Once more into the concordance, dear readers, once more! Let’s double our efforts to find doubly redoubled doubles in Macbeth.
A concordance (as you may/probably do know) is a reference that contains and counts word usage for any given collection of texts; in my deeper dives into the texts, I like to take a look at words that pop up seemingly frequently in my reading [and as per usual: like all our discussions for concordances, we owe a great debt to OpenSource Shakespeare].
So: “double” (and its variants).
In Macbeth, they’re used 13 times in 10 speeches, the only play in the Canon in double digits, with the closest competitors being Richard II with 7 and The Second Part of Henry the Fourth with 6; all other have fewer than one half the amount of Macbeth.
- As cannons “overcharged with double cracks” (I.ii.37), Macbeth and Banquo “doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe” (I.ii.38) in the battle
- Lady Macbeth describes the preparation for the visit by the king thus: “All our service // In every point twice done, and then done double” (I.vi.15-6)
- Macbeth speaking of why Duncan should be safe in his home: “He’s here in double trust” (I.vii.12), both as a king and his guest
- The witches: “Double, double toil and trouble” (three times in IV.i)
- In questioning the witches, Macbeth says that he will “make assurance double sure” (IV.i.105)
- When Macbeth learns of Macduff’s birth, he says he’ll no more believe the witches because they equivocate “in a double sense” (V.viii.20)
[And that’s not even counting the usual oppositional rhetorical devices like “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won” (I.ii.68), and repetitious or self-referential rhetoric like “they made themselves air, into which they vanished” (I.v.5-6)]
Do all these doubles relate to (and reflect upon) what Macbeth refers to as his “single state of man” (I.iii.140), a reference we discussed the other day? Is Shakespeare contrasting that early use (single) to his more enlightened multi-part view of manhood near the end of the play?
Possibly, but they might also be there to point us in the direction of the instances of opposites coexisting in themselves in the play:
- “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (I.i.12)
- “So foul and fair a day” (I.iii.38)
- “This supernatural soliciting // Cannot be ill, cannot be good” (I.iii.130-31)
- the whole concept of equivocation (including “th’ equivocation of the fiend // That lies like truth” [V.v.43-4])
- “Such welcome and unwelcome things at once // ‘Tis hard to reconcile” (IV.iii.138-9)
Is life in the world of Macbeth, a confusing, self-contradictory, multi-faceted mess, one that only a true king can make right? And is this the message Shakespeare wanted to deliver to his new king? And if so, was this Shakespeare’s subtle reference to James’ attempts to uniting the not-quite-yet United Kingdom?