A Response to Macbeth and the Rituals of Tragedy

In both Macbeth and Romeo ND Juliet, the demise of the namesake protagonists is prelude in the early parts of the play. In Romeo and Juliet, the audience Is made aware that the two will die by the chorus In the prologue – the relationship Is called a “death-marked love” – 1 and this Is done similarly In Macbeth with an apparently saying he would be conquered under certain circumstances – the apparition states, “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birdman Wood to high Adenosine Hill Shall come against him”. The tragic genre complicates the ritual of death by laying out a perceived path of success for he protagonists – e. G. Romeo and Juliet to get married, and Macbeth to remain king – which finally leads to their death and therefore provides a prelude to death. The tragedy genre also complicates the space of death due to the nature of the plays – the nature of the plays are so to entertain and this is done through tools such as irony and paradoxes that complicate the space of death, amongst other things.
The spaces in which the protagonists die have significant relevance to their development as characters throughout the play. The key characteristic of a Shakespearian tragedy Is death. Coupled with the contrasting story line to the comedies – comedies have an ascending story line, usually ending in marriage, whilst tragedies have a descending story line, usually ending in death – it (death) is the key component that sets the two apart. The tragic genre complicates this ritual through the core fact of it being a genre of stage performance – which by definition, exists to entertain audiences.
This paper adopts the view that similarly as Shakespearian comedies reach their crescendo through a marriage, that tragedies reach their crescendo through the death of the/a main hereafter(s). Therefore, just as comedies centre around two lovers trying their utmost to get married – In a Midsummer Night’s Dream Lessened and Hermit fled Athens in order to get married – tragedies centre around a protagonist (or protagonists) who try equally as hard to attain that which will never be theirs – Macbeth trying to remain king of Scotland and Romeo and Juliet to get married.

Thus, this plot development utilized by Shakespeare must use death in as many ways as is conceivable in order Macbeth to die of a heart attack in the third act. With regards to death being such an integral part of tragedies, A. C. Bradley remarked, “It is remarkable that almost all the scenes which at once recur to memory take place either at night or in some dark spot”. 3 The complication of death in Macbeth is thus two-fold. Death is built up to be something dark throughout the play, a menacing enigma. However Machete’s death brings hope and light, thus contrasting the darkness.
This is evident after he is killed when Macadam exclaims, “Behold where stands the usurper’s cursed head. The time is free”. 4 This implicates not only death but also the play as a whole. Previous deaths in the play, such as that of King Duncan and Banquet, were done for reasons of self-gain and self- preservation respectively on behalf of Macbeth. However Machete’s death was done for the betterment of the kingdom of Scotland. This complicates the ritual of death in the context of the play by providing it with another dimension.
As Bradley remarked, the play in general is dark and the deaths preceding Machete’s were dark, by virtue of the already-mentioned reasons behind them. This creates a ritual – a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed – 5 of death for the play and therefore the killing of Macbeth, which has been established as not being dark as it ushered out his tyrannical rule, complicates that ritual. This complication relates to the point raised in paragraph two, whereby it can be seen that the complication itself exists for the improvement of the play as a spectacle.
For example, Macbeth might have been murdered by his wife so that she may gain power, instead of by Macadam to restore order. This complication of the ritual of death is also evident in Romeo and Juliet whereby he deaths prior to Romeo and Gullet’s come as a result of the feud between the Montague and the Capsules. Romeo and Gullet’s death does not come out of that feud but out of love for each other. This was similarly the case in Macbeth, as his death came not out of self-gain or self-preservation, but out of necessity for the kingdom of Scotland.
Their death (Romeo and Juliet) ultimately stops the rivalry between the two families, as Machete’s death stopped the war and his rule. In both instances, we see the final death in a contrasting light to preceding deaths, with an equally contrasting effect. Naturally, the role of Shakespeare as the author is significant as the protagonists themselves shaped their deaths in both Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. Not only did they create the figurative space which allowed for them to die, but also the literal space where they died was of their own creation.
Shakespearean role in this could be more direct than it initially appears. It draws substantially from the context of the period and place, when and where his plays were originally performed. Romeo and Juliet was first stages at the Theatre’, which was in an area described as being, “less object to London Jurisdictions”, 6 and this therefore allowed for Shakespearean creativity to blossom – Shakespeare later moved to the Globe, in an area described as a “fairly lawless environment”. Shakespeare staging his plays away from the gaze of effort and this has been translated into the tragic genre. In Macbeth, Macbeth seems to go increasingly further out of his realm of what is acceptable and what is not and his actions appear Juxtaposed to his character – this is evident in his internal struggle to kill King Duncan, “We will proceed no further in this business/ He hath moored me of late”. 8 One could perceive this as Macbeth leaving the Jurisdiction of his former self into one that is more, for want of a better word, evil.
One sees Macbeth becoming increasingly lawless and does things regardless of authority – the fact that he is king does not mean that he should not respect other forms authority. In this regard, Macbeth – as well as Romeo and Juliet, who do so more directly – creates his own space of death, contrasting to the deaths preceding his own e. G. King Duncan was murdered in his bed. Contrasting this, Macbeth actively creates the environment he finds himself in when he loses his life by virtue of wanting to remain king.
This is also seen in Romeo and Juliet whereby the love of both main characters sees them willingly choose to meet in the Capsule tomb, which has significance as two youths from both families lost their lives prematurely in a place in existence in order to remember the dead – the death of Romeo and Juliet however, is something both families would rather forget (and this ultimately sees the feud come to an end). This complicates the space of death, for we are lead to believe n both plays that death does not have a set space. However in both plays, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet set their space of death up on their own accord.
These instances are when Macbeth, along with his wife, decides to kill King Duncan and when Romeo and Juliet decide to run away. In conclusion, it can be seen from the points raised that the ritual of death is complicated through Shakespearean insertion of the final, perhaps most important death at the end of his tragedies. This final death is contrasted to the deaths that precede it through factors such as motive, repercussions and space. The issue of space and its complication draws its roots from the actual staging of Shakespearean plays on the outskirts of London, where the law had less influence.
Figurative comparisons can be drawn from this as one could relate Shakespearean willingness to be away from or above the law to the protagonists in the two plays. What is wholly evident though, is that similarly with death, the notion of space does not remain constant throughout the play. Macbeth, who can be considered the false king, being killed in the castle whereas King Duncan, the true and original king, being killed in he bed of another man raises the issue of space and how Macbeth created his own and King Duncan did not.

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