I guess it’s no big surprise that the world of MACBETH is full of secrets. After all, the play begins with prophetic witches on the one hand and deceitful political betrayals on the other, even before Macbeth and Lady Macbeth take any action. But I’m beginning to see how notable it is what is NOT talked about in the play, given how much we are able to see of people’s motives.
For instance, trying to figure out through rehearsal why on earth Macbeth does not reveal the witches’ prophecy about Banquo to Lady M. He says nothing in the letter to her, doesn’t bring it up before the murder, sends her away as it begins to gnaw at him, bluntly obfuscates to her when he tells her to “let your rememberance apply to Banquo” at the banquet that he knows Banquo will never attend. I was asking Richard Easton about this during one of our film shoots of him as Duncan – it seems such a mystery to me when he is so clear with her about everything else (even telling her that he will go see the witches again, after the disaster of the banquet) – and Richard reminded me that he does not ever talk about children to her. Certainly not sons. And the “Banquo prophecy” is not about Banquo at all, really – it’s about Fleance. In our production, there WAS a child of the Macbeths’ marriage in the past, a child that died. She refers to this child just once, at a critical moment (“I have given suck”). But it must be something that Macbeth has never come to terms with, and so can’t bring up. And I think, much more than killing Duncan, this is his downfall, this inability to connect with Lady Macbeth. It’s certainly hers.
And why doesn’t Macduff tell Lady Macduff where he is going, or why, when he goes to England? Why not give her the information that would allow her to possibly protect herself or their children? He obviously regrets it later, but why would a man of his “wisdom and judiciousness” fail to let in the one person for whom the information most matters?
As Ross, who has many secrets of his own, spying on his cousins the Macduffs for Macbeth, says, “Cruel are the times, when we do not know ourselves; when we hold rumor from what we fear, but know not what we fear, but float upon a wild and violent sea each way, and move.” And perhaps this is the answer. These men are not exactly keeping secrets from others – they are avoiding something within themselves. Keeping a secret implies that there is an awareness, a hiding of a known fact. And these men are afraid, a feeling that perhaps they’ve never felt before and don’t know how to deal with. So they act rashly, close off common communication, and try to shift the problems from their souls into their minds and into their actions. And this further isolates the women in the play, or anyone who COULD help these men discover the best course or strategy. And as they avoid a deep reconciliation within themselves, as they equivocate with themselves, Scotland sinks deeper into blood.