Macbeth! The Story of Macbeth

I watched Macbeth last night, partly because of the lure of shirtless Fassbender, but also because FUCK YES THE BARD!!!

Shakespeare’s tales are saturated with the best and worst of human nature – lust, violence, madness, hilarity, love, vengeance, ambition – to such an extent that they’ve endured for over four centuries.  Not only that, but many lines are ingrained in our contemporary language as everyday idioms… a foregone conclusion, a sorry sight, all of a sudden, all’s well that ends well, dead as a doornail, as luck would have it, bated breath, more fool you, wild goose chase, vanish into thin air, there’s method in my madness, the short and the long of it, the Queen’s English, send him packing, in a pickle, and my personal favourite Elizabethan sexual euphemism, “the beast with two backs.”

Something that I find interesting about the stories themselves (aside from all the stabbing and cross-dressing) is that they were often already ancient when Shakespeare adapted them for stage.


An illustration from Holinshed’s Chronicles, which Shakespeare drew inspiration for the story of Macbeth from.

For example, the real Macbeth, or Mac Bethad mac Findlaích to give him his catchier title, ruled Scotland from 1040-1057.  In reality, Macbeth killed King Duncan in battle, and was later killed in battle with the English.  The popular 16th-century history book Holinshed’s Chronicles portrayed Macbeth as a stabby witch-botherer, and it was from this depiction that Shakespeare’s play drew inspiration.  Further influencing Shakespeare was the Stuart king James I’s belief that he was descended from King Malcolm.  Never piss off your patron, especially if he has the power to have you hanged, drawn and quartered.

And now a story that is a millennia old, once performed to catcalls and the throwing of rotten vegetables, can be enjoyed in the comfort of one’s living room, where every ripple in Michael Fassbender’s pectoral muscles is rendered in high definition.  It’s almost as though Shakespeare, whether through prescience or rampant egotism, had some inkling of his eventual longevity, as he states in the closing lines of Sonnet 18,

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
 So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
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Withnail & I Director Pens Jack the Ripper Book

 I was really excited when I heard Withnail and I director Bruce Robinson had spent 15 years researching the Ripper crime. Then I read what his theory was. No, Bruce, no!

Bruce’s 1st claim: The Ripper was the brother of James Maybrick, “author” of the most-definitely-fake Ripper diary. The fact that he gives any credence to the hoax diaries immediately makes me dismiss his theory on the Ripper’s true identity.

Bruce’s 2nd claim: The Ripper letters are all real and all written by his suspect, music hall songwriter Michael Maybrick. Nope. They all have different freakin’ handwriting and are (with the possible exception of the From Hell letter) all from the pens of enterprising journalists and attention-seeking nutjobs.

Bruce’s 3rd claim: The Ripper was a homosexual. Which seems very unlikely when you consider that every documented homosexual serial killer has targeted men.

Bruce’s 4th claim: The Ripper was a wealthy man who did not live in Whitechapel.  Personally, and this is the belief of a lot of Ripperologists and crime historians, I think the Ripper HAD to have been extremely familiar with the twisted alleyways and claustrophobic courts of Whitechapel in order to so neatly evade police and witnesses and return home with bloody clothes and hands.

Bruce’s 5th claim: After the Whitechapel murders the Ripper moved to the Isle of Wight and became mayor.  Again, it is my belief that something must have happened to terminate his escalating crimes – namely mental breakdown or death, or perhaps immigration.  Serial killers don’t generally give up at the height of their mayhem and retire to the Isle of Wight.

Bruce’s 6th claim: The anti-semitic graffiti “The Jews are the men that will not be blamed for nothing”, had nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and instead reflected that the Ripper was a Mason.  Now, aside from the fact that it’s likely the Ripper didn’t even write the graffiti, I think the particular local slangword for Jew that he allegedly yelled at Israel Schwartz (the Jewish man who witnessed the attack on third canonical victim Elizabeth Stride) indicates that the Ripper’s attitude towards Judaism was more symptomatic of the prevailing anti-Semitism in the East-End at the time.  It’s also been theorised that Schwartz refused to identify the Ripper in a line-up because he was a fellow Jew, in which case it is interesting that the Ripper would make an anti-Semitic remark, being himself Jewish.  It is assumed, based on the autobiography of Police Commissioner Robert Anderson and footnotes by Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, that Aaron Kosminski was the suspect that Schwartz refused to identify.

You failed me, Bruce. Still, I’ll probably buy your book anyhow.

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