master Mistress of the Sonnets. Malcolm, aware of the psychological role of
belief in God in the lives of immature people, suggests that ‘God above’ will
have to help Macduff and himself to ‘deal’together. He reveals he deliberately
used pretense about his ‘sins’ to test Macduff. But its all a bit too much for
Macduff who must be one of Shakespeare’s more unfortunate duffers.
With an untitled Tyrant, bloody Sceptred,
When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again?
Since that the truest Issue of thy Throne
By his own Interdiction stands accused,
And does blaspheme his breed? Thy Royal Father
Was a most Sainted-King: the Queen that bore thee,
Oftner upon her knees, than on her feet,
Died every day she liv’d. Fare thee well,
These Evils thou repeatest upon thy self,
Hath banished me from Scotland. O my Breast,
Thy hope ends here. (4.3.1930-41)
Macduff, the Noble passion
After Malcolm reveals his motivation to Macduff, he mentions the plans
he has made with the King of England to deal with Macbeth. He notices,
though, that Macduff is reduced to ‘silence’. Macduff is still bewildered by
intellectual runaround he has received from Malcolm.
Child of integrity, hath from my soul
Wiped the black Scruples, reconciled my thoughts
To thy good Truth, and Honour. Devilish Macbeth,
By many of those trains, hath sought to win me
Into his power: and modest Wisdom plucks me
From over-credulous haste: but God above
Deal between thee and me; For even now
I put myself to thy Direction, and
Unspeak my own detraction. Here abjure
The taints, and blames I laid upon my self,
For strangers to my Nature. I am yet
Unknown to Woman, never was forsworn,
Scarcely have coveted what was mine own.
At no time broke my Faith, would not betray
The Devil to his Fellow, and delight
No less in truth than life. My first false speaking
Was this upon my self. What I am truly
Is thine, and my poor Country’s to command: (4.3.1942-60)
Such welcome, and unwelcome things at once
Immediately after Malcolm reveals the hypocrisy behind Macduff ’s
characterisation of Macbeth as the worst of all possible devils, and so the
hypocrisy behind the immature idealism of Christianity, Shakespeare has
Malcolm comment of the ability of the English King to seem to heal miraculously.
’Tis hard to reconcile. (4.3.1966-7)
The insertion at this point in the scene of the brief exchange with the
King’s doctor acknowledges that occasionally unbridled faith can have
surprisingly beneficial effects. The illogicality behind biblical idealism
exhibited by the males in Macbeth is easy to expose but can also justify terrible
iniquities that arise in the idealist’s mind. Shakespeare, though, acknowledges
that under the influence of a determined focus of the mind it is possible for
rare individuals to incite in others a remission or cure of physical ailments.
That the King or others attribute the special talent to the ‘sanctity of Heaven’
is an ‘Evil’ like the disease it cures, particularly when such cures frequently
happen independent of such an agency.
Malcolm’s role in distinguishing between the good and evil consequences
of a belief in ‘God’ and ‘Christendom’, and his testing of Macduff, establishes
a basis from which he can proceed to execute the plan to overthrow
Macbeth using the various forces and devices at his command. (The first
part of scene 3 is reminiscent of the American Constitution which prohibits
any religion from being identified with the state, and which some think was
influenced in part by the founding fathers’ reading of Shakespeare. See the
Jefferson essay in Volume 4.)
So when Ross enters, barely recognised by Malcolm, to report on the
events in Scotland, he characterises Scotland as no longer our ‘Mother, but
our Grave’. When Macduff asks after his wife and children, Ross at first
cannot bring himself to say directly that they have been murdered. It falls
to Ross, though, as if stimulated by the harsh words from Macduff ’s wife,
to recognise that the flight of the men from Scotland has left the women to
fend for themselves and exposed the children to the ‘Tyrant’s Power’.
When I came hither to transport the Tidings
Malcolm responds that ‘ten thousand men’ of ‘Christendom’were ready
to fight. The resort to the power of the male is reinforced by Malcolm when
he challenges Macduff to ‘dispute it like a man’ after Ross tells Macduff of
the fate of his ‘Wife, and Babes’. Macduff assents but reveals that his faith
in heaven is not as it was because it ‘looked on while his family died’. The
irony that the King of England has the ability to cure isolated subjects but
not save Macduff ’s family is not lost on Macduff. But Macduff, as Malcolm
predicted, is incapable of drawing a logical conclusion. Instead, like so many
blind believers, he blames himself for their deaths. Ironically, if they had been
saved, he would have thanked God.
Which I have heavily borne, there ran a Rumour
Of many worthy Fellows, that were out,
Which was to my belief witnessed the rather,
For that I saw the Tyrant’s Power a-foot.
Now is the time of help: your eye in Scotland
Would create Soldiers, make our women fight,
To doff their dire distress. (4.3.2021-8)
I shall do so:
Malcolm, having established the type of headstrong male he is dealing
with, directs Macduff ’s anger toward the man responsible for his grief.
Macduff demonstrates his remove from Shakespeare’s Sonnet logic when he
boasts of his power over women and of the power of his tongue. Correctly,
Macduff attributes such male pride to the ‘gentle Heavens’ and prepares to
meet Macbeth on Heaven’s male-based terms.
But I must also feel it as a man;
I cannot but remember such things were
That were most precious to me: Did heaven look on,
And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff,
They were all struck for thee: Naught that I am,
Not for their own demerits, but for mine
Fell slaughter on their souls:Heaven rest them now. (4.3.2070-7)
O I could play the woman with mine eyes,
Malcolm is fully aware of the male-based psychology under his control.
He will use it judiciously in contrast to all the other males in Macbeth (other
than the Porter). He summarises the logic of the situation in one brief line.
And Braggart with my tongue. But gentle Heavens,
Cut short all intermission: Front to Front,
Bring thou this fiend of Scotland, and my self
Within my Sword’s length set him, if he scape
Heaven forgive him too. (4.3.2080-5)
This time goes manly: (4.3.2086)
Most editors reveal their manly foolishness by emending ‘time’ to ‘tune’.
The alteration destroys the precision of Shakespeare’s critique of male-based
idealism when it is taken to excess. It is worth remembering that Shakespeare’s
critique is leveled at the masculine excesses in the personae of men
and women, in particular of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
Act 5 begins with the return of Lady Macbeth, who is observed by a
doctor. From the account of the gentlewoman who had previously seen
Lady Macbeth sleep-walking, the doctor calls her ‘slumbry agitation’ a ‘great
perturbation in Nature’. When he watches her attempt to clean the blood
from her hands, he admits ‘the disease is beyond my practice’. He acknowledges
that ‘unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles’ but does not have
the insight, as did Malcolm, that the ‘troubles’ are caused by an excessive
belief in God leading to devilish consequences.
Foul whisperings are abroad: unnatural deeds
The Doctor’s confusion about what he is observing is mirrored in his
confusion about the logical relation of Nature and the male God.
Shakespeare injects into his language words such as ‘breed’ and ‘discharge’,
and then has the Doctor use the sexual pun ‘mated’ and the imagery of the
Sonnet philosophy to involuntarily state the cause of his inability to put into
words what he has witnessed.
Do breed unnatural troubles: infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their Secrets:
More needs she the Divine, than the Physician:
God, God forgive us all. Look after her,
Remove her from the means of all annoyance,
And still keep eyes upon her: So goodnight,
My mind she has mated, and amazed my sight,
I think, but dare not speak. (5.1.2163-71)
The lords and soldiers who enter in scene 2 set the stage for the
coming battle. Significantly they characterise most of the English soldiers
as ‘unrough youths’ that even now protest their ‘first of Manhood’. The
youths symbolise the mental level of the males, including the Doctor.
Lennox concludes that they will ‘dew the Sovereign Flower, and drown
Malcolm has demonstrated an insight into human nature befitting the
Sonnet Poet. Shakespeare characterises Malcolm as the ‘Sovereign Flower’
who benefits from the removal of ‘weeds’, as the Master Mistress’ recalcitrance
is termed in sonnet 94. Malcolm has a philosophic astuteness beyond
the other characters in Macbeth consistent with Shakespeare’s decision to give
him command of the dialogue with Macduff in Act 4 and make the
concluding speech of the play.
With Malcolm’s logical relation to Nature the sovereign mistress established,
Shakespeare’s attention turns to Macbeth who, as his Thanes desert
him, is becoming isolated in his male domain, a victim of ‘Old Age’ without
‘Honour, Love, Obedience, Troops of Friends’. When Macbeth enquires
after Lady Macbeth, Seyton points to the self-inflicted nature of her ailment.
Macbeth unwittingly implicates things ‘written’, such as the Bible, in his
list of symptoms. And the Doctor, with a slip of the tongue, correctly
identifies the gender disorder that has driven the whole tragedy, by referring
to Lady Macbeth as ‘himself ’.
Macbeth. Can’st thou not Minister to a mind diseased,
When Malcolm and his supporters re-enter, he commands the soldiers
to cut branches to conceal their approach to Macbeth’s Castle. Then
Macbeth, unconcerned because of the Witches’ favourable predictions, hears
a ‘Cry of women from within’ and is told of Lady Macbeth’s death. Logically
the cry comes from within himself. As his co-partner in feminine denial
dies, her side in the diabolical male-based pact collapses.
Pluck from the Memory a rooted Sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the Brain,
And with some sweet Oblivious Antidote
Cleanse the stuffed bosom, of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?
Doctor. Therein the Patient
Must minister to himself. (5.3.2261-9)
Macbeth’s famous speech then follows. Consistent with the intent of the
play it summaries the anti-natural psychology of male-based thought. The
death of the Queen, who was his mate but for his sake repudiated her female
logic, removes Macbeth’s last possible connection with the female. Bereft
of his logical connection to Nature, Macbeth like Adam with Eve in Genesis
is driven into the vacuum of the heaven/hell of the male God. Life, then,
as it does now for such believers, has lost its natural meaning.
She should have died hereafter;
Shakespeare, as in the Sonnets, has no illusions about the logical status of
his craft. A life that does not acknowledge its natural logic of sexual relations
and truth and beauty creates poetry without deeply realised content, and
conversely, acting on the stage should not be mistaken for the life it
comments on. Both the character of Macbeth and his play are nothing
without the life that persists around them.
There would have been a time for such a word:
To morrow, and to morrow, and to morrow,
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. (5.5.2338-49)
Macbeth’s divorce from the natural processes of life has consequences
for his ability to determine ‘Truth’. When told that Birnam Wood is on the
move he curses the Witches for their ‘equivocation’. Yet right from the ‘fair
is foul and foul is fair’ of the first scene, the Witches have respected the logic
of language as capable of double meanings that only a mind in tune with
natural logic can unravel. Unlike Malcolm who demonstrated his command
of language when he bamboozled Macduff, Macbeth calls the messenger a
‘Liar and slave’ but then reveals his own confusion.
If thou speak’st false,
When Young Seyward enters, Macbeth slays him. Not only is the son
of Seyward a young male full of idealistic fervor, to Macbeth’s delight he
was born of a woman. The death is the final attempt by the male-driven
Macbeth to deny his natural logic. When Macduff enters, motivated now
by his ‘Wife’s and Children’s’ deaths, he calls Macbeth a ‘Hell-Hound’. His
own status as one from ‘his Mother’s womb untimely ripped’ and as an
enraged soldier of Christendom makes Macbeth curse his ‘tongue’ and again
despair of the ‘Juggling Fiends’…double sense’. Ironically, Macbeth is killed
by Macduff, neither of whom appreciate the logic of words.
Upon the next Tree shall thou hang alive
Till Famine cling thee: If thy speech be sooth,
I care not if thou dost for me as much.
I pull in Resolution, and begin
To doubt th’Equivocation of the Fiend,
That lies like truth. (5.5.2362-8)
Macduff reenters with Macbeth’s head, a sign of the castration predicted
four acts before. He hails Malcolm as King. Malcolm moves to restore calm
and order by making appointments and calling all exiles home. And he
reveals that Lady Macbeth took her own life.
When Malcolm, Ross, and Seyward returned with the news of young
Seyward’s death, Shakespeare ironically had Seyward commend his son as
‘God’s Soldier’. But rather than call on the Christian ‘God’, the function
of God having been exhausted in the battle of the males, Malcolm returns
to his statement of Act 4 scene 3 where ‘grace yet grace’ captured the
natural relation between God and his logical opposite the ‘brightest star’
This, and what needful else
Shakespeare has groomed a young man wiser than all the rest. Duncan’s
successor is a King who will act according to the logic of Nature.
That calls upon us, by the Grace of Grace,
We will perform in measure, time, and place:
So thanks to all at once, and to each one,
Whom we invite, to see us Crowned at Scone. (5.6.2524-8)
The relation of Macbeth to the Sonnet template
It is possible to read through, or act, Macbeth without experiencing any of
the doubts raised in traditional commentaries about its length, its complete-
ness or its authenticity. Because the commentators remain equivocal about
the authenticity of the Folio text, claiming on one hand that it is deficient
while also admitting its surprising coherence, the adequacy of the paradigm
behind their methodology is brought into question.
Missing from all the previous attempts to understand Macbeth has been
an appreciation of the comprehensive philosophy Shakespeare articulates in
his Sonnets. If Shakespeare wrote and organised the Sonnets to present the
philosophy behind all the plays and poems, and the commentators are
ignorant of the philosophy, then it is not surprising that they are confused
about aspects of the play or about the intent behind the play as a whole.
Worse, as not one of the traditional commentators has plumbed the
philosophy of the Sonnets, and as the Sonnet philosophy radically critiques
their predominately traditional Judeo/Christian world-view most bring to
their interpretation of the play, their discomfort with the play can be
attributed to the challenge it presents to their traditional prejudices. Their
ambivalent criticism of the play, and their willingness to denigrate the editors
and compositors of the Folio, distracts from their ignorance of the underlying
philosophy. The Sonnet philosophy not only provides the basis for
understanding Macbeth, it also reveals the inadequacy of the commentators
Only when the Sonnet philosophy is applied as the sole basis for exegesis
are the doubts and quibbles about the original resolved. More pertinently,
those aspects of the play that traditional commentary has sought to denigrate
(Coleridge hated the Porter’s scene, and others have passed off the Hecat
scene as Middleton’s) are given their correct value and role within the play
as expressions of the Sonnet philosophy. The significance of the Witches,
the role of the ‘bloody males’ in the Captain’s speeches, the recurring
imagery of the ‘Babes’, Malcolm’s demonstration of Macduff ’s hypocrisy,
and Wife Macduff ’s criticism of her husband as a man who lacks the ‘natural
touch’, all have a logical function when the play is viewed as an expression
of the Sonnet philosophy.
All of the elements of the Sonnet philosophy are apparent in Macbeth and
the order in which they are introduced is consistent with the priorities of
the Sonnet logic. Nature as thunder enters first, followed by the Mistress in
the form of the ‘Witches’, followed by the ‘Bloody males’ who are immediately
associated with the adolescent idealism of Christ’s ‘Golgotha’. The
abrogation of increase by the Macbeths, which parodies the literalism of the
erotic in traditional mythologies, is tied logically to the male-based pact for
power between Macbeth and his wife. And the logic of increase is apparent
in the Witches’ methods of prediction, as it is in the genealogical ambitions
Complete template (Sonnet numbers)
The forces of Nature and the priority of the female over the male in
Nature correct the illogical relationships in adolescent male-based
‘Christendom’. The male-based idealism typical of Christendom is
identified with the psychology of motivation behind an irrational desire for
absolute power. Shakespeare’s critique of the hypocrisy of over-idealised
beliefs is based on a consistent appreciation of the relation of truth and
beauty out of natural logic. The Witches’ characterisation of truth as ‘fair
and foul’, Banquo’s questioning of the Witches’ reality, and Malcolm’s
demonstration of Macduff ’s hypocrisy, are all consistent with the logic of
truth and beauty articulated in the Mistress sequence. The logic of truth
and beauty from the Sonnets permeates the play to give Shakespeare’s
language veracity unmatched in any other writing.
The role of the ‘eyes’ in determining truth and beauty is appealed to
frequently (1.2.69, 1.4.340-1, 1.5.419, 2.1.620-4, 2.2.713, 3.2.1188,
4.1.1541, 5.1.2169). At 3.2.1188 Shakespeare’s reference to both ‘eye’ and
‘tongue’ recalls the logical relation of beauty and truth in sonnet 17, which
is based on the definitive relation of beauty and truth in sonnet 137 as
‘seeing’ and ‘saying’.
Also significant is the fluency of the logical relationship between the
characters in the play as not only credible persons in the world, but also as
believable personae in the mind of Macbeth, and as dramatic personages on
the stage. Shakespeare manages to combine the three potentialities seamlessly
in Macbeth. His philosophy allows a consistent understanding of human
beings in Nature. His ideas are logically derived from Nature and he recognises
that the ideas are constitutionally theatric or non-biological. By
combining all these possibilities, Shakespeare is able to correct the inconsistencies
in traditional mythologies and give his play a consistent mythic
expression based in natural logic.
It is possible to feel some sympathy for Harold Bloom as he struggles in
The Western Canon and The Invention of the Human to account for the obvious
non-Christian dimension in Shakespeare’s works and particularly in Macbeth.
As Bloom does not understand the Sonnet philosophy he has no way of
appreciating that Macbeth is not a precursor of a modern nihilistic crisis or
an expression of post-Christian anxiety. Because Bloom is unable to see the
devastatingly logical critique Shakespeare applies to the old theologies, he
presumes the idealistic certainties of Christianity are left untouched, even
if forlornly isolated, by Macbeth’s dive into his resources of evil.
From the vantage of the Sonnet logic, Shakespeare contextualises, within
the givens guaranteed by Nature and the sexual dynamic, the illogicalities
of adolescent male-driven idealism of which Macbeth represents both the
‘noble’ and the malevolent dimensions. The nihilism or anxiety felt by
Bloom, which makes him wonder about Shakespeare’s state of mind, is a
consequence of his continued adherence to aspects of the illogical mythological
expectations of the biblical paradigm. Hence his interest in the
Gnostic reformulations of Christian orthodoxy.
Once it is appreciated that the Sonnets were published in 1609 as the
articulation of the comprehensive logic from which the plays were derived,
then the elements in the plays that present Shakespeare’s world-view emerge
to account for the equivocation evident in both the textual uncertainties
and the contextual doubts experienced by the likes of Bloom. Bloom and
all previous commentators have not appreciated that Shakespeare not only
critiques the inconsistencies in the old mythologies, he also encompasses
their inconsistencies with a completely reformulated mythic expression that
is without contradiction.
Bloom correctly notices that the characters in Shakespeare’s play have a
self-consciousness of their own roles unheralded or unsurpassed by any other
writer. While other writers have learnt to create characters of great psycho-
logical insight, because Shakespeare is operating at such a distinct remove
from them with a consistent mythic logic his characters have not only a
psychological veracity but also a philosophic consistency unknown
elsewhere. Their ability to reflect on their own roles is a consequence of
Shakespeare’s appreciation of the logic of any mythic expression, articulated
in the Sonnets, and hence his capacity to write at a mythic level without the
disingenuousness of other writers, and particularly the writers who created
the male-based biblical texts.
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
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Rape of Lucrece
The Phoenix and the Turtle
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Love's Labour's Lost
Measure for Measure