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Integrity in Macbeth: The Search for the "Single State of Man" Richard Horwich Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3. (Summer, 1978), pp. 365-373. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0037-3222%28197822%2929%3A3%3C365%3AIIMTSF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-S Shakespeare Quarterly is currently published by Folger Shakespeare Library. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/about/terms.html. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/journals/folger.html. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. The JSTOR Archive is a trusted digital repository providing for long-term preservation and access to leading academic journals and scholarly literature from around the world. The Archive is supported by libraries, scholarly societies, publishers, and foundations. It is an initiative of JSTOR, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help the scholarly community take advantage of advances in technology. For more information regarding JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. http://www.jstor.org Fri Nov 2 21:44:20 2007 Integrity in Macbeth: The Search for the "Single State of Man" RICHARD HORWICH I CUSTOMARY, in those of Shakespeare's plays that deal with questions of sovereignty, for various political, moral, and thematic conflicts to find their dramatic representation in the personal struggle between two men. One thinks, in this connection, of Richard I1 and Bolingbroke, Hal and Hotspur, Richmond and Richard 111, Antony and Octavius Caesar, and, of course, Hamlet and Claudius. To be sure, such distinct polarizing is not inevitable-the assassination of Julius Caesar and the usurpation of Prospero's dukedom, to take examples almost at random, are both accomplished by groups of conspirators, rather than by single opponents. Still, the traditional contest between agonist and antagonist is so central to the Western dramatic tradition that it may be considered a norm of sorts. It is often instructive, therefore, to notice where Shakespeare departs fromit, and to ask what function such departures serve. Such a question arises with regard to Macbeth, for the forces which oppose Macbeth are under joint leadership: it is Malcolm who represents royal legitimacy in Scotland, but it is Macduff who defends it by confronting and killing the tyrant. Like Malcolm, Macduff has lost a family to Macbeth, and like him he is a patriot; if their roles are not actually redundant, then, they overlap somewhat, and, purely in terms of dramatic expediency, it is hard to see why Malcolm should not have assumed them both, with Macduff disappearing from the play altogether. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that the historical figure of Macduff was too well known for him to have been left out of the story. Since the events treated by the play had a good deal of bearing upon the establishment of the royal family that occupied the throne at the time the play was written, moreover, Shakespeare may have felt it advisable to follow the source with some fidelity. The play itself offers us another explanation of Macduffs function, however, one which begins to emerge during the curious scene in which Malcolm tests Macduff by confessing to a series of monstrous crimes in order to determine, by his responses, what Macduff s true nature is. Macduff listens to chilling accounts of Malcolm's "lust" and "avarice," but is willing to overlook them. "All these are portable, / W i t h other graces weigh'd," he says.' But when Malcolm admits that he would "confound / All unity on earth," Macduff can temporize no longer: T IS ' Kenneth Muir, ed., The Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1951), IV. iii. 89-90. All quotations from the play are taken from this edition. RICHARD HORWICH, Associate Professor of English at Brooklyn College (CUNY), has published several articles on Shakespeare and his contemporaries. SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY Macd. 0 Scotland! Scotland! Mal. If such a one be fit to govern, speak: I am as I have spoken. Macd. Fit to govern? No, not to live. . . . (IV. iii. 100-104) This is the response for which Malcolm has been waiting; he now retrieves his confessions, revealing then1 to be part of an elaborate test of Macduff, one designed to demonstrate not Macduffs personal loyalty to Malcolm, but a quality opposite to that. Malcolm praises Macduffs indignation as "a noble passion, /Child of integrity" (IV. iii. 114-15). If integrity is taken to mean a devotion to moral principle rather than to personalities or private ends, it would appear that one of Macduffs roles at this point in the play is to exemplify a disinterested concern for justice (news of the slaughter of his family by Macbeth has not yet reached him), in contrast to Malcolm, whose reasons for hating Macbeth are anything but disinterested. However, this view of Macduff s character may make more problems for us than it solves; to see him as a man of integrity in the play as a whole is difficult, for there are grounds on which it has been argued that Macduffs integrity is seriously open to question. Robert Ornstein states the case concisely: Macduff . . . displays a curious worldliness in his interview with Malcolm. Of course he finally passes the test which Malcolm offers, he is finally revolted by Malcolm's self-portrait of vice; yet how much, how very much of vice will Macduff accept in a sovereign before his stomach turns.= Yet Malcolm is not wrong to call our attention to Macduff s "integrity," for in another and more literal sense of the term, integrity is one of the central preoccupations of the play. A sense of wholeness, completeness, or coherence has from the first represented the ideal but unattainable condition both of Scotland and of most of its inhabitants. The function of Macduff as part of the opposition to Macbeth is firmly connected with this form of integrity, for it is what Macduff possesses and what Macbeth, more than anyone else, lacks. From the beginning, the mere fantasies of murder induce in Macbeth a psychic dissociation, which he expresses in the following terms: My thought, whose murther yet is but fantastical, Shakes so my single state of man, That function is smother'd in surmise, And nothing is, but what is not. (I. iii. 139-42) Herbert Grierson suggests indivisible as a synonym for ~ i n g l eand , ~ most of the play's recent commentators have joined him in conceiving of Macbeth's life after Duncan's murder as a quest to recapture that state of indivisibility-as a search for "wholeness,"' as an exorcism of the psychological "discontinuity" "he Moral Vision of Jacobean Tragedy (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1960), p. 233. Quoted in Muir, p. 21 n. 'Terence Eagleton, Shakespeare and Society (New York: Schocken, 1967), p. 131. THE "SINGLE STATE OF MAN- IN MACBETH 367 that plagues him,5 or as an attempt to heal "that dichotomy between intellect and action which is to sunder his nature into two warring en ti tie^."^ Equally important, the disharmonies of which Macbeth complains are not restricted to his own consciousness. When he remarks to Banquo, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen" (I. iii. 38), he is merely echoing what is in effect the central and controlling paradox of the play's world, announced by the witches moments before: "Fair is foul, and foul is ,fairM (I. i. 11). These warring dissonances, which are a feature of perception and expression shared by many of the play's characters, help define the condition of Scotland and its inhabitants, a condition seen throughout as a kind of stalemate brought about by the conflict of equally forceful opposites. Macbeth describes the night as being "Almost at odds with morning, which is which" (111, iv. 126); a captain compares the doubtful outcome of a battle t o "two spent swimmers, that do cling together / And choke their art" (I. ii. 8-9); the Porter characterizes lechery as a thing that drink both "provokes, and unprovokes" (11, iii. 29). All the play's "multitudinous antitheses"' cancel each other out, emphasizing what is paralyzing and self-defeating in human experience and suggesting an ultimate state of entropy toward which everything tends, a state reflected in the very syntax of many of the play's most famous speeches: "Therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to. . . . (11. iii. 31-35). In the context thus provided, it is difficult to believe Macbeth's claim that his own character-or that of other men-is by nature homogeneous and consistent. "Who can be wise, amaz'd, temperate and furious, / Loyal and neutral, in a moment? N o man," he insists after having killed (presumably on rash impulse) the grooms outside Duncan's chamber (11, iii. 108-9). But by this point in the play we are well aware that such inconsistency is an established feature of human nature here. The consistency Macbeth claims for himself and others is merely wishful-a desire to regain that "single state of man" which is both a condition of mental equilibrium and a symbol of the lost order which must be restored to Scotland. It is Macbeth's preoccupation with the order and homogeneity of his own character which provides Lady Macbeth with the means of tempting him to the assassination. Aware that it is a preoccupation which, however common, disturbs Macbeth with a peculiar intensity, she takes advantage of his susceptibility by accusing him (metaphorically) of displaying a discontinuous personality: Was the hope drunk Wherein you dress'd yourself? Hath it slept since? And wakes it now, to look so green and pale At what it did so freely? (I. vii. 35-38) And she sometimes greets him, as d o the witches, by several different names at once-as, for instance, "Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor!" (I, v. 54). D. A. Traversi, An Approach to Shakespeare, 2nd ed. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1956). D. 155. ~ a i b a r aL. Parker, "Macbeth: The Great Illusion," Sewanee Review, 78 (1970), 476-77. ' Muir, p, xxxiii. 368 SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY It is not surprising, therefore, that she is able to tempt him to the murder primarily by promising that the crime will restore to him precisely that unified sensibility which fantasies of the murder have destroyed: Art thou afeard T o be the same in thine own act and valour, As thou art in desire? Would'st thou have that Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem, Letting "I dare not" wait upon "I would," Like the poor cat i' th'adage? (I. vii. 39-45) Given the breadth and variety of possibilities latent in human character in this play, and the malleability of human character, it should in no way surprise us to discover that Macbeth. in order to ~ e r f o r mthe assassination. must alter his personality by alienating his faculties from one another, no matter how such an action threatens his pursuit of "the single state of man." "The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, / Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see" (I, iv. 52-53), he encourages himself. Kenneth Muir has observed that Macbeth here regards his hand as having "an independent existence of its own";8 actually, Macbeth goes even further, not merely fragmenting but willfully polarizing his character, setting his hand and his eye in conflict with each other. These organs, respectively, represent the outer and the inner man-the active, worldly, logical component of his personality, and the ethical and emotional sensibilities that are diametrically opposed to it. Throughout the play, for both Macbeth and Ladv Macbeth. the sheer horror of the murder continuallv overwhelms all rational consideration of its efficacy: What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to accompt?-Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? (V. i. 36-39) A radical disjunction is thus introduced into the very course of Macbeth's life; his past and his present have little in common with each other. T o have been a paragon of loyalty and service, and to metamorphose, with terrifying suddenness, into an arch-traitor is to render one's life incoherent and therefore incomprehensible, as he wistfully notes: Had I but died an hour before this chance, I had liv'd a blessed time; for, from this instant, There's nothing serious in mortality; All is but toys. . . . (11. iii. 91-94) "Nothing serious in mortality" is a way-station between Macbeth's earlier presentiment that the murder would make reality and illusion indistinguishable from one another ("Whatever is, is not") and his ultimate conception of life as "a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing" (V. v. 26-28). Seriousness, significance, reality itself-all are defined for Mace Ibid., p. xxxi. THE "SINGLE STATE OF MAN" I N MACBETH 369 beth by order and coherence, and he is increasingly hard put to function without them. It is vital that we attend to Macbeth's preoccupation with internal coherence, and to the terminology and manner in which he characteristically expresses it. Macbeth seldom speaks of his life in terms of the conventional opposition of good and evil; he experiences the conflict within him less as a moral problem than as a psychological and physical one, and thus the absolutes of his personality are more concretely presented than the necessarily abstract language of ethical discourse would permit. This is not to say that we are unable to speak of Macbeth's "morality," but only that we should do so in the terms provided for us by Macbeth himself; to substitute other terms may cause us to misread what is crucial. A case in point is D . A. Traversi's argument that Macbeth discovers, after Banquo's death, "that his real wish is to retrace his steps, to recover an original state of "~ finds this wish expressed in innocence, but that . . . he cannot do ~ 0 . Traversi the following speech of Macbeth's: I am in blood Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er. (111. iv. 135-37) A close look at the metaphor reveals that, far from yearning for "an original state of innocence" (presumably embodied in "wade no more" and "returning"), Macbeth is precisely balanced between the two opposing courses of action. What Macbeth desires is not his "original state of innocence" but his "single state of man," and he thinks that he can as readily recover this state by embracing further evil as by repenting. T o restore unity to his character, Macbeth needs simply to be one thing or the other-either covered with blood or washed clean-but not a spotty combination of the two. Unity of character is not a moral attribute; monsters may possess it as easily as saints. We cannot ignore the moral implications of Macbeth's choice, but we obscure his character if we insist upon seeing him as a moralist rather than as a man searching for psychic relief in whatever form avails itself to him. How far he is from craving "innocence" we may discern from the fact that his choice is to wade further into blood, rather than to retrace his steps, by dispatching the murderers to M a c d u f s castle. If the memory of Duncan's blood tortures Macbeth, he believes that it may be submerged and blotted out by the blood of countless new victims-until at last, as Macduff laments, "Each new morn, / New widows howl, new orphans cry . . ." (IV. iii. 4-5). Macbeth's behavior is best seen as that of an absolutist, a man for whom no compromises, accommodations, or half-measures are possible. This is not a new idea; B. L. Reid remarked some time ago that the play "deals with absolutes, the fullest moral absolutes available in the kindgom of this world."10 But we should be aware that such absolutism is a kind of moral rigidity, and that moral rigidity is invariably fatal in tragedy, however awe-inspiring the 'O Traversi, p. 174. "Macbeth and the Play of Absolutes," Sewanee Review, 73 (1965), 19 370 SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY spectacle of that fatality may be. In Euripides' Hippolytus, for instance, the tragic hero is destroyed because, in strict conformity with his code of principles, he ignores the wisdom of the Chorus, whose advice is to make obeisances to the goddess Aphrodite whether he reveres her or not. This is typical, even conventional advice; choruses always counsel moderation, conciliation, and flexibility. But these are qualities foreign to the absolutist Macbeth, a man incapable of heeding such counsel were it offered him. It is likely that Malcolm, as well, would fail to appreciate such advice, for Malcolm, politically an alternative to Macbeth, bears a remarkable resemblance to him in temperament. The crimes he confesses to in the testing scene are, as L. C . Knights has pointed out, Macbeth's own," particularly his desire to "confound / All unity on earth"; indeed, the disunity of Malcolm's own personality is in evidence throughout the scene, and is largely responsible for its incoherent quality. When, for example, Malcolm retrieves his confession and boasts of his truthfulness, he does so in the course of admitting to a lie. As a consequence, his claim to "innocence," with which he means to allay Macduffs anxieties, has much the opposite effect-perhaps because that innocence sounds more like an avoidance of experience and knowledge than a freedom from guilt: I am yet Unknown to woman; never was forsworn; Scarcely have coveted what was mine own; At no time broke my faith: would not betray The Devil to his fellow; and delight N o less in truth, than life: my first false speaking Was this upon myself. (IV. iii. 125-31) Traversi feels that Malcolm "reveals himself as a truly dedicated man,"12 but in a play so filled with terrible discoveries of self made through bitter experience, Malcolm's insistence upon his virginity, sexual and otherwise, is not as reassuring as it is intended to be. His scornful dismissal of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the last speech of the play should not surprise us, for if he regards those dark impulses to which Macbeth surrend,ered as "strangers to my nature" (IV, iii. 125), how can he know what it is to struggle against them? B. L. Reid, who admires Malcolm, is nonetheless compelled to admit that "it is not easy to forgive his contemptuous reference to 'this dead butcher and his fiendlike queen.' For that is only literal truth, not complex enough to be wholly true."13 The fact that Malcolm seems incapable of understanding complex truths does not augur well for the prospects of renewed harmony and order in Scotland. Malcolm's recantation leaves Macduff literally speechless, though not with admiration: "Such welcome and unwelcome things at once, / 'Tis hard to reconcile" (IV. iii. 137-38), he replies after Malcolm, having finished his recita"Explorations (London: Chatto & Windus, 1946), p. 28. Traversi, p. 176. Reid, p. 41. la T H E "SINGLE STATE O F MAN" I N MACBETH 37 1 tion, inquires into the causes of Macduff s meditative silence. "Welcome and unwelcome things at once" is a phrase that connects Malcolm, the innocent who displays a hitherto-unsuspected capacity for cunning and duplicity, with the paradoxes which have characterized Scotland and Macbeth throughout the play. Macduff is understandably happy to discover that Malcolm is not the lecherous, avaricious anarchist he has confessed to being, but he is at the same time understandably offended by the manipulative way in which Malcolm has tested him. For Macduff, as Roy Walker puts it, "the opposites are not merely hard but impossible to reconcile."'" Thus Malcolm may be seen as, potentially, a Macbeth in embryo-a man who, insisting upon perfection in his own behavior in an imperfect world, may fall as Macbeth did. Reid praises Malcolm for "the simplicity with which he describes his own young chastity and innocence," a simplicity which "creates another lovely absolute, the polar opposite of Macbeth's weary and ramified criminality."15 But in this play, polar opposites have a way of turning into each other, and a man who has never lied, never coveted, never desired is less a human being than a figure of alleg~ry'~-a conventional "man of snow," like Angelo in Measure for Measure or Malheureux in Marston's The Dutch Courtesan. When temptation, as it always does, at last seeks such figures out, their fall from grace is violent and complete, like that of Macbeth. Whatever else absolutism may be in this play, it is not "lovely." But Macduff, in contrast to both Malcolm and Macbeth, does embody the flexibility that both of them lack. To be the play's representative of this human quality is Macduff s role; it will make him not a tragic hero, actual or potential, but a survivor, in a country whose survival is in question. It is precisely because of his willingness to accommodate his principles to the exigencies of a hostile universe that he is the hope of Scotland. Ornstein is correct in asserting that Macduffs tolerance for vice, both in himself and in others, is high, but he is wrong to condemn him for it: had Macbeth been better able to tolerate the violent impulses he discovered within himself, they might have remained there. This is not to argue that Macduffs willingness to compromise, to accept human imperfection, is per se an admirable quality; Ornstein justifiably reproaches him with allowing his defenseless family to be slaughtered while he is safe in England." But the alternative to Macduffs flexibility is not only suicidal (as in Hippolytus) but homicidal as well: Macbeth's devotion to an ideal of ethical conduct is such that, as we have seen, if he cannot be a saint, he must transform himself into a devil, one murder begetting a host of others. Men like Macduff represent a human alternative to a morality that deals in inhuman absolutes. If we look at the passage in which Macduff receives the " The Time is Free (London: Andrew Dakers Ltd., 1949), p. 163. Reid, p. 41. l e It is becoming a commonplace of Shakespearean criticism that, in Maurice Charney's words, "It is sometimes necessary t o assume an absolute degree of good or evil in a Shakespearean character . . and to allow for abrupt shifts in character that violate logical progression" (How to Read Shakespeare [New York: McGraw-Hill, 19711, p. 75). But this convention, which certainly applies to an Iago or a Desdemona, does not apply to Malcolm, since another character, within the frame of the action, calls our attention to the inconsistencies of Malcolm's character by announcing his inability to accept them. l7 Ornstein, p. 233. . 372 SHAKESPEARE QUARTERLY news of the murder of his family, we perceive the essential difference between his character and Malcolm's: where Malcolm insists upon a simple and unilateral response-"Dispute it like a man"-Macduff explains that manhood is not the simple, single thing Malcolm believes it to be: "I shall do so: / But I must also feel it as a man," he replies (IV. iii. 220-21). Macduff is presented as a man of many parts. He is both a father and a soldier; he can weep and revenge; he is a man "not of woman born," and yet the most human character of all. Unlike Macbeth, however, he is not afflicted with sensations of psychic conflict, or turned into a moral schizophrenic; he is composed of disparate elements, but he synthesizes them, accepting weakness along with strength, error with truth. He alone possesses the "single state of man"-an integrated personality, the most meaningful form integrity can assume in the play. Macduff s integrity is not, as might be thought, in opposition to the flexibility of his character; on the contrary, these two seemingly antithetical qualities are united in him. He retains the "single state of man" because he is in every real sense a man, and demands no more of himself than that he should be one. His character is a fusion, a complementing of opposites, and not, like Macbeth's, a wilderness of paradox. When, shortly before his death, Macbeth succeeds in homogenizing himself at last, he does so by achieving a state of singleness which has little to do with being a man; he rids his n.ature of its last vestiges of moral sensitivity, and consequently of its capacity to experience horror: I have almost forgot the taste of fears. The time has been, my senses would have cool'd T o hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair Would at a dismal treatise rouse, and stir, As life were in't. I have supp'd full with horrors: Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts, Cannot once start me. (V. V. 9-15) It is almost inevitable that life, as we subsequently discover, has become an absurdity for him. Whether precisely the same fate awaits Malcolm neither Shakespeare nor Holinshed tells us, but the broad implications are clear. Traversi sees Malcolm at the end of the play as "a king . . . to whom the loyalty of free men is properly due, and from whom royal bounty may again be expected to flow,"18 but anyone familiar with the facts of Scottish history, as Shakespeare's audience undoubtedly was, knows that royal bounty did not flow from Malcolm or his successors for very long. The witches' prophecy concerning the disposition of the throne was destined to come true; it was to be Banquo's issue, the Stuart line, which would ultimately prevail. Many scholars have proposed the view that the play was written as a compliment to James I, the reigning Stuart monarch. If that is so, the apparently celebrative quality of the last speeches is undercut by the inherent suggestion that at least one more convulsion will occur in Scotland before, in Macduffs words, "the time is free" (V. ix. 21). Certainly that inference has la Traversi, p. 181 T H E "SINGLE STATE OF MAN" I N MACBETH 373 been drawn by some of the play's modern adaptors and directors: Eugene Ionesco's Macbett, for example, ends with "Macol" delivering, verbatim, the long speech in which Shakespeare's Malcolm confesses his desire to "confound all unity on earthu-but without any subsequent retraction, so that the audience is left with the unmistakable conviction of Macol's intent to continue Macbeth's tyranny.18 And Roman Polanski, in his 1972 film of Macbeth, inserted at the conclusion a wordless scene in which Donalbain seeks out the witches, presumably to discover whether he, like Macbeth before him, is destined to wrest the throne from its present occupant. So, imply Ionesco and Polanski, with the inauguration of Malcolm it may all begin again. And this implication-together with the clouds that surround the historical figure of Malcolm, and his many similarities to Macbeth-ought to be more than sufficient to explain why the man who stands truly in opposition to Macbeth-morally, psychologically, and in terms of the play's structure-is not the Prince but the older, surer, and far more sympathetic Macduff. Translated by Charles Marowitz (New York: Grove Press, 1973), pp. 104-5.