Locating Macbeth at the Thresholds of Time, Space and Spiritualism

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In the preface to Folie et déraison, Michel Foucault unmistakably locates madness at the limen of cultural identity: European man, since the beginning of the Middle Ages has had a relation to something he calls, indiscriminately, Madness, Dementia, Insanity. … [It is] a realm, no doubt, where what is in question is the limits rather than the identity of a culture. (Foucault xi) By describing madness in this way, he demonstrates his understanding of madness as a cultural phenomenon, defined not by the analysis of a subject’s symptoms, but rather the shared assumption that a subject is not ‘right’, does not conform to the prevailing ideological norm. Written in the late twentieth century, his work is a treatise about the wider cultural effects produced by a policy of confinement of the social outsider. Three centuries earlier, William Shakespeare completed and staged what are now considered the greatest and most evil of all his tragedies, the tragedy of Macbeth. Themes of witchcraft, infanticide, suicide and death pervade the fabric of the play, which possibly contributes to the theatrical superstition that surrounds its production to this day. Nevertheless, it seems curious to me the play is seldom discussed as one that focuses on madness, when it deals with two of the most insane and depraved characters in all of Shakespeare. 1 It seems curious to me that Shakespeare’s tragedies so often revolve around common themes of “Madness, Dementia, Insanity,” and there is much scholarship as to how this discourse of madness should be interpreted1, but less with particular reference to Macbeth. Curiouser still is that Shakespeare’s Renaissance understanding of madness, as demonstrated in his portrayal of this madness is... ... middle of paper ... ...ephen, et al. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print. Somerville, Henry. Madness in Shakespearian tragedy. London: The Richards Press Ltd., 1929. Print. Styan, J. L. "The Drama: Reason in Madness." Theatre Journal 32 3 (1980): 371-85. Print. ---. Perspectives on Shakespeare in performance. Studies in Shakespeare vol. 11. New York: P. Lang, 1999. Print. Weimann, Robert. Shakespeare and the popular tradition in the theater :studies in the social dimension of dramatic form and function. Ed. Schwartz, Robert. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. Print. ii Wheelwright, Philip. "Philosophy of the Threshold." The Sewanee Review 61 1 (1953): 56-75. Print. Wilson Knight, G. The wheel of fire : interpretations of Shakespearian tragedy, with three new essays. University paperbacks, U. P. 12. [4th rev. and enl. ed. London: Methuen, 1965. Print. iii

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