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This report is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

War Music Neil Powell

Anyone who has read Macbeth understands the paradox of heroic villainy. There he stands - this tyrant who has `supp'd full with horrors', guilty of murder in its most terrible forms, regicide and infanticide - and he speaks:

I have liv'd long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but in their stead,
Curses, not loud, but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.

We are moved, if not to forgiveness, then at least to compassion. Macbeth, of course, is not Saddam Hussein: he did not possess `weapons of mass destruction' though, had they been invented, he would no doubt have appreciated their usefulness. Yet, at the time of writing, it is still just possible to imagine Saddam Hussein having a great redemptive speech in Act V, whereas if George W. Bush tried to deliver one the audience would fall about laughing. Shakespearean tragedy, from Titus Andronicus onwards, comprehends the Saddamesque hero; Bush, alas, more resembles Malcolm, a limited if victorious man who gets all the rotten lines. Poor Malcolm, like Fortinbras and Octavius, is one of those unmemorable characters whose job is to introduce a duller and safer world as the curtain falls; we may not think much of him, though for the sake ...


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