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Macbeth (Penguin Shakespeare) [Mass Market Paperback]

William Shakespeare , Carol Rutter
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Book Description

7 April 2005 Penguin Shakespeare

Referred to by superstitious actors as 'the Scottish play', William Shakespeare's Macbeth is a tragedy whose appalling earthly crimes have lasting supernatural repercussions. This Penguin Shakespeare edition is edited by George Hunter with an introduction by Carol Rutter.

'By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes'

Promised a golden future as ruler of Scotland by three sinister witches, and spurred on by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan to ensure his ambitions come true. But he soon learns the meaning of terror - killing once, he must kill again and again, and the dead return to haunt him. A story of war, witchcraft and bloodshed, Macbeth also depicts the relationship between husbands and wives, and the risks they are prepared to take to achieve their desires.

This book contains a general introduction to Shakespeare's life and Elizabethan theatre, a separate introduction to Macbeth, a chronology, suggestions for further reading, an essay discussing performance options on both stage and screen, and a commentary.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden some time in late April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. He wrote about 38 plays (the precise number is uncertain), many of which are regarded as the most exceptional works of drama ever produced, including Romeo and Juliet (1595), Henry V (1599), Hamlet (1601), Othello (1604), King Lear (1606) and Macbeth (1606), as well as a collection of 154 sonnets, which number among the most profound and influential love-poetry in English.

If you enjoyed Macbeth, you might like Hamlet, also available in Penguin Shakespeare.

'Shakespeare - the nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God'

Lawrence Olivier

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (7 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141013699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141013695
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 11.4 x 18.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 91,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's preeminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire and was baptised on 26 April 1564. Thought to have been educated at the local grammar school, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he went on to have three children, at the age of eighteen, before moving to London to work in the theatre. Two erotic poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were published in 1593 and 1594 and records of his plays begin to appear in 1594 for Richard III and the three parts of Henry VI. Shakespeare's tragic period lasted from around 1600 to 1608, during which period he wrote plays including Hamlet and Othello. The first editions of the sonnets were published in 1609 but evidence suggests that Shakespeare had been writing them for years for a private readership.

Shakespeare spent the last five years of his life in Stratford, by now a wealthy man. He died on 23 April 1616 and was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. The first collected edition of his works was published in 1623.

(The portrait details: The Chandos portrait, artist and authenticity unconfirmed. NPG1, © National Portrait Gallery, London)

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About the Author

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born to John Shakespeare and mother Mary Arden some time in late April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. He wrote about 38 plays (the precise number is uncertain), a collection of sonnets and a variety of other poems.

Stanley Wells is Emeritus Professor of the University of Birmingham and Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Carol Rutter teaches English And Comparative Literature and is Co-Director of Graduate Studies at the Centre for Renaissance Studies at Warwick University. Her publications include Enter the Body: Women and Representation on Shakespeare's Stage and Documents of the Rose Playhouse (MUP, 1999).

George K Hunter is Emily Sanford Professor of English Emeritus at Yale University. His books include John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier, Dramatic Identities and Cultural Tradition, English Drama 1586-1642: the Age of Shakespeare (Oxford History of English Literature Vol.6).

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars try to avoid... 31 July 2013
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
paying almost retail price for a used copy. please do listen to me and the previous comment. this book came in a plastic seal, but it doesn't cover up the fact that it's a used copy.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars used copy of play 21 Jan 2012
By leanne
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The condition was worse than i thought. the actual play section had sentences and drawings all over. Overall i wasnt fully satisfied and now have to buy another copy as the mess left on the pages of the current copy is too distracting. i thought it would be every so often an odd word or highlighted area would be on a page but this was almost on every page.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let not light see my black and deep desires 24 Aug 2010
By E. A Solinas - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
In the theater, people apparently don't call Shakespeare's "Macbeth" by its actual name -- it's usually called "MacB" or "The Scottish Play." The dark superstitions that hover around this play really show its power: it's a harrowing portrait of a weak man who spirals into a personal hell of ambition, murder and madness.

Shortly after a victory in battle, Macbeth and his friend Banquo are traveling home across a heath when they encounter three witches -- who greet him with "All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king hereafter!"

When MacBeth is made Thane of Cawdor, he naturally begins to think that being king might be next in line. And when King Duncan visits his castle, Lady MacBeth goads her husband into murdering the king and framing a couple of innocent servants for the deed. As the witches predicted, MacBeth becomes king of Scotland.

But the witches also prophesied that Banquo would be the father of kings, so MacBeth starts tying off loose ends by hiring assassins to kill Banquo and his young son, as well as a wily thane named MacDuff and all of his family. But though MacBeth believes himself to be safe from everyone, his fear begins to grow as madness and guilt torment him and his wife...

One of the most fascinating things about "Macbeth" is how evil it is -- mass murder, insanity, bloody ghosts, a trio of manipulative witches pulling MacBeth's strings, and a nice if weak man who becomes a raving murderous paranoiac. Shakespeare starts the story on a dark note, and it gets darker and bloodier as the story winds on to its bleak climax.

In fact, the entire story is a two-part spiral -- things get tighter and more intense, even as MacBeth and Lady M. get crazier and more violent. Shakespeare litters the story with brutally intense scenes (Banquo's ghost crashing the dinner, Lady M. trying to scrub her hands clean) and powerful dialogue ("Shake off this downy sleep, death's counterfeit,/And look on death itself! up, up, and see/The great doom's image!").

The one flaw: Shakespeare's handling of the "no man born of woman" prediction is a bit lame. I mean, didn't that count as "born" back in Elizabethan times too?

Honestly, MacBeth is both a fascinating and repulsive character. He starts off as a nice ordinary thane with no particular ambition, but his weakness and his wife drive him to some pretty horrible acts. Before long, he's become somebody you desperately want to see diced into little pieces. And Lady Macbeth is little better, although there's a slight disparity between her ruthless ambition and her later insanity.

"MacBeth" is a story filled with stormy darkness and all-consuming fire -- a powerful depiction of evil and how easily we can be seduced. Just don't say its name in the theater.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, brooding, bloody, horrifying, haunting 7 Nov 2012
By Alexander Arsov - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback

The Characters in the Play

Duncan, King of Scotland
Malcolm, Donalbain: his sons
Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, later of Cawdor, later King of Scotland
Banquo, Macduff, Lennox, Ross, Menteth, Angus, Cathness: Thanes of Scotland
Fleance, Banquo's son
Seyward, Earl of Northumberland
Young Seyward, his son
Seyton, Macbeth's armour-bearer
Son of Macduff
Lady Macbeth
Wife of Macduff

A Captain, An English Doctor, A Scottish Doctor, A Porter, An Old Man, Gentlewoman attendant on Lady Macbeth, Three Weird Sisters, Three Other Witches, Hecat, Apparitions, Three Murderers, Other Murderers, Lords, Gentlemen, Officers, Soldiers, Attendants, Messengers


"Macbeth" is not really a play. It's a screenplay. It should not be staged at all. It should be filmed. For one thing, it is full of supernatural elements (witches, ghosts, apparitions) that modern cinema can explore in a truly magnificent way. For another, its 23 scenes and (about) 2100 lines are superbly organized to provide an action story with many exciting moments; many of the scenes, indeed, are so short that resemble movie stills. The whole play can be turned into a script with minimal cutting and re-arranging. Of course the cast and the director must be first-class. I am dismayed to note how few notable movie versions of Macbeth there are.

I often hear "Macbeth" described as Shakespeare's darkest play and now I see why. There is some relentless grimness that pervades the whole work. Coleridge was perfectly right that the opening scene, full of witches and thunder, serves only one purpose and this is to set the atmosphere of the whole play. Even the stage directions are often disturbing: ''Enter Ghost'', ''Enter Murderers''. Yes, it's a bloody play, too, with four murders on the stage (Macbeth, Macduff's son, Banquo, Seyward's son) and nobody knows how many offstage but at least five are referred to in the text (Duncan, his two servants, Macduff's wife, Lady Macbeth). The only comic relief in the whole play is the lively prose of the talkative Porter in the beginning of II.3. He is a welcome relief, indeed, and he has some amusing reflections about the momentous effects of alcohol:

"Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance: therefore much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to: in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and giving him the lie, leaves him."

Despite its tight organization, the play may well survive some cuts, indeed it would benefit from them. The scene with Hecate's tedious song (III.5.) is so completely unnecessary that it must have been either a later interpolation or a deliberate catering to the taste of King James. Pretty much the same is true for the pastiche in the beginning of the scene with the visions (IV.1.); apparently the King was nuts about witches. The only other episode which seems to me unduly extended is the conversation between Malcolm and Macduff (IV.3.). Who cares about these fellows? They are not characters. They are stage conventions.

This is true for all characters except the Macbeths. And, of course, it should be expected. To depict a character in drama is hard enough. To depict two, and their whole degradation, in mere 2000 lines is a towering achievement. The Macbeths, apart from their deeds, are very likeable couple. They share everything, including their ultimate fate, and support each other with all possible means. Two things fascinate me about them: the fluctuations in their relationship and the different ways by which they end their single journeys in this world.

In the beginning Lady Macbeth takes the upper hand. It is she, after receiving the faithful letter from her husband, who plans Duncan's assassination with meticulous care. In her first soliloquy (I.5.13-27), unusually clumsy and repetitive one, she makes an accurate diagnosis of her Macbeth's weakness: ''yet do I fear thy nature; / It is too full o' the milk of human kindness''. Two scenes later she scolds him - very perceptively - for his pusillanimity: ''Art thou afeard / To be the same in thine own act and valour / As thou art in desire?'' (I.7.39-41.). The Lady's second soliloquy is justly famous. And very scary:

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it. Come to my woman's breasts
And take my mill for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever, in your sightless substances,
You wait on nature's mischief. Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
To cry, 'Hold, Hold!'

The witches are cheerful and harmless creatures by comparison. Yet it must be mentioned that the Lady is pretty disingenuous here. She masterminds everything, that's true, but she commits no murder herself. So she needn't have worried about ''my keen knife see not the wound it makes''. Nevertheless, after the murder she acts coolly and with remarkable composure, much unlike Macbeth's distress. (Even his condition, however, is nothing like ''ecstasy of moral hysteria'', as idiotically described by the editor; Macbeth is horrified more on physical grounds, I think, rather than on moral ones.) When he refuses to go back and leave the bloody daggers where they should be, the Lady shows her ''undaunted mettle'':

Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures. 'Tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal,
For it must seem their guilt.

Much has been made of the pun here, how inappropriate to the situation is and so on. The editor here supplies a much more interesting insight, quoting one Cleanth Brooks; for Lady Macbeth ''guilt is something like gilt - one can wash it off or paint it on.'' If I may add, the pun fits superbly the Lady's famous Sleepwalking Scene (V.1.) where she tried, pathetically and unsuccessfully, to wash the imaginary blood from her hands - and the guilt from her already deranged mind.

With the progress of the play, the condition of Lady Macbeth steadily deteriorates. She discovers that ambition taken to extremes becomes self-destructive. There is a short soliloquy in the beginning of III.2. which eloquently conveys her anxiety. It's in sharp contrast with Macbeth's overbearing and over-confident, indeed arrogant, attitude as King of Scotland. But his wife knows better:

Nought's had, all's spent,
Where our desire is got without content.
'Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.

Nevertheless, the Lady still stands by her husband. In the chilling scene with Banquo's ghost (III.4.), a weird mixture of comedy and tragedy, she takes the comical part by trying to convince the guests that her husband regularly behaves like that. Apparently the royal family could get away with it. But the Lady continues to be haunted by the bloody deed they had committed. By the time of the Sleepwalking Scene (V.1.) she is completely mad; in the next scene she commits suicide offstage. Her incoherent ramblings are not easy to forget:

Out, damned spot! Out, I say! - One: two: why then, 'tis time to do't. - Hell is murky! - Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier and afeard? - What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to accompt? - Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?

Both Macbeths finally lose their grip of reality, which is of course prerequisite of madness, but the truly amazing thing is the different ways by which they do that. While Lady Macbeth is haunted by bloody memories, Macbeth himself is obsessed by completely irrational visions of a glorious future. Naturally, he doesn't commit suicide. Yet in the end of the play, though driven by different forces than his wife, he becomes mad, too.

In the beginning Macbeth is timid and refuses to take seriously his wife's dark plans. ''We will speak further'' (I.5.69), he evades the matter. Later he brings some objections, but note that these deal, not with pangs of conscience, but with the danger of failure: ''If we should fail?'' (I.7.59). Lady Macbeth has, of course, no problem demolishing such weak arguments. Despite further hesitations in his famous ''Dagger Monologue'' (II.1.33-64.), Macbeth finally cuts Duncan's throat.

Macbeth's crime is aggravated by a number of circumstances. Firstly, Duncan appears to be a good king, so any ideas of saving Scotland from tyranny are out of the question. Secondly, it is perfectly clear that the King actually regards Macbeth with great respect, even affection. Thirdly, Duncan is a guest of honour in Macbeth's house; a double-edged circumstance, this one, though probably more in the host's disfavour. Fourthly, as soon as the body is discovered (III.3.), Macbeth kills the two servants who were found with the bloody daggers and were thus suspected to be the murderers. Thus he creates immediate suspicions, as clearly reflected in Macduff's brusque question ''Wherefore did you so?'' (II.3.4). Macbeth replies with a passage of hollow rhetoric to which even the Lady's brilliant fainting (surely deliberate simulation) cannot attach much veracity, nor dispel the rising suspicions.

Those suspicions are the beginning of Macbeth's end. As every usurper, he discovers that, if not your conscience (which doesn't bother him in the least), the constant fear of being overthrown will finally take its toll. This leads to the murders of Banquo (III.3.) and the family of Macduff (IV.2.); the latter manages to escape in England where he joins forces with Malcolm. Macbeth's insecurity on the throne may be at least partly responsible for his despotic rule of the country, something that's made abundantly clear by the short III.6.

Banquo is a somewhat superfluous character, but Shakespeare has made a marvellously effective use of him. He accompanies Macbeth from the very beginning with the Weird Sisters, so it stands to reason that he does suspect his ambition and the planned assassination; when Macbeth wishes him ''Good repose the while!'' in the fatal night, he replies (ironically?) ''Thanks, sir: the like to you'' (II.1.29-30). In addition to his highly effective ghost appearances, Banquo also has the honour to supply the most accurate description of the Witches. If only Macbeth had listened to it more carefully:

But 'tis strange;
And oftentimes to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths;
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's
In deepest consequence.

Macbeth's chief defect of character is, of course, the lust for power. It is typically insatiable: thane of Glamis is not enough, nor is thane of Cawdor. But there is another defect that shouldn't be neglected. This is Macbeth's superstitious nature. He keeps repeating, especially towards the end, the two most important prophesies of the witches: that the Birnam wood would never come to Dunsinane, and that no man that's born of woman shall kill him. This seems to ensure his invisibility. It never occurs to Macbeth that these lovely messages, if not exactly untrue (for the Weird Sisters cannot lie), may be highly misleading.

Macbeth's downfall is a terrifying spectacle. Already in III.2., soon after he has become king, the vastly changed attitude to his wife, so different than the warmth of the earlier acts, indicates that his mind is already profoundly disturbed. Thereafter the tension escalates violently: Banquo's ghost, the escape of Fleance, the news from England that Malcolm and Macduff prepare invasion. By the end of the play (V.3.), Macbeth is way out of his mind. He chants his superstitious with an air of supreme confidence, he insists of putting his armour long before it is necessary, he requests a psychiatrist to cure his wife. The last deviation is perhaps the most remarkable of all - and quite a few centuries premature:

Not so sick, my lord,
As she is troubled with thick coming fancies
That keep her from her rest.

Cure her of that.
Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?

Therein the patient
Must minister to himself.
[V.3.36-46, slight mislineation above.]

In this feverish condition, Macbeth often has striking flashes of lucidity. They are not only clad in some of the most gorgeous poetry in the whole play (perhaps in the whole of Shakespeare?), but they also offer a candid self-analysis of his present state of mind as well as a merciless summing-up of his life. It is in these moments that Macbeth becomes a real tragic character, and I understand many great people (Verdi, for one) described this play as one of the greatest tragedies ever written:

I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud, but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not.

I have almost forgot the taste of fears.
The time has been my senses would have cooled
To hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in't. I have supped full with horrors,
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,
Cannot once start me.

When he is informed that his wife is dead, Macbeth's answer is almost painfully poignant: ''She should have died hereafter. / There would have been a time for such a word.'' (V.3.17-8), which I take it to mean that had she died later, he could have mourned her. In his present condition he is no longer capable of that. This leads to his most famous soliloquy - ''Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow'' - which has become almost as well-known as Hamlet's ''To be, or not to be''. It is much shorter, but its power and beauty are undeniable:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

"Macbeth" is a mighty tragedy, no mistake about that. The fates of Macbeth and his Lady, so different yet so alike, are pathetic. But they are conveyed with such stunning force, with such pervasive spiritual desolation, that they never look tawdry or melodramatic. The completely ordinary conclusion, with Malcolm's indifferent speech, is a typical stroke of Shakespearean irony. (Cf. Horatio's final words in Hamlet.) Malcolm would doubtless make a much finer King of Scotland than Macbeth did. But about his rule only boring dramas can be written, never heartrending tragedies.

PS The above reflections refer to the edition of the text by G. K. Hunter, first pulbished in the New Penguin Shakespeare. It was later reprinted, together with his introduction, in the 1994 Penguin Classics edition titled Four Tragedies. The Penguin Shakespeare edition which is currently in print uses absolutely the same text; only the introduction and other additional essays are different.
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