I am a major Whovian. And I only picked up the book when I read that Alex Kingston (the actress who plays River Song on Doctor Who) was going to play Lady Macbeth on stage. It’s easier to find motivation for doing things when the people you want to be like are doing them.
The first right step that I took towards the seemingly daunting task of taking on one of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies was get my hands on the right copy- pedantically introduced and heavily annotated. The second right step I took was watching the trailer of Kingston and Brannagh’s Macbeth. With Elizabethan English you, as a po-co chick, yourself why you’re reading it. Because no matter what your major is, you don’t just start reading Shakespeare without questioning why you’re doing this to yourself and whether reading a play written centuries ago, already dissected, analyzed, studied and researched upon by probably thousands of academicians and students is serving any purpose at all. And there’s always the juvenile question of why not just read a version of the play in revised English? But that’s not the point. The plots are so old and so famous that they are quite irrelevant to the reading process. It’s like learning German only to read Kafka in his tongue. What you read Shakespeare for is Shakespeare himself. He is funny, sarcastic, melodramatic, metaphysical. He is a wizard with all the words to his mercy. With timely referring to the annotations below, he is the writer you’d been waiting to read. When you look at Shakespeare more as a homie, than some white classic douche, you start enjoying his hyperboles. The pretentiousness you feel while trying to read the iambic lines turns into a feeling of genuine admiration, even sympathy. His characters, gaudy and impulsive, become beautiful and enigmatic. Of course, no one thought renaissance theatre was ever high art. But artwork is often judged by the longevity of its relevance. And Shakespeare’s words, though you mightn’t be a prince whose mother eloped with his uncle, hit home. The longevity of their relevance is rooted in universal existential crises, universal thirst for being more powerful, universal curiosity for the other world. You don’t need to have survived an attack by the dark wizard to know what Harry must’ve felt like in the maze. Empathy builds catharsis.
It’s so weird writing about a book. There’s something extremely meta and nerve-wracking about writing a review, which is, essentially, your thoughts about a book, which is, essentially someone else’s thoughts. Macbeth hooked me in and made me want to be on whatever Shakespeare was on. Lady Macbeth is one of his stronger female characters and although there can be two feminist opinions about her, I liked her. Once you get where a character is coming from, it’s easy to sympathize with it. And with every reading there are multiple interpretations of who the character really is. In a male world, Lady Macbeth wanting to be less of a woman to be able to achieve more for her ambitionless husband is one of the many juxtapositions that draw the reader into the world of Shakespeare’s human follies and tragedies, the constant identity crises, existential dilemmas and metaphysical doubts that strike a chord even with the postmodern world.
The Witches are cool in a way that they don’t really give a damn about morality much, and sing weird songs summoning frogs. Again, they look “masculine” and do “unfeminine” things, but are still very much “female”, though not very “human”. They conveniently make themselves the perpetrator of a Bootstrap paradox. But it’s different when it’s the Doctor playing a little with Beethoven’s 5.
When it comes to murder, the moral stature of Macbeth comes under radar. It’s a bit questionable when someone tells you you’ll be king, and you plan a murder of the prevalent king to become king. If the witches said you’ll be king, why not just wait it out to see if Duncan dies of a sudden stroke? But Shakespeare’s characters get to test their morality to limits and beyond to explore what’s really human. They are autonomous, free individuals, oblivious to their slavery to the playwright’s imagination.
His words make you want to read them aloud. They sound like magic spells woven out of the misty mood he wants to create, his imagery hidden in similes and metaphors sets the perfect ambience to what his characters are going through. Here’s a person who never went to university or travelled much at all, yet he wrote about the world and things beyond. Once you commit yourself to a reading, his words move you. If you let them, they pull you in.
by Kimaya Kulkarni