Four tragedies - Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Othello, the Moor of Venice, Macbeth and King Lear - David Bevington and David Scott Kastan 1988, 2005
Bartholomeusz, Dennis. “Macbeth” and the Players. London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1969. Bartholomeusz surveys the history of the play onstage, focusing on actors’ insights into and interpretations of the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth from the earliest performances at the Globe Theatre through the production at London’s Mermaid Theatre in 1964.
Berger, Harry, Jr. “The Early Scenes of Macbeth: Preface to a New Interpretation.” ELH 47 (1980): 1—31. Rpt. in Making Trifles of Terms: Redistributing Complicities in Shakespeare. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1997. Berger argues that from its first scenes the play reveals “something rotten in Scotland” more powerful than “the melodramatic wickedness of one or two individuals.” Focusing on tensions and contradictions in the rhetoric of the early scenes, Berger discovers not the natural unity of Scotland that Macbeth’s villainy shatters but a culture riven by fear and anxiety that gives rise to Macbeth’s fearful desires.
Booth, Stephen. “Macbeth, Aristotle, Definition, and Tragedy.” “King Lear,” “Macbeth,” Indefinition, and Tragedy. New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1983. In the tension between the appeal of Macbeth’s play of infinite possibility and the moral categories that must condemn him, Booth finds that Shakespeare’s play establishes “dual contradictory allegiances” that test the audience “with mental challenges as demanding as the ones that overwhelm Macbeth.” The play has a “double action”: the tragic events expose “the artificiality, frailty, and ultimate impossibility of limits,” and the envelope of the play itself asserts the “comforting limitation of artistic pattern.”
Bradley, A. C. “Macbeth.” Shakespearean Tragedy, 1904. Rpt. New York: St. Martin’s, 1985. For Bradley, Macbeth is Shakespeare’s most concentrated and terrifying tragedy, in which an atmosphere of darkness broods over the play and is “continued” in the “souls” of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Bradley focuses on the psychological makeup of the protagonists and concludes, among other things, that Macbeth “never totally loses our sympathy” and that Lady Macbeth, who would have done anything “to undo what she had done,” is “too great to repent.”
Brooks, Cleanth. “The Naked Babe and the Cloak of Manliness.” The Well Wrought Urn. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1947. Brooks finds the central themes of the play articulated in the imagery of clothing and children. Clothing imagery testifies to the play’s concern with disguising and denying one’s “essential humanity”; references to children recur in the play as symbols of innocence, helplessness, and “the future which Macbeth would control and cannot control.”
Brown, John Russell, ed. Focus on “Macbeth.” London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1982. This wide-ranging collection of criticism includes a director’s view of the play by Peter Hall, an account of its “language and action” by Michael Goldman, a study of visual imagery by D. J. Palmer, and an essay by Peter Stallybrass exploring the relationship of the witches to the play’s social and political vision.
Calderwood, James L. If It Were Done: “Macbeth” and Tragic Action. Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 1986. Calderwood holds that Macbeth is “a tragedy about the nature of tragedy,” self-consciously countering “Aristotelian principles of wholeness.” Focusing on its rhetorical and structural resistances to completion, Calderwood traces the ways in which the play’s “dismantling of the structure of action is extended into the political and social order.”
De Quincey, Thomas. “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth,” 1823. Rpt. in Shakespeare Criticism: A Selection, 1623—1840, ed. D. Nicol Smith. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1916. De Quincey considers the “peculiar awfulness” and “depth of solemnity” of the knocking at the gate in the Porter’s scene. The knocking ends the “awful parenthesis” in which the murder takes place, and “makes known audibly that the reaction has commenced; the human has made its reflux upon the fiendish.”
Freud, Sigmund. “Some Character-Types Met with in Psycho-Analytic Work,” trans. E. Coburn Mayne, in Freud’s Collected Papers, vol. 4, pp. 326—332. London: The Hogarth Press and The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1925. In attempting to explain the paradox of the personality wrecked by success, Freud finds in Lady Macbeth an example of one “who collapses on attaining her aim.” He speculates that her breakdown as well as Macbeth’s brutalization can be attributed to their childlessness, which Lady Macbeth perceives as a sign of her impotence against Nature’s decree, and which serves as the appropriate punishment for their “crimes against the sanctity of geniture.”
Jorgensen, Paul A. Our Naked Frailties: Sensational Art and Meaning in “Macbeth.” Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1971. Jorgensen sets out the play’s “sensational” presentation of “the terrible raw nature of evil” and its effects upon Macbeth. Focusing on the play’s poetic texture and dramatic structure, Jorgensen argues that “Shakespeare disturbs us throughout our nervous system, by exposing to each of us what is within us.”
Kastan, David Scott. “Macbeth and the ’Name of King.’ ” Shakespeare after Theory. London: Routledge, 1999. Kastan focuses on the play’s violence, showing how it exists both as the aberrant challenge to the moral order and also the very means by which that order is established and maintained. Indeed, Kastan shows how the apparent clarity of the play’s moral focus is unnervingly unsettled by its almost compulsive strategies of repetition and resemblance.
Kinney, Arthur F. Lies Like Truth: Shakespeare, “Macbeth,” and the Cultural Moment. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 2001. Kinney sets out to provide an answer to the question, “What did Macbeth mean to the audience that first saw the play at the Globe Theater in 1606?” Responding to the fact that Macbeth is a complex and unsettling experience for readers and audiences, Kinney richly elaborates and explores the historical moment in which it was written and first performed, focusing on the various political, religious, and literary issues that would have shaped the experience of the play.
Knights, L. C. “How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth? An Essay in the Theory and Practice of Shakespearean Criticism.” Explorations: Essays in Criticism, Mainly on the Literature of the Seventeenth Century. London: Chatto and Windus, 1946; Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975. Knights insists on the poetic nature and thematic organization of Shakespeare’s drama, challenging those practitioners of “character criticism,” such as A. C. Bradley, whose “mistaking the dramatis personae for real persons” is mocked in Knights’s title. For Knights, Macbeth is a “statement of evil” in which three themes predominate: “the reversal of values,” “unnatural disorder,” and “deceitful appearance.” His analysis of allegedly minor scenes reveals the coherence of “the pattern of the whole.”
Nostbakken, Faith. Understanding “Macbeth.” Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997. A book thoughtfully designed for students and teachers that provides a provocative set of historical and contemporary contexts in which to locate discussions of the play. Materials from Aristotle’s Poetics to Machiavelli’s Prince to Holinshed’s Chronicles to accounts of actual performances to reports of contemporary terrorism are imaginatively arranged to provide a reader with a variety of valuable perspectives on Shakespeare’s play.
Orgel, Stephen. “Macbeth and the Antic Round.” The Authentic Shakespeare and Other Problems of the Early Modern Stage. New York and London: Routledge, 2002. Orgel brilliantly considers the role of the witches in the play as they give evidence of revision of the Folio text (and as they are affected by later adaptation), and also as their presence points to disturbances in the historical material as it is shaped by the play to consider what it means to be a man.
Paul, Henry N. The Royal Play of “Macbeth.” New York: Macmillan, 1950. Paul claims that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth for a specific performance at court on August 7, 1606, as a dramatic compliment to King James I. In composing the play for this occasion Shakespeare focused on political and cultural concerns known to be of interest to James, and in the “show of eight kings” Shakespeare represented the Stuart succession.
Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of “Macbeth.” Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1978. Seeking to know the play “from the inside, as actors do,” Rosenberg uses stage history, comments by actors, directors, and spectators, and critical commentary in a scene-by-scene analysis designed to uncover the complexity of the play’s characterization and action.
Sanders, Wilbur. “ ’An Unknown Fear’: The Tragedie of Macbeth.” The Dramatist and the Received Idea: Studies in the Plays of Marlowe and Shakespeare. London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1968. Arguing against optimistic moral readings that neutralize the power of evil, Sanders denies that Macbeth is diminished by the end of the play. He is merely defeated, fighting with remarkable energy and a scrupulous honesty about what he has become. In the face of Macbeth’s “fierce brand of nihilism,” Malcolm seems callow, his victory over Macbeth punitive rather than restorative and marked “with the disturbing ambivalence of all acts of violence.”