Book Review

Macbeth

Macbeth

  • Author: William Shakespeare/SparkNotes
  • Genre: Classics/Fiction
  • Publication Date: April 15, 2003
  • Publisher: SparkNotes
  • Series: No Fear Shakespeare

CONTENT WARNING: murder, blood

Rating: 3 out of 5.

One night on the heath, the brave and respected general Macbeth encounters three witches who foretell that he will become king of Scotland. At first sceptical, he’s urged on by the ruthless, single-minded ambitions of Lady Macbeth, who suffers none of her husband’s doubt. But seeing the prophecy through to the bloody end leads them both spiralling into paranoia, tyranny, madness, and murder.

This shocking tragedy – a violent caution to those seeking power for its own sake – is, to this day, one of Shakespeare’s most popular and influential masterpieces.

Read Macbeth in all its brilliance and actually understand what it means. 

I was browsing through the shelves of my local library when I found a tiny section on a shelf entitled No Fear Shakespeare. When I picked it up, it promised to translate the plays into everyday language, with the original text on one side of the page and ordinary (present-day) English on the other. I immediately thought this was a great idea, and picked it up. 

My high school days are long behind me, but all I remember of my junior year English class (shout out to Mr. Robinson, who was the coolest teacher ever), was that instead of being forced to read Hamlet, we got to watch the movie version that was infinitely more understandable than the play. While the plays are technically written in English, it was the kind that I couldn’t make heads or tails of. I was thrilled to get the chance to read some Shakespeare and actually understand what I was reading without having to think about every word in every sentence as if it were a puzzle.

Unsurprisingly, it was incredibly easy to read and understand. In addition to basically translating the play into regular language, there were also little notes on the side offering important information that was very helpful to understanding what I was reading. However, there were definitely some super problematic elements in the story. 

The first issue I noticed was the blatant misogyny. Apparently, despite Macbeth’s innate greed that drove him to commit murder, the fault seems to lie with the women in the story. The three witches are the ones who initially put the evil idea in his head, but it’s his wife who really goads him to commit the act. We don’t see much of Lady Macbeth aside from her insulting his manhood and demonstrating how cold and unfeeling she is in her efforts to push him towards murder in order to claim a crown. This passage in particular shocked me:

“I have suckled a baby, and I know how sweet it is to love the baby at my breast. But even as the baby was smiling up at me, I would have plucked my nipple out of its mouth and smashed its brains out against a wall if I had sworn to do that the same way you have sworn to do this.”

Excuse me, WHAT? It makes me wonder if Shakespeare had ever actually sat down and spoke with a woman, any woman, at all, in his life. I’m assuming he probably hadn’t. The other problematic issue was just a quick line snuck into the story. While the witches are cooking up a nefarious brew in their cauldron, they toss in a bunch of gross ingredients. You know, the usual. Eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat, lizard’s leg … and then: 

“Liver of a blaspheming Jew,”

As if he couldn’t resist slipping in a tiny little bit of antisemitism in there, for kicks. For the record, Shakespeare had most likely never encountered a single practicing Jew in his life due to living in the middle of when the Edict of Expulsion (an order expelling all Jewish people from England) was active. I can’t say I was surprised to see this line in there. 

Overall, the story was okay. I understood the point, but I’m definitely not used to reading plays over books. It was hard to differentiate between some of the main characters, since there wasn’t much development, and things moved pretty quickly. Maybe this would work better as a movie, for me. 

Categories: Book Review

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9 replies »

  1. Yep. Nope. You are one tough woman.
    I’m strangely attached to ‘A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream’ but, frack, Shakespeare is ridiculously difficult to get through.. and interpret. It’s pretty cool that your copy had a translated option, though!
    Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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