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.
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.
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...
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Wheelwright, Philip. "Philosophy of the Threshold." The Sewanee Review 61 1 (1953): 56-75.
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