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Witches and Jesuits : Shakespeare's Macbeth

Author: Garry Wills
Publisher: New York : New York Public Library ; New York ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1995.
Edition/Format:   Print book : EnglishView all editions and formats
Summary:
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1993 book Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills showed how the Gettysburg Address revolutionized the conception of modern America. In Witches and Jesuits, Wills again focuses on a single document to open up a window on an entire society. He begins with a simple question: If Macbeth is such a great tragedy, why do performances of it so often fail? The stage history of Macbeth has created a  Read more...
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Genre/Form: History
Tragedies
Additional Physical Format: Online version:
Wills, Garry, 1934-
Witches and Jesuits.
New York : New York Public Library ; New York ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1995
(OCoLC)624751164
Named Person: William Shakespeare; Macbeth, King of Scotland; William Shakespeare; Macbeth, King of Scotland; William Shakespeare; William (1564-1616) Shakespeare; William Shakespeare; Macbeth, King of Scotland
Material Type: Internet resource
Document Type: Book, Internet Resource
All Authors / Contributors: Garry Wills
ISBN: 0195088794 9780195088793
OCLC Number: 30076765
Notes: Based on a series of lectures.
Description: ix, 223 pages ; 22 cm
Contents: Introduction: The Trouble with Macbeth --
1. Gunpowder --
2. Witches --
3. Male Witch --
4. Lady Macbeth --
5. Jesuits --
6. Malcolm --
7. Macbeth --
Conclusion: The Test of Performance --
Appendix I: Date of the Play --
Appendix II: Text of the Play.
Responsibility: Garry Wills.
More information:

Abstract:

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1993 book Lincoln at Gettysburg, Garry Wills showed how the Gettysburg Address revolutionized the conception of modern America. In Witches and Jesuits, Wills again focuses on a single document to open up a window on an entire society. He begins with a simple question: If Macbeth is such a great tragedy, why do performances of it so often fail? The stage history of Macbeth has created a legendary curse on the drama. Superstitious actors try to evade the curse by referring to Macbeth only as "the Scottish play," but production after production continues to soar in its opening scenes, only to sputter towards anticlimax in the later acts. By critical consensus there seems to have been only one entirely successful modern performance of the play, Laurence Olivier's in 1955. Drawing on his intimate knowledge of the vivid intrigue and drama of Jacobean England, Wills restores Macbeth's suspenseful tension by returning it to the context of its own time, recreating the burning theological and political crises of Shakespeare's era. He reveals how deeply Macbeth's original 1606 audiences would have been affected by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when a small cell of plotters came within a hairbreadth of successfully blowing up not only the King, but the Prince his heir, and all members of the court and Parliament. Wills likens their shock to that endured by Americans following Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination. Furthermore, Wills documents, the Jesuits were widely believed to be behind the Plot, acting in conjunction with the Devil, and so pervasive was the fear of witches that just two years before Macbeth's first performance, King James I added to the witchcraft laws a decree of death for those who procured "the skin, bone, or any other part of any dead person - to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment." We see that the treason and necromancy in Macbeth were more than the imaginings of a gifted playwright - they were dramatizations of very real and potent threats to the realm. In this new light, Macbeth is transformed. Wills presents a drama that is more than a well-scripted story of a murderer getting his just penalty. It is the struggle for the soul of a nation. The death of a King becomes a truly apocalyptic event, and Malcolm, the slain King's son, attains the status of a man defying cosmic evil. The guilt of Lady Macbeth takes on the Faustian aspect of one who has singed her hands in hell. The witches on the heath, shrugged off as mere symbols of Macbeth's inner guilt and ambition by some interpreters, emerge as independent agents of the occult with their own (or their Master's) terrifying agenda. Restoring the theological politics and supernatural elements that modern directors have shied away from, Wills points the way towards a Macbeth that will finally escape the theatrical curse on "the Scottish play." Rich in insight and a joy to read, Witches and Jesuits is a tour de force of scholarship and imagination by one of our foremost writers, essential reading for anyone who loves the language.

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