A Comment Tree By the Side of the Road 9/7

Please add a leaf or two.

Your host is back home and adapting to the way things need to be done for the time being. Will get the laptop set up today. I hope.

169 thoughts on “A Comment Tree By the Side of the Road 9/7

  1. Mark on September 7, 2016 at 12:55 am said:
    We weren’t putting them in the basement, because that’s where all the chanting was coming from. We stuffed them in the other spare bedroom (and barred and locked the door).

  2. So glad you’re back home. Hospitals are okay for sleeping, but make it really hard to rest.

    (We’ll try to figure out a solution to the pizza boxes before the time machine brings them back, right?)

  3. Welcome home, Mike! Thousandthing the admonition to take things as slowly as you need. We promise that the shuggoth is (mostly) housetrained.

    When it is possible and available, I’m sure I’m not the only person who wants to see a photo of you with your new rockets!

  4. Welcome home, and I hope you are as well as can be hoped. Congratulations on the well-deserved Rocketships, and an also belated “well done” on selecting such a fine fellow to accept on your behalf.

  5. Welcome back Mike! Hope the road to recovery is smooth

    ~This is not the shoggoth you are looking for. Move along~

  6. Can someone explain to me why MacBeth is any good? It’s the Shakespeare tragedy I just don’t get.

    I’m fond of it for many reasons (such as its examinations of ambition and guilt), but one of my favorite things about it is the utter bleakness of its nihilism. MacBeth’s realization that there was neither reason nor meaning in his rise, nor will there be if he falls. That his wife’s death has left everything he ever strove for ashes in his mouth before he’s even lost, before he even gets the news about Birnam Wood that tells him he’s going to lose. He murdered his way to the top for what turned out to be a sick and pointless joke in an uncaring universe where ultimately, the only end for anyone, no matter what they do, is death.

    Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time,
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

  7. @John A Arkansawyer

    Can someone explain to me why MacBeth is any good? It’s the Shakespeare tragedy I just don’t get.

    What impresses me about it (besides the stirring language and the delicious ironies) is that it’s the story of how a good man became a bad man from trying to live up to predictions about his potential. Had he brushed off the prophecies with something like “if I become king, it’ll be because I deserved it; in the meantime, I’ll just focus on being the best thane I can and I’ll double-down on supporting our current king” then the tragedy would have been averted. (And there would have been no story.) But the story of a good man, tempted by ambition, who compromises his principles and from there follows an inevitable path to destruction–that’s powerful.

    It’s key that we know he’s a good man. We’ve got the example of his good deeds in act I, but we get stronger evidence when he and Lady Macbeth argue over the pros and cons of him killing the king. As I interpret it, this is really Macbeth arguing with himself. (Putting a little angel and a little devil on his shoulders would have been beneath Shakespeare.) He’s a moral man with a conscience who enters into treason *anyway* because his ambition is too strong. (The real role of the witches, in my view, is that they let him know that he could succeed if he tried. Otherwise the viewer would ask “what changed?”)

    And then it snowballs. Each killing requires more killings until a revolution unseats him. In the end, the only scrap of honor he retains is the determination to fight to his death (rather than run away or surrender) after he sees how the final prophecy has betrayed him.

    It’s powerful because we all face temptation at one time or another. Most of us have had a least a moment or two when we thought we saw the opportunity to gain something by doing something wrong. Macbeth reassures us that when we choose virtue over short-term gain, we really are making the right call.

  8. Can someone explain to me why MacBeth is any good?

    What Kyra and Greg Hullender wrote is beautiful and truthful and more than enough explanation, but I’m simple minded and the reason I love MacBeth is that it has the inevitability of the tolling of bells, one after another. I always hope it will be different, even though I know it won’t, and I’m always devastated at the end.

  9. @Kyra

    I’m fond of it for many reasons (such as its examinations of ambition and guilt), but one of my favorite things about it is the utter bleakness of its nihilism.

    I’d argue, though, that the nihilism is strictly from Macbeth’s point of view, and it reflects the terrible place his ambition has taken him. He sacrificed his honor, his friends, even his wife, and it was all for nothing.

    But I’d disagree that that’s the play’s message about life as a whole. Macduff certainly doesn’t see things that way. He fights for a cause larger than himself–no hint that he ever considered naming himself king after his victory over Macbeth. He subordinates his ambition and makes the world a better place.

    I’ve wondered if Tolkien deliberately borrowed the idea of the misleading prophecy that says you can’t be killed by a man of woman born. When Éowyn faces the Lord of the Nazgûl and revels that she is not a man, it has the same dramatic effect as when Macduff reveals his posthumous birth.

  10. I’ve wondered if Tolkien deliberately borrowed the idea of the misleading prophecy that say you can’t be killed by a man of woman born.

    Probably. He had the ents march on Isengard because the “forest coming to Dunsinane” prophecy in MacBeth disappointed him so.

  11. Powerful portraits of marriage and family in Macbeth as well, especially the Macbeths’ marriage, it seems to me. I’d respectfully disagree with Greg’s point about Macbeth’s discussion with his wife about killing the king being Macbeth “arguing with himself” for this reason.

  12. Greg Hullender — depends on which character you believe. I’m not so sure the play takes sides. MacBeth loses and dies, proving MacDuff right. But MacBeth loses and dies, proving MacBeth right.

    Personally, I find MacBeth’s words powerfully convincing. Which doesn’t make you/MacDuff wrong. It’s a point of view.

  13. @Aaron

    He had the ents march on Isengard because the “forest coming to Dunsinane” prophecy in MacBeth disappointed him so.

    I didn’t even think about that angle!

    StephenfromOttawa

    Powerful portraits of marriage and family in Macbeth as well, especially the Macbeths’ marriage, it seems to me. I’d respectfully disagree with Greg’s point about Macbeth’s discussion with his wife about killing the king being Macbeth “arguing with himself” for this reason.

    Yeah, it’s a lot more straightforward to just say that Lady Macbeth poisons Macbeth’s mind and is herself punished for it by madness. It’s still his fault for letting himself be poisoned, of course, so it doesn’t change the rest of my argument. I’ll admit I was trying to steer clear of interpretations that lend themselves to the claim that part of the message of the play is that men get in trouble when they listen to women, since I like to think that wasn’t really what Shakespeare was trying to say here.

  14. @Kyra

    Personally, I find MacBeth’s words powerfully convincing. Which doesn’t make you/MacDuff wrong. It’s a point of view.

    I think the question is what sort of message Shakespeare was trying to send. He certainly forces the audience to look nihilism right in the face, even as he gives the victory to goodness and right. You certainly don’t have to be Macbeth to have moments when you think that everything anyone does is futile.

    It’s why I like stories like The Log Goblin, by Brian Staveley. 🙂

  15. Macbeth has some local significance, his real life successor Malcolm Canmore moved his court to Dunfermline. The capital of Scotland moved around a lot before settling in Edinburgh. I’ve been to Birnam often enough too.

  16. Thanks, all! I’ll give it another shot next time I’m in a play-reading mood. I’ll also make a note to see it if it’s locally produced. If there’s a film to recommend, I’m all ears.

  17. Doing some freelance Pixel Scroll duty: The BBC announced today that they would be doing an animated reconstruction of Patrick Troughton’s first Doctor Who story, “Power of the Daleks”, using the original on-air soundtrack and photo references from the era. This is the first time that they’ve animated a completely missing story (previous stories that they’ve done animated reconstructions of have had some episodes present). The animated version will have a digital release in November and will air on BBC America before coming to DVD.

    (For the non-Doctor Who fans: This is exciting.)

    Also, the first two script books of Welcome to Night Vale came out yesterday, so anyone who reads faster than they listen can pick them up and find out what all the fuss is about. I want one of them to win a Hugo next year, but I’m not sure which. 🙂

  18. I don’t think it’s in any way misogynistic to note the importance of Lady Macbeth’s role. It’s clear that Macbeth doesn’t act in isolation. I think the play shows a credible marriage, in which the partners support and influence each other.

  19. There’s also a theory that Tolkien’s exchange

    “How many hundreds of years needs it to make a steward a king, if the king returns not?”
    “Few years, maybe, in other places of less royalty. In Gondor ten thousand years would not suffice.”

    is directed at the House of Stuart, who did indeed make the jump from stewards to kings (hence their name).

  20. Some also note that the existence of the Rohirrim probably ties to Tolkien’s belief that had the Saxons just had good cavalry, William the Conqueror would have never defeated Harold Godwinson resulting in the introduction of French literary notions into English literature (a development that Tolkien thought was terrible for English literature and culture).

  21. A digression about “Macbeth.”

    The first time I saw Akira Kurosawa’s film “Throne of Blood,” which is a resetting of “Macbeth,” I was quite confused. There would be a murder, and then the witches would predict the murder; it was all quite scrambled.

    Comments from the more knowledgable in the audience, after the movie, indicated that the projectionist had gotten the reels mixed up.

    We couldn’t even ask for our money back because it was a free show.

    Then there’s the current Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi’s setting of “Macbeth,” which depicts the witches as a chorus of homeless bag ladies.

  22. Current Reading:
    – Welcome to Night Vale – The plot is slower paced than I’d like. The biggest weakness so far is that all the little asides of extra weirdness that work when spoken by a radio announcer and his guests on a radio show don’t seem to work in the general narrative of a novel, and are one of the major causes of things. dragging. They needed an editor who could say, “focus on the weird in the plot”
    – Last First Snow (Max Gladstone) – I started this in 2015 and had to return it to the library unfinished. It’s back out of the library, and is marching firmly towards tragedy.
    – Sphinxes Wild (Esther Friesner) – an 80s book about a magical being wanting to end the world, and about Atlantic City. I was looking for her comic fantasy and this isn’t it but it’s interesting.

    The immediate TBR pile:
    The Obelisk Gate
    An Accident of Stars
    A Stranger in Olondria
    Ninefox Gambit
    The Invisible Library

  23. I’m gonna skip the Met version. Opera without the spectacle is like a cold baked potato without even any butter.

    @Jack Lint: I just re-read that last week. Gosh, it’s good! Sure wish I had a copy of The Final Reflection to go with it. One of the things I love most about his writing is that there aren’t any series or trilogies or any of that. Each book is a unique work. He couldn’t even repeat himself in someone else’s series!

    I suppose for some that’s a bug. For me, it’s a science fiction double feature.

  24. @Lenora Rose

    Also currently reading Last First Snow. I’m really enjoying the return to old characters.

  25. @Greg: “trying to steer clear of interpretations that lend themselves to the claim that part of the message of the play is that men get in trouble when they listen to women, since I like to think that wasn’t really what Shakespeare was trying to say here”

    Yeah, if Shakespeare had meant it that way he probably would not have had Macbeth’s reaction to Lady M’s murder plan be (paraphrased) “That’s an awesome idea – you’re as brave as a man! Your children should all be boys!”

    There is definitely a big element of gender role policing in that marriage, but it’s pretty clearly tied to their fatal flaws. In LM’s most direct goading of M, she tells him flat out that by thinking too much about right and wrong and consequences, he’s not being a real man. That wouldn’t work if he weren’t already kind of obsessed with performative masculinity; it also suggests that he could’ve gone just as badly wrong if he’d gotten the same advice from a man (say, if Banquo had not been such a nice guy), if it were phrased in the same sexually challenging way. And LM herself doesn’t believe that a woman can do what she’s doing— hence she asks the “spirits” not just to make her braver, but to basically destroy her as a person.

  26. What Greg and Cheryl both said.

    MacBeth is my favorite Shakespearean tragedy, and their explanations both cover the reasons.

    In short, no matter how well I know it, I always wind up within minutes of starting that play rooting for MacBeth and feeling horrified and saddened by where his journey goes. Every time.

    (Whereas I find Hamlet an annoying character from the start, and he just gets MORE annoying. I think he is a complex and credible character; I just find his descent inevitable, whereas MacBeth’s is genuinely tragic.)

  27. Comments from the more knowledgable in the audience, after the movie, indicated that the projectionist had gotten the reels mixed up.

    LOL!

    I had the same experience watching JFK. I was completely confused and lost… but I figured, okay, it’s Oliver Stone, and he’s rarely coherent, so just go with it.

    Didn’t realized until an hour later that I had started with tape 2 of a 2-tape movie.

  28. that by thinking too much about right and wrong and consequences, he’s not being a real man… Lady Macbeth: “…yet do I fear thy nature; / It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way…” The “milk of human kindness” is not meant for a positive thing here; womanish, weak.

    Macbeth was written for King James I, who was very concerned with witchcraft—don’t forget that a lot of the people watching this play at the time would have literally believed in evil powers of this sort. It was a bit of a shock to me when I realized that in context, Lady MacBeth’s speech “Come, you spirits’ was not a metaphor, she’s meant to be literally (attempting to) deal with demons here.

                                                Come, you spirits
    That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
    And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
    Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
    Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
    That no compunctious visitings of nature
    Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
    The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
    And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
    Wherever in your sightless substances
    You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night,
    And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
    That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
    Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
    To cry ‘Hold, hold!’

    Witchcraft ideas are very much mixed up with fears about “unnatural” women, remember the witches: “by your beards you should be men”. So “unsex me here” fits in with that.

  29. @Lenora Rose: Another big problem is that the two narrative strands cover very similar ground, and don’t intersect very much for a good chunk of the novel. I found that once Diane and Jackie stopped working independently and started collaborating, the novel found its footing and the pace picked up tremendously. The back half of the book is much more energetic.

  30. Drive-by question! Is it necessary to read Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria before The Winged Histories?

    I would say it is definitely preferable. It may not be a direct sequel, but one of the main characters in TWH appears also in ASiO and her story continues through both books.

  31. Macbeth: the best productions I’ve seen remain the McKellen-Dench production directed for the RSC by Trevor Nunn and the much more recent Patrick Stewart production, directed by Rupert Goold. I also liked a modern version made for Tv called Macbeth on the Estate, with my favourite Macduff ever. The very recent film with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard is good but more a riff on the play than the thing itself.
    Macbeth and Lear are Shakespeare’s two “social tragedies”: I.e. They turn on what happens when you stress the interpersonal bonds that hold a society together (Macbeth) or break them (Lear). M and Lady M suffer from the delusion that they can win the status they want by breaking their obligations as subjects, hosts and relatives, and then keep that status and resume their links with others. Macbeth realizes his mistake first, quickly understanding that he can’t turn back from the tide of blood he’s unleashed. And of course you add to this some of Shakespeare’s most interesting characters & beautiful writing.
    I’ve seen a number of productions and decided that it’s quite hard to perform the play as well as it’s written. Perhaps this is because the play is so compressed. It’s one of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedies and is now believed to have been cut and partially rewritten by Middleton, perhaps for indoor performance, which enabled spooky effects like the last visit to the weird sisters. This means you have to play all of it exactly right, so there’s little margin for error. Also, the play demands a very strong cast across a large range of roles – you need 5 strong women and good actors for Duncan, Banquo, Macduff & Malcolm, as well as a superlative one for Macbeth – without a very strong ensemble, the play won’t fly as it should.

  32. I love MacBeth, because I’m a big fan of his 87th Precinct books – Carella, Kling, Meyer, all the gang. Someone should reboot those books as procedurals.

  33. @Laura Resnick: MacBeth is my favorite Shakespearean tragedy, and their explanations both cover the reasons.

    In short, no matter how well I know it, I always wind up within minutes of starting that play rooting for MacBeth and feeling horrified and saddened by where his journey goes. Every time.

    Same here, on both your points.

  34. I first read Macbeth at age 10–witches! eye of newt! ghosts! swordfights! But that was also about the time that I started to notice poetry, and the language really grabbed me. OK, it was the witches’ cauldron scene that I knew by heart, but I don’t recall memorizing the ghost stories I was reading at the same period. I think that Macbeth was also the first Shakespeare play I wrote a paper on in college–again, the supernatural side. (I was doing the same sort of thing with the Child ballads.) Now, though, it’s been knocked off my Top Ten by Hamlet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Much Ado, Tempest, As You Like It, Othello, Coriolanus, King Lear, and Richard III, in no particular order. (This may be influenced by having seen killer productions of all these and just so-so versions of the Scottish Play.)

    But about tragic trajectory: Put the play next to Othello, which is even more wrenching in its picture of a good man (again, a fine soldier) gone wrong, and without any supernatural nudging.

    (BTW, Laura R: I find Hamlet a completely different kind of tragedy, since “thinking too precisely on the event” isn’t quite the same kind of flaw as being driven to murder by ambition or jealousy. And Hamlet is just so damn smart and funny, even when he’s being dickish.)

    Oh, and as much fun as it has been to talk among ourselves, it’s very good to have Mike back.

  35. An all female theater group put on MacBeth in an Episcopalian sanctuary this past spring. All four of them played all of the characters using clothing (and masks in the case of the witches) to allow the audience to figure who was who. Though I hadn’t seen it in probably twenty years, I knew almost every line by heart.

  36. Oh, yes, watching Macbeth fall gets me every time. As for Hamlet, every time the sword fight is proposed I want to stand up and shout, Don’t do it! I love Macbeth for how complete and terrible the moral fall is (and the language!) and I love Hamlet for how he never stops thinking about the meanings of what is happening to him. I love his quest to understand everything.

    And then I read some of Shakespeare’s sonnets as a reminder that when he fell in love himself, he was as fallible as anyone else. With some of the most gorgeous sonnets every written in there as well, of course, because he is still Shakespeare.

Comments are closed.