Macbeth (Folger Shakespeare Library)
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In 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne, becoming James I of England. London was alive with an interest in all things Scottish, and Shakespeare turned to Scottish history for material. He found a spectacle of violence and stories of traitors advised by witches and wizards, echoing James’s belief in a connection between treason and witchcraft.
In depicting a man who murders to become king, Macbeth teases us with huge questions. Is Macbeth tempted by fate, or by his or his wife’s ambition? Why does their success turn to ashes?
Like other plays, Macbeth speaks to each generation. Its story was once seen as that of a hero who commits an evil act and pays an enormous price. Recently, it has been applied to nations that overreach themselves and to modern alienation. The line is blurred between Macbeth’s evil and his opponents’ good, and there are new attitudes toward both witchcraft and gender.
The authoritative edition of Macbeth from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Newly revised explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An up-to-date annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Susan Snyder
The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.
of nature’s/the world’s 91 one who has no right 92 healthy,disease free 93 most legitimate, lawful 94 authoritative prohibition/declaration 95 parentage, lineage 96 (i.e., in prayer) 131 act 4 • scene 3 Died every day she lived.97 Fare thee well. These evils thou repeat’st98 upon99 thyself Have banished me from Scotland. O my breast, Thy hope ends here. Malcolm Macduff, this noble passion,100 115 Child of integrity, hath from my soul Wiped the black scruples, reconciled my
follow him 139 blessing, divine grace 140 together with 141 miraculous power 142 declarations of divine favor 143 declare 144 (Ross is identified by his costume; we do not know exactly what, at the time, this meant) 145 know him not = cannot recognize/identify him 146 intervening force/agency (i.e., Macbeth) 147 no one 148 ever, at any time* 149 but not noticed 135 act 4 • scene 3 170 A modern ecstasy.150 The dead man’s knell Is there scarce asked for who, and good men’s lives
trivial/insignificant rate of movement 17 bit, trace, hint 18 remembered 19 to the LAST SYLlable OF reCORDed TIME 20 brief candle = quickly burned out (“life”) 21 out OUT brief CANdle 22 walking shadow = wandering/vagrant delusive/unreal image/phantom 23 poor player = worthless/insignificant actor 24 who 25 wastes, wears away 26 frenzy, maddened passion/anger 27 meaning 156 act 5 • scene 5 enter a Messenger Thou comest to use thy tongue. Thy story quickly! Messenger Gracious my
to an unknown fear.” My own experience of the play is that we rightly react to it with terror, even as we respond to Hamlet with wonder.Whatever Macbeth does otherwise, it certainly does not offer us a catharsis for the terrors it evokes. Since we are compelled to internalize Macbeth, the “unknown fear” finally is of ourselves. If we submit to it—and Shakespeare gives us little choice—then we follow Macbeth into a nihilism very different from the abyss-voyages of Iago and of Edmund. They are
familiar with the modern meaning of particular words will easily find clear, simple definitions in any modern dictionary. But most readers are not likely to understand Shakespeare’s intended meaning, absent such glosses as I here offer. My annotation practices have followed the same principles used in The Annotated Milton, published in 1999, and in my annotated editions of Hamlet, published (as the initial volume in this series) in 2003, and Romeo and Juliet (published in 2004). Class-room