January 29, 2024

The Scottish Play: Race and Nation in “Macbeth”

Event Series: Cultural Encounters: Books that Have Made a Difference

A stream running through the Scottish highlands

In this lecture, Robert S. Miola argued that Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1623) reflects local and specific contemporary stereotypes about the barbarous Scots and the civilizing English just as it interrogates racial prejudices and the myths of national identity. If positive cultural encounters acknowledge others in their otherness to build mutual communication and trust, as Pope Francis would have it, negative cultural encounters trade in stereotypes for the purpose of conquest and exploitation. Macbeth appears to record such a negative encounter as it concludes with the civilizing English rescuing the benighted Scots from themselves, tyranny, and witchcraft. As such, the play appears to support the political ambitions of King James I of England for the union of Scotland and England under English rule. Through the play’s action, as well as in its omissions and suppressions, it meditates compellingly on the power dynamics of conquest and colonialism, myths of national identity, and the paradoxes of archipelagic history.

Miola also addressed translations, productions, and adaptations of “the Scottish play” in Scotland, which constitute a fascinating though neglected chapter of of Scottish-English cultural encounter. Research in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh and in the Scottish Theatre Archive housed at the University of Glasgow reveals a substantial body of adaptation and revision that challenges perceived inaccuracies in Shakespeare’s play and focuses attention on the historical figure of Macbeth, his country, and his language. Scottish encounters with this play, ranging from corrective to hostile, resonate powerfully through the centuries up through the current political situation.

This event was sponsored by the Future of the Humanities Project, the Georgetown Humanities Initiative, and Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. It is part of the year-long series, Cultural Encounters: Books that Have Made a Difference.

Participants

Robert S. Miola

Robert S. Miola

Robert S. Miola is the Gerard Manley Hopkins Professor of English and a lecturer in classics at Loyola University Maryland. Miola has edited several Shakespeare plays including Macbeth (2003), Much Ado about Nothing (2007), and Hamlet (2019). Miola has published extensively on early modern receptions of Greek and Latin writers and has completed an edition of George Chapman's Iliad (2017). He has also written Shakespeare’s Rome (1983), Shakespeare and Classical Tragedy (1992), and Shakespeare’s Reading (2000), among other works. He is currently working on an anti-racist edition of Macbeth.

Michael Scott

Michael Scott

Michael Scott (moderator) is senior dean, fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, college advisor for postgraduate students, and a member of the Las Casas Institute. He also serves as senior advisor to the president of Georgetown University. Scott previously served as the pro-vice-chancellor at De Montfort University and founding vice-chancellor of Wrexham Glyndwr University, where he is professor emeritus.