‘What beast was't then’: Stretching the Boundaries in Macbeth
An initial charting of the field, the first chapter centres on Macbeth, a play that probes into what ‘may become a man’ across a precariously permeable line of species distinction and compellingly enlists the collaborative forces of the stake and the scaffold. The baiting references in Macbeth are fully in keeping with how the ‘hell-hound’ (5.10.3) ‘and his fiend-like queen’ (5.11.35) are seen by their righteous enemies. But when Macbeth’s severed head is finally presented like a hunting trophy, this image belies the lingering unease evoked by the play’s two central characters, the play having conveyed such a strong sense of the humanness of the bestial couple. The Macbeths are the most fully realized individuals. Paradoxically, the transgressive ‘more’ that pushes them beyond the bounds of the human is also ‘more’ humanness.
Keywords: bear-baiting, human-animal boundary, public execution, representation and presence, Shakespeare, Macbeth, John Foxe, Actes and Monuments, Thomas Dekker (on bear-baiting), John Taylor, the Water Poet
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