The One Where Fleance Comes Back

So my daughter and I are working on a secret project (more soon!) that involves a deep reading and markup of Macbeth. For our purposes, I got the plain text, public domain copy from Project Gutenberg. I made her a copy, made myself one, and over the Christmas break we’ve been going about our business making our notes, periodically comparing.

Until yesterday, when we were driving to visit relatives, with the whole family in the car, discussing various things like college majors and literary theory and Shakespeare. “I thought you said Fleance doesn’t come back,” I hear her say.

“He doesn’t,” I say, driving. “Some adaptations insert a scene of him returning, to reinforce the prophecy about Banquo’s children. I think the Fassbender movie version does that.”

“No,” she continues, “he’s in the final scene.”

“No,” I insist, “he’s not.”

“When we get back home I’ll need to show you. He has lines. It’s in my copy.”

“If that’s true, that would be a giant mistake.”

Well, giant mistake confirmed.

I do what I always do in these situations – I call Bardfilm, my friendly neighborhood virtual Shakespeare resource library. While I’m waiting to hear back (he is traveling for the holidays as well), I start checking other versions. Everywhere I can find, this line is Ross’s. Ross has delivered the previous line, and Siward is in conversation with him. There is no indicator that this should be, or ever has been, Fleance’s line. Even if we imagine him in this scene (there is no stage direction to show him entering), why would he deliver that line?

I’ve written to Project Gutenberg with our correction. I’m sure in their world, this happens all the time; they have an actual address and ticket system set up for errata. But this isn’t a typo. Stuff like this bothers me. The stats say that almost 3000 people/month download that file. Presumably, mostly students. How many of them read that and just assume, no matter how confusing it is, that Fleance makes an appearance at the end? Arguably, it’s a trivial thing, but not to us. If you read Macbeth or any Shakespeare, and you have questions, you’re entitled to answers to those questions. It’s not fair for the answer to be, “Yeah, that’s just wrong, you got a bad copy. Ignore that.”

If anybody needs me, I’ll be re-reading my copy with a First Folio (and maybe an Arden) sitting in my lap.

2 thoughts on “The One Where Fleance Comes Back

  1. You’ve probably seen the 2015 Fassbender film adaptation … I thought it interesting that Fleance did return, briefly, at the end of the film. You don’t think they were influenced by this, do you?

    1. I’m honestly wondering how this error occurred. As someone who works all day in a text editor, I wouldn’t be surprised to say it was a search and replace error gone wild. But … it’s a specific case. And how often would you be switching anything related to Ross and Fleance? So from that angle it feels more deliberate. But, then, if somebody’s going rogue why not go all the way? Why not give that whole conversation to Fleance, or even add a “Fleance enters” stage direction? I have no idea who it happened. Project Gutenberg never got back to me, and as of right now … … the mistake is still there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *