Last night Amanda and I saw with friends a preview performance of the Guthrie Theatre's new production of Macbeth. I consequently spent my spare moments last week re-reading the play and some of the critical commentary to it that is available to me here at home. There is one recurring note in the commentary that I just cannot see. Here, for example, is Mark Van Doren in his Shakespeare:
Shakespeare again has enclosed his evil within a universe of good, his storm center within wide areas of peace. . . . Malcolm speaks the language of the play, but he has recovered its lost idiom. Blood will cease to flow, movement will recommence, fear will be forgotten, sleep will season every life, and the seeds of time will blossom in due order.
And Frank Kermode, in his introduction to Macbeth in The Riverside Shakespeare:
The suffering of the Macbeths may be thought of as caused by the pressure of the world slowly assuming its true shape and crushing them. This is the work of time; as usual in Shakespeare, evil, however great, burns itself out, and time is the servant of providence. Nowhere is this clearer than in Macbeth.
Is it really that clear? There are some loose ends, and one of them concerns Banquo's son Fleance, who escaped the murderers who bludgeon his father to death outside Macbeth's castle right before the banquet. Banquou's dying speech--"O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!/Thou mayst revenge--O slave!"--is interrupted at the line break by the stage direction, "Exit Fleance." And he (Fleance) is not seen or heard from again. Yet the weird sisters appear to have prophesied that he would be king: "Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none," they inform Banquo, in I.iii, after predicting Macbeth's ascent to the throne. It was on account of that prophecy that Macbeth gave the murderers particular instructions to dispatch Fleance as well as Banquo, and when they report back after the ambush that Fleance escaped, Macbeth says in an aside, "Then comes my fit again. I had else been perfect."
The play ends with the impending coronation of Malcolm, the murdered Duncan's rightful heir. But I cannot take it as a restoration of order that proves evil has burnt itself out--not with Fleance unaccounted for. Malcolm should not sleep too soundly. Fleance is to be king.