The nature of an anti-hero
I have been working with Craig Maravich on Macbeth's soliloquies quite a bit lately, in and out of official rehearsals. We are finding some really interesting things, and Craig is bringing out some unexpected qualities in the Scottish Thane.
Craig asked the question, what is Macbeth like before he kills Duncan and starts to fall apart? We don't have many scenes that establish who he really is before he makes that fateful decision.
But we do have several very telling speeches; first "This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill, cannot be good..." wherein we see Macbeth tormented by uninvited images of killing Duncan. His hair stands on end and his heart is pounding. He is practically frozen with anxiety. He hopes that maybe he won't have to take any action at all, and that 'chance may crown me without my stir'.
Then we have the soliloquy where he bolts out of dinner with Duncan to argue himself out of the murder. 'If it were done when tis done, then it were well it were done quickly....' It takes him very little time to convince himself that killing Duncan is a bad idea. He speaks of Duncan's virtuous nature. He understands that what goes around, comes around. He is very articulate in expressing why he should not kill the King.
Even in the dagger speech, he seems to understand that he is being undone by the viciousness of the deed he is about to do.
Craig is exploring this sensitive and thoughtful side of Macbeth's nature, and it makes all the sense in the world. The fact that he seems a pretty good guy, makes his transformation into a tyrant all the more tragic.
Late in the play when he learns his wife has died, we get the beautiful and haunting speech, 'tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...' We have found that this is not just bitter nihilism or philosophy, but an way of trying to deal with a grief so deep and painful that he can barely confront it. Especially in his numbed and alienated state.
I think a Macbeth that we can relate to, even like, is a much more interesting Macbeth. Having directed Richard III, the difference between these two 'monsters' is striking. Richard is an unapologetic machiavel. He doesn't have a moral nature to begin with. He is filled with bitterness and a desire to get revenge on those he feels are more naturally blessed than he is. He is supremely arrogant. Macbeth, on the other hand, is keenly aware of his moral nature. He transgresses with the full knowledge that he may be destroying himself. Yet he does it anyway...that is one of the most intriguing questions of the play, and one we will keep trying to unpack!
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Melissa Lourie is the Artistic Director of Middlebury Actors Workshop.