I was at McMaster last night for a performance of Macbeth. My son was acting, so I am not an impartial reviewer. He has always found me a tough but friendly critic. Last night, I enjoyed watching the way these young minds, mostly men, were interacting with the text.
Power is intriguing - always. Power and violence are especially intriguing to young men. Throughout their lives, as they remember them, someone else has had the power. They might have had strength or agility or intelligence, but they have never had power - not the kind of power that exists beyond a very small circle. Now, as they prepare to leave university and enter the world, they look up (especially the young men) and notice that they will one day look very much like the people in power. They will have power.
It is not an easy thought. To have power is to become one of "them." To live without power is to be vulnerable and, more importantly, to fail to live up to the potential they know is in them. How can they move forward until they know if they are moving into positions of power or away from them?
And so, they engage with power in the form of a play. Other people have written about power and sex and the human desire to believe we can take what we want without remorse or consequence. No one has done it better than Shakespeare. These are smart young people. They are honing their minds on the best. They are sharpening their edges.
They do not do it for pleasure. Like most of their audience, they do not enjoy the tragedy of blood that is Macbeth. They perform it to find out what it feels like to step into the shoes of power. They test their own responses, knowing that power is in them and wondering what it will feel like when it makes its way out into the world. They act - they act as if. They pay attention to the parts of themselves that scare them.
Sometimes we older folks sit in the audience and forget the point of the exercise. We think it is about entertainment or discipline. We think Macbeth and his lady are monsters. We know that we have not sought power, most of us - not the power of violence and not any other power either. We do not listen to witches. We miss the point.
The point is not to reject violence or power: the point is to sharpen the edge.