The aim of this blog is to serve as a meeting point to those who study or have studied English philology and, more broadly, to all those who love literature and language.

2 Aug 2008


Now that I am out of academic constrains (at least for some time) I would like to expose my own point of view of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. During the course we learned many erudite interpretations, all of them very well exposed and documented. My view is not so elaborated, however I think it could be interesting.
Several times I was tempted to write about it in the foro but we all know how this works… You are all the time wondering “what if THEY think that my ‘theory’ is just a piece of crap?” And what is even worst: “What if THEY remember my name when they are correcting the exams?” So, finally I did nothing. However, the idea is still there, so I´ve decided to expose it for the benefit of the humanity.
Well, the thing goes like this. Macbeth, the character, has a problem. He has decided to give a shift to his life. Stop being a supporting character! It´s time to be the main character of the history! All right, some murders are going to be needed, but Macbeth says to himself that he is well acquainted with the business of taking lives. He has just take part in a battle and he still has, as if to say, blood in his hands. But wait, there is a difference. It is not the same to kill the enemies of your king and to kill your king. This is a little but substantial difference. There is a moral question involved, here.
In essence, Macbeth is trying to be another person. A bad one, a very bad one. Just the opposite to what he has been being all his life. According to what we read in the play, Macbeth has been up to this moment a loyal, valiant, honest knight, on the service of his sovereign. And suddenly, from one day to the next one, he wants to become the incarnation of evil. This is simply not possible. It is impossible to change one’s nature so complete and suddenly. You can act evil, but you can’t be evil just wishing it. (Go and try it, if you don’t believe me!) If the nature of a man (or woman) is to be a good man (or woman), then he (or she) can’t change it, at least so abruptly. It needs a training to become a Real Bad Guy. So, in my opinion, this is a play that can be read as a stoic play (don’t panic, here comes the explanation). We must remember that stoic philosophy claimed that one must follow one’s nature. Seneca, one of the main stoic writers, says it so in his work De Tranquilitate Animi (On Tranquility of the Soul) and we have learned that Shakespeare knew well the works of this stoic philosopher and dramatist. If I am right, this play can even be regarded as didactic, to exemplify what happens when a man parts from his own nature. The message of it would be that we must conform to our own inner drives. If we are honest people, there is no case in trying to act as a villain, it won’t work. See what happens to Macbeth, his remorses make him to see hallucinations, and, besides, as he has no experience in being a Bad Guy he overuses violence, murdering everything that moves and taking wrong decisions. Being objective, what he has done is not that terrible (and I said ‘terrible’, not ‘horrible’). Monarchs have been doing it all the time and it doesn´t seem they have any problem to eat well and to sleep peacefully. Remember that the original Macbeth murdered his ancestor and lived happily for ten years after it.
To me the relation between the play and the stoic philosophy is clear, although I admit that I tend to find classic influences everywhere. It will be a pleasure to read other opinions on this subject.


  1. No tengo que dejar pasar agosto sin leer Macbeth. En cuanto lo haga, comento.

  2. I also took EL TEATRO DE SHAKESPEARE subject last year and enjoyed it a lot.

    Regarding the different readings of the plays I must confess my bewilderment at the imagination of the different critics when trying to interpret the work of a writer especially the sexual connotations they seem to see everywhere.

    Anyway I enjoy most of them, I surely did Macbeth and Hamlet´s analysis but I remember Ryan´s different critical approaches of Shakespeare´s Lear in COMENTARIO DE TEXTOS LITERARIOS INGLESES.

    It was fine all the way from Formalism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism.... points of view until I reached the Gender and Queer Theory approach and I read something about Edgar´s liquefaction…

    All I could think of when I read some of the passages was “I beg your pardon!!!!!!”

    So I think your stoic reading of Macbeth is as valid as any of the ones we have studied.

  3. I read Macbeth a couple of weeks ago. I see your point when you comment on the ‘imperfect’ evil nature of the main character. Especially at the beginning of the story he seems to obey his wife’s instructions without real conviction. Apparently his confidence on witches’ divinatory arts together with his wife’s encouragement to gain power through treason and murder lead him to start a slaughter that wakes up his sense of guilt. When I started reading the play I thought that the genuine wicked ones were the women in the story: the innate amorality of the witches and the coldness of the ambitious Lady Macbeth contrast with Macbeth’s initial hesitation but, by the end of the story, I was not that sure. I think that the distinctions between Macbeth and his wife blur a little as Lady Macbeth finally suffers from visions, probably generated by remorse, and the male character soon gets used to getting rid of anyone that may obstruct his way to power.

  4. Yeah, I guess that the message might be something like - if you are a supporting character, don't go out of character and act as the villain: you might end up becoming your character. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth seem to exchange each other's weakness and resolution as the play develops.