...And that which should accompany old age….I must not look to have; but, in their stead, Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath…’ The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act 5 scene 2
Two things we’ve been thinking about this week: the value of words and actions and the idea of friendship and loyalty.
Ironically, Shakespeare – a man of words – is often critical of the emptiness of them. It is what we do and how we behave that speaks louder than what we say. Toward the end of the play, it is very clear that most of the Scottish soldiers are fighting against the invading British army because they are either being paid to do so or are terrified of what might happen should they turn their back on their king rather than out of a sense of duty.
For most people (and teenagers even more so), having true friends is the most important asset – people who will keep your secrets and who will have your back.
At the start of the play, Macbeth is lauded as this most amazing warrior: loyal, fearless, brave. How quickly those truths about him were forgotten when he began to make the wrong choices and how quickly he lost the security of friendship. This phenomenon is observed over and over for those in the limelight (politicians, actors, musicians) who break the law, behave stupidly or criminally: any good they may have done in the past is null and void in light of the affect of their recent misdemeanour.
Many of us feel sorry for Macbeth. We even admire that, even though he knows he’s had it, he will continue to fight to the death. In this final scene, the qualities of Macbeth that we learn about in the beginning, come out again.
One student commented that it really is sad (a tragedy) because if Macbeth had just left things alone, he would have surely been able to enjoy all that was promised to him – something he himself considers early on ‘If chance will crown me king then chance will crown me without my stir.’ He KNEW that if he was going to trust in the prophecy, then he didn’t have to do anything but just wait it out. A difficult thing to do for a man of action.
Next time, I will muse on the differences between the first Thane of Cawdor and Macbeth.