Who Exactly Is The “Great Killing Machine”?

David Bates of “Reading Everest” introduced himself and his blog to me this weekend, and I find his current post about Macbeth pretty cool.  Quoting Harold Bloom he refers to Macbeth as the killing machine – but then goes on to point out that Macbeth is only responsible for 3 deaths, and those offstage.  Hamlet, meanwhile, Shakespeare’s most intelligent character and certainly the darling of Bloom’s work, is directly responsible for the deaths of Claudius, Polonius (even if he didn’t know it was Polonius, he still wanted him dead), and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  He’s debatably got a hand in Ophelia’s insanity and eventual suicide.  As David asks, what would he have done to Gertrude if the ghost hadn’t stepped in?  (Actually he asks whether Hamlet would have done Gertrude in before Polonius, but I don’t think that was ever a possibility.  After, though, when he’d gotten himself worked up….) Macbeth *is* a killing machine.  He’s introduced that way.  Everybody loves the “unseamed him from knav to chaps” line, describing Macbeth’s prowess on the battlefield.  I think that his physical size and power has a great deal to do with the point of the story.  It’s not about who’s the biggest and strongest.  Macbeth the monster is manipulated by his wife.  She then goes down to her own internal demons, not to some assassin’s blade.  Does Macbeth remain a killing machine at the end?  Is Macduff fighting the same guy he would have in the opening scene?  Or is the monster a broken shell of himself at the end? UPDATE : Link to the original post, which I shamefully forgot when I originally posted this.  My sincere apologies to David.

9 thoughts on “Who Exactly Is The “Great Killing Machine”?

  1. Hey, thanks for quoting my blog, appreciate it. I would quibble with you on one point, the suggestion that it wasn't realistically a possibility that Hamlet would have killed Gertrude before Polonius. I'd agree, if it weren't for the fact that Hamlet himself acknowledges the possibility before he goes to her bedroom at the end of Scene 2 in Act 3:

    Soft! Now to my mother!
    O heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever the soul of Nero enter this firm bosom. Let me be cruel, not unnatural; I will speak daggers to her, but use none.

    Nero, being the Roman emperor who killed his mother, Agrippina.

    You're probably right, but the fact that Hamlet himself cites the case of Nero and basically has to say to himself, "Now don't lose your cool in there!" show that the thought did occur to him.

  2. In reading Bloom, we are forever confronted with the gulf between the plays that Shakesepare wrote and the plays that exist in Bloom's imagination. I read Shakespeare for the paradoxes, contradictions, complexities. Bloom reads Shakespeare for Archetypes. And once he's decided that Falstaff, say, is the archetype of Merry Old England, nothing in the play itself can be of very much importance if it cuts against that.

    Hamlet, in Bloom's telling, does not so much die as cast off this sordid world, he being much too good to be troubled with it. What this has to do with the pampered playboy of Shakespeare's creation is anyone's guess. Intelligent and thoughtful? Yes, but also vacillating, vain, cruel, careless, and a menace to everyone around him. Hamlet is such a colossal ass, he can't even let Ophelia's funeral be about anything other than himself.

    Sorry–Howard Bloom. Kind of sets me off sometimes.

  3. Interesting concept, placing Hamlet and Macbeth characteristically and contextually in the same basket of bad eggs.
    I'm afraid there's too much ignored, as well as a plethora of arbitrarily appended, fresh off the press conjectural fine print to wade through, in order for the idea to be taken as something at all feasible, never mind to consider it as somehow "actual".

  4. I don't agree with Bloom all the time either. But I don't think he's at the crux of the point of the statements in the initial piece.
    While the idea of Bloom's overstretched but under-calculated analysis is at hand:

    Whatever opinion someone might hold about Hamlet, using "body counts", and projected "possible" body counts–as compared to those of Macbeth– is, I think, immaterial. In addition, to seriously mistake the size of either respective cache we have at our disposal as any kind of proof in that regard, while continuing to pursue a vain attempt to support, with those inaccurate estimations, what's initially immaterial, seems a bit overcooked, to say the least.

  5. Curiously, the "Reading Everest" blog allows for comments, but there's no evidence that they ever get read or posted."Reading" Everest is perhaps a title with more than one meaning.

  6. JM, sorry about that, I just posted your comment. I didn't see it before I left on vacation, and I didn't bring my laptop with me, so I'm a bit behind. While away, I saw four Shakespeare plays: "Macbeth," the little-produced "Henry VIII" and "All's Well That Ends Well" and "Much Ado About Nothing." Fantastic, although the "Macbeth" production brought to my attention an oversight in my original "killing machine" argument: Macbeth also slays Young Siward. I'll mention that in my blog later this week.

  7. JM's comment was not posted for nearly a week because I had no computer access while on a trip to see four Shakespeare plays. I posted it last night and responded to him at his own blog.

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