Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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Unfinished Business

While I wait for the latest blast of winter to start melting, I'll use the time to finish up some thoughts regarding my previous post regarding Macbeth.

As you may recall, I ended by asking the question: What the hell happened to Fleance? One of my friends was nice enough to do a little research via WIKIPEDIA and attempted to post a comment with his findings. For whatever reason, it never showed up. I then attempted to post the comment myself and it still didn't work. So, without further delay, here it is:

According to that unimpeachable bastion of scholarship, Wikipedia, Fleance survived - spirited away to England, I believe - and had a line of sons culminating in James I, the patron and monarch for whom Shakespeare had written this play. So Macbeth could be subtitled "The Unquestionable Validity of James I's Claim to the Throne."

What my friend neglected to mention is that, according to the Wikipedia entry, both Banquo and Fleance are probably fictional, but they did manage to make their way into some of the popular histories in and around Shakespeare's time.

The entry also mentions that some productions of Macbeth have Fleance returning at the end, usually with the army of Malcolm and Macduff. Malcolm still takes the crown, but the reappearance of Fleance offers some promise that the witches' prophecy will come true.

But, the original play does not end that way (When Banquo is murdered, Fleance flees, never to be heard from again) and, if I recall correctly, the scene he has with Banquo at the start of Act II was cut from BTE's shortened production, so his role in the story as a whole was minimized even further. No great loss, I say.

(Finishing up unfinished business at 10:40pm, Sunday, February 6)

One other thing I feel I should mention concerns my reading of Macbeth as an exploration of the Art vs. Nature theme that shows up so frequently in Shakespeare's plays. In the previous post, I pointed out several examples of how art (i.e. the witches' prophecies) led Macbeth to go against his natural instincts to honor Duncan as king and, instead, set out on a murderous campaign.

I think it could be argued that Banquo shared these thoughts. After encountering the witches, he agrees to talk to Macbeth about their prophecies when they have a chance. A short time later, he says to Fleance:

"A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,
And yet I would not sleep. Merciful powers
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
Gives way to in repose." (II, i, 6-9)

Whether Banquo would have conspired with Macbeth or tried to talk him out of killing Duncan, we'll never know. Macbeth had him killed before they ever had their big talk.

Anyway, one instance of "art" that I omitted in the earlier post is the part where Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, as foretold by the witches. Surely a moving forest is unnatural. It's also a clever bit of trickery to conceal the true number of Malcolm's forces. But, in this case, the "art of disguise" serves as a means to restore the natural order, which is Malcolm on the throne. So, art used for noble purposes succeeds, where art used for evil is, ultimately, doomed to fail.  

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