Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Review: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

I finally settled down enough to finish off Shakespeare's famous play Macbeth. Now I know that most people believe that English teachers just adore Shakespeare. Well...I don't. I have plays that I like, and that I like to teach, but I'm not a die-hard fan. It's not that I don't think that Shakespeare is brilliant, with an amazing range and ability to utilize language and human nature. I know how amazing he is, but for whatever reason, it just wasn't my big interest in college or as an adult. Yes, be shocked. My English department teases me from time to time when/if it comes up. (I try to keep quiet about it!)

This particular play not only fulfills my requirement for "What People Expect a Teacher to Read" (of my own making), but also for the Shakespearean Summer Challenge, being hosted by Liv's Book Reviews. I have now completed one of my three, to be completed by August 31st.

Synopsis: Semi-good guy gets power hungry. Kills or schemes the murder of multiple characters. Gets just reward for said murder and killing.

Okay, so not a good synopsis, but I will say that the overriding theme of this play is power & greed. Set in Scotland, Macbeth and Banquo return from battle having pushed back the enemies. They are told by three witches a prophecy of their futures, which includes titles and even crowning as king. Rather than wait to see how this prophecy might be fulfilled, Macbeth returns to his wife and they set out to make it come true, even if that means the killing of those who stand between them and said title.

Review: Since it's been about 17 years since I last read this play, I only remembered the broad ideas and plot, so revisiting the language and story again were well worth my time. As Shakespeare was known to do brilliantly, he showed how even the most common man can fall victim to vices of pride, greed, lust, hate, envy, etc. The thirst for power, and the ensuing paranoia that endeavour creates, really sent the message across loud and clear. Overall, I found this to be a great cautionary tale for myself, reminding me that even the most centered person can be enticed by worldly pursuits to the point that they would cause harm or injury to another to get ahead.

Now for the big question. Why in the world are these lines from Act IV:I so well-known and famous?
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
Are they famous just because three witches recite them and they are lyrical and use assonance and alliteration to cast their spell? I get that they are increasing the trouble to come to Macbeth, but what else am I missing here? What has given these lines their power and popularity?


  1. You're not the only one who isn't a great fan of shakespeare.

  2. I'm not a Shakespeare fan, either...although I keep thinking I should give him another chance ;-)

  3. I like your honesty and humor in this review. Maybe those specific lines are famous because they are so easy to memorize. Not a Shakespeare fan myself. I wonder if anyone actually is...

    I nominated your blog for a Kreativ Blogger Award. Here are the details:

    I don't know how to make it into a link in this comment box - sorry.

  4. it's ok, i'm the black sheep of the art world because i enjoy realistic art that has no hidden meaning... silly me

  5. I think I do like Shakespeare, but I can't actually tell for sure because I haven't read that many of his plays yet. This isn't among the ones I've read. Something I really enjoy when reading him is discovering the origin of images or phrases that have become a part of our culture. So much comes from him! I don't think it's shocking at all that you're not a big fan, though. To each their own :)

  6. You don't love Shakespeare? Wha...? Becky, I'm shocked! ;) I actually don't like to read his plays. Plays aren't really meant to be read, imo. I love watching them in movies or on stage, though.

    I think that line is famous because it rhymes. You don't think it's catchy? :)

  7. As a teacher of English literature in Italy I have to read Shakespeare in the 4th year with my students and what surprises me is that my students like his plays more than me sometimes. I use also different film adaptations and lessons are more intriguing. The ones my students like most are usually "The Merchant of Venice" , "Hamlet", "Macbeth" and the unmissable "Romeo and Juliet". Apart from reading and watching film adaptations I usually take my students to the theatre which is a memorable experience. I've just posted about theatre on my blog.
    I like your blog. I'm one of your follers so ... I'll be back soon!

  8. I agree with heidenkind, plays should be seen and not read. Well, they need to be watched to be able to understand and capture the nuances. Reading a play is like reading music lyrics.

    With regards to the witches line, perhaps it's well-known because it is such a fixture in popular culture. I wonder if most people know where it's from or has it become so engrained in popular culture, it has lost its origin?

    Also, it rhymes and that's always cool.