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Macbeth

Currently, in my senior English classes, we are studying Shakespeare’s tragedy  Macbeth. The play is so fascinating. We will end up spending around four weeks reading it along with assignments, activities, and assessments. But, I could easily spend double that time analyzing and enjoying the structure, language, plot, allusions, and characters.

The play opens with three witches who plan to meet up with the protagonist, Macbeth, that day. The first scene ends with the witches, also referred to as “Weird Sisters”, chanting in unison: “Fair is foul and foul in fair” (12). The phrase from the witches means that whatever is considered good or of virtue is actually bad, and whatever is considered evil is actually good. The second scene is of Macbeth and his warrior friend, Banquo, who are both coming off the battlefield victorious. Macbeth proclaims, “So fair and foul a day I have not seen” (39). Shakespeare has Macbeth’s words echo the witches words to show that Macbeth senses something is not right – a gut feeling – intuition – a feeling something “in the air” so to speak is evil.

Immediately the witches make themselves known to Macbeth and Banquo as they leave the battlefield. It is interesting because even though the witches are targeting Macbeth, they approached him not alone, but alongside his buddy Banquo. The witches greet Macbeth with three titles, only one of which is his at the time, therefore “prophesying” his future. They hail him as “Thane of Glamis”, “Thane of Cawdor”, and “King” (49-51). Their prophetic words planted a seed in Macbeth’s pride. The idea of him being king had never entered his mind until the witches hailed him as king. The reigning king, King Duncan, was highly respected and admired, so there had been no reason to dethrone him.

After prodding, the witches foretell that Banquo would not be king, but his sons would be kings. The two men actually joke about the witches until news was brought to Macbeth from noblemen that he has been given a new title – the title “Thane of Cawdor” which gives the appearance that what the witches had prophesied came true even though him being given that title was already in the making. Macbeth thinks what the witches have said is now no laughing matter. He begins to have inner conflict of wanting to be king at any cost  – a ruthless ambition – to be king even if it means to murder King Duncan.

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in the early 1600’s, and yet it is quite mind-boggling how close to home it can hit in the 21st century. The characters really are timeless and universal. As we read Macbeth and see his inward struggle, we ask ourselves the same questions. The thing of it is, is that our humanity really is not different even though the times and setting is very different. Pride still is one of the greatest enemies of our souls. Shakespeare alludes to many biblical stories as well as referencing Scripture over a thousand times throughout all his writings. It is common knowledge that the Bible was a main source of education in the Elizabethan time, and Shakespeare had a knowledge and understanding of the Bible that was exemplified throughout his works. The play, Macbeth, was written for King James I – the king who commissioned The King James Bible. I would love to teach Macbeth to high school students at a Christian school!

Back to Macbeth…So, Macbeth is starting to believe that the “supernatural solicitors” words “cannot be ill and cannot be good” (135). Banquo observes that Macbeth is beginning to be tempted by the witches words, and has some words of his own for his good buddy! This is why I decided to blog today about Macbeth.  Banquo’s words are still so fitting for us! If only we had such a good friend as he! Banquo calls it as it is! Banquo takes the opportunity as Macbeth’s friend to tell Macbeth not to let his thoughts entertain any idea the witches have planted in his mind. Banquo boldly says, “That trusted home,/ Might yet enkindle you unto the crown,/ Besides the Thane of Cawdor. But ’tis strange./ And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,/ The instruments of darkness tell us truths,/ Win us honest trifles, to betray ‘s/ In deepest consequences” (121-127).

In other words, Banquo is explaining to Macbeth that the witches are of the demonic realm and cannot be trusted. And, secondly, they lie to us telling us what we want to hear only to seduce us then use the very thing we trusted in the witches against us with unimaginable consequences.  Shakespeare is using Banquo’s insight to teach his audience how harmful and deceptive witches and witchcraft really are. During the time of the writing of Macbeth, there had been plots on the assassination of King James I by witches.

We all need a friend like Banquo who can be honest even in personal, possibly uncomfortable areas of our lives; someone to speak the truth to spare us of regretful decisions. Adults too make bad decisions – we are not exempt from needing advice – good, solid, biblical counsel.

Proverbs 12: 15 tells us “the wise listen to advice.” Also in Proverbs 19:20 we are told, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.”

Unfortunately, Macbeth did not heed the honest and truthful words of Banquo. He decided to go against reason and truth, and instead to commit treason and murder. It didn’t end well for Macbeth or for his wife, Lady Macbeth.

When the lies of our enemy sound like something we want to believe, that is the exact moment to listen no more.

I came across a quote from Martin Luther I have been pondering. May his words serve today as coming from a friend:

“The preacher should not preach {the Messiah} as silver and gold, but as peace. This is the beautiful, magnificent sermon; that no one else but he himself has established peace between God and us – as well as all creatures! What is all the wisdom, knowledge and power on earth if we are not one with God? If this peace stands, I will not be pestered much by the devil, death, sin and hell. They can be as evil as they want; I have grasped hold of the Word and am at peace with God. But if the devil does not want to leave me in peace, what do I care? For my heart stands in the true assurance of God’s peace. The man named Jesus of Nazareth – Lord over everything – is my Lord, so you cannot devour me!” ( Martin Luther, Sermon on Easter Monday Afternoon, 1544).

 

 

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Jennifer Johnson

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"To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." -Revelations 1:5b-6

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