Macbeth Does the Stations of the Cross

Emanuel E. Garcia


by Emanuel E. Garcia

It was an unlikely event. I found myself on a rare sunny day this spring in far-off New Zealand, 9000 miles from my native Philadelphia, mounting the steps to a Catholic cathedral so that I might deliver a few requested fliers for a small programme of Shakespeare excerpts in which I was involved. On this early morning I entered the hall adjacent to the church proper and, finding no-one, prepared to leave the several fliers on a desk.

However, the doors to the church were open, the morning air was brisk outside, and before I knew it I was standing in the nave and gazing up at the illuminated glass and the spare but lovely architecture of the edifice. Not long ago, I had heard a concert in this space and its beauty had impressed me as compellingly as had the music of Mozart and Beethoven.

Now I looked about and took a seat in a pew and thought I would absorb, in this solitude, something to make the traffic and travails of the ‘outer’ world a little more tolerable. I marvelled at how a stranger and wanderer might avail himself so freely of this unexpected sanctuary; and then, scanning its walls I soon discovered the familiar series of fourteen paintings marking the dimly remembered Stations of the Cross.

Atheist though I am, curiosity got the better of me, and so I moved from image to image, patiently. The pictures had been rendered plainly, directly, cleanly–nothing ornate. There was Jesus condemned by Herod; there he was carrying the ungodly cross on which he bled to death; there he was stumbling, falling, being helped, greeting women, being stripped, barbarically nailed to the cross he bore and, ultimately, being laid to rest.

I sat once again, reflecting upon the insanely perverse brutality of the Romans who practiced this exquisite torture on many, and I thought too of the passage of years, of what we call history, of the multitudinous and virtually infinite distortions of fact that must have occurred down the centuries, down the millennia. Why, I could hardly relate with accuracy an episode of my own small life the day before . . . .how much truth can we expect about events occurring so long ago?

I thought too of this figure, god or man, whose message of peace and love, of dignity in poverty, had been so trammelled by those who claimed to honour his legacy. And, finally, I thought about Macbeth, scenes from which I would be enacting soon in a hall close to this very spot.

Considered the darkest of all of Shakespeare’s plays, it is nonetheless replete with some of the most magnificent poetry and psychological insight penned by our Bard. It is a study in the genesis and evolution of evil: vaulting ambition and the slippery slope that leads to further acts of murder until its violent end, this play that begins and ends and is soaked throughout in blood. It is a study in the alchemically bewitching interaction and synchronicities between Macbeth and his Lady, of their forces in combination without which the murder of Duncan and all of the others that followed would have been impossible.

It is a play that I have seen only rarely because of the profundity of its gloom, a play I have avoided participating in–until now.

I have a fellow actor to thank for persuading me to tackle Macbeth, one Julia Maria Seemann, who pointed out that Shakespeare’s deepest message was one of hope. “How?” I asked incredulously.

Seemann went on to note that both Lady Macbeth (whose role she undertakes) and Macbeth were driven to madness, which was itself driven by their guilt; and she concluded that the perfidy they committed must have gone against the grain of a good that is quintessentially a part of our humanity. Were that good not there, Lady Macbeth would not have lost her reason, Macbeth himself would not have quaked and trembled at his blood-stained hands and the ghost of Banquo.

And, I mused, Simon would not have offered to shoulder Jesus’ cross on the Via Dolorosa, and Veronica would not have wiped his face, and the three women of Jerusalem would not have wept for him–and, ultimately, for themselves.

Yes, I would take on Macbeth, and give as much as I could in portraying this complex Shakespearean monster. And perhaps I would be more aware of the task of doing a bit of good not for reward, but just because . . .

Strange thoughts perhaps, on this unusual and unexpected morning, as I stepped outside into the flux of our wearying and occasionally hopeful world.

Emanuel E. Garcia is an American-born physician and writer who resides in New Zealand. He has published poetry and essays on various sites and print publications. His most recent novel, “Manhattan Stardust” (Prato Books), appeared in 2016.

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