I mention the dream primarily to re-assert the importance of cloning Patrick Stewart. But also, it's a perfect example of how Macbeth has a way of crawling into our imaginations and setting up camp there. There's no way around it: this play makes people crazy. Drama nerds think it's so stuffed with curse-juice, they refuse to even say its name. And rightly so: excuse my language, but Macbeth is fucking spooky. It's like it ate every scary story that ever came before it and belched out a composite literary nightmare. It has ghosts, witches, gore, existential dread, suspense, shocks, psychological horror, regicide, infanticide, prophetic psych-outs, evil omens, and horse-on-horse cannibalism. It's a freak show. A glorious, captivating freak show.
The frightfest kicks off with a cold open of witches being witchy, and then introduces a bunch of noblemen who tell the King what an unbelievable badass Macbeth has been on the battlefield. For example, he bisected a deserting lord by cutting him "from the nave to the chaps" and then chucked his head on a spike. The King basically has an orgasm over the news, and decides to give Macbeth a bunch more land, power, and money. What's the worst that could happen?
The third scene introduces Macbeth, our stone-cold antihero, and Banquo, his doofus friend. I don't think I ever realized what a goofball Banquo is before this reading. When the bearded ladies confront the men with their prophecies, he doesn't really register that the situation is ominous: he just goes, "ooo, fortune-tellers! Do me next!" His theory after the witches vanish is that they were bubbles, or perhaps that he ate some "insane root." Next time I have a brainfart, I'm going to chalk it up to insane root, or just shrug and blame the concept of bubbles. #BanquoStyle
After the confrontation with the witches, Lady Macbeth blasts into the play at the speed of evil. Though her skill set is fairly basic, it's 100% effective, and she knows exactly how to manipulate everyone around her. Her biggest tool is emasculating the dick right off of her husband, though later scenes prove she can ham it up as a damsel-in-distress too. With the help of her demon friends, who drop by to unsex her, she mercilessly bullies Macbeth into agreeing to kill Duncan, explaining calmly that she'd bash her own baby's head in if he asked her to do it. Whoa, lady. You nuts. And I'm kind of into it.
Lady Macbeth clearly wears the balls in the family, so it's no shock that she holds it together far longer than her husband. Macbeth, by comparison, starts cracking up before he's even shed blood, chasing imaginary daggers around and mumbling about Hecate and Tarquin. He saunters through his downward spiral, and Lady Macbeth is forced to frantically cover for his breaks with reality. This pattern culminates in the banquet scene (Act III, Scene IV) which is hands-down my favorite part of the play. Banquo's ghost, with his eerie silence, conveys dread far more effectively than Chatty Cathy ghosts (looking at you, Hamlet's dad). Whether the production goes the route of having Banquo physically on the stage or portrays Macbeth flipping out over invisible hallucinations, there is no way around the jaw-dropping tension and satisfying righteousness of the scene. The suspense is further offset by a subtle undercurrent of humor — I can totally hear the lords whispering to each other, "God damn...the Macbeths throw the weirdest parties."
Lady Macbeth may retain her sanity for most of the play, but when it comes to mental breakdowns, she clearly subscribes to the "go big or go home" philosophy. She owes her four-act-long streak of resilience to that weird split personality she creates in Act I — in other words, she pulls a Tyler Durden. Her Durden personality allows her to repress her guilt, her shame, her disgust over her husband's weakness, and her fear of being discovered. But the approach is laughably unsustainable. It leaves her tortured conscience bound and gagged in the dungeon of her subconscious, only to burst through the seams in her sleep. So where Macbeth spends the whole play gradually giving himself over to madness, Lady Macbeth's brain breaks all at once. The levee broke. If she had only listened to Led Zeppelin a little more, she may have realized such hedgerow bustles are inevitable
One more small thing I wanted to mention: Macbeth and Hamlet are like the yin and yang of regicide tales. If these plays had a baby, it would probably be "the Entertainment" from Infinite Jest (topicality level: Yorick). Both plays spotlight how singular acts of violence inevitably kick off butterfly effects of destruction (more like "blood-erfly effects," know what I'm saying?). But the emotional experience of murder is interrogated from opposite angles in each play. Hamlet is the victim in his story, but his labyrinthine ruminations guide him into the role of perpetrator. Macbeth is the perpetrator in his story, but his descent into madness enfeebles him until he is the victim. Macbeth is also less a thinker, more a doer; Hamlet is the opposite. His intellectual deliberations are famous for their insight and intensity, but ain't nobody got time for that "to be or not to be" crap in Macbeth. Macbeth experiences the psychological fallout of murder after the deed is done; Hamlet spends most of the play psyching himself up for it. The symmetry! It hurts so good!
Anyway, the upshot is that Hamlet and Macbeth both dramatize a 2500-year-old Thucydidean argument: violence ricochets, echoes, mutates, and refracts. Like some unholy extremophile bacteria, it can survive in the darkest nooks and crannies of our minds, waiting for the optimal breeding condition. Once it emerges, it reproduces a thousandfold. Hamlet and Macbeth follow juxtaposed paths to this blinding truth, and that simply makes my heart explode.
Conversely, I could just be so obsessed with the Peloponnesian War that I'm starting to see Thucydides everywhere. Maybe next time I throw a banquet, he'll defiantly sit in my chair. The Mac-Beckys throw the weirdest parties!
Macbeth is pretty awesome, as a few people have pointed out before me. Amazing characters, lots of action, bizarre twists, and stuff about owls eating hawks. Plus, there's some pretty funny dialogue sprinkled throughout, such the post-regicide dick jokes in Act II, Scene III. Shakespeare understood that with a play this dark and moody, you got to throw your audience a boner now and then. Amen.
Best comeback: "What, you egg?"
Most understated response: When Malcolm is told of his father's murder, he just casually goes, "O, by whom?"
Most inconsiderate word choice: Ross is the literalist doctor in Arrested Development. He breaks the news that Macduff's whole family is dead by saying his wife and kids are "well" and "at peace," and Macduff is all relieved. Then Ross goes, "nah bro, just trying to give it to you gently. By 'at peace' I mean brutally murdered."