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Read of the Week: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Written by The Reader, 3rd May 2017

Our West London Coordinator, Rosie has the reigns this week and she's celebrating her love of Shakespeare's Scottish play, Macbeth.

Before working at The Reader I hadn’t read any Shakespeare since a bad brush with The Taming of the Shrew in secondary school. Coming to Macbeth for the first time I knew about the witches: double, double toil and trouble: fire, burn; and, cauldron bubble and I knew how it would end (spoiler alert: everyone dies), but when reading it, and reading it aloud, what drew me in was what happens in between the witches and the inevitable ending. I discovered a play about the power of the human mind. It is not the witches and their prophecy, but Macbeth and Lady’s Macbeth’s belief in it which draws Macbeth to his doom, and drags in everyone else along the way. After the witches have prophesied that Macbeth will be King, his immediate thought is of murdering his friend the present King, and that thought terrifies him:

“why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair,

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

Against the use of nature? Present fears

Are less than horrible imaginings.

My thought, whose murther yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state o man,

That function is smother’d in surmise,

And nothing is, but what is not.”

It takes a bit of practice to get used to reading Shakespeare, but I know the sensations of the heart knock at my ribs, and both present fears and horrible imaginings, and here Macbeth tell us that even though these have not yet happened, they are already so real. His thoughts are shaking his very being.

What is terrible for Macbeth is not only that he has these terrifying thoughts, but how quickly they take him over and are transformed into action. For me to read this is partly terrifying, but also feels true, to acknowledge the power of our own thoughts and the routes they can lead us down. When we’re reading aloud we can feel those things with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, but reading can also give us the space in our minds to think, which they don’t have.

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