Hamlet

Birnam Wood Comes to Dunsinane

henry_fuseli_-_study_for_the_three_witches_in_macbeth_-_1980-8_-_auckland_art_gallery

“Study for the Three Witches in Macbeth” by Henry Fuseli, oil on canvas. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The First Apparition (“an armed Head”) warned him to beware Macduff, Thane of Fife; the Second (“a bloody Child”) prophesied that none of woman born could harm him. The Third Apparition (“a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand”) counseled him to assume the mettle of a lion:

                                                 Take no care

Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are.

Macbeth shall never vanquished be until

Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill

Shall come against him (4.1.90-94).

From then on, his purpose became firm and clear. He set to “crown my thoughts with acts” by seizing Macduff’s castle and the dominion of Fife. To ensure the end of Macduff’s issue, he resolved to kill “his wife, his babes and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line” (4.1.148-153).[1]

“I think nothing equals Macbeth,wrote Abraham Lincoln. “It is wonderful.”

Lincoln’s praise has stood the test of time. Hamlet may be a better play and King Lear a greater tragedy, but a special power inhabits Macbeth, which has led superstitious theater people to talk about the great play in hushed tones and to refer to its title by euphemisms such as “the Scottish play.”

Is there any other play the name of which we fear to speak? (more…)

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Hamlet, Prince of Bikers

(Credit:  FX)

(Credit: FX)

Abraham Lincoln believed that there was nothing finer than Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and that Claudius’ monologue in Hamlet (“O my offence is rank!”) was superior to Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech. We are long since from the time when American presidents could render intelligent opinions about Shakespearean plays, and yet Shakespeare—much like the King James Bible written in Shakespeare’s language—still lives and breathes with us. His heroes and villains, his dramatic structures and his words, his myths and fables, are still our own.

Edwin Booth (brother to John Wilkes) was the finest Hamlet of his generation during the last half of the 19th century. In the 1930s John Barrymore (scion of two illustrious theatrical families), was the last great American Hamlet. After Barrymore’s time, the great vitality of American performative artistry—along with Shakespeare and the taste of American presidents—moved over to films and television. (more…)