Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Dean Wagner in the chair. Other members present Ake, Baird, Bartlett, Cramer, Dunn, Dupee, Fallon, Fisher, Hopkinson, Lehmann, Mabry, Madeira, O'Malley, Peck, Schmalzbach, and Warden. Mr. Bornemann, who hardly ever misses a meeting, has recently had minor knee and back surgery; he promises to return for our next prandial and postprandial deliberations.

Some preliminary thinking about next April's birthday feast, still tentative, has begun. The dean reported that a member has shown enthusiastic interest in helping to host the annual April dinner at a very attractive and convenient site.

If members have changed addresses or telephone numbers or email addresses, please inform the Secretary.

As we turned our attention again to Macbeth, the Dean pointed out the remarkable number of asides in some early scenes, especially 1.3'speeches by Macbeth to himself or quietly to Banquo as they hear from the king's emissaries. The Vice Dean reminded us of questions raised at our last meeting about the role of the witches, their powers, and how much control they had of Macbeth's actions. We wondered about the changes in Macbeth, after early heroic acts to defend king and country, to the murderous monster we see in later scenes. We were struck by the change in Lady M. from imperious ambition and moral callousness in early scenes to frightened, morally tortured sleepwalker in a famous late scene. Why this change?

We asked questions about the witches: why three in number? A horrible antithesis to the Trinity? A reminder of the three Fates in Greek myth? Witches were much discussed in Shakspere's time; King James himself wrote on the topic. The Vice Dean told us that the Weird Sisters' knowledge of the future would be assumed to be Satanic in origin. Greymalkin is a devil's name, a member observed.

A member commented that Macbeth is not brutal enough! A better tyrant would have murdered potential enemies much more quickly and thoroughly; a host of twentieth-century examples could easily be cited. Conscience tortures Macbeth through most of his career of murder in the play.

Act two, scene three' The Porter makes his famous comic speech assuming that those knocking at the gate are eagerly making their way to hell, because of the greed of one kind or another. The murder of Duncan draws a chorus of luridly rhetorical outbursts, especially from Macbeth. Earlier, Mac. could not bring himself to take the murder weapon back into Duncan's chamber; now, we discover that he has quickly stabbed to death the two bedchamber servants who are blamed for the deed. Vigorous discussion of this point: Macbeth is a veteran battlefield killer, and a particularly bloody one, as we learned in the opening scenes. Soldiers become inured to doing quickly and ruthlessly what must be done to save themselves.

2.4'Nature reacts to violent disorder among men by mimicking this violent disorder. The king's sons precipitately beat feet; Donalbain never returns to the stage, we notice.

3.1'The men appointed to murder Banquo and Fleance are questioned by Macbeth and announce themselves as recklessly desperate characters, determined to escape their terrible present lives "by any means necessary." The Vice Dean suggested that this is precisely Big Mac's own state of mind at the end of the play.

3.2'Macbeth and his Lady are alone again, and more murder is plotted, but now Macbeth keeps his plans to himself: no spur from his steely spouse is needed to get him ready to shed blood. Lady M. tells Mac that "What's did is done," as she did after the stabbing of Duncan: Mac must simply control his thoughts and feelings! Macbeth resolves to "let the frame of things disjoint" before he will continue to live as they do now, unable to eat meals without fear, sleepless because of "the affliction of these terrible dreams/ That shake us nightly." His mind, he declares, is "full of scorpions."But conscience still pricks him: he asks heaven to hide the deed about to be done as "light thickens" with the approach of the murderers. He asks nature to cancel the bond of moral law that binds men to a life of common humanity.

The Vice Dean opined that Macbeth is not thoroughly depraved' that he is a good spouse, much honored as a warrior, that he is tempted by circumstance (Duncan's visit) and his Lady's powerful prodding. Much discussion ensued as to how to understand Macbeth's essential character.

The banquet scene is coming up, with the appearance of Banquo's ghost, seen only by Macbeth. Is Macbeth hallucinating, a sign that he is losing rational self-control? Is the ghost an embodiment of his horrified conscience?


Respectfully submitted Robert G. Peck Secretary

Originally published: Monday, March 24, 2008; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019