Locating Macbeth at the Thresholds of Time, Space and Spiritualism

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In the preface to Folie et déraison, Michel Foucault unmistakably locates madness at the limen of cultural identity: European man, since the beginning of the Middle Ages has had a relation to something he calls, indiscriminately, Madness, Dementia, Insanity. … [It is] a realm, no doubt, where what is in question is the limits rather than the identity of a culture. (Foucault xi) By describing madness in this way, he demonstrates his understanding of madness as a cultural phenomenon, defined not by the analysis of a subject’s symptoms, but rather the shared assumption that a subject is not ‘right’, does not conform to the prevailing ideological norm. Written in the late twentieth century, his work is a treatise about the wider…show more content…
During Shakespeare’s time, the insane “…were not merely victims of a brutal society; they were also violent, murderous and politically dangerous” (Salkeld 80), and thus if we take his plays to be true “expressions of everyday life,” (Harmon 403), it is not surprising that the mad monarchs of Macbeth is so expeditiously removed from the throne. For those of the Early Modern period, the idea of a monarch possessed by madness was anathema, “something against which to prepare… and above all, to avoid,” (Harmon 403) for what is to made of the Monarch’s privilege to speak on behalf of God if they are, indeed, a Madman? It is clear that both Macbeth’s state of mind that results from his transgressions is not a healthy one, and his wife ultimately cannot reconcile her guilt at Duncan’s murder with continued life. Macbeth then, can easily be interpreted as a case study of the mind. The ‘stuff of madness’ provides excellent entertainment for Shakespeare’s audiences, both contemporaneously and in the modern world, but more can be revealed through an analysis of how this madness is presented. The Foucaldian perspective indicates that madness is a “material condition that, to be understood, must be read, made sense of, [and] inscribed into discourse,” (Neely 142)

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