Macbeth and Manliness

Looking over the Macbeth essay for the 85,000th time, I cannot help but note that while I am very clear in alluding to the inversion of Christ through Malcolm, I am not clear on the tearing apart of Macbeth through different notions of love. (It should be noted that while I hold Lady Macbeth symbolizes love of ambition, and Lady Macduff love of security, and the latter’s death is placed right before Macbeth’s downfall begins in earnest, those “loves” need to be teased out of Macbeth’s speeches and actions.)

The general problem is driving me crazy, though, because it relies on a logic like this: the feudal order has a public good, but not all men can share in the highest goods of that public good. So they must be private. That tension creates Macbeth, makes him the primary defender of the order. But it also makes him the person who must destroy the order, for the public/private tension is manifest by the very thing which makes him successful. He must master Fortune by strength of Will if the Kingdom is to prevail, but doing so makes him a tyrant.

With that in mind, we can see how he moves to the private purely, and we can see the play throw away any sense there ever was a public. One has to read into the witches and into what England represents and the new notion of “grace” (which I have, I think, rightfully dismissed as not really being grace), but I think the case holds.

The specific trouble I’m having nowadays is with Hecate and the symbolism of what the witches brew, and their cryptic remarks at key moments. Does Macbeth know what he’s getting into? What is a nameless deed? It could be many deeds we do without bothering to think about, and it could also be any deed that could not be named because of the evil intrinsic to it. That conflation between “the many” and “evil” shows us that Macbeth’s nearly last lines aren’t merely those of arrogance: much, much worse is to come beyond his fall.

We live in a society now where, I would submit, it is impossible for men to be gentlemen. A male that likes poetry and overthinks things purposely is probably not considered a man, but something else, and a true gentleman would probably raise his eyebrows at that fact. Manhood is less, I think, under assault because of technology’s and democracy’s attack on the moral virtues, and more under assault because the groups conducting that attack do so unwittingly. Harvey Mansfield seems to want to indict feminism, and I don’t entirely disagree.

But I would rather indict all of us, because we all think we know what “manhood” means, and aren’t open to what men are, or what a gentle man could be at his best. I think that’s what one of my best teachers, Leo Paul S. de Alvarez, is alluding to when he says the solution to our ills involves a return to Aristotle. There is an intellectual openness that occurs with thinking through the issue of Nature, and being willing to be wrong for the sake of a greater (albeit always partial) truth. That openness is gone when all of us want to control just because without control, we don’t feel right.

I would submit to you that Macbeth is the last aristocrat, the last true noble, and that while the forces which undid him were neglected by the feudal age, our age, in reveling in those forces, does not give us something to rejoice in automatically.

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