The senior class at Chesterton Academy recently staged a remarkable production of Macbeth. I say “remarkable” because when the play is done well—which it was in this case—what everyone remarks about is what a powerful and provocative piece of drama it is. G.K. Chesterton says this is Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy because it is a Christian tragedy as opposed to a pagan tragedy. It is not a tragedy of fate, but of free will. Macbeth is a good man who makes a very bad decision, which is then followed by more bad decisions, which eventually lead to his destruction. It is a vivid portrayal of the consequences of sin. And as a play, it has everything: murder, madness, gut-wrenching sadness, comic relief, swordfights, ghosts and witches.
What about those witches? Macbeth is lured by the prophecies of “the three weird sisters” who seem to be telling him good things. He will be honored. He will be king. But he is not content with letting this future simply come along in good time. He gives in to the temptation to force its fulfillment. But after he murders the king and rises to the throne, he is, in a word, agitated. He is kept awake by his guilt. (“Macbeth hath murdered sleep.”) He finds he can no longer pray. So where does he go for comfort? Back to the witches. Back to the ones who did not make him happy in the first place. He gets more twisted prophecies that he foolishly follows to his demise. When he is about to die, he pitifully realizes how he has been deceived by
“These juggling fiends. . . that palter with us in a double sense.
They keep their words of promise to our ear
And break it in our hope.”