Linguistic Taboos and the "Unscene" of Fear in Macbeth. (2024)

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In her essay of 1984 on ineffability in Shakespeare, MarjorieGarber gives Macbeth as a typical example of how linguistic interdictionmay be due to a taboo. Her reference is to the "deed without aname" (1) by which the weird sisters famously reply toMacbeth's question about what they were doing when he met them. Theforbidden name for the deed, as Garber suggests, "involves somekind of transgression of boundaries," implying conversation withthe devilish or the sacred or with prohibited knowledge. (2) Althoughthis is a central issue in this play, it constitutes only the furthestend of a series of linguistic and visual taboos focused upon theconscious and painful experience of murder as the utmost transgressionof moral boundaries. (3)

In his study of the killing of kings in Shakespeare, Maynard Mackrightly observes that "Western drama opened with defiance of theking" and that the pattern originally set by Prometheus'schallenge of Zeus and Clytemnestra's assassination of Agamemnon,"despite temporary resolutions, has continued through much of thehistory of drama." (4) Mack argues that in Shakespeare it acquired"the central, symbolic function it had in Agamemnon two thousandyears before." (5) In Macbeth, in particular, he remarks, killingthe king is "almost inevitably to be attempted and yet is almostinevitably unperformable" as "the king can be killed, but thewhole world, human, natural, and supernatural, reacts to offer a newking." (6) Thus regicide appears strangely neutralized, in factmade "impossible, for better and worse." (7)

And yet, there are other levels of performance more closelyconcerned with the representation of regicide onstage that suggest moreambiguous approaches. It has often been pointed out that followingElizabeths 1559 proclamation against the acting of plays "wherineither matters of religion or of the governaunce of the estate of thecommon weale shalbe handled or treated," (8) theatre had to copewith a sustained royal politics of strict surveillance. The forbiddanceof regicide was one crucial tenet of Elizabethan politics; it wascentral to the establishment of royal power, as witnessed by the famous1571 An Homily Against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion, and it wasincreasingly sustained by James I's absolutist politics. (9)Showing it onstage was a delicate question. It has been contended thattheatre had to devise strategies to sidestep critique. The king was tobe shown weak or mad and in any case the cause of his owndelegitimization and fall--for instance, by renouncing the crown; hisdeath was to be the natural consequence of his faults, possibly carriedout when no longer a king (as in Richard II) or justified by overtaccusations of illegitimacy (as with Claudius in Hamlet). (10)Otherwise, the king's murder was normally removed from sight, as inDuncan's case, or it could be reported or re-enactedmetatheatrically within a clearly fictitious context, as in Hamlet. (11)In many cases, representing king killing meant focusing on acting androle-playing. This allowed to use the dynamics of theatre in order toexplore

a wholly new standard of kingship, different from either the two bodieskind of thinking or the Christian service ideal of Gaunt [in RichardII]. Kingship is not an identity or a God-given position anymore. It isnot even a complex institutionalized fiction like those of the MiddleAges traced by Kantorowicz and Edward Peters. Rather, it is a role tobe played by an actor with skill and illusion. Kingship is coming tohave the flexibility of the actor--he is always separate from hismask--but it is also suffering the essential inauthenticity of thetheater. (12)

Indeed, both staging and not staging the killing of a king, byresorting to the artificiality of metatheatre, had numberlessimplications. In Macbeth, a play which encrypted references to theGunpowder Plot and at the same time displayed an overt homage to James,(13) it certainly had many. Interestingly, not one but two kings arekilled in this play, Duncan and Macbeth, both apparently legitimate.(14) The good king, Duncan, is killed offstage; he is neither heard norshown while being murdered, and only his blood is seen on Macbeth'sown hands. Macbeth is slain onstage (so says the Folio), but hisvilification and dismemberment, turning him into an example of punishedtyranny, are carried out offstage, finally to be revealed byMacduff's re-entering with his head. The two killings have clearlydifferent meanings, relating to the foregrounded opposition between thegood king and the tyrant that Shakespeare emphasized in contrast toHolinshed's description of the former's lenience and thelatter's protracted good rule in his Chronicles (1587). The patternis evident, as well as the process of progressive metatheatricaltransformation of Macbeth into a "painted mask," from hismonologue on the vanity of life playing in 5.5, to his voiced awarenessof being turned into a bear tied to a stake in a bear-baiting game(5.7.2), to the grotesque exhibition of his own silenced, severed headstanding on a pole. (15) This has often been noticed in the past. Whathas not been pointed out sufficiently is that yet another murderconnected to the idea of kingship acquires an unusual prominence:Banquo's. His "royalty of nature" compounded with hispredicted future as "father to a line of kings" (3.1.49,59)undermine Macbeth's own power by reinstating patrilineality and atthe same time challenging the very idea of royal descent, as Banquo isno king himself. This contradiction, while making the idea of dynasticsuccession ambiguous, escapes Macbeth, suggesting that his fears lieelsewhere: in the power of predestination over individual agency butalso in the moral import of that individual agency when it becomestransgressive. The crucial unstaging of Banquo's murder and hisreturn from the dead are related to Macbeth's "lack of kinglybeing" and hollow performance of sovereignty. Macbeth cannot becomeking "holily"--as he would like to; his first crime is thenecessary step to power but is also what prevents him from achieving thefullness of "kingly being." His second crime is theside-effect of his awareness of his own instability of being. Itdescends from the discovery of a transcendental design that wants himking and no-king, making him interrogate the scope of his own agency andfear both this world and the other world: that his crime be discoveredand that the dead may return to exact retribution. This dual feargrounded in the uncertainty of the relation between the mundane and thetranscendental as well as in the bond between the moral law and whatmakes us human is at the root of Macbeth's own tragic experience ofpower and its loss. Banquo is central to this experience and willconstitute a major focus in the following pages.

Apart from political opportunity and theatrical expediency, thereare also profounder levels concerning the unstaging and the unsaying ofthe king's murder in Macbeth. As Mary Ann McGrail remarks in one ofthe rare substantial contributions to a discussion of Shakespeare'styrants, "what tyranny does to the state qua state and to itsindividual subjects... is best understood by looking within thedisordered mind and passions of the tyrant himself." (16) I willargue that the play's unstaging of Duncan's death is not anisolated strategy. It is part of a broader dramatization of thepsychological process leading the hero-villain to become a tyrant not somuch on account of identifiable fears, as stated in the play'ssources, but of his losing touch with affect altogether. This is theresult of an in-depth exploration of the conflict between fear anddesire that finally leads Macbeth to experience inhuman fearlessness asa consequence of extreme fearfulness, pushing him to commit all sorts ofcruelties:

I have almost forgot the taste of fears.The time has been, my senses would have cooledTo hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hairWould at a dismal treatise rouse and stirAs life were in't. I have supped full with horrors;Direness familiar to my slaughterous thoughtsCannot once start me. (5.5.9-15)

In search for an impossible "perfection" that may assurehim a "holiness" he can never achieve, he devises in solitudethe murder of Banquo and Fleance, but Fleance's escape denies himthat perfection ("I had else been perfect"; 3.4.19), thusdriving him to interrogate the weird sisters' "imperfectspeak[ing]" (1.3.70) in search of "safety" (3.1.53).Having "supped full with horrors" (5.5.13) and lost the tasteof fear, (17) he will end up fearing one man only (5.7.3-4), he who is"[not] of woman born" (4.1.79), which is equivalent to doingaway with fear altogether.

When arguing that "Macbeth is... Shakespeare's mostAeschylean tragedy" because fear, as in the Oresteia,"invades, pervades Macbeth's experience, shaking him by fitsand starts, so that he lives in a state of 'restlessecstasy,'" Adrian Poole observes that "fear isinseparable from hope; it is even a form of hope." (18) It is"the fear of his own ability to make things happen, to bring thefuture to birth." (19) I will call this hope desire, implying astronger feeling than expectation, and will discuss its relation to fearand time. I will then consider the use of darkness as the"structural foundation of the play," (20) suggestingincreasing psychological and nightmarish isolation and preparing for thestage invasion of aural and visual hallucinations in the highlyambiguous "unscene" of the murder of Duncan. (21) I willexplore how visual reticence corresponds to verbal reticence inMacbeth's own march toward non-affective tyranny and will read inwhat I will call the "split scene" of Banquo's appearancein 3.4 a reinterpretation of questions that were raised byCassandra's own vision of Agamemnon's death in Aeschylus andSeneca. By dramatizing Macbeth's own tyrannical experience,Shakespeare interrogates the limits of desire and human resistance toit; he explores how desire may go beyond the law, at the same timeinstilling fear of retribution. To this end, he stages aural and visualstrategies of resistance to both desire and fear, repositioningtraditional questions on the meaning of our moral boundaries in relationto that "great bond" (3.2.50) that makes us human.

Desire, Fear, Time

Lady Macbeth's awareness of her husband's incurablecontradiction in craving the crown "highly" but also"holily" surfaces early in the play. She knows that, albeitopposite passions, desire and fear may be closely allied and mayexchange place and name depending on their relation to time. If fear isdislocated across time to the moment after committing the crime, fearmay be called desire and its object ("fear of doing") beturned into its opposite ("desire of undoing"). This is madevery clear on the threshold of the action, in her soliloquy in 1.5:

What thou wouldst highly,That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou'dst have, great Glamis,That which cries, "Thus thou must do", if thou have it;And that which rather thou dost fear to do,Than wishest should be undone. (1.5.20-25; my emphasis)

Lady Macbeth mentions neither the crown nor the murder but alludesto them only through strategies of indirection pivoting on deicticmarkers ("that," "it"), a most generic action verb("do") and a prefixed negative ("undone"). Herallusiveness suggests the symbolic enormity of the crime, which requiresreticence even in solitary rumination. Like the Watchman in the prologueof Agamemnon, whose figurative language and unspeaking replace openmention of what he knows and fears (Clytemnestra's adultery andplotting against Agamemnon), Lady Macbeth does not pronounce what shehas in mind, thus inaugurating a strategy of reticence which will proveto be crucial in the play's communicative system. The Watchman hasgood practical motives not to speak up, although he is alone onstage;(22) Lady Macbeth too has reasons for being reticent, but her unsayingsuggests a stronger psychic stance of interdiction clashing with a deeptransgressive drive. The use of "doing," "undoing,"and "deed" in the course of the play signals precisely thisinternal conflict. Whether in the presence of each other or in solitude,Macbeth and his wife never call the crime by its name but by thegeneric, although pragmatically and symbolically highly connoted, masterconcept "doing." (23) In Lady Macbeths language it occursagain in 3.2, when she tries to convince her husband that it is too lateto make up for what they have done, so that the "what's doneis done" with which she greets her husband has the argumentativepower of silencing remorse by bringing the action to the level ofpraxis. It will occur again in her sleepwalking speech in 5.1, wheninstead it will betray her own sense of guilt and desire to undo thedeed:

How now, my lord, why do you keep alone?Of sorriest fancies your companions making,Using those thoughts which should indeed have diedWith them they think on? Things without all remedyShould be without regard: what's done, is done. (3.2.9-13)To bed, to bed: there's knocking at the gate. Come,come, come, come, give me your hand. What's done,cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed. (5.1.66-68)

But what is of interest in Lady Macbeths language in 1.5 is thelogical and temporal combination of the sequence of "doing"and "undoing." She knows her husband's desire to committhe crime ("that"; 1.5.24) in order to get the crown; sheknows that fear goes along with desire before the action; she also knowsthat once the murder is committed, fear will not dissolve--rather, itwill be the cause of a different, opposite, desire: a wish to rewindback time and cancel the deed. She sees no possible alternative. Herthinking is very quick and consequently its expression much compressedin conveying the perception of a fundamental link between Macbeths fearof action ("fear to do"; 24) and his wish of having it"undone" once committed (25). She is aware that he will nevermove from that "before" to that "after," as fear inhim is stronger than desire, and repression more powerful than his wishto challenge the ban on murder. He is unrestrained as long as he is anagent of kingly power; he is "Bellonas bridegroom" (1.2.55) inRoss's report of his extraordinary braveness in war in the name ofthe king and against Norway and the treacherous Thane of Cawdor.However, he is utterly self-restrained when the very idea of becoming anagent of treachery sneaks into his mind. Lady Macbeth knows that he willnever commit betrayal, despite his ambition, and that is why at thispoint she is determined to become the necessary spur to prompt himforward.

The logic of the taboo forbidding the naming of the crime andshaping such rhetoric of "un-doing" is premised upon an ideaof linear temporality that makes reversibility impossible. In thisregard, two more passages may be recalled. The first one is Macbethsaside in 1.3 when he gradually grows aware of his own royal ambitionmarking a first step toward coming to face his own inmost drives. We donot know whether he had thought about it already, but there is one cluewhich might suggest repressed desire. In the opening of his aside, heimagines his prophesied future kingship as a drama to be soon enactedand he calls it "the imperial theme," a metaphor thatinitiates a process of fictionalization of his future power that willhave some bearing on the follow-up of his royal progress ("Twotruths are told / As happy prologues to the swelling act / Of theimperial theme"; 129-31). The word "theme" refers to a"subject for discourse, discussion or meditation" or "foraction," (24) but its qualification as "imperial" and as"the theme" hints at something not entirely new, a conceptpossibly already conceived, a subterranean desire before the sisters letit emerge to conscience. (25) He is quick to understand its fullimplications, and fear suddenly invades him:

 I am Thane of Cawdor.If good, why do I yield to that suggestionWhose horrid image doth unfix my hairAnd make my seated heart knock at my ribs,Against the use of nature? Present fearsAre less than horrible imaginings.My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,Shakes so my single state of manThat function is smothered in surmise,And nothing is, but what is not. (1.3.135-44; my emphasis)

This is the first time Macbeth calls the murder by its own name(1.3.141), a word which he will apply to the assassination of "thegracious" king only one more time, in 3.1. (26) At that point, itshould be remarked, Macbeth is thinking about another murder,Banquo's, and his mention of that word strengthens his will toproceed ("For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind; /For them,the gracious Duncan have I murdered"; 3.1.64-65). In 1.3, on thecontrary, the murder is yet "but fantastical," and isliterally transfigured into a "no-thing" present only byimaginary anticipation and enclosed within the circularity of alinguistic inversion drawing the boundaries of the private temporalreality of his own mind ("and nothing is, but what is not").The time is not ripe for his assumption of responsibility yet. Fear isstronger than desire, and although in 1.7 he will show a Christian dreadof Heavenly judgment, at the moment he still thinks that chance will"crown [him], / Without [his] stir" (1.3.146-47). Thissuggests an archaic notion of predestination relying upon aninterpretation of the weird, or fatal, sisters as "goddesses ofdestinie," as Holinshed called them, something between oracles andParcae, and yet at the same time, Holinshed also said, interpreters ofChristian providence. (27) Shakespeare was to replicate this syncreticview mixing chance and providence in a more complex and articulated way,having Macbeth sway from passivity and acceptance of tyche toquestioning "holy agency," finally to embracing "foulplaying." Lady Macbeth's punning upon "highly" and"holily" in her soliloquy in 1.5 beautifully grasps this clashbetween desire and his awareness that it cannot be "holy;" hisfear is irredeemable because his desires are so "black anddeep" that even the light must not see them and "the eye[must] wink at the hand" (1.4.52). When he hears that Duncan hasappointed Malcolm Prince of Cumberland, as in the sources, (28) heunleashes those black desires and hopes that the stars "let that be/ Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see" (1.4.52-53). Byinvoking the night, Macbeth enacts onstage the taboo on his owntransgression, setting up darkness as its visual and theatrical device.However, his aspiration to perfection remains unaltered. Hecate will beexplicit about this in that possibly spurious 3.5, when, with aclassical ring suggesting hybris, she mentions "security" asthe "mortals' chiefest enemy." (29) At that point,Macbeth's getting "'bove wisdom, grace and fear" onaccount of the "imperfect" knowledge he is granted isprecisely what will make him feel safe and, in turn, doom him to ruin.

The second passage mentioned above regarding the desire-fear knotin relation to time is concerned with Macbeth's wish for"holiness" in the fulfilment of his desires and voices hisawareness of the impossible perfection that awaits him:

If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere wellIt were done quickly. If th'assassinationCould trammel up the consequence, and catchWith his surcease, success: that but this blowMight be the be-all and the end-all, here,But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,We'd jump the life to come. But in these cases,We still have judgement here, that we but teachBloody instructions, which being taught, returnTo plague th'inventor. This even-handed justiceCommends th'ingredients of our poisoned chaliceTo our own lips. (1.7.1-12)

This extraordinary incipit from his soliloquy in 1.7, where his"metaphysical uneasiness [becomes] explicit," (30) and hedreads divine judgment for slaying "a kinsman," "aking," and "a guest," "[for tacit] parricide, thedouble murder of king and father," (31) is of interest for itsinitial strategies of substitution, which are now to be consideredwithin the Christian discourse framing it. Murder is never mentioned,and the "thing" to be done--which echoes the weirdsister's opening reference to another thing "done,""the hurly-burly" (1.1.3)--needs to find immediate conclusionin the very instant of its own execution, doing away with both judgmentand possible consequences. Macbeth's wish is paradoxical, as timecannot be cancelled or contracted to the instant, unless the life tocome is also denied, a perspective he does not contemplate. (32) Fastand painful thinking makes for imperceptible semantic shifts whichrender the progress of ideas confused and hard to grasp. If the first"done" means "finished," "concluded," thesecond one more neutrally signifies "performed," and the thirdone both "definitely over" and "executed." Themerging of desire and fear is so violent that reticence translates intodense syntactic and semantic clusters impeding the smooth flow ofthought. What here cannot be said is not only the murder alluded tothrough the action noun "deed" but the very tangle of passionsaroused by its conceit.

It is only when he starts scanning the matter and fear eventuallyprevails over desire that reticence leaves room for what Brooke calls"the purely verbal creation of a highly visual but unseenworld," (33) prefiguring the effects of murder with baroque visualrelish. An explicit prefiguration of retribution triggering thevisionary and apocalyptic vision of the "horrid deed" beingblown "in every eye," while the wind is drowned with tears, isthe imaginative counterpart of the language of taboo, unleashed by theevidence of the imagined crime the moment he becomes his own self-judgeand the embodiment of that Law his "other self" wishes totransgress:

 He's here in double trust:First, as I am his kinsman, and his subject,Strong both against the deed. Then, as his host,Who should against his murderer shut the door,Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this DuncanHath borne his faculties so meek, hath beenSo clear in his great office, that his virtuesWill plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, againstThe deep damnation of his taking off;And pity, like a naked new-born babe,Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin, horsedUpon the sightless couriers of the air,Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spurTo prick the sides of my intent, but onlyVaulting ambition, which o'er-leaps itself,And falls on th'other. (1.7.12-28; my emphasis)

At this point, Macbeth is resolved to proceed no further; at thispoint, it is also clear that his adoption and dismissal of the languageof taboo signal different stages of Macbeth's own fear. Hypotyposismarks a second step in his internal conflict, when he finally weighs therisks and becomes his own self-judge, prefiguring the process of visualand oral hallucination that will make fear and remorse eventually gainthe upper hand in the banquet scene before Macbeth begins treading thepath toward loss of affect.

The Deed is Done

The murder of the King occurs early in the play, in 2.2. It is thefirst sustained example of the illusion of darkness at work here,considering the daylight original setting. (34) It introduces us intothe night of the murder of "kingship" through the symbolicclosing of the king's eye by Macbeth's hand (35) and,consequently, to the psychological effects of murder upon themurderers' distorted perception of reality. Lady Macbeth'sanxious waiting for her husband's return from Duncan's roomsets the tone of her nervous exchange with him soon to follow in acontext dominated by ominous aural signs. Both of them are alert toalarming sounds and project their own fear onto imaginary voices theybelieve they hear, faceless "others" embodying their ownself-censorious stances. The visual hallucination of the dagger of themind in the previous scene, with Macbeth's own perceptive andpsychic split between the real and the imaginary (2.1), corresponds in2.2 to the aural hallucinations underlining the symbolic interdictionupon sight that lies behind the concealment of the murder itself and itsvicarious translation into sounds: the owl's shriek punctuates theaction and Lady Macbeth's symbolic interpretation of it as the signthat the bloody deed is being carried out functions as an implicit stagedirection embedded within the narrative of her own imaginaryreconstruction of the murder:

Hark, peace; it was the owl that shrieked,The fatal bellman, which gives the stern'st good night.He is about it. The doors are open,And the surfeited grooms do mock their chargeWith snores. I have drugged their possetsThat death and nature do contend about them,Whether they live, or die. (2.2.3-9)

Macbeth himself is heard, before being seen, interrogating thenoises he perceives which terrify him, in turn alerting his wife to thepossibility that "the deed" might not have been done:

Macbeth: Who's there? What ho?Lady: Alack, I am afraid they have awaked,And 'tis not done. The attempt, and not the deedConfounds us. Hark. I laid their daggers ready;He could not miss em. Had he not resembledMy father as he slept, I had done't. (2.2.9-14)

If Duncan had not resembled her father so much, Lady Macbeth says,she would have done it herself. This further unveils the interdictionupon sight as a ban upon something very intimate which includes and goesbeyond the symbolic prohibition of killing the anointed king, a ban thatconcerns private affect even before the communal and political bondrooted in Christian fear of judgment. When Macbeth enters onstage hisfirst words reassure her about the deed he has done; but what follows isall but reassuring, as their short and rapid lines contain questionsabout noises and display lack of communicative understanding denotingtheir fear of losing their grasp on reality. Aural hypertrophy is thesymbolic correlate of the darkness ensuing the closing of theKing's eye on the night of his homicide:

Macbeth: I have done the deed.Didst thou not hear a noise?Lady: I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.Did not you speak?Macbeth: When?Lady: Now.Macbeth: As I descended?Lady. Ay. (2,2.15-18)

Sight is mentioned only once in this scene, when Macbeth talksabout his own staring at his own hands ("a sorry sight" hesays; 2.2.20), the visible, present, metonymy of the unnameable murderreflected in his horrified look at them. In the follow-up of theexchange, Macbeth's report of the oneiric perception of the murderon the part of the two lodged in the room next to Duncan's isloaded with a censorious attitude that voices his own self-accusation.And yet the narrative's dislocation to an oneiric space removes itfrom reality. In that space, which contains the reported speech and thecensorious voices of the "others" embodying the Christianinterdiction of murder, his crime may be called by its name; it is thelocus of an accusation which he himself endorses when he avows that hecould not say "Amen:"

Macbeth: There's one did laugh in 's sleep,And one cried, "Murder," that they did wake each other.I stood and heard them; but they did say their prayersAnd addressed them again to sleep.Lady: There are two lodged together.Macbeth: One cried, "God bless us," and "Amen" the other,As they had seen me with these hangman's hands.Listening their fear, I could not say "Amen"When they did say, "God bless us."Lady: Consider it not so deeply.Macbeth: But wherefore could not I pronounce "Amen"?I had most need of blessing, and "Amen"Stuck in my throat.Lady: These deeds must not be thoughtAfter these ways; so, it will make us mad. (2.2.22-35)

Macbeth already perceives the prick of conscience, and hisincapacity to ask for pardon is the sign of his repressed awareness ofthe irredeemability of his sin, which translates into a voice that criesthe end of sleep as well as his own splitting into differentpersonas--Glamis, Cawdor, Macbeth. Attributing to Glamis, not to Cawdor,the murder of sleep indirectly unveils his long felt desire for kingshipalready perceived in "the imperial theme" voiced in 1.3; itpushes it further back in time, to a moment previous to the encounterwith the sisters, when, as Glamis, we wrongly assumed he was still"innocent" of his murderous desire:

Macbeth: Methought I heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more.Macbeth does murder sleep"--the innocent sleep,Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,Balm of hurt minds, great Nature's second course,Chief nourisher in life's feast--Lady: What do you mean?Macbeth: Still it cried, "Sleep no more" to all the house;"Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore CawdorShall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more." (2.2.36-44)

In his refusal to return to the second chamber and "smear /The sleepy grooms with blood" (50-51), in his unwillingness to"think what [he has] done" and "look on'tagain" (52,53), he tries to repress that awareness and undo what hehas just committed by barring memory. The final knocking at the gate onwhich this scene closes is the last aural sign of the resurgence of themoral ban upon murder coming from an ominous outside.

The violation of the interdiction on murder has triggered a tabooon both verbal language and sight; it has turned the murder into a"deed" and has dislocated it offstage. Yet, that moralprohibition reappears onstage indirectly: through the two men'snightmare of the "murder" reported by Macbeth; through thevisual showing of his murderous hands as metonyms of the"deed"; and finally, through the noises, voices, and ominousknocking that translate the unshowable into the audible. The unseenscene is eventually dramatized onstage vicariously, and the mechanism ofthe taboo on its visibility (36) is obliquely exposed through itsrepercussions upon those who have violated the Law.

The "Tyranny of the Deed": Questioning the Taboo

In Shakespeare's sources, Macbeth is depicted as a fiercecombatant, courageous but also ruthless and ambitious, deeply differentfrom Duncan, who is meek and weak and whose lenience is said to havecaused much crime and abuse in the kingdom. In 1582, George Buchanancommented on Macbeth's "Disgust at the un-active Slothfulnessof his Cousin" and expatiated on his merit in the first ten yearsof his reign, adding that, "if he had not obtained it by Violence,he might have been accounted inferior to none of the former Kings."(37) In his turn, Holinshed remarked that Duncan was " punishing offendors" which caused "many misruled trouble the peace and quiet state of the common-wealth, by seditiouscommotions," while Macbeth "govern[ed] the realme for thespace of ten yeares in equall justice." (38) In Shakespeare'splay we have no inkling of Macbeth's good rule, if any at any time,nor of Duncan's deficiencies, but we do perceive a turning point inthe story which coincides with the turning point in the sources too,when kingship is suddenly transformed into downright tyranny. All thechronicles agree to set this change after his ten years of good rule andthe emergence of a prick of conscience causing him to fear that "heshould be served of the same cup as he had ministred to hispredecessor." (39) Buchanan further noticed that "the Murderof the King... hurried his Mind into dangerous Precipices, so that heconverted his Government, got by Treachery, into a cruel Tyranny."In his chronicle, Banquo "was his Companion in the KingsParricide" (where "parricide" suggests LadyMacbeth's own thinking about her own father in 2.2), (40) and inboth Buchanan and Holinshed, it was prophesied that Banquo should be thefather of future kings. Fear of Banquo is what turned him into Macbethsfirst victim. From this murder onward, Buchanan wrote, "mutual Fearand Hatred sprung up betwixt [Macbeth] and the Nobility," (41) andthat was the beginning of his bloody tyranny. (42)

Compared to the chronicles, Shakespeare telescopes the events andhas Macbeth start dreading Banquo immediately after his crowning forreasons that sound significantly less practical than in the chronicles.In 3.1, we first hear Banquo "fear" that Macbeth"playe[d] most foully" for the crown (3) and then Macbethlaments his own unsafety and fear of Banquo ("To be thus isnothing, but to be safely thus: / Our fears in Banquo stick deep, / Andin his royalty of nature reigns that / Which would be feared";47-50). Companions and foils to each other, (43) they also mirror eachother in the name of mutual fear. Macbeth knows that he has damned hisown soul for Banquo's progeny, that he has become king but cannotbe king as long as Banquo embodies an idea of kingship stretching intothe future, as the weird sisters have prefigured. This was not among hisworries at the moment of weighing the pros and cons of the deed in 1.7;but now that he has the crown and all the "props of kingship,"Banquo's "royalty of nature" (3.1.49) is to be"feared" (50): he will become "father to a line ofkings" (59). Banquo's destined regal paternity reinstates,after Macbeth, patrilineality, although the prophecy would not have himking--which was possible under tanistry. (44) Killing Banquo, who waspredicted to be royal father, will not turn Macbeth into a father ofkings, making him the founder of a royal dynasty. But Macbeths mind isclearly stuck on that point as if killing Banquo would legitimate hisown kingship, allowing him to overcome a feeling of regalunbelongingness. In this sense, his reasons transcend practicalpreoccupations, such as being "served of the same cup" byBanquo, as stated in Holinshed. This kind of unpractical concern isprecisely what he voices in 3.1.64-69, laying the ground for hishorrified reaction at the spectacle of the "eight kings, the lastwith a glass in his hand" (s.d.), the sisters will disclose to himin 4.1: (45)

For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind;For them, the gracious Duncan have I murdered;Put rancours in the vessel of my peaceOnly for them; and mine eternal jewelGiven to the common enemy of man,To make them kings, the seeds of Banquo kings. (3.1.64-69)

His fear invests a more general interrogation about his precariouskingship, unveiling that becoming and being king are not one. AsSerpieri remarks, "being a king thus, with the emblems ofregality--the garment, the crown, the scepter--through which the actorplaying this character ostends himself, is nothing, or it is nothing ifbeing thus does not achieve the fullness, security, of being." (46)The "be-all and end-all" Macbeth longed for in his earlysoliloquy (1.7.5) constitutes the core of his tension toward perfectionand at the same time of his awareness of his ontological failure:killing the king will not make him a true king, the action will not befinished off with this murder, and "blood will have blood," ashe will say in 3.4.120 after Banquo's appearance. The metaphysicalproblem he contemplated in 1.7 soon returns "to hound him as aninescapable task and reality.... Here, blood itself will have blood, thedeed done will have another deed." (47) As he says in 3.2, wheninvoking the "seeling night" (47) to accomplish the deed thatthis time he decides to keep his wife "innocent of" (3.2.46),Macbeth prepares another "unscene" in utter solitude, laying ataboo on the second breaking of the "great bond":

Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful dayAnd with thy bloody and invisible handCancel and tear to pieces that great bondWhich keeps me pale. (3.2.48-51)

"That great bond," Mack notices, "sounds somethinglike the even-handed Justice, double trust, and golden opinions whichdefined what a man, and especially a host, should do in I. VII."(48) As pointed out by Wofford, "bond" may have differentmeanings here, suggesting that by which Banquo "holds hislife," implying succession, but also the bond of life, andespecially, as will later be seen, the moral bond. (49) Curiously, theword "deed" appears in the sources only with reference to thismurder, not to Duncan's, and only in Holinshed, which contains theclosest similarities with the play's plot ("certeinemurderers, whom he hired to execute that deed"). (50) The third,central act is reserved precisely to this "deed," not toDuncan's assassination, which occurs comparatively early in theplay, granting Banquo an unexpected prominence.

Banquo's murder is accomplished in 3.3, in a short scene wherethree Murderers attack him and Fleance as ordered by Macbeth. There isno indication of stagecraft as to how the scene should be performed, butwe hear the third Murderer ask who put out the light (18), suggestingthat the stage is in fact once again entirely in the dark while Banquois being killed. We only hear him cry "O treachery!" and then"Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly" (16), with yet anothershift from the visual to the aural. Then the action is reported by theMurderers during the banquet when they call Macbeth away from thegathering, symbolically isolating him from his guests (3.4). (51) A thatpoint, the subsequent entrance of Banquo's ghost, as if prompted bytheir narrative and Macbeth's own mention of a possible"mischance" impeding him to join the feast (3.4.41), willliterally "split" the scene in two, thus making the crimemanifest to everybody by "blow[ing] the horrid deed in everyeye" (1.7.24).

Like Cassandra in Aeschylus's Agamemnon, Macbeth is notbelieved onstage, and his alienation from the rest of the characters,his wife included, neatly separates tangible reality from thesupernatural and oneiric space of the "return of the dead."This scene replicates the hallucinatory vision of the "dagger ofthe mind" in 2.1, and yet, differently from that scene (where thedagger remained invisible and was not disclaimed by anybody elseonstage), Banquo is seen by the audience, marking the progressive,solitary emancipation of Macbeth's own distorted perspective from ashared sense of the real. (52)

Shakespeare had already experimented on this dramaturgical devicein Hamlet, where right at the center of the play (again 3.4) he hadshown Hamlet conversing with both his mother and the ghost of hisfather, whose presence is unseen and unbelieved by the Queen. (53) Thatwas a peculiar type of "unscene," as it was not dislocatedtemporally but was acted out, commented on, and narrated while it tookplace, dramatizing visual and ontological uncertainty throughout itsdiscursive and visual unfolding. This is precisely what we findreplicated in Macbeth. The effect produced by this "splitscene" is of an incongruous focalization upon Macbeth withinunfocalized dramatic mimesis, (54) inviting the audience to identifywith the murderer and experience his own sense of alienation and dread.The sources contain no mention of ghosts, (55) so this choice isentirely Shakespearean, precisely like having Banquo's ghost appearin place of Duncan's. The scene is marked with biblicalreminiscences of the feast of Balthazar (Daniel 5) but, above all, withhints suggesting affinity with other dramatic patterns of constructionand disclosure of taboo scenes. Like Aeschylus's Agamemnon, Macbethtoo is accurate on this, using verbal reticence to build the taboo onmurder and developing visual interdiction theatrically through anillusion of darkness as a structural device. (56) Except for thehomicide of Macduff's son in 4.2, carried out by a Murderer, andthat of Macbeth at the hand of Macduff, killing is not shown but told,starting with the Captain's report of Macbeth's dissevering ofMacdonald's head in 1.2.23, which anticipates the tyrant'sfinal beheading. This lack of visual display of gory and brutal actions,which one would expect to see in a story of usurpation and crueltyranny, increases the sustained focus on Macbeth's desire to banthose actions from view, suggesting first and foremost a ban from hisown view and memory. Thus, questioning the dynamics of that taboo byunveiling its mechanics onstage entails inverting Macbeths logic ofconcealment and blowing the deed into his face. This also entailsblowing it into the audience's eyes, finally disclosing what hasbeen concealed and showing that concealment is the very logic of taboo.This process of concealment and disclosure is intrinsic to theboundary-transgressing experience of Macbeth, bringing about anexploration of how the disturbed mind of one man may become the focus ofaction and how this may call for a deep rethinking of ways in whichsymbolically censored scenes of transgression may be construed andfinally theatrically exposed.

The extent to which Shakespeare knew Aeschylus's Agamemnon isstill unknown, although, as Inga-Stina Ewbank argues, "evidenceseems to mount up that some form of first-hand contact with Aeschylushas left traces in Shakespeare's dramatic imagination." (57)In Aeschylus's Agamemnon, Cassandra's vision was instrumentalin showing the scene of the murder forbidden onstage for fear ofspreading miasma and, at the same time, in foregrounding, by contrast,the censorious role of the Chorus in view of their following debate withClytemnestra, when they eventually assume a political role. In Seneca,no indication is provided as to its staging, except thatCassandra's vision (867-909) is preceded by the Chorus of the womenof Mycenae's lyrical piece on the virtues of Argos and Hercules andon the first mythical destruction of Troy (808-66) and followed byElectra's dialogue with Strophius. No interaction is suggested andStudley casts her vision in a separate scene (5.1), with the"unscene" of the king's killing unfolding narratively,with no perceptive splitting or internal focalization contradicted byother characters onstage. Shakespeare dramatizes a likewise solitaryvision but adds Macbeth's dramatic contrast with the othercharacters, marking, as with Aeschylus's Cassandra, his uttersolitude from a "chorus" of people, here noblemen invited tothe feast.

The parallel with Cassandra suggests the centrality of thiscritical moment: in Agamemnon, her vision marks the climax of theaction; in Macbeth, Banquo's appearance marks Macbeth's ownconscious apprehension of the effects of breaking the "greatbond," a violation which both concerns king killing and transcendsit. In both examples, the vision brings together differenttemporalities: slight asynchronicity in Aeschylus and the inversion oftime's progression with the return of the dead in Shakespeare. Italso brings together different spaces: the inside and the outside of theroyal house in Aeschylus and Seneca; the other world and this world inShakespeare. In Seneca, which Shakespeare might have read in both Latinand John Studley's translation (firstly published individually in1566 and then collected in Thomas Newton's 1581 Tenne Tragedies ofSeneca), (58) Cassandra's vision is contemporaneous with themurder, which makes it closer to this scene, where what Macbeth sees isnot Banquo's murder but his body showing the signs of his ownkilling. (59) Cassandra's vision opens on an ambiguous deicticmarker ("eheu quid hoc est?"; "What thing isthis?"), (60) which anticipates Macbeth's own question:"Which of you has done this?" (3.4.46; emphasis mine).Although in Seneca the vision does not produce a "split scene"commented upon or denied by other characters onstage, as in the case ofthe Elders of Argo in Aeschylus, Cassandra's elation at the fall ofArgo's master and her shuddering at the horrendous sight of themurder prefigure Shakespeare's own dramatization of a knot ofcontrary passions, commingling joy and terror, in Macbeth:

anime, consurge et capepretium furoris: vicimus victi Phryges.bene est, resurgit Troia; traxisti iacens,parens, Mycenas, terga dat victor tuus.tam clara numquam provide mentis furorostendit oculis: video et intersum, furor;imago visus dubia non fallit meos:spectemus: (61) --horreo atque animo tremo:Get vp my soule, and of the rage auengmeent worthy craue:Though Phrygians wee bee vanquished, the victory we haue.The matter well is brought aboute: vp Troy thou rysest now,Thou flat on floore hast pulde down Greece, to ly as low as thou.Thy Conquerour doth turne his Face: my prophesying sprightDid neuer yet disclose to mee so notable a sight: It makes mee lothe, that shiuering heere I stande. (62)

The macabre details of Cassandra's vision anticipateBanquo's own macabre appearance, while Macbeth's horrifiedcomment on his "shak[ing] / [his] gory locks at [him]"(3.4.47-48), (63) translating into words Banquo's silentaccusation, discloses the unseen scene of his murder to the hearers,precisely as Cassandra discloses that of Agamemnon to the audience.

The deed has been done: "peractum est," "dispatchedit is;" these are the two expressions that in Seneca and Studleyfirmly state the completion of the action, suggesting a curious echo inMacbeth's "Is he dispatched?" addressed to the murderersin the same scene (3.4.13):

Res agitur intus magna, par annis decern.Eheu quid hoc est?armat bipenni Tyndaris dextram furens,qualisque ad aras colla taurorum popadesignat oculis antequam ferro petat,sic huc et illuc impiam librat manum.Habet, peractum est. Pendet exigua malecaput amputatum parte et hinc trunco cruorexundat, illic ora cum fremitu iacent.Nondum recedunt: ille iam exanimem petitlaceratque corpus, illa fodientem adiuvat.Uterque tanto scelere respondet suis:est hil Thyeste gnatus, haec Helenae soror. (64)Within a reuell rexe is kept, as sore as euer was,Eueen at the ten yeares seige of Troy: What thing is this? (alas)But furious Tyndaris preparde the Pollaxe in her hande,And as the priest to sacrifice at Th'alter side doth stande,And vewes with eye the Bullockes necke, eare that with Axe he smite,So to and fro shee heaues her hand to stryke and leauell right.He hath the stroke: dispatcht it is: not quite chopt of the headIt hangeth by a litle crop: heere from the Carkasse deadThe spouting bloude came gusshing out: and there the head doth lye,With wallowing, hobbling, mumbling tongue: nor they do by and byeForsake him so: the breathlesse coarse Aegist doth all to coyle:And mangled hath the gasshed corpes: whyle thus hee doth him spoyle,She putteth to her helping hand: by detestable deede.They both accorde vnto the kynde, whereof they doe proceede.Dame Helens Syster right shee is, and hee Thyestes sonne. (65)

Macbeth's vision makes his own "detestable deed"visible to himself and, indirectly, to everybody onstage. If Duncansghost had appeared in place of Banquo's, it would not have had thesame broad anthropological implications, nor would it have foregroundedas clearly the tangle of opposed stances concerning the position ofMacbeth in relation to time and being. Duncan too had a son who mighthave become king; it is because he appointed him Prince of Cumberlandthat he was killed by Macbeth. But it is Banquo who returns from thedead, showing that the royal future he embodies already weighs heavilyupon Macbeth, whose kingly power is only an inauthentic kingly mask. Atthe same time, Banquo (who is no king himself, but a man butchered bytwo Murderers) is the visible figure of the broken "statute"grounding the notion of civilization itself on communal rules of humanrespect and forbiddance of killing, besides king killing. This topic,concerning the "great bond" keeping us "pale,"emerges most clearly in 3.2 with regard to Banquo; now it translatesinto the return of Banquo's own ghost as the counter effect ofwounded civilization upon his murderer and violator of the human statutethat cleansed the commonweal from barbarity by forbidding killing. TheLaw coded in that bond is what introduced the ban on murder andtriggered the mechanisms of taboo; the rising of the dead is the direct,and most perturbing, effect of that mechanism: (66)

Blood hath been shed ere now, i'th' olden time,Ere humane statute purged the gentle weal;Ay, and since too, murders have been performedToo terrible for the ear. The times have 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 strangeThan such a murder is. (3.4.73-81)

This interrogation brings full circle Macbeth's attempt toreposition the boundaries of the moral order in the taboo language ofdesire and fear of 1.7. Time cannot be reduced to an absolute instantwhere "the be-all" is "the end-all;""doing" does not mean "all-ending" and"all-being," and this "split scene" is the necessary"unshowing" of an "unscene" that must beinterrogated onstage by having the others, the innocent ones, innocentof it too. It is the response to a taboo (not to say or show what is notto be done); it is in fact an interrogation of the mechanism of taboopivoting on repression and its tragic consequences upon the tyrant smind; it is the unveiling of its ruling power upon desire.


Unshowing the scene of death of the legitimate and good king is thefirst step toward Macbeths own solipsistic experience of transgression.The murder arouses fears in him that he shares with his wife until 3.1,when he decides to kill Banquo, soon giving signs of a tyrannicalcharacter. The murder of Banquo, who is cast as a foil to Macbeth, marksMacbeths further step toward his loss of the restraint which forbade himto do more than what "become[s] a man" (1.7.46). A "deedof dreadful note" (3.2.45), itself as terrible as the"terrible feat" of Duncan's murder (1.7.81), it marksMacbeth's finally solitary assumption of responsibility. Hisinvocation of the "seeling night, / Scarf[ing] up the tender eye ofpitiful day" (3.2.47-48), signals his own plunging into thedynamics of concealment of the transgression. His evocation of thenight's "bloody and invisible hand" in 3.2 so that it may"cancel and tear to pieces the great bond /Which keeps [him]pale" (3.2.50-51) is his final act of self-damnation aimed atcancelling fear out. But fear will not be cancelled yet and will pushhim to embrace self-deluding security in 4.1, which will also meanforgetting the fear which is at the basis of the bond binding togetherthe community of mankind following the commandment not to kill. It isfear of "judgement" (1.7.8) and "even-handedjustice" (1.7.10) that constitutes the foundation of self-restraintsince ancient times. In the Oresteia, the process of establishingdemocracy in Athens is accomplished in the name of fear, the same fearon which the sentence of the Aeropagus is based. (67) If broken, that"bond" is bound to have drastic repercussions upon thetransgressor.

Macbeth is "a tragedy of free will and damnation." (68)And it is precisely the dramatization of such an experience of tragicchoice in the face of issues of predestination that the strategies ofvisual and verbal reticence dramatize. "If chance will have meking, why chance may crown me /Without my stir," says Macbeth in anaside in 1.3.146-47 after the weird sisters' first"imperfect" revelation. Chance is like tyche here for him. In1.3, like a classical tragic hero, Macbeth does not approach questionsof responsibility, but he will soon do so, spurred on to action by hiswife who wants him to use well time and take advantage of Duncans visitto Inverness; she wants him to grasp the opportune moment, the kairos ofthe situation. In this sense, he both belongs to, and is imprisonedwithin, a superior design transcending individual choice, but he is alsoendowed with free will. It is in this split, dual dimension ofconstraint and freedom that the tragedy of Macbeth originates, leadingup to a deep exploration of the disordered mind of a man who eventuallymoves away from an idea of tyche and finds himself torn between desireand fear before gradually losing himself by going beyond both.


Frustrated Performances

Verona University


(*) This article is dedicated to the memory of Alessandro Serpieri.

(1) William Shakespeare, Macbeth, ed. Sandra Clark and PamelaMason, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ser. (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 4.1.48.All references to William Shakespeare's Macbeth are to thisedition. References are to act, scene, and line number and are hereaftercited parenthetically in the text.

(2) Marjorie Garber, '"The Rest Is Silence':Ineffability and the 'Unscene' in Shakespeare'sPlays," in Ineffability: Naming the Unnameable from Shakespeare toBeckett, ed. Peter S. Hawkins and Hanne Howland (Eugene, OR: Wipf andStock, 1984), 39.

(3) On the play's widespread preoccupation with boundarytransgression and its expression in terms of taboo see also MarjorieGarber, "Macbeth: the Male Medusa," in Profiling Shakespeare(New York: Routledge, 2008), 76-109.

(4) Maynard Mack, Jr., Killing the King (New Haven: Yale UniversityPress, 1973), 12.

(5) Ibid., 12.

(6) Ibid., 184.

(7) Ibid., 184.

(8) In E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, vol. 4 (Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1923), 263. See also Virginia Crocheron Gildersleeve,Government Regulation of the Elizabeth Drama (New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press, 1908); Richard Dutton, "Theatrical License andCensorship," in A New Companion to Renaissance Drama, ed. Arthur F.Kinney and Thomas Warren Hopper (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 229.

(9) Cf. various references in William A. Armstrong, "TheElizabethan Conception of the Tyrant," Review of English Studies22, no. 87 (1946), 161-81; Rebecca Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants:Political Thought and Theatre in English Renaissance (Ithaca: CornellUniversity Press, 1990); Mary Ann McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare(Boston: Lexington Books, 2001).

(10) Cf. also The Second Maiden's Tragedy, produced in 1611 bythe King's Men, where the murder of the king onstage is clearlythat of a tyrant and usurper (significantly called Tyrant); seeBushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants, 154-58.

" See Mario Domenichelli, Il limite dell'ombra (Milano:Franco Angeli, 1994), 97; see also, "In Macbeth, as in Hamlet, thedeath of the king is absent, or removed, and the death of the tyrant isshown as being artificial, like a play, always based on that politicalcaution purported by English medieval and Renaissance treatises"(86-87; my translation). Domenichelli conducts his discussion againstthe backdrop of medieval and contemporary political treatises, andincludes comments on Shakespeare's Richard II, Henry VI, King John,Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, Marlowe's Edward II, andMassinger's The Roman Actor (76-107); on Julius Caesar, see RobertS. Miola, "Julius Caesar and the Tyrannicide Debate,"Renaissance Quarterly 38 (1985): 271-89.

(12) Mack, Killing the King, 196; see also, "acting becomesessentially involved with the act of regicide.... Regicide is exploredin terms of acting" (193, 194).

(13) Perhaps the most apparent token of the play's attentionfor the king is related to Banquo and consists in the famous thirdapparition in 4.1. Garber interestingly links this scene to theplay's proclivity for boundary crossing: "The eighth kingappears with 'a glass,' which shows us many more kings tocome. A glass is a mirror--in the context of the scene a magic mirror,predicting the future, but as a stage prop quite possibly an ordinaryone, borne to the front of the audience where at the first performanceKing James would have been seated in state. James, of course, traced hisancestry to Banquo, a fact which--together with his interest inwitchcraft--may have been the reason for Shakespeare's choice ofsubject. The 'glass' is another transgression of the inside /outside boundary, crossing the barrier that separates the play and itsspectators." "The Male Medusa," 103. On the ambiguity ofideas of legitimacy and kingship in the play, Stephen Orgel rightlyobserves that, as in Hamlet, in Macbeth "there is deep uncertaintyabout the relation between power and legitimacy--about whetherlegitimacy constitutes anything more than the rhetoric of power backedby the size of its army." "Macbeth and the Antic Round,"in Authentic Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Orgel (New York: Routledge, 2002),164.

(14) Shakespeare did not diverge significantly from Holinshed here,where we read that "Then having a companie about him..., He causedhimselfe to be proclaimed king, and foorthwith went unto Scone, where(by common consent) he received the investiture of the kingdomeaccording to the accustomed maner." Raphael Holinshed, Chroniclesof England, Scotland, and Ireland (1587), in Narrative and DramaticSources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, vol. 7 (New York:Columbia University Press, 1973), 496. All quotations fromShakespeare's sources are from this edition.

(15) The addition "on a pole" is by Malone (see Clark andMason, eds, Macbeth, 298nl9.1). Much has been written on Macbeth'sdissevered head; Brooke has rightly noticed that the direction"proposes a trompe-l'oeil head, an art like that attributed toGiulio Romano at the end of The Winter's Tale, achieved here, nodoubt, by a life-mask of Burbage. That final effect is peculiar, forMalcolm, always an equivocal figure, capitalizes briskly on thedecapitation 'Of this dead butcher, and his fiend-like Queen'(1. 99). When last seen sleep-walking, Lady Macbeth was anything butfiend-like, and the only visible butcher here is not Macbeth but the'heroic' Macduff with the grotesque head he offers toMalcolm's 'Christian' triumph." Nicholas Brooke,"Introduction," in The Oxford Shakespeare: Macbeth, ed.Nicholas Brooke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 6. As Garberpoints out, "the head of Macbeth is in its final appearancetransformed from an emblem of evil to a token of good, a sign at onceminatory and monitory, threatening and warning. Not in the painted guiseforeseen by Macduff, but in its full and appalling reality, the head ofthe monster that was Macbeth has now become an object lesson in tyranny,a demonstration of human venality and its overthrow--'the show andgaze o'th'time.'" "The Male Medusa," 102.

(16) McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare, 13; see also Mack, Killingthe King, 183, 185.

(17) Serpieri identifies this moment with Macbeth's own"becoming fear itself" by sipping, sucking, absorbing thehorror orally like an infant sipping a liquid ("I have supped fullwith horrors"); Alessandro Serpieri, "Macbeth: il tempo dellapaura," in Retorica e immaginario (Parma: Pratiche, 1986), 260.

(18) Adrian Poole, Tragedy, Shakespeare and the Greek Example(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 15.

(19) Ibid.

(20) Brooke, "Introduction," 2.

(21) Garber's "unscene" is a removed-from-sightaction whose ambiguity is strategically enhanced through a narrative, asin the case of Ophelia's tale of the visit she receives from adistracted Hamlet in 2.1. With reference to this example, Garberobserves that "we in the offstage audience do not know how tointerpret the encounter, as we might if we had actually seen it; insteadthe moment itself remains unresolved in our minds, to be puzzled over inconjunction with the later scene between Hamlet and Ophelia in III.i.Hamlet seems clearly to be gripped by some violent emotion--but is itlove, grief, disgust at the frailty of woman, despair that hisfather's murder necessitates the end of his relationship withOphelia? Because it is unseen, the unscene remains powerfully andteasingly ambiguous; by placing this episode offstage, Shakespeareensures its ambiguity and maximizes its impact, while at the same timereserving the high drama of confrontation for a point later in theplay." "Ineffability and the 'Unscene,'" 44.

(22) For a discussion of the role of the Watchman and the languageof fear in Agamemnon as an instrument to dramatize the taboo ofa*gamemnon's murder and prepare its disclosure throughCassandra's vision, see Guido Avezzu, "Reticence and phobos inAeschylus's Agamemnon" in this issue of Comparative Drama. Myanalysis of the "split scene" of Banquo's appearance inrelation to Aeschylus is indebted to this essay. The Watchman'sfear may be compared to Lennox's cautiously sudden silence aboutBanquo's death in 3.6: "But peace; for from broad words, andcause he failed /His presence at the tyrant's feast, I hear /Macduff lives in disgrace" (21-23).

(23) As Mack has noted, "in some of Shakespeare's playsrepetition occurs so insistently and so impressively, that an attentiveaudience simply cannot miss it. 'Honest' in Othello and'nothing' in King Lear.... So are 'deeds,''do,' and 'done' in Macbeth. Not only do these termspervade the play, but in at least 11 instances they appear emphaticallyin pairs or triplets and always in striking situations;" Mack,Killing the King, 161. Reference is to 1.3.8-10, 1.5.22-25, 1.6, 15,1.7.1-2, 1.7. 46-47. Occasionally, "deed" is replaced byalternative words, such as "business," which adds a hasty andmatter-of-fact nuance to the murder; "business" is used torefer to both Duncan's and Banquo's deaths, as well as to thecharm performed by the witches; see 1.5.67-68; 1.7.30; 2.1.22-24;2.1.47-49; 2.3.81-83; 3.1.105-6; 3.1.127-28.

(2,1) Shakespeare, Macbeth, 147n131.

(25) "His deep desire to become king at all costs [is] adesire that is prior to the prophecy since it is called 'imperialtheme,' the semantic and musical theme of empire, absolute powerwhich his mind has long engaged with:" Alessandro Serpieri, ed.,Macbeth (Firenze: Giunti, 1996), 22-23n (my translation).

(26) Significantly, the other characters will instead proclaim italoud several times when Duncan's death is discovered. As will beseen, in 1.7 Macbeth employs a periphrasis ("Then, as his host,/who should against his murderer shut the door, / Not bear the knife[himself]"; 14-16) and a synonym ("taking off"; 20).

(27) "Whereupon Mackbeth revolving the thing in his mind,began even then to devise how he might atteine to the kingdome: but yethe thought with himselfe that he must tarie a time, which should advancehim thereto (by the divine providence) as it had come to passe in hisformer preferment." Holinshed, Chronicles, 495-96. With regard tothe controversy on free will between Luther and Erasmus, Miola suggestedthat it "provides an illuminating context for the depiction ofwitches, sin, and punishment in Macbeth. First, it disposes summarilythe notion that the weird sisters can in any senses possess or controlMacbeth. Those early Protestants and Catholics who believe in witchesnever grant to them such power. Instead, they debate the nature ofGod's foreknowledge and the predestination of the elect andreprobate, the saved and the damned." Robert S. Miola,"Introduction," in Macbeth (New York: Norton, 2014), xviii.

(28) Here is Holinshed (Chronicles, 496): "But shortlie afterit chanced that king Duncane, having two sonnes by his wife which wasthe daughter of Siward earle of Northumberland, he made the elder ofthem called Malcolme prince of Cumberland, as it were thereby to appointhim his successor in the kingdome, immediatlie after his deceasse.Mackbeth sore troubled herewith, for that he saw by this means his hopesore hindered (where, by the old lawes of the realme, the ordinance was,that if he that should succeed were not of able age to take the chargeupon himselfe, he that was next of bloud unto him should be admitted) hebegan to take counsel] how he might usurpe the kingdome by force, havinga just quarell so to doo (as he tooke the matter) for that Duncane didwhat in him lay to defraud him of all maner of title and claime, whichhe might in time to come, pretend unto the crowne."

29 "He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear / His hopes'bove wisdom, grace and fear; /And you all know, security / Ismortals' chiefest enemy"; 3.5.30-33.

(30) Mack, Killing the King, 163.

(31) See Garber, "The Male Medusa," 82.

(32) This intricate thinking is a powerful example of what KeirElam has dubbed "rhetoric of inelocutio," i.e. a discursivestyle reflecting the moment when "the whole system of elocutiosuddenly implodes or self-destructs in advocating modes of discursivedisintegration, fragmentation, hesitation, reticence, compression andopacity. The simulacrum, or simulatio, of the struggling speaker aboutto lose control of his own discourse, and perhaps of his thoughtprocesses, under the pressure of passion, is perhaps the highestachievement to which the rhetoric of pathos through ethos can aspire,since there is nothing so delicate and so difficult to get away with asan artfully constructed artlessness." '"Thou art mad tosay it': Seven Types of Ineffability in 'Macbeth,'"in Semeia: itinerari per Marcello Pagnini, ed. Loretta Innocenti, FrancoMarucci, and Paola Pugliatti (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1994), 203.

(33) Brooke, "Introduction," 6.

(34) Ibid., 2.

(35) For a discussion of the symbolic relation between"eye" and "hand," "light" and"night," "doing" and "being," seeSerpieri, "Introduzione" to Macbeth, 15-19, and Serpieri,"Macbeth: il tempo della paura," 29ff.

(36) In this regard, Garber has rightly pointed out thatMacduff's announcing the death of Duncan as something horrendousthat cannot be looked at (it will "destroy your sight / With a newGorgon," he says; 2.3.71-72) underlines precisely this ban onvisuality. "The Male Medusa," 84-85.

(37) "The publick Peace being thus restored, he applied hismind to make Laws, (a thing almost wholly neglected by former Kings) andindeed, he Enacted many good and useful ones, which now are eitherwholly unknown, or else lie unobserved, to the great damage of thePublick." Rerum Scoticarum Historia, 1582 (trans. T. Page, 1690),in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 513-14.

(38) Holinshed, Chronicles, 488, 498.

(39) Ibid., 498.

(40) Buchanan, Rerum Scoticarum Historia, 514.

(41) Ibid., 515.

(42) See also John Leslie, De Origine, Moribus, et Rebus Gestisscotorum (1578), 5.85: "Yet--since the heaviest punishment isimposed by God on the most sinful souls--in the end, troubled inconscience by the crime he had committed, he began to fear those aroundhim so greatly that, departing from the agreeable nature he had hithertoshown, he either savagely slew his nobles with open violence or bysecret counsels incited them to slaughter one another. Thus when hethought himself in danger from Banquo and Macduff, he first of all slewthe former, then laid snares craftily for the latter. What more needs besaid? Like a true tyrant he fears everybody and is feared by all."In Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 518 (trans. GeoffreyBullough).

(43) "To emphasize the point [that Macbeth has chosen evil,3.1.64-67], Shakespeare departs from Holinshed in his depiction ofBanquo, who originally encourages him in jest to 'purchase'...the crown, and who knows in advance of the assassination.Shakespeare's Banquo, a clear foil to Macbeth, freely andsteadfastly resists temptation: first he prays, 'Merciful powers, /Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature/ Gives way to inrepose' (2.1.7-9); then he confronts Macbeth directly, assertingthat he must lose no honor, must keep his 'bosom franchised andallegiance clear'" (2.1.28). Miola, "Introduction,"xviii-xix.

(44) On the ambiguous approach to tanistry in Macbeth, see SusanneWofford, "Origin Stories of Fear and Tyranny: Blood andDismemberment in Macbeth (with a Glance at the Oresteia)," in part1 of this special issue of Comparative Drama (51.4 Winter 2017). Withinthe comparative frame of this article, it may be pinpointed thatpatrilineality is so emphasized in Eumenides that Apollo can state that"the mother is no parent of that which is called / her child, butonly nurse of the new-planted seed / that grows. The parent is he whom*ounts." (658-60; [phrase omitted]). Just before this bewilderingstatement, Orestes acknowledges that his mother is affected by a dualmiasma, since by killing Agamemnon she has killed not only her ownhusband but also a king and father of kings ("[phraseomitted]," 600-602; Yes. She was polluted twice over withdisgrace.... She murdered her husband, and thereby my father too). SeeAvezzu, "Reticence and phobos in Aeschylus's Agamemnon."The Greek text of Aeschylus is based on Aeschyli septem quae supersunttragoedias, ed. Denys Page (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972); translationsare from Greek Tragedies, ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, ThirdEdition, Mark Griffith and Glenn W Most (Chicago: University of ChicagoPress, 2013), vol. 1: Aeschylus. Agamemnon, vol. 2: Aeschylus. TheLibation bearers, vol. 3: Aeschylus. The Eumenides.

(45) "Notice Macbeth's words: 'Sear mineeyelids'; 'start, eyes'; 'horrible sight.' Onceagain Macbeth is a man transfixed by what he has seen, once again ineffect turned to stone. His murders have been for nothing; Banquo'ssons will inherit the kingdom. This is his personal Gorgon, the sign ofhis own futility and damnation." Garber, "The MaleMedusa," 103.

(46) Serpieri, ed., Macbeth, 86n (translation mine).

(47) Mack, Killing the King, 168.

(48) Ibid., 170.

(49) Wofford, "Origin Stories of Fear and Tyranny,"517-18.

(511) Holinshed, Chronicles, 498.

(51) Mack traces a parallel in the two "banquet scenes"along the issue of Macbeth's own isolation: "The banquet atInverness, taking place offstage... is balanced by Macbeth, aloneonstage and alienated, considering murder. Likewise, in the banquetscene proper, Macbeth is unable to join the feast because he has cuthimself off from the society of mutual trust and obligation that isrepresented there: first he is prevented by the Murderer'sentrance, then by the Ghost's appearance, and finally by his wife,who breaks up the gathering (III.IV. 117-20). The 'brokenfeast' thus becomes a vivid metaphor of the play's politicalaction to this point and at the same time prepares us for the antifeastof the witches with their 'hell-broth' in the next act(IV.I.19)." Killing the King, 139.

(52) As Mack claims, "The appearance of the Ghost is one ofthose occasions when Shakespeare exploits theatrical convention forpowerful effect: we and Macbeth together see the Ghost, whereas he alonesaw the dagger leading him to Duncan. The difference is important since,as we learned in the chamber scene of Hamlet, the effect of havingaudience and hero see together what others onstage are blind toestablishes a bond of understanding or at least common experience thatprevents our interpreting the Ghost as mere illusion." Ibid.,143-44. See also Brooke, "Introduction," 4:"Banquo's ghost: it is seen by Macbeth, it was seen by SimonForman at the Globe in 1610-11, and it has been seen by audiences inmost productions.... This differs from the dagger because the emptinesshere is not of our perceiving, and from the Sisters because here the'reliable witnesses' contradict our sight. Scepticism,therefore, becomes as questionable as credulity. The whole effect isaborted if, as so often nowadays, no physical ghost appearsonstage."

(53) William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor,Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ser. (London: Bloomsbury, 2006).

(54) For a recent overview of the relation between diegesis andmimesis, including issues of focalization in drama, see SilviaBigliazzi, "Introduction," in "Diegesis andMimesis," ed. Silvia Bigliazzi, special issue, Skene: Journal ofTheatre and Drama Studies 2, no. 2 (2016): 5-33; see also WilliamGruber, Offstage Space, Narrative, and the Theatre of the Imagination(New York: Palgrave Macbmillan, 2010) and, more recently, JonathanWalker, Site Unscene. The Offstage in English Renaissance Drama(Evanston, IL: Northwenstern University Press, 2016).

(55) Here is Leslie's succinct version: "Thus when hethought himself in danger from Banquo and Macduff, he first of all slewthe former, then laid snares craftily for the latter. What more needs besaid? Like a true tyrant he fears everybody and is feared by all"De Origine, 5.85, my emphasis. Holinshed and Buchanan expatiate on hiscruelty and tyrannical behavior in greater detail, but from a notsubstantially different perspective. In Bullough, Narrative and DramaticSources, 518-19.

(56) As suggested by Brooke ("Introduction," 2; see alson20 above), "about two-thirds of this play written for the daylighttheatre is set in darkness. All theatre depends, in one way or another,on illusion, but Macbeth is exceptional in affirming continuously adirect contradiciton of the natural conditions: the transformation ofdaylight into darkness is a tour deforce which establishes illusion as,not merely a utility, but a central preoccupation of the play,dramatically announced by an opening unique in Shakespeare's plays,the use of the non-naturalistic prologue by the Weird Sisters in1.1."

(57) Inga-Stina Ewbank, '"Striking too short atGreeks': The Transmission of Agamemnon on the English RenaissanceStage," in Agamemnon in Performance: 458 BC to AD 2004, ed. FionaMacintosh, Pantelis Michelakis, Edith Hall, and Oliver Taplin (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2005), 52. Louise Schleiner has also arguedthat the Saint-Ravy 1555 truncated translation of Agamemnon coalescedwith the Libation Bearers, followed by the entire conflated translationof Eumenides, possibly stood behind "the Admiral's Agamemnonof 1599, with its companion play, Orestes' Furies, then portrayinggenerally the matter of the Eumenides: Orestes being driven mad bynightmarish female furies until the gods, through the famous trialscene, restore his sanity and let him assume his father'skingship." "Latinized Greek Drama in Shakespeare'sWriting of Hamlet',' Shakespeare Quarterly 41, (1990): 29-48(36).

(58) For an overview of criticism on Shakespeare's access toLatin and Englished Seneca, see Patrick Gray, "Shakespeare vs.Seneca: Competing Visions of Human Dignity," in Brill'sCompanion to the Reception of Senecan Tragedy, ed. Eric Dodson-Robinson(Leiden: Brill, 2016), 203-30.

(59) "Video, et intersum et furor" (873); "I see thesame, and am thereat, and busied in the broyle." Quotations arefrom Leon Herrmann, ed., Seneque. Tragedies, vol. 2 (Paris: Les BellesLettres, 1961); John Studley, Agamemnon, in Seneca His Tenne Tragedies,ed. Thomas Newton (London: Thomas Marsh, 1581), 156r.

(60) Hermann, Seneque, 868; Studley, 156r.

(61) Hermann, ed., Seneque, 868-75, 883.

(62) Studley, Agamemnon, 156r.

(63) For a Freudian reading pivoting on the castration complexrelated to questions of gender roles, see Garber, "The MaleMedusa," 96-97.

(64) Herrmann, 867-68, 897-907.

(65) Studley, Agamemnon, 156r-156v.

(66) See Serpieri, Macbeth, 109n.

(67) The Eumenides 517 [Chorus's song]: "There are timeswhen fear is good" ([phrase omitted]); 522-25 [Chorus's song]:"If the city, if the man / rears a heart that nowhere goes /infear, how shall such a one / any more respect the right?" ([phraseomitted]); 690-94 [Athena]: "Here [in the court of Areopagus] thereverence / of citizens, their fear and kindred do-no-wrong / shall holdby day and in the blessing of night alike / all while the people do notmuddy their own laws / with foul infusions" ([phrase omitted]);emphasis added. At Eumenides 693-94 Lattimore follows the interpunctionof the manuscripts (Page prints [phrase omitted]).

(68) Miola, "Introduction," xix.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from thisarticle]

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