Written by Frannie
We got right down to reading tonight, beginning with Act I scene iv, in which Duncan praises Macbeth and Banquo and makes Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland. It’s a brief scene, and we were struck by Macbeth’s immediate response to Malcolm’s promotion; he sort of talks around what he’s thinking about. “All these dark things are in his mind, but he doesn’t want to say it yet,” said one woman. Others remarked how much Duncan likes Macbeth. A long time member smiled sardonically and said, “Yeah, Othello liked Iago, too.”
We moved on to Act I scenes v-vii, in which Lady Macbeth reads her husband’s letter and forms a plan to help him gain the crown, welcomes Duncan to the castle, and solidifies the plan while bolstering Macbeth’s determination to carry it out. This led to an extremely engaged and passionate discussion – in fact, I took seven pages of notes that I can hardly read, I was writing so fast, so I’m going to pick and choose what to include here!
One woman said, pondering both of Lady's monologues in I.v, “She wants her conscience done away with.” Another woman nodded her head, thinking. “It only took a letter from her husband to get her there. This must be something she wanted to do.” Another jumped in, “She’s probably always been ambitious, and in those days you could only get as far as your husband… Power is never seized by the kind hearted. She probably never wanted to be evil… But the chance arose, and now’s her chance… You’d be surprised how fast you can get there.” She said that she thinks Lady is a fairly young woman. “Sometimes when you’re young, you can commit more atrocities because you don’t understand the consequences of what you do.” Many people agreed with her, the conversation progressed, and she built on it, saying that Macbeth told Lady about the prophecy because he knew he needed her help: “’Be behind me in this…’ If she’d said, ‘This is evil,’ he would have been like, ‘All right.’”
A woman who’d been fairly quiet piped up, “Maybe she’s always had this darker side.” Another woman disagreed, saying, “There’s so much passion… Maybe it’s about getting the best for him. She shares in his accomplishment by seeing how happy he is.” And another woman disagreed with her! “I think she’s the man in the relationship, and she’s gonna get what she wants.”
We moved on to Act I scene vi, the welcome of Duncan to the castle. The conversation here was brief but built on what we were already discussing. “He’s really flaky," said one woman. "He changes the way he thinks every time something changes.” Another woman added, “I feel like Macbeth is, in fact, every human being. You could do evil, or you could not…”
Act I scene vii, in which Lady goads Macbeth into continuing with the plan, sparked a lot of interest immediately. We circled back around to the couple’s motivation. “I think he’s doing it to please his wife. She’s the one who’s ambitious,” said one woman. Another woman disagreed: “He planted the seed, though. He didn’t have to send her that letter.” Another woman disagreed with her. “I think he wrote the letter to say, ‘Hey, guess what? Be happy for me.’ I think she planted the seed in his head.” Yet another disagreed, saying, “He asked those witches what was gonna happen in between. It’s so easy to just blame the woman. I mean, Adam and Eve. It’s such an easy out.”
Lady’s language in this scene struck a nerve for many of us. “She was trying as hard as she could to belittle him,” said one of the women who’s read ahead. “I don’t believe she would actually do it. She’s just as flip-floppy as Macbeth – you just don’t see it till later in the play.” One woman said, “When I first read this scene, I thought she was the classic abuser in the domestic violence wheel. She’s using her child to get him to man up.” This led to a heated discussion about Lady as an abuser, which is honestly an interpretation that never occurred to me before – nor did it come up with the men with whom we worked this summer. At least one woman disagreed, though, saying, “This is how marriage works. You push each other to be better.”
Another woman shook her head. “It’s all about timing. Planting that seed at the right time… She’ll keep going at him and going at him and going at him till the time is right. You chisel at something long enough, it forms to what you want it to become.”
A new member said, “Can I say something that might be off topic or, like, totally off?” We said that of course she could! She then drew a parallel between this relationship to both Samson and Delilah and Adam and Eve: “The woman has the power to lure the man into doing whatever she wants.” A number of people jumped in, excited by this line of thinking.
“Bottom line: you have your own free will.”
“There are three different types of manipulation. Macbeth could have said no. Why is he allowing her to manipulate her? Is it because he loves her?”
“The serpent tricked her!”
“He allowed her to lure him. It’s not all the woman… He’s just stupid.”
“He started the ball rolling with the letter. A man knows his wife.”
It turns out that the Bible is not “off topic” at all – it’s clearly an influence, at least from our perspective. I asked the group to think about why, though, there’s not a direct parallel – where does Shakespeare diverge from the archetype? – where does he make it more complex? – and why? Who is the serpent? All seemed to agree that that role is filled by the witches.
“Yeah, what about the witches? Who started this?” asked one woman. “Are they making the future – creating the future?” asked another.
The first woman, who is new this year, excitedly said, “Oh, so many more questions are popping up! Do the witches have something to gain?” Assata, one of our student facilitators, pondered, “How do we know this wasn’t a test of his soul?” One woman added, “Is it fate or destiny? The witches could be testing him.”
“That’s us in everyday life, right?” said one woman. “Every single choice we make.” Another woman brought up the moment when Macbeth learned he was Thane of Cawdor. “Why wasn’t that enough?” she asked. “Because when he became the Thane of Cawdor, he thought, ‘Well, now I gotta do something more,’” replied another woman.
A longtime ensemble member who is going home in less than a year, launched into a train of thought that she clearly needed to get off her chest. “I’m glad we chose this play because of the thoughts I’m having about going home… [these thoughts focus on obtaining and/or dealing drugs, which is what she used to do]. I stopped and said, ‘What? I don’t need to sell drugs, so why the f**k just possessed me to think that?’ I just have these evil thoughts in my head constantly… He doesn’t need this. I don’t need this. So why the f**k am I thinking this? Why? I just wanna be not doing that, but yet my mind just goes there.” A couple of women started to respond, but she wasn’t done. “It’s not just that we’re manipulating others – we’re manipulating our own thoughts. It’s like my crime – I didn’t want to do it, but greed convinced me to do it.”
The new member who had said so much tonight said, “I’m sorry, can I just say something real quick?” We welcomed her to do so. She shared with us that she had been thinking about quitting the group – she thought maybe this wasn’t for her – but she’s excited now and is going to stay. “I never thought I’d be smart enough to sit and have this kind of discussion about a book like this,” she said. “You are!” said someone else. And the feeling she gets out of it, the woman said, is empowerment. We’re all so glad.
We welcomed several new members to the group tonight, combining our usual orientation with the conversation we’ve been wanting to have, setting down this year’s expectations in writing. It was a very constructive conversation until we began trying to settle on an attendance policy. There were a several disagreements and misunderstandings, and some ensemble members from last year left in frustration. We agreed that we would put something in writing just for now and re-assess in a month or so.
Those of us still in the room pondered what we should do next. On Tuesday, we had all agreed to get to know those scenes better so we could explore them further, and I jokingly mentioned that I had memorized the scenes (I already had them half-memorized and just went for it) but would wait to work on them till Tuesday. “No!” a number of them shouted. “You are doing this now!” said one woman.
Kyle and one of the new members read Act I scene v on their feet first. “It felt kinda good!” she said afterward. “It was easy to put the passion in the words, knowing what I wanted, and that I would be the one to enter into the achievement of it.”
I then ran the scene with a woman who was in last year’s ensemble. “It felt really good,” she said. The group praised her for her clarity and honest reactions. “Frannie was like a Chihuahua!” she said. They asked me how I felt, and I shared that it hadn’t gone the way I’d wanted it to – I didn’t incorporate my full interpretation. So we went for it again. “I felt more of a struggle,” said the woman, and I shared that I felt a bit better, too, although it still wasn’t what I wanted. The woman who had made me do this in the first place asked the woman performing with me if she could memorize it for Tuesday, and if we would try it again. We agreed.
Kyle then ran the scene with another of last year’s members. She said it felt good – she had the scene partially memorized, but she found that she got tongue twisted. We reminded her that this is totally normal.
The plan for next week is to play with these scenes a little more and then keep reading. We are absolutely, unanimously loving this play.