March 11, 2004
In a couple days, our book group is discussing Macbeth. I chose Macbeth because I’m enamored of the critical essays of G. Wilson Knight, and I wanted to read Knight’s Macbeth essays in conjunction with the play itself. I also enjoy the critical essays of A. C. Bradley, a more famous critic than Knight. I used to wonder why Knight’s work wasn’t better known; now I believe that Knight is so profound, such a deep thinker, that he hasn’t been fully understood, fully appreciated.
Bradley doesn’t revolutionize our understanding of Shakespeare, as Knight does, but Bradley is a fine scholar in his own right. Bradley believes that Macbeth is undone because he doesn’t listen to his unconscious, to his deepest self, to what Bradley calls his “imagination”; Macbeth is undone because he heeds his conscious thoughts, and ignores his unconscious feelings. This can be described as a Jungian argument, since an important part of Jung’s ethics is that one should listen to one’s unconscious, as it is revealed in dreams, feelings, etc.
“Macbeth’s better nature,” writes Bradley, “incorporates itself in images which alarm and horrify. His imagination is thus the best of him, something usually deeper and higher than his conscious thoughts; and if he had obeyed it he would have been safe.... The terrifying images which deter him from crime and follow its commission [are] really the protest of his deepest self.... He strides from crime to crime, though his soul never ceases to bar his advance with shapes of terror, or to clamor in his ears that he is murdering his peace and casting away his ‘eternal jewel [i.e., his soul].’”1 Macbeth is undone because he heeds his “conscious or reflective mind,” which “moves chiefly among considerations of outward success and failure.”
What is the motive of Macbeth’s crime? Is it ambition, or the promptings of his wife, or the influence of the witches? Tolstoy, Shakespeare’s harshest critic, takes Shakespeare to task for unclear motives, and unclear characters. Knight defends Shakespeare by saying, ‘you’re right, Tolstoy, you’re right, Macbeth’s motives aren’t clear, but motives never are clear. And if Shakespeare’s characters are sometimes unclear, it’s because character itself is merely a mask, and Shakespeare tears off this mask, Shakespeare depicts powerful passions, Shakespeare goes deeper than character.’ Knight praises the acuteness of Tolstoy’s observations, but he insists that Tolstoy is measuring Shakespeare with the wrong yardstick. Knight says that Tolstoy suffers from “clear thinking.” Like any rational thinker, Tolstoy looks for cause-and-effect relationships. But Shakespeare goes deeper than cause-and-effect, deeper than rational thinking.
Bradley says, “A Shakespearean tragedy, as a rule, has a special tone or atmosphere of its own, quite perceptible, however difficult to describe. The effect of this atmosphere is marked with unusual strength in Macbeth.” Knight, who admired Bradley and studied him closely, carried this idea further, and argued that the theme of a Shakespeare play was more important than character. In Macbeth, the theme of evil runs through nature as well as the human world: the weather is dark and stormy, animals behave strangely, etc. But above all, it is the witches who create the atmosphere of evil.
There is Evil in Macbeth, and it is spread through the natural world, the witches, Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth — one might say it is spread through the Macbeth universe. There is no single cause of Macbeth’s crime. This crime can best be explained by a doctrine of Indian philosophy, the Doctrine of Mutual Arising. According to this doctrine, “everything, all the time, is causing everything else.” If you look back at your own life, you can probably find events that resulted from Mutual Arising; I know I can. When you look at such events, you see a vast number of causes, each of which contributed to the outcome. If you focus your attention on any one of these causes, it appears that this was The Cause, without this the event wouldn’t have happened. In truth, however, nothing is The Cause because everything is causing everything else.
Western thinking, rational thinking, scientific thinking, views the world in terms of cause-and-effect, but people in India and China see things differently, and Shakespeare sees things differently. Shakespeare lived before Newton, before the Scientific Revolution, Shakespeare wasn’t a rational thinker, his mind was imbued with the occult, with the Hermetic Tradition.
Shakespeare’s way of thinking isn’t outmoded; modern thinkers like Jung point out the weaknesses of rational thinking, and are coming back to Shakespeare’s Way, to the Hermetic Way, to the Way of India and China. Jung’s theory of synchronicity goes beyond cause-and-effect, synchronicity is an “acausal connecting principle.” A disciple of Jung, attempting to explain synchronicity, said “As soon as we notice that certain types of event ‘like’ to cluster together at certain times, we begin to understand the attitude of the Chinese, whose theories of medicine, philosophy, and even building are based on a ‘science’ of meaningful coincidences. The classical Chinese texts did not ask what causes what, but rather what ‘likes’ to occur with what.”2
In Macbeth, events of a dark, evil, uncanny character ‘cluster together’ — the natural world, the supernatural world, and the human world marching to the same beat. The rational mind can’t fathom the occult, can’t fathom synchronicity, and can’t fathom Macbeth. Hence Tolstoy, a ‘clear thinker’, couldn’t appreciate Shakespeare. A rational thinker believes that A leads to B, and B leads to C; he believes in a sequence of events that are linked by causality. Shakespeare mocks causality by having the witches predict how things will turn out.
Knight compares Macbeth with Julius Caesar, and notes that Caesar’s universe (as portrayed by Shakespeare) is as disturbed as Macbeth’s universe. “The murder of Caesar,” Knight writes, “is heralded by varied unnatural phenomena. Not only do ‘birds and beasts’ break from all habits of their ‘quality and kind’; all laws of nature are interrupted.... Graves have opened, and the dead walk forth shrieking.... There is no heart within the sacrificial offering. We are confronted with things apparently beyond the workings of causality.”3 The Chinese believed that the death of an emperor was accompanied by a disturbance in nature, such as an earthquake; likewise, Caesar’s death is accompanied by a disturbance in nature, a disturbance such as would not accompany the death of an obscure Roman: “when beggars die there are no comets seen.”(I, iii, 128)
Knight says that, in Shakespeare’s tragedies, “the hero and his universe are interdependent.... There is no rigid time-sequence of cause and effect between the hero and his environment: there is, however, a relation, and this relation is cemented and fused by the use of prophecy and poetic symbolism, merging subject with object, present with future.... The Weird Sisters forecast the murder of Duncan, the Soothsayer that of Caesar: the future is thus shown as existing within the present and the time-sequence has a secondary reality only.”4
Shakespeare’s worldview is consistent with that of the Chinese, the Indians, Jung, etc.; one might term this worldview the Occult, the Hermetic, or the Shakespeare-Jung worldview. Historians might be able to learn something from this worldview. Instead of concentrating on a causal sequence, a historian could portray one living reality, one atmosphere, one theme — just as Shakespeare does. A historian could show the future existing within the present; he could show, for example, Heine predicting the Holocaust a century before it occurred, just as the Soothsayer predicted Caesar’s assassination.5 The Shakespeare-Jung worldview could have a profound effect on the writing of history.
I recently read a fascinating essay on Macbeth by an Oxfordian, Richard Whalen. Richard’s essay discusses the sources of Macbeth, and draws on earlier Oxfordian researches to show that Macbeth strengthens the case for Oxford.
One of the sources of Macbeth, according to Richard’s essay, is the murder of Lord Darnley, which occurred in 1567; Darnley’s murder bears numerous resemblances to Duncan’s murder in Macbeth. Darnley was the husband of Mary Queen of Scots “and thus king of Scotland to his supporters, although she denied him the title and often banished him from her castle.”6 Darnley’s murder was engineered by the Earl of Bothwell, Mary’s chief advisor; it seems, however, that Mary was not involved in the murder of her husband. Bothwell “arranged for the ailing Darnley to recuperate at one of [Mary’s] houses near Edinburgh. Bothwell and his cohorts blew up the house. Darnley awakened just before the blast and escaped in his nightclothes, but the conspirators suffocated him in the orchard. Three months later, Bothwell virtually forced the twenty-three-year-old Mary Queen of Scots to marry him.”7
“As in the play, an ambitious rival assassinated Scotland’s king, who had gone to bed thinking he was a welcome guest. Just as the play includes a knocking at the porter’s gate, investigative reports of Darnley’s murder twice mention a ‘knocking at the gate;’ and Bothwell cried ‘Treason!’ when informed of Darnley’s murder. Bothwell, moreover, was widely believed to consort with witches.... A contemporary sketch of the murder scene shows a gate, the assassinated Darnley, and a dagger that seems to be floating in the air. In the play, Macbeth asks, ‘Is this a dagger I see before me?’, and Lady Macbeth later calls it an ‘air-drawn dagger.’ William Cecil’s agent in Scotland sent the sketch and a variety of investigative records to London for Cecil, who was Oxford’s guardian at the time.”8
“Traumatized by fear and horror, accused by some of complicity in her husband’s murder, Mary collapsed into a trance-like depression similar to that of Lady Macbeth. In his 1935 biography of Mary, Stefan Zweig speculated at length on the ‘remarkable similarities’ between her condition and Lady Macbeth’s. Drawing on his studies of psychology, he suggests that both suffer pangs of conscience, become depressed and physically ill.”9 Zweig deserves credit for seeing this similarity, and doubtless he would have been fascinated to learn that Lady Macbeth’s depression may have been modeled on Mary’s depression.
“Darnley’s assassination and Bothwell’s involvement inspired an interlude or play that was written within months of his death, the only play of the time known to depict a contemporary event and one that might be considered an early version of Macbeth.... The following year, in March, The Tragedie of the Kinge of Scottes was performed by the Children of the Chapel for Queen Elizabeth.”10 The 1568 Tragedie may be a later version of the 1567 play; the Tragedie, like the earlier play, may have been based on the Darnley assassination, and may have been an early version of Macbeth.
“Darnley’s assassination caused a sensation in London. As a ward in the household of William Cecil, councilor to Queen Elizabeth, Oxford was perfectly placed to hear about the assassination, see the sketch with the air-drawn dagger and peruse the extensive Scottish records of the investigation, which included many dramatic details that turn up in Macbeth. Fifteen years later, he would be identified as patron of the Children of the Chapel, the same acting troupe that performed The Tragedie of the Kinge of Scottes for Elizabeth.”11
Oxfordians believe that Oxford wrote several literary works before he was twenty. They also believe that he wrote some of the works that are regarded as early versions of Shakespeare’s plays. Thus, it is consistent with the Oxford theory that Oxford would write a play when he was a teenager, a play that formed the basis of one of Shakespeare’s plays (Macbeth). It is natural for a great writer to draw inspiration from a sensational contemporary crime; Dostoyevsky, Ibsen, and other writers also drew inspiration from contemporary crimes. We can’t be certain that Oxford wrote this early work but, as Richard says, “it’s hard to imagine what other writer so early in the history of Elizabethan theater would have written such a play for performance for Queen Elizabeth by the acting company that would later be identified as his own.”12
Another contemporary crime that found its way into Macbeth is the murder of Admiral Coligny, a leader of French Protestants; Coligny was murdered five years after Darnley, when Oxford was 23. “Coligny and his Protestant followers had been invited by Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother, to the wedding of her daughter. She plotted with Roman Catholic noblemen to massacre her wedding guests.”13 This massacre triggered the famous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in which thousands of Protestants were killed.
“Like Lady Macbeth, Catherine de Medici was often depicted as the power behind the throne, and a fiendish one at that. It was said that her son, the king of France, hesitated before agreeing to Coligny’s assassination, but her prodding convinced him to go along with the plan, just as Lady Macbeth hectored Macbeth into killing Duncan.... Catherine de Medici gave the signal to ring a church bell to kill Coligny and his entourage. In the play, Macbeth orders a servant to have Lady Macbeth ring a bell when his drink is ready. When the bell rings, Macbeth... takes it to be a signal to kill King Duncan. ‘The bell invites me,’ he says. ‘Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell’.... The apparition of the eight kings in Macbeth is very similar to a report that Catherine de Medici, mother-in-law of Mary Queen of Scots, saw an apparition of future kings of France in a mirror.”14
Here again, it’s easy to see how the Coligny murder would have fascinated Oxford, and influenced his work, but it’s hard to see how the Stratford man, who was only three at the time of the Darnley murder and eight at the time of the Coligny murder, would have known the details of these crimes, and drawn inspiration from them for his own work. Thus, an understanding of the sources of Macbeth strengthens the case for Oxford, just as an understanding of the sources of The Tempest strengthens the case for Oxford.
Whoever wrote Macbeth had an intimate knowledge of Scotland, and this, too, strengthens the case for Oxford, since we know that Oxford spent several months in Scotland, but it’s unlikely that the Stratford man spent time in Scotland. “Arthur Clark is one of three Stratfordians who identified significant topical allusions in the play that could have been written only by someone who knew Scotland first-hand. These led him to conclude that Shakespeare — his man from Stratford — must have visited Scotland.”15 This reminds me of the argument (also put forth by Stratfordians) that Shakespeare had such an intimate knowledge of Venice that he must have been to Venice. Again, we know that Oxford was in Venice, while it’s unlikely that the Stratford man was.
One indication that the author of Macbeth had an intimate knowledge of Scotland is the weather: “The weather in Macbeth is typically Scottish. In Act I, Macbeth says to Banquo, ‘So fair and foul a day I have not seen,’ a gratuitous comment on Scotland’s rapidly changing weather compared to England’s. When King Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s castle at Inverness... he comments on the mild weather: ‘This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentle senses.’ Banquo agrees: ‘Heaven’s breath smells wooingly here. The air is delicate’.... Arthur Clark also notes that Inverness has an unusually mild ‘microclimate’ distinct from the rest of Scotland, and he also wonders how Shakespeare could have known about it without having visited Inverness.”16
Another indication that Shakespeare had an intimate knowledge of Scotland is a reference in Macbeth to “double trust”, a concept unique to Scottish law. “Macbeth says of Duncan: ‘He’s here in double trust: First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed; then as his host, who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself.’”17 The concept of “double trust” entered Scottish law “after the Macdonald clan killed eighty-six men of the McLean clan who had been invited to a banquet and entertainment.”18 According to this law, the killing of a nobleman who is your guest is treason, a more heinous crime than ordinary homicide.
“Other topical allusions in the play are subtle, but telling. For example, Ross says Scotland suffers greatly under Macbeth and ‘good men’s lives expire before the flowers in their caps.’ That is an allusion to the sprig of flower or plant that a Scotsman wore in his cap to identify his clan. In act five, Macbeth gets ready for battle and calls impatiently for his armor-bearer, named Seton. The legends of Macbeth do not mention any Setons, but adding him to the play was perfectly appropriate. Professor Wilson of the University of Edinburgh marveled that ‘somehow or other’ Shakespeare (of Stratford) learned that the Setons were the hereditary armor-bearers to the kings of Scotland. He goes on to suggest reluctantly that Shakespeare (of Stratford) must have visited Scotland — reluctantly, because there is no evidence for it, nor is it likely.”19
In earlier issues of Phlit, I’ve often discussed the shadow, the dark side of human nature. Since I’m interested in this subject, I wanted to read a book called Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, by Jung’s disciple, Marie-Louise von Franz. My interest in this book grew after I read Macbeth, since Macbeth is a study of evil.
Where does evil come from? Evil is often a reaction to some sort of mistreatment. Stalin, for example, was beaten by his father as a young child. Iago complains of being slighted by Othello — passed over for promotion. Ahab dedicated his life to vengeance and destruction after being maimed by Moby Dick.
Is evil always a reaction to mistreatment or insult? What about Macbeth? Macbeth doesn’t appear to suffer any mistreatment or insult. Could there be another source of evil, besides mistreatment or insult? And if so, does this second source fit the case of Macbeth? I hoped to find answers to these questions in von Franz’s book.
Von Franz quotes numerous fairy tales, from numerous cultures. One tale resembles Macbeth; it’s a South American Indian tale called “The Spear Legs.” It’s about two brothers who go hunting in the forest. They hear a noise, apparently a feast. The younger brother thinks it must be ghosts, the elder brother insists on investigating. They join the feast. The elder brother drinks deep, the younger is uneasy and thinks they’re among the Warekki, giant frogs who have assumed human form. Finally, the brothers leave the feast, and make a camp for the night. The elder brother begins to talk like one of the giant frogs, his legs come to resemble spears, he bosses his younger brother, and doesn’t allow him to leave their camp. The younger brother runs away, goes back to the village, tells the villagers what his brother is doing, and says his brother must be killed. The villagers accompany him back to the camp, and they kill the older brother.
Von Franz says that the giant frogs are responsible for the older brother’s transformation, they are “the real problem of evil.... they alter the human being in the form of possession.”20 Is Macbeth similarly possessed by the witches? Is possession a common cause of evil?
Von Franz tells us that ethnologists regard possession as “the greatest problem in primitive society. We psychologists believe that it is so in every society.... If you were to ask me what, in my experience, is the most terrible evil I know, I would say the phenomenon of possession. The worst thing one can meet, or which I have met in my life, is people who have been assimilated by these archetypes of evil power.”21
Was Macbeth such a person? It is right after meeting the witches that Macbeth utters what Knight calls “the crucial speech.... the birth of evil”:
why do I yield to that suggestion
How possession works is not clear to me; it’s easier for me to give examples of evil as a reaction to mistreatment than to give examples of evil as a result of possession. Are Possession and Reaction two different sources of evil, or do they overlap? If a person is mistreated or insulted, is he more likely to become possessed?
Perhaps another source of evil, in addition to Reaction and Possession, is Infection — an example of evil in our environment. “The wickedness of others,” said Jung, “becomes our own wickedness because it kindles something evil in our own hearts.”23 The attack on the World Trade Center seemed to inspire the Washington Sniper (who was full of admiration for that attack), and the Sniper himself seemed to inspire the Ohio Highway shootings (still unsolved). Police speak of “copycat” crimes. Perhaps the epidemic of suicide bombings by Palestinians is due to the power of example, the power of Infection. Just as violent crime is infectious, so too (according to von Franz) “suicide is infectious. In schools and colleges if there is one suicide there will be two or three more.”24
Von Franz says that when she began studying fairy tales, she wanted to find general rules of conduct, rules that were universally valid. She found, however, that one story’s moral was contradicted by another story; everything was contradicted by something else, nothing was universally valid.
Eventually, however, she discovered one rule that was never contradicted: “one must never hurt the helpful animal in fairy tales.... If you do not listen to the helpful animal or bird... if any animal gives you advice and you don’t follow it, then you are finished. In the hundreds and hundreds of stories that is the one rule which seems to have no exception.... This would mean that obedience to one’s most basic inner being, one’s instinctual inner being, is the one thing which is more essential than anything else.”25 The advice of the animals is various and contradictory, but one shouldn’t ignore that advice, one shouldn’t ignore the voice of one’s deepest self. As argued above, Macbeth ignored this voice, ignored the advice of his unconscious, ignored his feelings, and was ruined.
I find Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales highly interesting, just as I found von Franz’s study of the Grail Legend highly interesting. I’ve only read a small fraction of Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, but already I’ve found many provocative ideas. Before I conclude my remarks on this book, I must discuss one more section: von Franz’s experience in the mountains.
When I started reading Jung, more than twenty years ago, I was intrigued by his view that isolation and fasting led to spiritual wisdom. I vowed that someday I would go to a remote mountaintop and fast for three days, like the shamans and mystics of old, then return to civilization, enlightened.
Well, apparently I wasn’t the only reader whom Jung moved; von Franz, perhaps moved at the same age by the same paragraphs, made the same vow that I made. And unlike me, she carried out her vow. Here’s how she tells it: “Having read in Jung that the saints in the desert found that such isolation strengthened their conscious, I thought that I must try that out!.... I naturally tried it out in my youth, and so imprisoned myself in a hut in the mountains in the snow.”26
At first, she spent her time cooking (she vowed to isolate herself, but not to fast). But her spirit wasn’t soaring, so she decided to go further. She gave up cooking, ate simple food, and went to the village only at long intervals. But still her spirit didn’t take wing. So she gave up skiing (like Jung, she was Swiss, and at home on skis), and stayed in her hut, doing nothing except watching her dreams and fantasies. Time stood still, minutes became hours.
“If you introvert in this way,” von Franz writes, “as has been reported by people who strove for saintliness in the past, at first you will always be attacked by devils,” by negative fantasies. Such was the case with von Franz: she became obsessed with the fear of intruders. “That fantasy got me completely, and not seeing that it was just the thing I was looking for, I was absolutely panic stricken.... I couldn’t sleep.”27
The next morning, she decided to go home. But then she realized that the fantasy intruders were the devils that she had gone to the mountains to meet. “I sat down and at once I saw the burglar coming in. So I did what we call in Jungian terms an active imagination and felt absolutely fine! After that I stayed another fortnight and... did not even lock the door. I felt absolutely safe. But whenever such a thing came up I wrote it down and dealt with it in active imagination and then there was complete peace. I could have stayed weeks more without the slightest trouble.”28 (Perhaps you’re wondering what “active imagination” is. Von Franz defines active imagination as “a certain way of meditating imaginatively, by which one may deliberately enter into contact with the unconscious.... Active imagination is among the most important of Jung’s discoveries.”29)
Doubtless von Franz emerged from this experience stronger, she grew spiritually. She was better prepared for her work as a therapist, better prepared to help others deal with their fantasies and fears. She realized, however, that most people couldn’t endure what she had endured.
Don’t let me forget my vow. Write to me in ten years, and say, “have you forgotten your vow to go to the mountains, and wrestle with devils?”
|1.|| Shakespearean Tragedy, “Macbeth” back|
|2.|| Man and His Symbols, part 3, p. 211 of hardcover edition back|
|3.|| G. W. Knight, The Wheel of Fire, “Brutus and Macbeth” back|
|4.|| ibid back|
|5.|| Heine predicted that the forces found in German philosophy would someday “erupt and fill the world with terror and amazement,” and that, “a play will be performed which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.”(Heinrich Heine, Religion and Philosophy in Germany, “The Meaning of German Philosophy”) Some historians have already decided that it’s futile to look for causes; “the most essential aspects of an historical phenomenon,” wrote Huizinga, “will forever elude all our attempts to derive them from social, economic, political or intellectual causes. The historian, in the final analysis, rarely knows causes, and must base his opinions or conclusions on the known effects and circumstances.”(Dutch Civilization in the Seventeenth Century And Other Essays, “Dutch Civilization in the Seventeenth Century”, §1) back|
|6.|| “Shakespeare in Scotland: What did the author of Macbeth know and when did he know it?”, by Richard F. Whalen, The Oxfordian, 2003 back|
|7.|| ibid back|
|8.|| ibid back|
|9.|| ibid back|
|10.|| ibid back|
|11.|| ibid back|
|12.|| ibid back|
|13.|| ibid back|
|14.|| Ibid. We know that Oxford was familiar with the Coligny assassination; “he wrote to his father-in-law, William Cecil Lord Burghley, about his concern that a moderate like Admiral Coligny would be assassinated and that Burghley and Queen Elizabeth might be vulnerable to similar plots by papists.”(Whalen) back|
|15.|| ibid back|
|16.|| ibid back|
|17.|| ibid back|
|18.|| ibid back|
|19.|| ibid back|
|20.|| Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Part II, ch. 1, p. 127 back|
|21.|| ibid, p. 128 back|
|22.|| I, iii, 137. Knight’s remark can be found in The Wheel of Fire, “Macbeth and the Metaphysic of Evil,” p. 153 back|
|23.|| Civilization in Transition, (Collected Works, v. 10), “After the Catastrophe”, §408 back|
|24.|| Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Part II, ch. 2, p. 137 back|
|25.|| Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, Part II, ch. 1, p. 119, 120 back|
|26.|| ibid, ch. 2, p. 151 back|
|27.|| ibid, pp. 151, 152 back|
|28.|| ibid back|
|29.||Man and His Symbols, Part 3, p. 207 (of hardcover edition) back|