A Tale Told by an Idiot

The Tragedy of Macbeth
by William Shakespeare
edited by Jan H. Blits

Fortune blessed Jan Blits with a rare gift in ordaining that his edition of Macbeth would appear in the same year as Joel Coen’s widely heralded film of the “Scottish play.” The publicity generated by the film, with its eminent director and prominent American actors Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in starring roles, may well have provided a boost in sales for a new edition. Blits’s treatment, however, seems more suited to scholars or graduate students than to an undergraduate in a survey course, much less to a moviegoer who, having seen the film, decides to read the play.

Blits is a very learned man with a distinctive and unusual approach to the play as a treatment of the actual, historical development of Scotland. The interpretive introduction is short, just over ten pages, so most of the learning and the argument for the editor’s reading of the play go into footnotes, which thus take up a third to three-quarters of many pages. There are, indeed, a few pages with only four or five lines of text. This is not an accommodating way for a reader who is not a scholar to experience a complex work of literature.

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R. V. Young is Professor of English Emeritus at North Carolina State University, and a former editor of Modern Age: A Quarterly Review. His Shakespeare & the Idea of Western Civilization is forthcoming in January from Catholic University of America Press. He and his wife are parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Dunedin, Florida. They have five grown children, 15 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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