If It Were Done

"Macbeth" and Tragic Action



This lucid and suggestive study of Macbeth presents three ways of looking at the tragedy - from the perspectives of Hamlet, of tragic action, and of violence and meaning. In the first chapter Macbeth is regarded as a "counter-Hamlet," an inversion or negative of the modes and structures of presentation that characterize the earlier play. The second chapter focuses, as does Macbeth, on doings and undoings, on tragic action so dramatically foregrounded that it is not merely a means but also an object of representation. The author argues that Shakespeare almost relentlessly subverts the Aristotelian conception of tragic action as Macbeth's indefinable deeds of darkness metadramatically reflect the playwright's own dramatic deed, Macbeth. The third chapter demonstrates how this dismantling of the structure of action extends into the field of political and social order. Scottish violence both dissolves the conventional differences that define civilized society and, as a sacred source of the very differences it destroys, becomes a matrix of cultural meaning as well.

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