Historical Nexus: Bewitching Nurses in Rupert Goold's Visual Medium of Macbeth

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Date
2018
Authors
Beehler, Paul A.J.
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Publisher
Southern African Society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
Abstract
This close reading and interpretation of the Early Modern concept of beneficium and maleficium explores the conflation of midwives and witches as it pertains to twenty-first-century images in the PBS production of Macbeth. An exegesis of Rupert Goold’s 2010 film Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood is at the centre of this analysis. Ultimately, Goold uses the image of the witch in the film to draw a close and historically accurate connection to midwives. More to the point, the image of the nurse as an expression of the seventeenth-century midwife would have coloured a seventeenth-century audience's understanding of the witches’ prophecy because of Macduff’s close affiliation with midwives – he was ‘untimely ripped’ from his mother’s womb. An historical appreciation of the role of midwives is aided by recognizing that midwives were almost exclusively present during live births involving Caesarean sections in the Early Modern period. Shakespeare’s audience would have inherently understood this stark connection between the midwife and witch (as has been noted in recent scholarship). Goold’s twenty-first-century use of the nurse/midwife image, then, reasserts a historical subtext that further complicates the problematic nature of Macbeth. If Macduff is associated with the witches as Goold suggests, should an audience be satisfied with Macbeth’s fall at the hands of Macduff? Most audiences feel a sense of relief oncThis close reading and interpretation of the Early Modern concept of beneficium and maleficium explores the conflation of midwives and witches as it pertains to twenty-first-century images in the PBS production of Macbeth. An exegesis of Rupert Goold’s 2010 film Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood is at the centre of this analysis. Ultimately, Goold uses the image of the witch in the film to draw a close and historically accurate connection to midwives. More to the point, the image of the nurse as an expression of the seventeenth-century midwife would have coloured a seventeenth-century audience's understanding of the witches’ prophecy because of Macduff’s close affiliation with midwives – he was ‘untimely ripped’ from his mother’s womb. An historical appreciation of the role of midwives is aided by recognizing that midwives were almost exclusively present during live births involving Caesarean sections in the Early Modern period. Shakespeare’s audience would have inherently understood this stark connection between the midwife and witch (as has been noted in recent scholarship). Goold’s twenty-first-century use of the nurse/midwife image, then, reasserts a historical subtext that further complicates the problematic nature of Macbeth. If Macduff is associated with the witches as Goold suggests, should an audience be satisfied with Macbeth’s fall at the hands of Macduff? Most audiences feel a sense of relief once the tyrant Macbeth is retired, but that emotional reaction might be misplaced. The question is a pivotal one that strikes at the heart of this problem play, though there are, of course, many unresolved problems and conflicts in Macbeth. This interpretation simply introduces one more complexity to consider.e the tyrant Macbeth is retired, but that emotional reaction might be misplaced. The question is a pivotal one that strikes at the heart of this problem play, though there are, of course, many unresolved problems and conflicts in Macbeth. This interpretation simply introduces one more complexity to consider.
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Keywords
Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION , Macbeth , Rupert Goold , Midwives
Citation
Paul A.J. Beehler, 'Historical Nexus: Bewitching Nurses in Rupert Goold's Visual Medium of Macbeth', Southern African Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 28 (2018): 51-86