After reading the foretold finale of Moby-Dick, I was a bit sour on my favorite Shakespeare play. It seemed that the failure of Ahab made me re-examine Macbeth and find him wanting, too. Considering that by the end of the play Macbeth is a homicidal maniac, that takes some doing.
Here’s the thing: when I first read and saw MacBeth, I thought I saw a glimmer of hope in the ending, when Macbeth says, “I will not yield . . .” To me it was Macbeth declaring his “I”ness, his individuality in the face of the betrayal by the witches.
Similar to Ahab, no? When Ahab defies the fire god and declares his own independence, I felt a similar thrill. Then Ahab fails miserably in his newfound “I”ness, following Macbeth’s path of misreading all the prophesies and finally throwing himself at Moby Dick, knowing the outcome is fated. It made me see Macbeth’s final act in a similar, fatalistic way. And suddenly I didn’t like Macbeth nearly as much.
Then came Sir Patrick, Captain Jean-Luc Picard to you and me. He, of course, never wanted to be defined as captain of the Enterprise. On the contrary, I believe it was he who defined the role, who took the program from “wagon train in space” and into a world of philosophy, ethics, and deep, deep humanity.
Well, recently Sir Patrick played the Scottish king.
I watched him on the PBS online channel. The performance was brilliant, exciting, deeply human. I watched for the ending, for the “I will not yield” line to see if Sir Patrick could rescue it from the despair of Moby-Dick.
Did he ever. Just watch.
Did you catch it? Did you see what he did? Yes, there was the misunderstood prophesy. Yes, there was the “I will not yield” line. But it was secondary. Instead, the crucial line was “enough.”
Stewart’s Macbeth did what I imagined Macbeth to have done when I first read the play. But this time he really did it. Probably not what Shakespeare intended. Probably completely against the canon. But brilliant.
This Macbeth triumphs. Not by winning. Not even by trying to the last. That’s Ahab’s style, blindly following fate where it inevitably leads. No. This Macbeth takes control of his own destiny. He is about to kill Macduff, to continue the madness. Then he sees the witches. All is clear. This is all a game they want him to play, for their amusement, for their body count, whatever. But Macbeth ends it. He says “enough.”
This is the ending Ahab wanted. This is the ending Huck Finn wanted. Both missed it. Sir Patrick found it. We are the masters of our own destiny. We decide. We choose.