Thursday, July 14, 2011

Question: She Should Have Died Hereafter...

See what lively discussion provides you?  A continuation of a three year old promise to discuss Macbeth on this blog.  I know I'm starting near the end, but this question has jumped the line.  Oh and SPOILERS, I guess, if you haven't actually read Macbeth.  You can probably just skip this post if you haven't though, because it's not going to make a lot of sense.

Probably the most famous monologue in Macbeth, the "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech from Act V, Scene V is the last time we are truly presented with Macbeth's internal point of view.  Off the cuff, I'd say this scene shows us the death of what is left of his humanity; after this point he becomes a berserk warrior.  Since they are public domain, here are the relevant lines:

Macb. I have almost forgot the taste of fears.
The time has been, my senses would have cool’d
To hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in ’t. I have supp’d full with horrors;
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,
Cannot once start me.

Wherefore was that cry?

Sey. The Queen, my lord, is dead.

Macb. She should have died hereafter;
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.

I think I've seen this played a couple of different ways, but most of the time I've seen it presented introspectively, with a melancholy attitude.  I've read that, based on the construction of the prose, there appears to be a pause after the word "hereafter" which could signify a moment of contemplation.  For anyone who has ever experienced serious depression this passage is particularly evocative, especially given the way that it is usually played on the stage.
Apropos of yesterday's blog entry, I have begun to read this scene a bit differently.  Change the emotion from melancholy to anger.  Although she manipulates him throughout the early parts of the play, Macbeth is very closely connected to Lady Macbeth.  I've seen various theories that equate the husband/wife relationship in the play to differing components of the same individual (e.g. husband and wife are two made one, so the differing views of Macbeth and his wife represent conflicted views of an individual struggling to choose, in my opinion at least, between his place as a heroic, honored follower or a villainous, bloodthirsty tyrant).  This view is attributed to the switch between their personalities after Duncan's murder, where it is Lady Macbeth who feels the guilt for the act, while Macbeth has overcome his earlier misgivings.  Either way, at the moment of his greatest invincibility, Macbeth suddenly loses a valued part of himself.  This is the point at which his fortunes shift and all his certainties collapse.  Macbeth is King, as promised, but he begins to realize that what was promised is not what he imagined it to be.  Perhaps it's a personal response, but I read anger in his words; at the witches, for taunting and tricking him; at his wife, for the weakness that pushed him to murder Duncan and for the weakness that heralds his own fall; and at himself, for the path he chose from which he can no longer divert.  All that Macbeth already had, all that he sought to gain, all that he thought he was promised is on the cusp of destruction.  Everything that belonged to him as a man has come to nothing.
Why should Lady Macbeth have died "hereafter"?  What is it about her death that leads Macbeth to make this famous speech?  What tone do you see in his words?  What is Macbeth saying in this monologue?


Trillian42 said...

Funny you mention the Macbeth/Lady M as two sides of the same whole concept. I swear I was talking to someone not long ago (was it you? I can't remember) who saw a production where the two actors did indeed trade roles after the death of Duncan to bring home exactly that idea.

B said...

Might have been me. It's a really interesting character relationship on a lot of levels. In a time period where men and women had very clearly defined roles in society Shakespeare gives us an almost shockingly direct expression of the equality inherent in men and women as human beings (obviously we are unequal in other ways, i.e. women can make babies and men can write their names in the snow with pee).

The really unfortunate part is that I've actually spoken to women who dislike Macbeth because either Lady Macbeth is portrayed as "too weak" or as pushing Macbeth to be evil when she's a shockingly equal partner in his character.

PocketSize said...

I've always read it as very detached, almost like an observer looking in at life from the outside, and I think I've always read it that way because of the first half where he states how he has lost his sense of fear. That loss of fear, to me, is what really marks him as inhuman, because fear is so instinctive. So that's why it comes across to me as sort of eerily detached as though he's now some sort of machine or evil spirit fascinated by but not participating in human life. I can certainly see it with anger, though, now that you point that out. Perhaps even considering himself the idiot that tells the tale that is life.

In my usual reading, too, I take "she should have died hereafter; there would have been time for such a word" as an indication that he just can't process it then. There's so much going on and he's so distant from the emotions he should be feeling for his wife that he can't devote the emotional or mental energy that he should to the death of his wife. Especially since she was, as you pointed out, such an integral and balancing part of him.