Aug 212015

by Kim Pederson…….

It’s often difficult to separate reality from fiction. This may be particularly true regarding people and events that receive the “based on a true story” treatment in prose and film. Take Macbeth for example. If you’ve seen a stage production or film rendition of the Shakespeare play (which some stage actors, by the way, only talk of as “the Scottish play” out of superstition), then you know Macbeth was a Scottish general and lord who listened a little too closely to some witches and his wife and his own greed and ambition and so came to a bad end, learning too late not to believe “juggling fiends” that “keep the word of promise to our ear and break it in our hope.”

This is not the real Macbeth but let's pretend it is, (19th Century artist conception, US-PD)

This is not the real Macbeth but let’s pretend it is,
(19th Century artist conception, US-PD)

Shakespeare’s play has been described as presenting a “highly inaccurate picture of [Macbeth’s] reign and his personality.” The story of the real Macbeth, not surprisingly, is not all that dramatic. He did become king upon the death of Duncan on this day (August 14) in 1040, but Duncan died in battle rather than being murdered in his sleep. Macbeth became king of Alba, not Scotland, since Scotland did not exist at the time. He also reigned for seventeen years, not the short time in the play between Duncan’s murder, his wife going mad, and Birnham Wood coming to Dunsinane. Macbeth’s real name was Mac Bethad mac Findla√≠ch. Lady Macbeth’s real name was Gruoch and she had been married previous to becoming Macbeth’s goad and a stain-obsessed housewife. Her son by her first husband was “king of Scots” pre-Macbeth until he died in a fire.

As in the Will S. version, Macbeth was killed by Malcolm, son of Duncan. Malcolm, however, was fighting for the English who were busy invading Scotland in 1057. Finally and perhaps most ironically, Macbeth was not, according to contemporaries, a murderous tyrant. It’s too bad the real Macbeth never got to see himself as the world sees him now. I can’t imagine him being pleased. He might, though, have been a little jealous of Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28. I can envision him reading words such as “And all our days have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!,” smiling ruefully, and saying, “Gee. I wish I’d said that.”

All of this makes me wonder how we could come off if someone like Shakespeare had a chance to transform our lives into high drama. In my case, I doubt the story would be a three-hour stage play. It would more likely be a Saturday Night Live sketch featuring a married couple, the bones of a black chihuahua named Taco, a narrow stretch of forlorn dirt behind a rundown garage, and the line “You’re kidding me. This is the place?” And no, I’m not explaining any of this.

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 August 21, 2015  Posted by at 12:30 am Issue #128, Kim Pederson  Add comments

  3 Responses to “Something Wicked Real This Way Comes”

  1. “Based on true events” is a dead give away that what you are about to read or watch is 99 percent fabricated. The best example was the movie “Fargo”. Bill Macy was very excited about the “true story” that the film was based on, but was shocked when the Coen brothers (writer/directors) said the whole thing was made up even though the movie started with the text, “This is a true story. ” To add to the what Stephen Colbert would call the “truthyness” of the movie the text goes on to say, “The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred”

    The Coen brothers employed their artistic licence by saying those things with not one shred of a true story to be found. Still one of the best movies of all time.

    Love your random thoughts, Kim.

  2. Kim, I don’t think Shakespeare ever claimed to be creating anything but fiction, no? As for anything being a “true story” on TV, well … I’ve long conquered that form of naivety … which, I suppose, now holds true for anything we might be told about anything. Sad but true.

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