The Descent of the Despot: Sleep Deprivation, Hallucinations and Guilt in Macbeth
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Autocracy is in. From “Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things,” a popular blog featuring pictures of former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il looking at things, to a recent cinematic adaptation of Idi Amin’s maniacal reign of terror, fortuitously titled The Last King of Scotland, there is something about despotic regimes that fascinate the western world, albeit from the comforting privilege of our overstuffed armchairs. Frequently, as in the film previously mentioned, western narratives concerning autocracy feature a story arc that traces the rapid rise of a despotic leader who seizes power, often in conjunction with an assassination or coup d’etat, which is followed by a gradually crescendoing, paranoia-fueled homicide binge that ultimately culminates in the death or deposition of the despotic protagonist, following a descending spiral into insanity.
Although more than 400 years have elapsed since the first stage production of Macbeth, little has been done to disjoint the narrative frame it has established, and to the extent that modern reworkings, such as The Last King of Scotland, have attempted to renovate its facade, they have generally done little but dilute the complexity of the original, primarily on account of the fact that they take as their focus a single murderous autocrat, by necessity restricting the focus of the narrative to the descent into madness of a single individual. In Macbeth we are presented with not one but two unique descents, namely those of Macbeth and