Macbeth and trauma

Maley, W. (2021) Macbeth and trauma. In: Loewenstein, D. and Stevens, P. (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and War. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 239-255. ISBN 9781316510971 (doi: 10.1017/9781316998106.016)

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Abstract

“The time has been That, when the brains were out, the man would die, And there an end”. Macbeth’s words ring true, but Philip Sidney’s cousin Henry Harrington is the subject of a memorable passage in Henry Sidney’s Irish Memoir that must give us pause. Rory Oge O’More took Harrington hostage in November 1577, to Sir Henry’s great distress, “for I loved him and do love him as a son of my own”. Harrington was “so wounded him as I myself in his dressing did see his brains moving; yet my good soldiers brought him away, and a great way, upon their halberds and pikes, to a good place in that country, where he was relieved, and afterwards (I thank God) recovered”. The Irish wars played into Shakespeare’s drama throughout the period, yet despite Anne Barton’s insistence forty years ago that Macbeth “is surely as much a history play as Richard II”, the so-called “Scottish play” has not been historicized in the same way as Shakespeare’s medieval “English” histories (whose own depiction of national and regional identities is often more complex than critics allow). This chapter offers a critical reading of Macbeth as a play preoccupied with war, including civil war and border warfare. Working at the intersection of battlefield archaeology, military history, and medical humanities it aims to re-contextualize our understanding of the play. It sets out to do three things: (1) track the representation of the effects and aftereffects of war and wounding in Macbeth and other early modern writings, such as John Read’s translation of Franciscus Arcæus, A Most Excellent and Compendious Method of Curing Woundes in the Head, and in Other Parts of the Body (1588); (2) examine modern responses to Shakespeare’s play by soldiers and psychiatrists that raise issues about the care and control of veterans, and the politics of remembering and remembrance; and (3) reflect on recent responses to Macbeth as a drama depicting the consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder. Macbeth is arguably the greatest example of a character whose brutality is condemned so soon after being celebrated. There is clearly an exploration of doublethink in a play that holds up savagery as heroism in its opening act in the shape of the severed head of a rebel and holds up the head of the executioner, a hero-turned-villain, in its closing scene. With all the smoke and mirrors of witches and ghosts, audiences need to be alert to the play’s exploration of hypocrisy and realpolitik, and the experience and memory of conflict and survival.

Item Type:Book Sections
Status:Published
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Maley, Professor Willy
Authors: Maley, W.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISBN:9781316510971

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