Monday, November 24, 2008

Reading Macbeth

I spent an enjoyable three hours at the recent first meeting of the Plymouth Shakespeare Reading Group yesterday. My thanks to Prashant Andrade for forming this group. You can read more about it in a previous entry in this blog.

I and twelve other hardy souls (most of them students from Salem High School in Plymouth) tackled Macbeth. We got through it with virtually no difficulties and I think everyone had a great time. I myself was able to be Banquo in Acts I and II, Macbeth in Act III scenes 1 and 2, Lady Macduff in Act IV (scene 2) and a messenger in Act V, scene 5 (an important part-how else would Macbeth know about Birnam Wood approaching Dunsinane?)

In order to be properly prepared, I brought along my copy of Richard Whalen's Oxfordian edition of Macbeth (available from Llumina Press, In between waiting for my cues, I was able to scan most of Whalen's excellent annotations. Of course, many of these are the sort of annotations found in any good edition of the play, but Whalen does put in great explanations of the many Oxfordian implications.

For example, orthodox scholars continue to state that Shakespeare wrote the play to please the new King James. Actually, there is no record of the play being performed during the reign of James (it was first printed in the First Folio) and it does seem strange that someone would write a play about the murder of a Scottish king by an usurper who consorted with witches to please a Scottish king (James) who was terrified of witches and was always fearful of personal attacks. The play refers to things that James detested (such as the practice of the monarch "touching for the evil" [scrofula]).

The play reveals the author's knowledge of Scottish geography, weather, laws, and customs, something easy to explain for Oxford who was actually in Scotland on a military expedition and less easy to explain for Stratford Will.

The play makes use of the chronicle of William Stewart (1531-5) for some details not found elsewhere, a document only available in manuscript form and held by the Scottish royal family. Only someone in royal circles, like Oxford, would have had access to it.

There is also the introduction of the character Lennox (not in any historical accounts), perhaps to honor Oxford's friend the 4th Earl of Lennox who was Elizabeth's regent in Scotland?

The author is familiar with court intrigue, as evidenced by the political machinations of the character of Ross.

I could go on like this, but I will stop here. I have to keep a little back for discussion purposes later.

I would recommend that more of the Oberoners consider attending a meeting of the Plymouth Shakespeare Reading Group. The next meeting is December 21, when we will be reading Twelfth Night (unfortunately I don't have an Oxfordian edition of this play so I'm on my own).

In the meantime, I note that both the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Stratford Festival are doing Macbeth in their upcoming seasons. Maybe there's still an opening for the messenger in Act V. I'm on it.

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