Sunday, April 4, 2010
"Portrait of a Psychopath"
Our beloved television show spends much of season 2 wallowing in the play's darkness. They call it "a portrait of a psychopath", say it's "extraordinarily difficult to stage effectively" and revel in it's infamous curse. They call the character a tyrant, label the play as overly bloody and present the idea that it teaches the audience nothing. When Geoffrey suggests a bit of stage business that would create pathos for the character, identify him as human and vulnerable, he is given seemingly endless grief for it.
As for the suggestion that Macbeth is a uniquely bloody play, it's really not that accurate. Sure, blood is a recurring allusion, a metaphor for so much that comes back in the text scene after scene. But in terms of body count Macbeth isn't that bloody, or disturbing in terms of what gets done. Let's start with regicide, the atrocious murder at the center of the play: it happens offstage, and there are shockingly few Shakespeare plays in which the king isn't killed. Then there's a pretty standard murder: Banquo, followed by two more shocking ones in the innocent Lady Macduff and her son. Then there's a little off-stage suicide (Lady M), a battle death (Young Siward) and the final triumphant beheading (Macbeth himself). Though atrocious and incredibly meaningful in terms of character development and personal/political ramifications, these deaths lack an element of the grotesque that permeates so much of Shakespeare's work. If Macbeth is "a portrait of a psychopath", how come the raping and maming happens in Titus Andronicus? Richard III threatens one child and kills two more for power. Othello smothers his innocent wife out of blind rage. Lear has eye-gouging! Macbeth is a dark play, full or murder and death, but it's certainly not uniquely so.
Instead of criticizing it for its darkness, Macbeth should be praised for its affecting intensity. It's terrifying, challenging and emotionally draining. Instead of listening to Oliver and Nahum's assertion that the play is "a portrait of a psychopath", if we're looking to Slings for the key to what Macbeth is all about, I think we should listen to Geoffrey. He said that Macbeth is a man and about the play itself and the process of tackling it, he said "There will be struggle. There will be sacrifice. There will be tears, there will be the occasional fistfight. And in the end, there will be transformation" and that, to me, seems like something worth braving the curse for.