Tuesday, November 15, 2016

If Macbeth came to Jesus

A big part of teaching is theft.  You see someone else's good idea, and you swipe it to use with your students.

That seems like a really bad way to begin a post about Macbeth coming to Jesus.

I guess I should qualify this statement by saying I thieve things that are free online.

The point, though, is that sometimes, in the interest of not spending every second of my life creating questions from scratch for my students, I use questions that other people have been kind enough to write and share.

When we studied Macbeth, one of those questions was about Banquo, and it was kind of a loaded question.  The question was:  To what extent does Banquo deserve the death that befell him?

On the one hand, you might say that Banquo sensed that Macbeth was acting weird about the witches and felt pretty sure he had killed Duncan.  Given this, he didn't get the heck out of dodge and away from Macbeth.  Rather, he told Macbeth, "Why, yes, I'm going riding alone in the dark woods with my son, whom the witches have said will be the progenitor of a long line of kings, while you, Macbeth, will remain forever childless and won't be king for long."  This seems a little like "blaming the victim," but it also seems a little like, "use your good common sense to avoid psychotic tyrants."

On the other hand, does anyone ever deserve death?  (Another potentially loaded question, there.)

A prospective parent sat in on this particular class and made a comment about the bible, which is appropriate since this is a Christian cottage school class.  It got me thinking.

So the next week, I asked the students what would happen to the story if Macbeth accepted Jesus as his savior and became a better, nicer, less murderous human being.  One of my students said, "It would make the story suck!  I would be disappointed because it was like, 'That's it?'"

That isn't to say that coming to Jesus makes everything in one's life easy or perfect, but it does provide a cleansing of the soul (as does any religious conversion, I imagine), and one of the greatest dilemmas for Macbeth is his increased understanding that he is on a path to his soul's condemnation.  He understands that he is at a place where to turn back to good is as long of a journey as just moving forward into full-gone evil.

I admit I was sorta happy that my student offered his comment on Macbeth's conversion because this was my thought as well.  Macbeth is a tragedy and what makes him tragic is that he could make different choices and doesn't.  If he repented, I'm not sure what we would call it, but it wouldn't be a tragedy.

Macbeth's pathos stems from the fact that he doesn't repent--he keeps plugging forward even as his world crumbles at his feet.  He is a lost soul.  What is interesting to me, as a teacher, is asking my students to use their Christian world-view to dissect Macbeth's character.  Asking them about his motivations (not that they excuse his behavior, but perhaps they help explain his behavior).  Asking them to consider what choices they see being made in our modern world and how those align with Macbeth's grasp for power.  What are the dangers in ambition?  What codes of honor (against kin, king, and guest) do we see being violated in real life?  How, as moral people, do we reconcile forgiveness with the horrors that Macbeth enacts?

To say, "Because Jesus" and be done with the struggle in Macbeth is simplistic.

As readers, we have polar opposite wishes for Macbeth:  we want him to keep making terrible choices because that makes the story better, but we also wish that he would do differently.  We both know that it is a story and lose our selves enough in it to feel like it is real life.

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