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358 Comparative Drama many a woman named losephine. See Freud's letters to Thomas Mann in Ernest lones, Sigmund FreUd: Life and Work (New York' Basic Books 1954-57) pp 492-93' and to Arnold Zweig in Letters a/Sigmund Fre~d and Arnoid Zweig, 'tr~. Prof: and Mrs. W. D. Robson-5cott, ed. Ernest L. Freud (London: Hogarth Press 1970) pp. 96-97. ' , 47 Joseph and His Brothers, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), p. 6. 48 Complete Plays: 1920-1931, p. 528. Macbeth and Hercules: The Hero Bewitched Elizabeth Truax On 27 August 1605, James I was welcomed at the gates of Oxford by three Sibyls who greeted him as the fulfillment of a prophecy made to Banquo long ago and hailed him as King of Scotland, King of England, and King of Ireland.! Four years later, Macbeth, inspired perhaps by the Oxford playlet, was performed before the King at Hampton Court as an entertainment to please and· flatter the monarch. Shakespeare's tragedy also serves to remind an audience of courtiers and commoners that the perils as well as the joys of history are linked to transitory and cyclical patterns of nature. In the course of history, great men rise to power through natural forces, by inheritance or election like James I, and often, like Hercules, they are called upon to make personal choices, whether for good or evil, that will affect generations to come. The witches, like the furies of classical myth, have come to meet with Macbeth, a hero of extraordinary stature like Hercules , and they plan to bewitch him by undermining his deepest moral convictions and bringing about a metamorphosis that will change tIle course of history. The setting, characters, and dramatic concerns of Macbeth belong to Scottish history described in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1587),2 and the defeat of Macbeth, the general gone awry, prefigures James' triumphant ascent to the throne in 1603. The role played by the witches, however, is charged with ambiquity because they function in response to the imperative of time not only as sibyls who prophesy the future but also as mysterious agents sent from a subterranean hell to find lodgings in the humati ELIZABETH TRUAX is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Chapman College. She has written essays on Shakespeare and the arts, and has recently completed a book on images of metamorphosis on Shakespeare's stage. 359 360 Comparative Drama heart. In appearance the Weird Sisters, as they call themselves, do not resemble the courtly ladies dressed in Elizabethan finery, depicted in the woodcut in the first edition of The Chronicles (1577), which Dr. Matthew Gwinn used as his model for the Oxford dialogue. Shakespeare's mysterious women, following Holinshed's description in the edition of 1587, are withered and dressed in wild disarray. Even their gender is in doubt, for they wear beards. To effect a wider sweep of history than the English Chronicles , Shakespeare evokes the sinister echoes of an underworld from which the furies, rather than well-meaning sibyls, come to vex a protagonist of extraordinary stature. Macbeth's encounter with the enigmatic witches has curious similarities with the experience of Hercules, described in Seneca's Hercules Furens, who on his return from the conquest of the Hades is met by demonic spirits and transformed into a bloody madman who commits acts of incalculable violence.3 The parallels between Hercules Furens, translated by Jasper Heywood (1561), and Macbeth-and, to a lesser degree, Hercules Oetaeus and Medea-are remarkable.4 Not only does Macbeth agree with Hercules Furensin mood, temper, and rhetoric, but also there are numerous correspondences in language, plot, and characterization as well. For Shakespeare, the past is always mirrored in the events of the present. In Ovid's Metamorphoses, a poem which may have influenced Shakespeare more than any other, Pythagoras explains, "All things are in a state of flux, and everything is brought into being with a changing nature."5 "Nothing retains its own form ... [and] nothing perishes in the whole universe; it does but vary and renew its form" (XV.252-55). History, like nature, follows a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 359-376
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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