WITCHES AND JESUITS: Shakespeare's Macbeth by Garry Wills

WITCHES AND JESUITS: Shakespeare's Macbeth

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The much celebrated master of nonfiction works his magic on Macbeth, using the ingredients of a mere monograph to conjure a vision of politics, theology, and theatrical practice in King James's England. Wills, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award for Lincoln at Gettysburg (1992), argues that Shakespeare's Macbeth should be understood in the context of the contemporaneous Gunpowder Plot of 1605. This attempt to blow up England's king and Parliament gripped the British imagination then much as the Red Menace and the assassinations of the 1960s dominated postwar American consciousness. Wills frames his examination of Macbeth with such parallels. The heart of his book, which grew out of lectures given at the New York Public Library, shows how the play bristles with the ideology prevalent in the Plot's aftermath, when King James and his spokesmen condemned the Jesuit-led rebellion using metaphors of witchcraft. Wills juxtaposes close readings of the play's language, imagery, and stage history with details of the Plot's representation in propaganda and popular culture. Shakespeare's famous witches take center stage as Wills shows how they draw the regicide Macbeth into their circle. Explicating Shakespeare's demonization of verbal ""equivocation,"" purported to be the Jesuitical method for dissembling in an unfriendly realm, Wills forges a new understanding of the play's second half. He justifies its attentions to the witch Hecate and to the Scottish prince Malcolm as crucial to Shakespeare's exploration of rituals of truth in demonology and kingship. Envisioning Macbeth as an integrated rhetorical presentation of a theological politics, Wills hopes, will enable us to once again find theatrical power in the whole play -- especially given the neat conjunction of England's 1605--06 crisis with our contemporary obsessions about plots and princes. Wills's latest essay portends a renewed Macbeth for the theater; his critical performance, meanwhile, manifests the power of literary criticism that is simultaneously scholarly and popular.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0195102908
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.