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'MacBeth' seldom produces neutral response

link Clyde Davis

Local columnist

Who was MacDuff and why was he wearing BDUs and carrying a fake M-16 ?

The Shakespearean tragedy,MacBeth, has possibly been presented more times, and to more response, than any other play. It is also the perfect play for this time of year, with its dark atmosphere and supernatural elements.

The BDUs and M-16 were simply my props to play MacDuff, the nobleman who ultimately assassinates MacBeth in revenge for MacBeth, in Roger's senior video project for college. It was surely not the first, nor the last, time that the popular play has been presented in contemporary dress. I dare not tell you how Roger dressed the witches.

With all of that, however, comes the research incumbent with teaching MacBeth to a group of seniors who have varying degrees of interest in the play. How historically accurate was Shakespeare, and how historically accurate did he desire to be, considering that the reigning King, James, was descended from Malcolm's and Duncan's lineage?

Shakespeare may have confused his good guys and his bad guys. With Scotland having recently voted, by a narrow margin, to remain united with Britain rather than claim independence, the question and context of MacBeth may catch even more interest.

(From website: Historic UK:) "Duncan became King of Scotland upon the death of Malcolm in 1034. He was a much weaker character than Malcolm and a terrible leader. He led a disastrous campaign into Northumbria and was forced to retreat ignominiously back to Scotland.

His cousin MacBeth, chief of the northern Scots, also had a claim to the throne through his mother. MacBeth formed an alliance with his cousin the Earl of Orkney, and they defeated and killed Duncan near Elgin in 1040.

Mac Bethad mac Findláich, or MacBeth as he is known in English, the Mormaer of Moray, claimed the throne on his own behalf and that of his wife Grauch, and after the death of Duncan made himself king in his place. Respected for his strong leadership qualities, MacBeth was a wise king who ruled successfully for 17 years."

Perhaps the term "good guys and bad guys" is not accurate, but rather, "good leaders and bad leaders." History, especially as seen in drama, is never predictable nor black and white. This is even moreso, considering the understandable desire of Shakespeare to stay on the good side of his king.

The story of MacBeth, part of high school curriculum forever, seldom brings a neutral response. Teachers and students alike either hate it or love it. Obviously, I am among the latter.

Clyde Davis is a Presbyterian pastor and teacher at Clovis High School. He can be contacted at:

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