This weekend I was at Fairleigh Dickinson University taking part in a day long colloquium on Macbeth. There were four talks given and I thought I would summarize and highlight some of the most interesting points.
The first paper, by Arthur Kinney, grappled with the question of why Macbeth remains appealing to audiences as a character, despite his murders. Kinney's argument is that Macbeth has more interiority than almost any of Shakespeare's characters--we the audience know what Macbeth thinks, his doubts, hopes and struggles, and this bonds us to him.
I gave the second talk, and argued that the Weird Sisters (side note: did you realize that these characters are never called witches in the play?) embody a kind of ambiguous fluidity that is opposed to the masculine world of Macbeth, where everything is ordered, structured and clearly labeled (even murder). After all, the Weird Sisters win in the end--everything they prophesied comes true and they are never called to account.
The third talk, by Steve Mentz was, to my mind, the most fascinating. He is engaged in the newest form of literary criticism--ecocriticism. This is a way of examining works of art through the lens of humanity's engagement with the natural world. Mentz argued that there is a "green world" of forests, a world of stability that is supportive of humanity (think of Birnam Wood) and a "blue world" of water, a world of instability that is either hostile to or simply inhospitable for humans. When he first started speaking, I wasn't sold, but by the end I was. I had no idea how many metaphors of water there were in Macbeth, from the "two spent swimmers" in 1.2 to Macbeth's request that the Doctor "sound the waters" of Scotland. Very impressive.
The final speaker, Iska Alter, spoke about the movie Scotland PA which is a wonderful adaptation of Macbeth. If you haven't seen it, it is well worth watching--Shakespeare's play is set in the 1970s in a fast food restaurant. The witches are dope smoking hippies and Macduff is a vegetarian police detective. In case you haven't see the movie, here's the trailer to whet your appetite!
In all, it was a wonderful colloquium that gave me some new thoughts about Macbeth and also made me remember the fantastic performance The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater did last year. The Wilma has a production of the Scottish play running now and I'm going to see it this Friday, so I'll be able to write up a comparative review soon.