Wednesday, 2 May 2012

'Sleep no more: the dark side of Macbeth'

"Double, double, toil and trouble,
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble!
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron, boil and bake..."


Professor Willy Maley
As you sit there cackling along to the incantation, allow me to draw your attention to further Shakespeare delights. Providing a taste of the subject he will be addressing at the Spectral Visions conference on June 26th, Professor Willy Maley (University of Glasgow) shares some thoughts on Macbeth, discussing both its  Gothic and Scottish elements:


Do you think that there is a tradition of Scottish Gothic as distinct from an English tradition?
WM: I think there is a distinctive Scottish Gothic as well as a distinctive Irish Gothic, and colonialism and religion are among the markers that set them apart.

Despite the fact that Macbeth is a sixteenth-century text, and Gothic is generally accepted as a nineteenth-century genre, is there anything about Macbeth we can label Gothic?
WM: I don't know if Gothic is generally accepted as anything other than a highly contested category with very deep roots. Attempts to historicize it may fail to grasp its transhistorical nature.
Terry Eagleton describes the witches as the heroines of the piece. What's your opinion of this?
WM: Terry Eagleton is an old hero of mine, but I think he's better on the Brontes than the Bard.

Would you say Macbeth deserves the description of 'butcher' and Lady Macbeth 'fiend like'?
WM: Butchery is in the eye of the beholder. Macbeth is a hero when he butchers for the state, and a villain when he kills the king. Fiendishness likewise. Lady Macbeth has a conscience in the end. I'm still searching for Tony Blair's.

Do you think the Celtic provenance of the story has any importance to our understanding of it?
 WM: Yes, and that 'Celtic provenance' has Irish and Welsh analogues too. I think calling it the 'Scottish play' has been a piece of stage superstition rather than an invitation to think seriously about its national contexts – in the plural. The Scottish context matters and has to be taken into account. That is annoying for formalists and for Anglocentrists. That's a wee shame.

Dr Alison Younger
Programme leader for MA English, and
Spectral Visions' chief Fallen Angel.
Photographer: David Newton

Why do you think Shakespeare changes the ‘historical’ Macbeth from a ‘good’ king according to the stands of his time, into an evil, usurping regicide?
WM: Does he? I like the readings by critics like Alan Sinfield, Jonathan Goldberg and David Norbrook that find a more complex character and a republican undertow. 

In your opinion, would you say that Macbeth provides a greater experience when read as a script, viewed on stage, or watched on screen? Do you find this to be typical of all of Shakespeare's plays, or are there elements of Macbeth which allows it to work better in one format over the others?
WM: I like reading texts, but every reading or performance is an interpretation so it depends on the context. I saw a performance in Washington in 1995 with key roles played by black actors that made me think about the play in a different way – suddenly the Scots language allusion  to a cream-faced loon stood out in stark relief – so particular productions can bring new elements to the fore.

 How much does Macbeth add to the genre of the Gothic? What impact would you say it has had on literature in the more recent years?
WM: It's a big bloody brooding bird of prey in the background so I'm sure it feeds into and feeds on what's darkest and richest in the Gothic.

Is Gothic symptomatic of a given society's anxieties of the Jacobean period?
WM: It can be to some extent about the hauntings and unhingings – the out-of-jointness - that come with dramatic change, yes.

Why should students attend Spectral Visions? What do you think they will get out of it?
WM: Spectral Visions are the only ones worth having. The rest is zombification.

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Click here to find out more about the Spectral Visions conference on 26th June. Places are limited, so make sure you email Colin Younger on colin.younger@sunderland.ac.uk to secure your place today!

Photographer: David Newton