After reading Macbeth in school, we were assigned to get together in groups of 3 and write our own mini-plays exploring a character. Thank goodness we could choose groups (friend 1, friend 2) because this project involved a) writing an analysis of the character b) writing a script (at least 75 lines in iambic pentameter, ours was about 150), and c) making a movie of your script. All in less than 2 weeks. Teachers are insane
Thankfully, my group got Macduff. For those who haven’t read the Scottish Play, Macduff is a Scottish lord who (rightly) suspects Macbeth of regicide and ends up killing him. So he’s a cool character. With a lot of potential.
Now the assignment told us to “explore” his character. That’s what my English teacher calls “nerdy teacher language.” A little bit more probing revealed that as long as we could back up anything we said about Macduff’s character with interpreted evidence of the text, we could do anything. So we could interpret the evidence any way we liked as long as long as we made a strong argument. Already allows us a lot of freedom. So we start brainstorming.
Has anyone ever seen “All About Eve”? Well our eventual idea has a lot of similarities to the cyclical quality of that brilliant movie. I noticed this after we had the idea and got really excited about it and my friends asked me what on earth I was talking about.
Anyway. Our basic idea was that Macduff would follow the same path as Macbeth. Think about it. It does fit. Or it could.
Macbeth becomes a hero in battle and receives the titles and lands of Cawdor, a traitor to Duncan, King of Scotland. Macbeth hears a prophecy that he will become king. It eats and eats away at him. It drives him to kill his own king (and a bunch of other people) and set himself up as a dreadful and paranoid tyrant. He is murdered by Macduff and Macduff becomes a hero.
Though Macbeth did not kill the traitor Cawdor, he does receive his title and gains his fame in battle around the same time. In the play, Cawdor’s only importance is that his titles are given to Macbeth, something which the witches prophecy to Macbeth before he knows of it, lending the prophecy believability. But the presence of traitor at the moment of Macbeth’s rise to heroism parallel’s Macduff’s case. Macduff who gains fame through the killing of the traitor Macbeth.
Really all we know of Macduff in the play is that he is insanely loyal to Scotland. Was not the same true of Macbeth prior to the prophecy? He that was so trusted by Duncan?
And so went our thinking. Macbeth and Macduff were at different stages in a progression from heroic loyalty to tyrannical treachery. In our mini-play we filled in the gaps of Macduff’s existence with his own prophecy (similar to Macbeth’s) that prophecied he would become king. Macduff declares his loyalty to Malcolm, but ponders the prophecy while he sleeps restless the night after killing Macbeth. Unable to sleep, he rises and still pondering the murder of Malcolm, has two visions, which purposefully mirror the hallucinations Macbeth had in the play, even (with our teacher’s permission) using some of the same lines. First he sees a group of lords around a table, Macbeth and Cawdor among them, and is beckoned to take a seat at the table among these traitors by a silent Malcolm, who casts his scepter at Macduff’s feet.
Macduff, of course, takes this as a sign that he should kill Malcolm and has the same dagger vision that Macbeth famously has.
And so, without further ado, Macduff:
MACDUFF Scene 1 Macduff riding to England. MACDUFF, to himself Scotland cries, yet her pleas go unanswered. Where is Malcolm, the truest issue Of her throne? The cure to her accursed blight? ‘Midst the darkness of the storm, Malcolm! Hope by Malcolm shines, our guiding light. Haste, haste, something must be done, and soon! Macduff reaches Malcolm, dismounts. MACDUFF Hail, Malcolm, undisputed heir and king! MALCOLM Hail, friend of Scotland, hail Macduff! How go’st it? MACDUFF The same for us as for the lambs left Unprotected, their shepherd running From the wolf: they look only to their own coats. Worthy heir, do you return to Scotland? MALCOLM Nay. Were I to hang the tyrant’s head Up on my castle wall, my sad country Would be more ill-placed than it was before. I would, in my loathsome succeeding, Make Black Macbeth seem pure as snow. MACDUFF How say’st so? There is not a fiend in Hell To compare to the evil that calls Itself Macbeth and rules in your stead. MALCOLM But my sins are as infinite as stars In the black expanse of my fetid heart. Your wives, your daughters, Your matrons and your maids, could not fill up The cistern of my lust. Better Macbeth Than such a one to reign. MACDUFF All men must, at at time, succumb to lust, But fear not to take upon you what is yours. Scotland boasts dames aplenty to sat'sfy The needs of one whose blood flows blue as yours MALCOLM My vices stop not at lust: were I king I would oust the nobles from their lands, Covet one man’s wealth and another’s house: And my more-having would be as a sauce To make me hunger more. MACDUFF O Scotland, Scotland! Nation miserable, With an untitled tyrant bloody-scepter'd, When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again, Since that the truest issue of thy throne By his own interdiction stands accursed, And does blaspheme his breed? O my breast, Thy hope ends here! MALCOLM Fear not true Macduff, this noble passion Cleanses my mind of clinging doubts and fears. All that I laid upon myself is false: As yet I have never had my way with woman; I covet not the fortunes of others. As we speak, gracious Siward approaches With 10,000 men, ready to aid us In the struggle ‘gainst Scotland’s oppressor. Enter Ross MACDUFF My ever-gentle cousin, welcome hither. ROSS I thank thee, Macduff. Hail Malcolm, my king. MALCOLM What’s the newest grief? ROSS Let your ears not despise my tongue forever, Which shall possess them with the heaviest sound That ever they heard. Your castle is surprised, your wife and babies Savagely slaughtered. To relate the manner Were on the quarry of these murdered deer To add the death of you. MACDUFF I cannot but remember such things were That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on And would not take their part? MALCOLM Hold hard! Be this the whetsone of your sword. MACDUFF, to himself The noble Malcolm has spoken sooth, Pray Macduff, withhold your tears of mourning, That you may unseat the damnéd tyrant And avenge those the tyrant slaughtered. Turn your grief to rage, Harden your heart to the task ahead, Engulfed by rage, let grief spark your fury. Be wary vile serpent! The hell-kite circles, Its prey in sight. North to Scotland I ride, With Siward and ten thousand at my side. Scene 2 Macduff encounters the witches while riding to Malcolm’s coronation. WITCH All hail the great and loyal Macduff, true And rightful lord of Glamis, Cawdor, Fife, And noble born, deserving of the throne, A place for thee, worthy king hereafter. MACDUFF Fiend, hold your treach’rous talk of titles false, For worthy Malcolm soon sits on the throne, And after bringing traitor’s head, I may Begin the mourning of my flesh and blood. Pray, stop enticing fools here to their doom, And leave, ‘fore I turn and behead thee too. Witch disappears and Macduff rides on. MACDUFF, to himself These simple words within me spur a fire, But hush my thoughts: temptations burn the soul. Macduff arrives at Malcolm’s camp. MACDUFF Hail, King! For so thou art. Behold where stands Th’ usurper’s cursed head. The time is free. I see thee compassed with thy kingdom’s pearl, That speak my salutation in their minds, Whose voices I desire aloud with mine. Hail, King of Scotland! Malcolm crowned king. MALCOLM My loyal Macduff, henceforth known as Earl Of Glamis, Cawdor, Fife for service done. Bring glory back to Scotland, my servant. MACDUFF I thank thee, sir, and live in service yours. Malcolm and Macduff exit. Scene 3 Macduff in his bed chamber. MACDUFF, to himself (lying awake, twisting and turning on his bed) Blesséd sleep that does heal the maladies Of brightest day, pray, seek me out this night, For darkness does bring new light to the mind And traitor’s blood not washed from hands of mine. More tossing and turning. This supernatural soliciting Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill, Why hath it given me earnest of success Commencing in a truth? If good, 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? My thoughts whirl and twist, solving me nothing. Why is it that nature’s sweet valerian Doth o’er pass me when I need it most? ‘Tis no use! Macduff rises and begins to pace about his castle. If fate will have me king, why, fate may crown me Without my stir.But scheming hold, bold mind. In firmer circumstance shall the issue Be examined. Macduff does a double-take as he passes a doorway. He enters. Around a table sit a number of murderers. There is one empty seat. Malcolm stands at the door bearing his kingly scepter. MACDUFF, out loud What treachery is this? Malcolm? In my house? What brings thee here and in such vile vestments? And who are these who dine at silent table? The murderers at the table gesture for Macduff to take the only remaining seat. But no, there sits Macbeth, and Cawdor too! What madness hast thou arranged, Malcolm? Macduff takes a step towards Malcolm. Do mine eyes speak sooth? Art thou but a specter, Escaped from some dream I knew not I had? Get thee hence! Away I say, lest I draw My blade and have thee done straightway So that you may join these dead at their bench. He draws his blade and slashes at Malcolm with no effect. Malcolm hold his scepter high before throwing it at the feet of Macduff. The figures at the table beckon one last time before disappearing. Macduff is left alone. MACDUFF, to himself Whether ‘twas a strange imagining or Some other hated image of the night, This dream hath confirmed all that I had thought: The kingdom shall be mine. Dagger appears. But what is this I see in front of me? Handle toward my hand as vision ‘fore? Reaches for dagger. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Dagger moves away. The tip beckons on, forward in the dark. Cloak me, thick night. Let not a star shine save That which twinkles at the hilt of mine guide. By thrusting steel into that heart of his I must murder, if I should gain the throne. So guide me, ghostly dagger, lead me to The power that I crave. I come for thee, Malcolm, feel metal cold, for it will soon Send thee seeking heaven or hell. Exit, following dagger. [finis]