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Linguistic Taboos and the "Unscene" of Fear in Macbeth.

In her essay of 1984 on ineffability in Shakespeare, Marjorie Garber gives Macbeth as a typical example of how linguistic interdiction may be due to a taboo. Her reference is to the "deed without a name" (1) by which the weird sisters famously reply to Macbeth's question about what they were doing when he met them. The forbidden name for the deed, as Garber suggests, "involves some kind of transgression of boundaries," implying conversation with the devilish or the sacred or with prohibited knowledge. (2) Although this is a central issue in this play, it constitutes only the furthest end of a series of linguistic and visual taboos focused upon the conscious and painful experience of murder as the utmost transgression of moral boundaries. (3)

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

And yet, there are other levels of performance more closely concerned with the representation of regicide onstage that suggest more ambiguous approaches. It has often been pointed out that following Elizabeths 1559 proclamation against the acting of plays "wherin either matters of religion or of the governaunce of the estate of the common weale shalbe handled or treated," (8) theatre had to cope with a sustained royal politics of strict surveillance. The forbiddance of regicide was one crucial tenet of Elizabethan politics; it was central to the establishment of royal power, as witnessed by the famous 1571 An Homily Against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion, and it was increasingly sustained by James I's absolutist politics. (9) Showing it onstage was a delicate question. It has been contended that theatre had to devise strategies to sidestep critique. The king was to be shown weak or mad and in any case the cause of his own delegitimization and fall--for instance, by renouncing the crown; his death was to be the natural consequence of his faults, possibly carried out when no longer a king (as in Richard II) or justified by overt accusations of illegitimacy (as with Claudius in Hamlet). (10) Otherwise, the king's murder was normally removed from sight, as in Duncan's case, or it could be reported or re-enacted metatheatrically within a clearly fictitious context, as in Hamlet. (11) In many cases, representing king killing meant focusing on acting and role-playing. This allowed to use the dynamics of theatre in order to explore
a wholly new standard of kingship, different from either the two bodies
kind of thinking or the Christian service ideal of Gaunt [in Richard
II]. Kingship is not an identity or a God-given position anymore. It is
not even a complex institutionalized fiction like those of the Middle
Ages traced by Kantorowicz and Edward Peters. Rather, it is a role to
be played by an actor with skill and illusion. Kingship is coming to
have the flexibility of the actor--he is always separate from his
mask--but it is also suffering the essential inauthenticity of the
theater. (12)

Indeed, both staging and not staging the killing of a king, by resorting to the artificiality of metatheatre, had numberless implications. In Macbeth, a play which encrypted references to the Gunpowder Plot and at the same time displayed an overt homage to James, (13) it certainly had many. Interestingly, not one but two kings are killed in this play, Duncan and Macbeth, both apparently legitimate. (14) The good king, Duncan, is killed offstage; he is neither heard nor shown while being murdered, and only his blood is seen on Macbeth's own hands. Macbeth is slain onstage (so says the Folio), but his vilification and dismemberment, turning him into an example of punished tyranny, are carried out offstage, finally to be revealed by Macduff's re-entering with his head. The two killings have clearly different meanings, relating to the foregrounded opposition between the good king and the tyrant that Shakespeare emphasized in contrast to Holinshed's description of the former's lenience and the latter's protracted good rule in his Chronicles (1587). The pattern is evident, as well as the process of progressive metatheatrical transformation of Macbeth into a "painted mask," from his monologue on the vanity of life playing in 5.5, to his voiced awareness of 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 head standing on a pole. (15) This has often been noticed in the past. What has not been pointed out sufficiently is that yet another murder connected to the idea of kingship acquires an unusual prominence: Banquo's. His "royalty of nature" compounded with his predicted future as "father to a line of kings" (3.1.49,59) undermine Macbeth's own power by reinstating patrilineality and at the same time challenging the very idea of royal descent, as Banquo is no king himself. This contradiction, while making the idea of dynastic succession ambiguous, escapes Macbeth, suggesting that his fears lie elsewhere: in the power of predestination over individual agency but also in the moral import of that individual agency when it becomes transgressive. The crucial unstaging of Banquo's murder and his return from the dead are related to Macbeth's "lack of kingly being" and hollow performance of sovereignty. Macbeth cannot become king "holily"--as he would like to; his first crime is the necessary step to power but is also what prevents him from achieving the fullness of "kingly being." His second crime is the side-effect of his awareness of his own instability of being. It descends from the discovery of a transcendental design that wants him king and no-king, making him interrogate the scope of his own agency and fear both this world and the other world: that his crime be discovered and that the dead may return to exact retribution. This dual fear grounded in the uncertainty of the relation between the mundane and the transcendental as well as in the bond between the moral law and what makes us human is at the root of Macbeth's own tragic experience of power and its loss. Banquo is central to this experience and will constitute a major focus in the following pages.

Apart from political opportunity and theatrical expediency, there are also profounder levels concerning the unstaging and the unsaying of the king's murder in Macbeth. As Mary Ann McGrail remarks in one of the rare substantial contributions to a discussion of Shakespeare's tyrants, "what tyranny does to the state qua state and to its individual subjects... is best understood by looking within the disordered mind and passions of the tyrant himself." (16) I will argue that the play's unstaging of Duncan's death is not an isolated strategy. It is part of a broader dramatization of the psychological process leading the hero-villain to become a tyrant not so much on account of identifiable fears, as stated in the play's sources, but of his losing touch with affect altogether. This is the result of an in-depth exploration of the conflict between fear and desire that finally leads Macbeth to experience inhuman fearlessness as a consequence of extreme fearfulness, pushing him to commit all sorts of cruelties:
I have almost forgot the taste of fears.
The time has been, my senses would have cooled
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 supped full with horrors;
Direness familiar to my slaughterous thoughts
Cannot once start me. (5.5.9-15)

In search for an impossible "perfection" that may assure him a "holiness" he can never achieve, he devises in solitude the murder of Banquo and Fleance, but Fleance's escape denies him that perfection ("I had else been perfect"; 3.4.19), thus driving him to interrogate the weird sisters' "imperfect speak[ing]" (1.3.70) in search of "safety" (3.1.53). Having "supped full with horrors" (5.5.13) and lost the taste of 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 doing away with fear altogether.

When arguing that "Macbeth is... Shakespeare's most Aeschylean tragedy" because fear, as in the Oresteia, "invades, pervades Macbeth's experience, shaking him by fits and starts, so that he lives in a state of 'restless ecstasy,'" Adrian Poole observes that "fear is inseparable from hope; it is even a form of hope." (18) It is "the fear of his own ability to make things happen, to bring the future to birth." (19) I will call this hope desire, implying a stronger feeling than expectation, and will discuss its relation to fear and time. I will then consider the use of darkness as the "structural foundation of the play," (20) suggesting increasing psychological and nightmarish isolation and preparing for the stage invasion of aural and visual hallucinations in the highly ambiguous "unscene" of the murder of Duncan. (21) I will explore how visual reticence corresponds to verbal reticence in Macbeth's own march toward non-affective tyranny and will read in what I will call the "split scene" of Banquo's appearance in 3.4 a reinterpretation of questions that were raised by Cassandra's own vision of Agamemnon's death in Aeschylus and Seneca. By dramatizing Macbeth's own tyrannical experience, Shakespeare interrogates the limits of desire and human resistance to it; he explores how desire may go beyond the law, at the same time instilling fear of retribution. To this end, he stages aural and visual strategies of resistance to both desire and fear, repositioning traditional questions on the meaning of our moral boundaries in relation to that "great bond" (3.2.50) that makes us human.

Desire, Fear, Time

Lady Macbeth's awareness of her husband's incurable contradiction in craving the crown "highly" but also "holily" surfaces early in the play. She knows that, albeit opposite passions, desire and fear may be closely allied and may exchange place and name depending on their relation to time. If fear is dislocated across time to the moment after committing the crime, fear may be called desire and its object ("fear of doing") be turned into its opposite ("desire of undoing"). This is made very 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 alludes to them only through strategies of indirection pivoting on deictic markers ("that," "it"), a most generic action verb ("do") and a prefixed negative ("undone"). Her allusiveness suggests the symbolic enormity of the crime, which requires reticence even in solitary rumination. Like the Watchman in the prologue of Agamemnon, whose figurative language and unspeaking replace open mention of what he knows and fears (Clytemnestra's adultery and plotting against Agamemnon), Lady Macbeth does not pronounce what she has in mind, thus inaugurating a strategy of reticence which will prove to be crucial in the play's communicative system. The Watchman has good practical motives not to speak up, although he is alone onstage; (22) Lady Macbeth too has reasons for being reticent, but her unsaying suggests a stronger psychic stance of interdiction clashing with a deep transgressive drive. The use of "doing," "undoing," and "deed" in the course of the play signals precisely this internal conflict. Whether in the presence of each other or in solitude, Macbeth and his wife never call the crime by its name but by the generic, although pragmatically and symbolically highly connoted, master concept "doing." (23) In Lady Macbeths language it occurs again in 3.2, when she tries to convince her husband that it is too late to make up for what they have done, so that the "what's done is done" with which she greets her husband has the argumentative power of silencing remorse by bringing the action to the level of praxis. It will occur again in her sleepwalking speech in 5.1, when instead it will betray her own sense of guilt and desire to undo the deed:
How now, my lord, why do you keep alone?
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. (3.2.9-13)

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 the logical and temporal combination of the sequence of "doing" and "undoing." She knows her husband's desire to commit the crime ("that"; 1.5.24) in order to get the crown; she knows that fear goes along with desire before the action; she also knows that once the murder is committed, fear will not dissolve--rather, it will be the cause of a different, opposite, desire: a wish to rewind back time and cancel the deed. She sees no possible alternative. Her thinking is very quick and consequently its expression much compressed in conveying the perception of a fundamental link between Macbeths fear of action ("fear to do"; 24) and his wish of having it "undone" once committed (25). She is aware that he will never move from that "before" to that "after," as fear in him is stronger than desire, and repression more powerful than his wish to challenge the ban on murder. He is unrestrained as long as he is an agent of kingly power; he is "Bellonas bridegroom" (1.2.55) in Ross's report of his extraordinary braveness in war in the name of the king and against Norway and the treacherous Thane of Cawdor. However, he is utterly self-restrained when the very idea of becoming an agent of treachery sneaks into his mind. Lady Macbeth knows that he will never commit betrayal, despite his ambition, and that is why at this point she is determined to become the necessary spur to prompt him forward.

The logic of the taboo forbidding the naming of the crime and shaping such rhetoric of "un-doing" is premised upon an idea of linear temporality that makes reversibility impossible. In this regard, two more passages may be recalled. The first one is Macbeths aside in 1.3 when he gradually grows aware of his own royal ambition marking a first step toward coming to face his own inmost drives. We do not know whether he had thought about it already, but there is one clue which might suggest repressed desire. In the opening of his aside, he imagines his prophesied future kingship as a drama to be soon enacted and he calls it "the imperial theme," a metaphor that initiates a process of fictionalization of his future power that will have some bearing on the follow-up of his royal progress ("Two truths are told / As happy prologues to the swelling act / Of the imperial theme"; 129-31). The word "theme" refers to a "subject for discourse, discussion or meditation" or "for action," (24) but its qualification as "imperial" and as "the theme" hints at something not entirely new, a concept possibly already conceived, a subterranean desire before the sisters let it emerge to conscience. (25) He is quick to understand its full implications, and fear suddenly invades him:
                          I am Thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
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. (1.3.135-44; 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 "the gracious" king only one more time, in 3.1. (26) At that point, it should be remarked, Macbeth is thinking about another murder, Banquo's, and his mention of that word strengthens his will to proceed ("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 the contrary, the murder is yet "but fantastical," and is literally transfigured into a "no-thing" present only by imaginary anticipation and enclosed within the circularity of a linguistic inversion drawing the boundaries of the private temporal reality of his own mind ("and nothing is, but what is not"). The time is not ripe for his assumption of responsibility yet. Fear is stronger than desire, and although in 1.7 he will show a Christian dread of Heavenly judgment, at the moment he still thinks that chance will "crown [him], / Without [his] stir" (1.3.146-47). This suggests an archaic notion of predestination relying upon an interpretation of the weird, or fatal, sisters as "goddesses of destinie," as Holinshed called them, something between oracles and Parcae, and yet at the same time, Holinshed also said, interpreters of Christian providence. (27) Shakespeare was to replicate this syncretic view mixing chance and providence in a more complex and articulated way, having Macbeth sway from passivity and acceptance of tyche to questioning "holy agency," finally to embracing "foul playing." Lady Macbeth's punning upon "highly" and "holily" in her soliloquy in 1.5 beautifully grasps this clash between desire and his awareness that it cannot be "holy;" his fear is irredeemable because his desires are so "black and deep" that even the light must not see them and "the eye [must] wink at the hand" (1.4.52). When he hears that Duncan has appointed Malcolm Prince of Cumberland, as in the sources, (28) he unleashes 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). By invoking the night, Macbeth enacts onstage the taboo on his own transgression, setting up darkness as its visual and theatrical device. However, his aspiration to perfection remains unaltered. Hecate will be explicit about this in that possibly spurious 3.5, when, with a classical ring suggesting hybris, she mentions "security" as the "mortals' chiefest enemy." (29) At that point, Macbeth's getting "'bove wisdom, grace and fear" on account of the "imperfect" knowledge he is granted is precisely what will make him feel safe and, in turn, doom him to ruin.

The second passage mentioned above regarding the desire-fear knot in relation to time is concerned with Macbeth's wish for "holiness" in the fulfilment of his desires and voices his awareness of the impossible perfection that awaits him:
If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly. If th'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 shoal of time,
We'd jump the life to come. But in these cases,
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught, return
To plague th'inventor. This even-handed justice
Commends th'ingredients of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips. (1.7.1-12)

This extraordinary incipit from his soliloquy in 1.7, where his "metaphysical uneasiness [becomes] explicit," (30) and he dreads divine judgment for slaying "a kinsman," "a king," and "a guest," "[for tacit] parricide, the double murder of king and father," (31) is of interest for its initial strategies of substitution, which are now to be considered within the Christian discourse framing it. Murder is never mentioned, and the "thing" to be done--which echoes the weird sister's opening reference to another thing "done," "the hurly-burly" (1.1.3)--needs to find immediate conclusion in the very instant of its own execution, doing away with both judgment and possible consequences. Macbeth's wish is paradoxical, as time cannot be cancelled or contracted to the instant, unless the life to come is also denied, a perspective he does not contemplate. (32) Fast and painful thinking makes for imperceptible semantic shifts which render the progress of ideas confused and hard to grasp. If the first "done" means "finished," "concluded," the second one more neutrally signifies "performed," and the third one both "definitely over" and "executed." The merging of desire and fear is so violent that reticence translates into dense syntactic and semantic clusters impeding the smooth flow of thought. What here cannot be said is not only the murder alluded to through the action noun "deed" but the very tangle of passions aroused by its conceit.

It is only when he starts scanning the matter and fear eventually prevails over desire that reticence leaves room for what Brooke calls "the purely verbal creation of a highly visual but unseen world," (33) prefiguring the effects of murder with baroque visual relish. An explicit prefiguration of retribution triggering the visionary and apocalyptic vision of the "horrid deed" being blown "in every eye," while the wind is drowned with tears, is the imaginative counterpart of the language of taboo, unleashed by the evidence of the imagined crime the moment he becomes his own self-judge and the embodiment of that Law his "other self" wishes to transgress:
                          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 Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking off;
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
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'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 this point, it is also clear that his adoption and dismissal of the language of taboo signal different stages of Macbeth's own fear. Hypotyposis marks a second step in his internal conflict, when he finally weighs the risks and becomes his own self-judge, prefiguring the process of visual and oral hallucination that will make fear and remorse eventually gain the upper hand in the banquet scene before Macbeth begins treading the path toward loss of affect.

The Deed is Done

The murder of the King occurs early in the play, in 2.2. It is the first sustained example of the illusion of darkness at work here, considering the daylight original setting. (34) It introduces us into the night of the murder of "kingship" through the symbolic closing of the king's eye by Macbeth's hand (35) and, consequently, to the psychological effects of murder upon the murderers' distorted perception of reality. Lady Macbeth's anxious waiting for her husband's return from Duncan's room sets the tone of her nervous exchange with him soon to follow in a context dominated by ominous aural signs. Both of them are alert to alarming sounds and project their own fear onto imaginary voices they believe they hear, faceless "others" embodying their own self-censorious stances. The visual hallucination of the dagger of the mind in the previous scene, with Macbeth's own perceptive and psychic split between the real and the imaginary (2.1), corresponds in 2.2 to the aural hallucinations underlining the symbolic interdiction upon sight that lies behind the concealment of the murder itself and its vicarious translation into sounds: the owl's shriek punctuates the action and Lady Macbeth's symbolic interpretation of it as the sign that the bloody deed is being carried out functions as an implicit stage direction embedded within the narrative of her own imaginary reconstruction 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 charge
With snores. I have drugged their possets
That death and nature do contend about them,
Whether they live, or die. (2.2.3-9)

Macbeth himself is heard, before being seen, interrogating the noises he perceives which terrify him, in turn alerting his wife to the possibility 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 deed
Confounds us. Hark. I laid their daggers ready;
He could not miss em. Had he not resembled
My 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 interdiction upon sight as a ban upon something very intimate which includes and goes beyond the symbolic prohibition of killing the anointed king, a ban that concerns private affect even before the communal and political bond rooted in Christian fear of judgment. When Macbeth enters onstage his first words reassure her about the deed he has done; but what follows is all but reassuring, as their short and rapid lines contain questions about noises and display lack of communicative understanding denoting their fear of losing their grasp on reality. Aural hypertrophy is the symbolic correlate of the darkness ensuing the closing of the King'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 talks about his own staring at his own hands ("a sorry sight" he says; 2.2.20), the visible, present, metonymy of the unnameable murder reflected in his horrified look at them. In the follow-up of the exchange, Macbeth's report of the oneiric perception of the murder on the part of the two lodged in the room next to Duncan's is loaded with a censorious attitude that voices his own self-accusation. And yet the narrative's dislocation to an oneiric space removes it from reality. In that space, which contains the reported speech and the censorious voices of the "others" embodying the Christian interdiction of murder, his crime may be called by its name; it is the locus of an accusation which he himself endorses when he avows that he could 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 prayers
And 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 thought
After these ways; so, it will make us mad. (2.2.22-35)

Macbeth already perceives the prick of conscience, and his incapacity to ask for pardon is the sign of his repressed awareness of the irredeemability of his sin, which translates into a voice that cries the end of sleep as well as his own splitting into different personas--Glamis, Cawdor, Macbeth. Attributing to Glamis, not to Cawdor, the murder of sleep indirectly unveils his long felt desire for kingship already perceived in "the imperial theme" voiced in 1.3; it pushes it further back in time, to a moment previous to the encounter with 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 Cawdor
Shall 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't again" (52,53), he tries to repress that awareness and undo what he has just committed by barring memory. The final knocking at the gate on which this scene closes is the last aural sign of the resurgence of the moral ban upon murder coming from an ominous outside.

The violation of the interdiction on murder has triggered a taboo on both verbal language and sight; it has turned the murder into a "deed" and has dislocated it offstage. Yet, that moral prohibition reappears onstage indirectly: through the two men's nightmare of the "murder" reported by Macbeth; through the visual showing of his murderous hands as metonyms of the "deed"; and finally, through the noises, voices, and ominous knocking that translate the unshowable into the audible. The unseen scene is eventually dramatized onstage vicariously, and the mechanism of the taboo on its visibility (36) is obliquely exposed through its repercussions upon those who have violated the Law.

The "Tyranny of the Deed": Questioning the Taboo

In Shakespeare's sources, Macbeth is depicted as a fierce combatant, courageous but also ruthless and ambitious, deeply different from Duncan, who is meek and weak and whose lenience is said to have caused much crime and abuse in the kingdom. In 1582, George Buchanan commented on Macbeth's "Disgust at the un-active Slothfulness of his Cousin" and expatiated on his merit in the first ten years of 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 "negligent... in punishing offendors" which caused "many misruled persons... to trouble the peace and quiet state of the common-wealth, by seditious commotions," while Macbeth "govern[ed] the realme for the space of ten yeares in equall justice." (38) In Shakespeare's play 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 in the story which coincides with the turning point in the sources too, when kingship is suddenly transformed into downright tyranny. All the chronicles agree to set this change after his ten years of good rule and the emergence of a prick of conscience causing him to fear that "he should be served of the same cup as he had ministred to his predecessor." (39) Buchanan further noticed that "the Murder of the King... hurried his Mind into dangerous Precipices, so that he converted his Government, got by Treachery, into a cruel Tyranny." In his chronicle, Banquo "was his Companion in the Kings Parricide" (where "parricide" suggests Lady Macbeth's own thinking about her own father in 2.2), (40) and in both Buchanan and Holinshed, it was prophesied that Banquo should be the father of future kings. Fear of Banquo is what turned him into Macbeths first victim. From this murder onward, Buchanan wrote, "mutual Fear and Hatred sprung up betwixt [Macbeth] and the Nobility," (41) and that was the beginning of his bloody tyranny. (42)

Compared to the chronicles, Shakespeare telescopes the events and has Macbeth start dreading Banquo immediately after his crowning for reasons 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 Macbeth laments his own unsafety and fear of Banquo ("To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus: / Our fears in Banquo stick deep, / And in his royalty of nature reigns that / Which would be feared"; 47-50). Companions and foils to each other, (43) they also mirror each other in the name of mutual fear. Macbeth knows that he has damned his own soul for Banquo's progeny, that he has become king but cannot be king as long as Banquo embodies an idea of kingship stretching into the future, as the weird sisters have prefigured. This was not among his worries 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 of kings" (59). Banquo's destined regal paternity reinstates, after Macbeth, patrilineality, although the prophecy would not have him king--which was possible under tanistry. (44) Killing Banquo, who was predicted to be royal father, will not turn Macbeth into a father of kings, making him the founder of a royal dynasty. But Macbeths mind is clearly stuck on that point as if killing Banquo would legitimate his own kingship, allowing him to overcome a feeling of regal unbelongingness. In this sense, his reasons transcend practical preoccupations, such as being "served of the same cup" by Banquo, as stated in Holinshed. This kind of unpractical concern is precisely what he voices in 3.1.64-69, laying the ground for his horrified reaction at the spectacle of the "eight kings, the last with a glass in his hand" (s.d.), the sisters will disclose to him in 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 peace
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seeds of Banquo kings. (3.1.64-69)

His fear invests a more general interrogation about his precarious kingship, unveiling that becoming and being king are not one. As Serpieri remarks, "being a king thus, with the emblems of regality--the garment, the crown, the scepter--through which the actor playing this character ostends himself, is nothing, or it is nothing if being thus does not achieve the fullness, security, of being." (46) The "be-all and end-all" Macbeth longed for in his early soliloquy (1.7.5) constitutes the core of his tension toward perfection and 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 be finished off with this murder, and "blood will have blood," as he will say in 3.4.120 after Banquo's appearance. The metaphysical problem he contemplated in 1.7 soon returns "to hound him as an inescapable task and reality.... Here, blood itself will have blood, the deed done will have another deed." (47) As he says in 3.2, when invoking the "seeling night" (47) to accomplish the deed that this time he decides to keep his wife "innocent of" (3.2.46), Macbeth prepares another "unscene" in utter solitude, laying a taboo on the second breaking of the "great bond":
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale. (3.2.48-51)

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

Banquo's murder is accomplished in 3.3, in a short scene where three Murderers attack him and Fleance as ordered by Macbeth. There is no indication of stagecraft as to how the scene should be performed, but we hear the third Murderer ask who put out the light (18), suggesting that the stage is in fact once again entirely in the dark while Banquo is being killed. We only hear him cry "O treachery!" and then "Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly" (16), with yet another shift from the visual to the aural. Then the action is reported by the Murderers during the banquet when they call Macbeth away from the gathering, symbolically isolating him from his guests (3.4). (51) A that point, the subsequent entrance of Banquo's ghost, as if prompted by their narrative and Macbeth's own mention of a possible "mischance" impeding him to join the feast (3.4.41), will literally "split" the scene in two, thus making the crime manifest to everybody by "blow[ing] the horrid deed in every eye" (1.7.24).

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

Shakespeare had already experimented on this dramaturgical device in Hamlet, where right at the center of the play (again 3.4) he had shown Hamlet conversing with both his mother and the ghost of his father, whose presence is unseen and unbelieved by the Queen. (53) That was a peculiar type of "unscene," as it was not dislocated temporally but was acted out, commented on, and narrated while it took place, dramatizing visual and ontological uncertainty throughout its discursive and visual unfolding. This is precisely what we find replicated in Macbeth. The effect produced by this "split scene" is of an incongruous focalization upon Macbeth within unfocalized dramatic mimesis, (54) inviting the audience to identify with the murderer and experience his own sense of alienation and dread. The sources contain no mention of ghosts, (55) so this choice is entirely Shakespearean, precisely like having Banquo's ghost appear in place of Duncan's. The scene is marked with biblical reminiscences of the feast of Balthazar (Daniel 5) but, above all, with hints suggesting affinity with other dramatic patterns of construction and disclosure of taboo scenes. Like Aeschylus's Agamemnon, Macbeth too is accurate on this, using verbal reticence to build the taboo on murder and developing visual interdiction theatrically through an illusion of darkness as a structural device. (56) Except for the homicide of Macduff's son in 4.2, carried out by a Murderer, and that of Macbeth at the hand of Macduff, killing is not shown but told, starting with the Captain's report of Macbeth's dissevering of Macdonald's head in 1.2.23, which anticipates the tyrant's final beheading. This lack of visual display of gory and brutal actions, which one would expect to see in a story of usurpation and cruel tyranny, increases the sustained focus on Macbeth's desire to ban those actions from view, suggesting first and foremost a ban from his own view and memory. Thus, questioning the dynamics of that taboo by unveiling its mechanics onstage entails inverting Macbeths logic of concealment and blowing the deed into his face. This also entails blowing it into the audience's eyes, finally disclosing what has been concealed and showing that concealment is the very logic of taboo. This process of concealment and disclosure is intrinsic to the boundary-transgressing experience of Macbeth, bringing about an exploration of how the disturbed mind of one man may become the focus of action and how this may call for a deep rethinking of ways in which symbolically censored scenes of transgression may be construed and finally theatrically exposed.

The extent to which Shakespeare knew Aeschylus's Agamemnon is still unknown, although, as Inga-Stina Ewbank argues, "evidence seems to mount up that some form of first-hand contact with Aeschylus has left traces in Shakespeare's dramatic imagination." (57) In Aeschylus's Agamemnon, Cassandra's vision was instrumental in showing the scene of the murder forbidden onstage for fear of spreading miasma and, at the same time, in foregrounding, by contrast, the censorious role of the Chorus in view of their following debate with Clytemnestra, when they eventually assume a political role. In Seneca, no indication is provided as to its staging, except that Cassandra's vision (867-909) is preceded by the Chorus of the women of Mycenae's lyrical piece on the virtues of Argos and Hercules and on the first mythical destruction of Troy (808-66) and followed by Electra's dialogue with Strophius. No interaction is suggested and Studley 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 by other characters onstage. Shakespeare dramatizes a likewise solitary vision but adds Macbeth's dramatic contrast with the other characters, marking, as with Aeschylus's Cassandra, his utter solitude from a "chorus" of people, here noblemen invited to the feast.

The parallel with Cassandra suggests the centrality of this critical moment: in Agamemnon, her vision marks the climax of the action; in Macbeth, Banquo's appearance marks Macbeth's own conscious apprehension of the effects of breaking the "great bond," a violation which both concerns king killing and transcends it. In both examples, the vision brings together different temporalities: slight asynchronicity in Aeschylus and the inversion of time's progression with the return of the dead in Shakespeare. It also brings together different spaces: the inside and the outside of the royal house in Aeschylus and Seneca; the other world and this world in Shakespeare. In Seneca, which Shakespeare might have read in both Latin and John Studley's translation (firstly published individually in 1566 and then collected in Thomas Newton's 1581 Tenne Tragedies of Seneca), (58) Cassandra's vision is contemporaneous with the murder, which makes it closer to this scene, where what Macbeth sees is not Banquo's murder but his body showing the signs of his own killing. (59) Cassandra's vision opens on an ambiguous deictic marker ("eheu quid hoc est?"; "What thing is this?"), (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 of the Elders of Argo in Aeschylus, Cassandra's elation at the fall of Argo's master and her shuddering at the horrendous sight of the murder prefigure Shakespeare's own dramatization of a knot of contrary passions, commingling joy and terror, in Macbeth:
anime, consurge et cape
pretium furoris: vicimus victi Phryges.
bene est, resurgit Troia; traxisti iacens,
parens, Mycenas, terga dat victor tuus.
tam clara numquam provide mentis furor
ostendit 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 spright
Did 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 anticipate Banquo's own macabre appearance, while Macbeth's horrified comment on his "shak[ing] / [his] gory locks at [him]" (3.4.47-48), (63) translating into words Banquo's silent accusation, 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," "dispatched it is;" these are the two expressions that in Seneca and Studley firmly state the completion of the action, suggesting a curious echo in Macbeth's "Is he dispatched?" addressed to the murderers in 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 popa
designat oculis antequam ferro petat,
sic huc et illuc impiam librat manum.
Habet, peractum est. Pendet exigua male
caput amputatum parte et hinc trunco cruor
exundat, illic ora cum fremitu iacent.
Nondum recedunt: ille iam exanimem petit
laceratque 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 head
It hangeth by a litle crop: heere from the Carkasse dead
The spouting bloude came gusshing out: and there the head doth lye,
With wallowing, hobbling, mumbling tongue: nor they do by and bye
Forsake 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 Duncans ghost had appeared in place of Banquo's, it would not have had the same broad anthropological implications, nor would it have foregrounded as clearly the tangle of opposed stances concerning the position of Macbeth in relation to time and being. Duncan too had a son who might have become king; it is because he appointed him Prince of Cumberland that he was killed by Macbeth. But it is Banquo who returns from the dead, showing that the royal future he embodies already weighs heavily upon Macbeth, whose kingly power is only an inauthentic kingly mask. At the same time, Banquo (who is no king himself, but a man butchered by two Murderers) is the visible figure of the broken "statute" grounding the notion of civilization itself on communal rules of human respect 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 translates into the return of Banquo's own ghost as the counter effect of wounded civilization upon his murderer and violator of the human statute that cleansed the commonweal from barbarity by forbidding killing. The Law coded in that bond is what introduced the ban on murder and triggered 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 performed
Too 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 strange
Than such a murder is. (3.4.73-81)

This interrogation brings full circle Macbeth's attempt to reposition the boundaries of the moral order in the taboo language of desire and fear of 1.7. Time cannot be reduced to an absolute instant where "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 be interrogated onstage by having the others, the innocent ones, innocent of it too. It is the response to a taboo (not to say or show what is not to be done); it is in fact an interrogation of the mechanism of taboo pivoting on repression and its tragic consequences upon the tyrant s mind; it is the unveiling of its ruling power upon desire.


Unshowing the scene of death of the legitimate and good king is the first 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 tyrannical character. The murder of Banquo, who is cast as a foil to Macbeth, marks Macbeths further step toward his loss of the restraint which forbade him to do more than what "become[s] a man" (1.7.46). A "deed of dreadful note" (3.2.45), itself as terrible as the "terrible feat" of Duncan's murder (1.7.81), it marks Macbeth's finally solitary assumption of responsibility. His invocation of the "seeling night, / Scarf[ing] up the tender eye of pitiful day" (3.2.47-48), signals his own plunging into the dynamics of concealment of the transgression. His evocation of the night'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 at cancelling fear out. But fear will not be cancelled yet and will push him to embrace self-deluding security in 4.1, which will also mean forgetting the fear which is at the basis of the bond binding together the community of mankind following the commandment not to kill. It is fear of "judgement" (1.7.8) and "even-handed justice" (1.7.10) that constitutes the foundation of self-restraint since ancient times. In the Oresteia, the process of establishing democracy in Athens is accomplished in the name of fear, the same fear on which the sentence of the Aeropagus is based. (67) If broken, that "bond" is bound to have drastic repercussions upon the transgressor.

Macbeth is "a tragedy of free will and damnation." (68) And it is precisely the dramatization of such an experience of tragic choice in the face of issues of predestination that the strategies of visual and verbal reticence dramatize. "If chance will have me king, why chance may crown me /Without my stir," says Macbeth in an aside in 1.3.146-47 after the weird sisters' first "imperfect" revelation. Chance is like tyche here for him. In 1.3, like a classical tragic hero, Macbeth does not approach questions of responsibility, but he will soon do so, spurred on to action by his wife who wants him to use well time and take advantage of Duncans visit to Inverness; she wants him to grasp the opportune moment, the kairos of the situation. In this sense, he both belongs to, and is imprisoned within, a superior design transcending individual choice, but he is also endowed with free will. It is in this split, dual dimension of constraint and freedom that the tragedy of Macbeth originates, leading up to a deep exploration of the disordered mind of a man who eventually moves away from an idea of tyche and finds himself torn between desire and 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 Pamela Mason, Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ser. (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 4.1.48. All references to William Shakespeare's Macbeth are to this edition. References are to act, scene, and line number and are hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.

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

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

(4) Maynard Mack, Jr., Killing the King (New Haven: Yale University Press, 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: Columbia University Press, 1908); Richard Dutton, "Theatrical License and Censorship," 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, "The Elizabethan Conception of the Tyrant," Review of English Studies 22, no. 87 (1946), 161-81; Rebecca Bushnell, Tragedies of Tyrants: Political Thought and Theatre in English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990); Mary Ann McGrail, Tyranny in Shakespeare (Boston: Lexington Books, 2001).

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

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

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

(13) Perhaps the most apparent token of the play's attention for the king is related to Banquo and consists in the famous third apparition in 4.1. Garber interestingly links this scene to the play's proclivity for boundary crossing: "The eighth king appears with 'a glass,' which shows us many more kings to come. 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 ordinary one, borne to the front of the audience where at the first performance King James would have been seated in state. James, of course, traced his ancestry to Banquo, a fact which--together with his interest in witchcraft--may have been the reason for Shakespeare's choice of subject. The 'glass' is another transgression of the inside / outside boundary, crossing the barrier that separates the play and its spectators." "The Male Medusa," 103. On the ambiguity of ideas of legitimacy and kingship in the play, Stephen Orgel rightly observes that, as in Hamlet, in Macbeth "there is deep uncertainty about the relation between power and legitimacy--about whether legitimacy constitutes anything more than the rhetoric of power backed by 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 caused himselfe to be proclaimed king, and foorthwith went unto Scone, where (by common consent) he received the investiture of the kingdome according to the accustomed maner." Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1587), in Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, vol. 7 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), 496. All quotations from Shakespeare's sources are from this edition.

(15) The addition "on a pole" is by Malone (see Clark and Mason, eds, Macbeth, 298nl9.1). Much has been written on Macbeth's dissevered head; Brooke has rightly noticed that the direction "proposes a trompe-l'oeil head, an art like that attributed to Giulio Romano at the end of The Winter's Tale, achieved here, no doubt, by a life-mask of Burbage. That final effect is peculiar, for Malcolm, always an equivocal figure, capitalizes briskly on the decapitation 'Of this dead butcher, and his fiend-like Queen' (1. 99). When last seen sleep-walking, Lady Macbeth was anything but fiend-like, and the only visible butcher here is not Macbeth but the 'heroic' Macduff with the grotesque head he offers to Malcolm's 'Christian' triumph." Nicholas Brooke, "Introduction," in The Oxford Shakespeare: Macbeth, ed. Nicholas Brooke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 6. As Garber points out, "the head of Macbeth is in its final appearance transformed from an emblem of evil to a token of good, a sign at once minatory and monitory, threatening and warning. Not in the painted guise foreseen by Macduff, but in its full and appalling reality, the head of the monster that was Macbeth has now become an object lesson in tyranny, a demonstration of human venality and its overthrow--'the show and gaze o'th'time.'" "The Male Medusa," 102.

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

(17) Serpieri identifies this moment with Macbeth's own "becoming fear itself" by sipping, sucking, absorbing the horror orally like an infant sipping a liquid ("I have supped full with horrors"); Alessandro Serpieri, "Macbeth: il tempo della paura," 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-sight action whose ambiguity is strategically enhanced through a narrative, as in the case of Ophelia's tale of the visit she receives from a distracted Hamlet in 2.1. With reference to this example, Garber observes that "we in the offstage audience do not know how to interpret the encounter, as we might if we had actually seen it; instead the moment itself remains unresolved in our minds, to be puzzled over in conjunction with the later scene between Hamlet and Ophelia in III.i. Hamlet seems clearly to be gripped by some violent emotion--but is it love, grief, disgust at the frailty of woman, despair that his father's murder necessitates the end of his relationship with Ophelia? Because it is unseen, the unscene remains powerfully and teasingly ambiguous; by placing this episode offstage, Shakespeare ensures its ambiguity and maximizes its impact, while at the same time reserving the high drama of confrontation for a point later in the play." "Ineffability and the 'Unscene,'" 44.

(22) For a discussion of the role of the Watchman and the language of fear in Agamemnon as an instrument to dramatize the taboo of Agamemnon's murder and prepare its disclosure through Cassandra's vision, see Guido Avezzu, "Reticence and phobos in Aeschylus's Agamemnon" in this issue of Comparative Drama. My analysis of the "split scene" of Banquo's appearance in relation to Aeschylus is indebted to this essay. The Watchman's fear may be compared to Lennox's cautiously sudden silence about Banquo's death in 3.6: "But peace; for from broad words, and cause 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 plays repetition occurs so insistently and so impressively, that an attentive audience simply cannot miss it. 'Honest' in Othello and 'nothing' in King Lear.... So are 'deeds,' 'do,' and 'done' in Macbeth. Not only do these terms pervade the play, but in at least 11 instances they appear emphatically in 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 by alternative words, such as "business," which adds a hasty and matter-of-fact nuance to the murder; "business" is used to refer to both Duncan's and Banquo's deaths, as well as to the charm 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] a desire that is prior to the prophecy since it is called 'imperial theme,' the semantic and musical theme of empire, absolute power which 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 it aloud several times when Duncan's death is discovered. As will be seen, 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 yet he thought with himselfe that he must tarie a time, which should advance him thereto (by the divine providence) as it had come to passe in his former preferment." Holinshed, Chronicles, 495-96. With regard to the controversy on free will between Luther and Erasmus, Miola suggested that it "provides an illuminating context for the depiction of witches, sin, and punishment in Macbeth. First, it disposes summarily the notion that the weird sisters can in any senses possess or control Macbeth. Those early Protestants and Catholics who believe in witches never grant to them such power. Instead, they debate the nature of God's foreknowledge and the predestination of the elect and reprobate, the saved and the damned." Robert S. Miola, "Introduction," in Macbeth (New York: Norton, 2014), xviii.

(28) Here is Holinshed (Chronicles, 496): "But shortlie after it chanced that king Duncane, having two sonnes by his wife which was the daughter of Siward earle of Northumberland, he made the elder of them called Malcolme prince of Cumberland, as it were thereby to appoint him his successor in the kingdome, immediatlie after his deceasse. Mackbeth sore troubled herewith, for that he saw by this means his hope sore 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 charge upon himselfe, he that was next of bloud unto him should be admitted) he began to take counsel] how he might usurpe the kingdome by force, having a just quarell so to doo (as he tooke the matter) for that Duncane did what in him lay to defraud him of all maner of title and claime, which he 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 / Is mortals' 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 Keir Elam has dubbed "rhetoric of inelocutio," i.e. a discursive style reflecting the moment when "the whole system of elocutio suddenly implodes or self-destructs in advocating modes of discursive disintegration, fragmentation, hesitation, reticence, compression and opacity. The simulacrum, or simulatio, of the struggling speaker about to lose control of his own discourse, and perhaps of his thought processes, under the pressure of passion, is perhaps the highest achievement to which the rhetoric of pathos through ethos can aspire, since there is nothing so delicate and so difficult to get away with as an artfully constructed artlessness." '"Thou art mad to say it': Seven Types of Ineffability in 'Macbeth,'" in Semeia: itinerari per Marcello Pagnini, ed. Loretta Innocenti, Franco Marucci, 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," see Serpieri, "Introduzione" to Macbeth, 15-19, and Serpieri, "Macbeth: il tempo della paura," 29ff.

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

(37) "The publick Peace being thus restored, he applied his mind to make Laws, (a thing almost wholly neglected by former Kings) and indeed, he Enacted many good and useful ones, which now are either wholly unknown, or else lie unobserved, to the great damage of the Publick." 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 Gestis scotorum (1578), 5.85: "Yet--since the heaviest punishment is imposed by God on the most sinful souls--in the end, troubled in conscience by the crime he had committed, he began to fear those around him so greatly that, departing from the agreeable nature he had hitherto shown, he either savagely slew his nobles with open violence or by secret counsels incited them to slaughter one another. Thus when he thought himself in danger from Banquo and Macduff, he first of all slew the former, then laid snares craftily for the latter. What more needs be said? Like a true tyrant he fears everybody and is feared by all." In Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 518 (trans. Geoffrey Bullough).

(43) "To emphasize the point [that Macbeth has chosen evil, 3.1.64-67], Shakespeare departs from Holinshed in his depiction of Banquo, 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 and steadfastly resists temptation: first he prays, 'Merciful powers, / Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature/ Gives way to in repose' (2.1.7-9); then he confronts Macbeth directly, asserting that he must lose no honor, must keep his 'bosom franchised and allegiance clear'" (2.1.28). Miola, "Introduction," xviii-xix.

(44) On the ambiguous approach to tanistry in Macbeth, see Susanne Wofford, "Origin Stories of Fear and Tyranny: Blood and Dismemberment in Macbeth (with a Glance at the Oresteia)," in part 1 of this special issue of Comparative Drama (51.4 Winter 2017). Within the comparative frame of this article, it may be pinpointed that patrilineality is so emphasized in Eumenides that Apollo can state that "the mother is no parent of that which is called / her child, but only nurse of the new-planted seed / that grows. The parent is he who mounts." (658-60; [phrase omitted]). Just before this bewildering statement, Orestes acknowledges that his mother is affected by a dual miasma, since by killing Agamemnon she has killed not only her own husband but also a king and father of kings ("[phrase omitted]," 600-602; Yes. She was polluted twice over with disgrace.... She murdered her husband, and thereby my father too). See Avezzu, "Reticence and phobos in Aeschylus's Agamemnon." The Greek text of Aeschylus is based on Aeschyli septem quae supersunt tragoedias, ed. Denys Page (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972); translations are from Greek Tragedies, ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore, Third Edition, Mark Griffith and Glenn W Most (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), vol. 1: Aeschylus. Agamemnon, vol. 2: Aeschylus. The Libation bearers, vol. 3: Aeschylus. The Eumenides.

(45) "Notice Macbeth's words: 'Sear mine eyelids'; 'start, eyes'; 'horrible sight.' Once again Macbeth is a man transfixed by what he has seen, once again in effect turned to stone. His murders have been for nothing; Banquo's sons will inherit the kingdom. This is his personal Gorgon, the sign of his own futility and damnation." Garber, "The Male Medusa," 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 at Inverness, taking place offstage... is balanced by Macbeth, alone onstage and alienated, considering murder. Likewise, in the banquet scene proper, Macbeth is unable to join the feast because he has cut himself off from the society of mutual trust and obligation that is represented there: first he is prevented by the Murderer's entrance, then by the Ghost's appearance, and finally by his wife, who breaks up the gathering (III.IV. 117-20). The 'broken feast' thus becomes a vivid metaphor of the play's political action to this point and at the same time prepares us for the antifeast of 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 of those occasions when Shakespeare exploits theatrical convention for powerful effect: we and Macbeth together see the Ghost, whereas he alone saw the dagger leading him to Duncan. The difference is important since, as we learned in the chamber scene of Hamlet, the effect of having audience and hero see together what others onstage are blind to establishes a bond of understanding or at least common experience that prevents 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 Simon Forman at the Globe in 1610-11, and it has been seen by audiences in most productions.... This differs from the dagger because the emptiness here 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 is aborted if, as so often nowadays, no physical ghost appears onstage."

(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 and mimesis, including issues of focalization in drama, see Silvia Bigliazzi, "Introduction," in "Diegesis and Mimesis," ed. Silvia Bigliazzi, special issue, Skene: Journal of Theatre and Drama Studies 2, no. 2 (2016): 5-33; see also William Gruber, Offstage Space, Narrative, and the Theatre of the Imagination (New York: Palgrave Macbmillan, 2010) and, more recently, Jonathan Walker, Site Unscene. The Offstage in English Renaissance Drama (Evanston, IL: Northwenstern University Press, 2016).

(55) Here is Leslie's succinct version: "Thus when he thought himself in danger from Banquo and Macduff, he first of all slew the former, then laid snares craftily for the latter. What more needs be said? Like a true tyrant he fears everybody and is feared by all" De Origine, 5.85, my emphasis. Holinshed and Buchanan expatiate on his cruelty and tyrannical behavior in greater detail, but from a not substantially different perspective. In Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 518-19.

(56) As suggested by Brooke ("Introduction," 2; see also n20 above), "about two-thirds of this play written for the daylight theatre is set in darkness. All theatre depends, in one way or another, on illusion, but Macbeth is exceptional in affirming continuously a direct contradiciton of the natural conditions: the transformation of daylight 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 in 1.1."

(57) Inga-Stina Ewbank, '"Striking too short at Greeks': The Transmission of Agamemnon on the English Renaissance Stage," in Agamemnon in Performance: 458 BC to AD 2004, ed. Fiona Macintosh, Pantelis Michelakis, Edith Hall, and Oliver Taplin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 52. Louise Schleiner has also argued that the Saint-Ravy 1555 truncated translation of Agamemnon coalesced with the Libation Bearers, followed by the entire conflated translation of Eumenides, possibly stood behind "the Admiral's Agamemnon of 1599, with its companion play, Orestes' Furies, then portraying generally the matter of the Eumenides: Orestes being driven mad by nightmarish female furies until the gods, through the famous trial scene, restore his sanity and let him assume his father's kingship." "Latinized Greek Drama in Shakespeare's Writing of Hamlet',' Shakespeare Quarterly 41, (1990): 29-48 (36).

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

(59) "Video, et intersum et furor" (873); "I see the same, and am thereat, and busied in the broyle." Quotations are from Leon Herrmann, ed., Seneque. Tragedies, vol. 2 (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 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 complex related to questions of gender roles, see Garber, "The Male Medusa," 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 times when fear is good" ([phrase omitted]); 522-25 [Chorus's song]: "If the city, if the man / rears a heart that nowhere goes /in fear, how shall such a one / any more respect the right?" ([phrase omitted]); 690-94 [Athena]: "Here [in the court of Areopagus] the reverence / of citizens, their fear and kindred do-no-wrong / shall hold by day and in the blessing of night alike / all while the people do not muddy their own laws / with foul infusions" ([phrase omitted]); emphasis added. At Eumenides 693-94 Lattimore follows the interpunction of the manuscripts (Page prints [phrase omitted]).

(68) Miola, "Introduction," xix.

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]
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Author:Bigliazzi, Silvia
Publication:Comparative Drama
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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