Wednesday 6 September 2023

Shakespeare’s Bloodsavers


An investigation into the themes behind Shakespearean dramatic characters who move to save blood (other than their own, or close kin) from being shed, or lives being lost, typically in mass suffering or injury or killings.


In Shakespeare's plays, there are characters who sometimes intervene, or plan, to prevent bloodshed on a significant scale. The characters of interest here are generally neither peacemakers per se, nor pacifists; and generally ones who go beyond purely partisan interests.

And will, to save the blood on either side,
Try fortune with him in a single fight.
—Prince Henry, Henry IV part 1 (A5s1)

The more realistic plays offer more general insight, so The Tempest's magic-wielding Prospero (who forsakes bloody revenge) is not included. Neither here considered are As You Like It's Rosalind (who creates a kind of marital peace, but the blood feuds are settled off-stage), nor The Merchant of Venice's Portia (only a single character's blood is saved, and Portia’s victory lacks justice, fairness and mercy). Neither considered are Troilus and Cressida's Hector advocating returning Helen and sparing defeated foes (a possible yet partisan fit), nor Romeo and Juliet's Prince, Nurse, Friar and Romeo himself, all of who have some shout in bloodsaving, yet whose motives appear counterweighted, compromised or opaque. Nor will characters who appear to have consistent pacifist or bloodshed-averse views be considered here (like Virgilia in Coriolanus). These tend to be untested characters (pacifism is awkward to be absolute in).

Verona's civil broils and Milan's coup are significant here, however, in broaching Shakespeare's concerns with civil war and conflict within kin groups.

To illustrate this theme, the following characters will be examined: Edmund of Langley Duke of York (Richard II); Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Hamlet); Titus Andronicus; and Pericles. I will also explain why a few characters (like Prince Henry in the quote above) cannot reasonably be counted as bloodsavers.

One headless figure restrains another from drawing a sword.
"Draw not thy sword"

Pericles: perilous playboy or humanitarian hero?

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a play concerned with good and bad government. Pericles endangers his own population by recklessly seeking the daughter of powerful Antiochus as a bride.

When all, for mine, if I may call offence,
Must feel war's blow, who spares not innocence:
Pericles, Pericles, Prince of Tyre (A1s2)

But in recompense, almost immediately relieves famine in Tharsus with purpose-brought grain, for which he largely wants only friendly relations and use of a port.

Pericles' attitudes to his subjects and subordinates is ambiguous. In A2s1, fishermen pity Pericles’ lost crew whose fate he seems oblivious to, though he may be half-dead with cold. While in A3s1, Pericles agrees to appease sailors’ superstitions and tosses his apparently dead queen overboard to save lives, though a fear of mutiny is also a likely motivation.

Another candidate bloodsaver in the play by vocation and practice is lordly physician Cerimon, who seems to attract honest admiration for good works (and a good work ethic).

I held it ever,
Virtue and cunning were endowments greater,
    Than nobleness and riches”
Cerimon, Pericles, Prince of Tyre (A3s2)

Pericles fears the bloodbath that could be visited on his subjects/countryfolk (by Antiochus) and takes indirect means to avoid it. Yet later, under oath to goddess Diana says he was frighted from his country. Frighted for himself, his subjects, or both?

Hamlet: Denmark in Danger

Hamlet is Shakespeare's great play about Communication. Intriguingly, for all of Prince Hamlet's soliloquies, we still have to guess about a great deal of his motivation. From early in the play, we learn of enemies without and divisions within Denmark. A sizable number of Danes appear happy that usurper-King Claudius is hosting drunken revels rather than making them go off and wage war against formidable foes in the cold shores of the Baltic. Under Hamlet's cloak of madness, he may be settling scores (Polonius) or trying to repel/entreat others to a place of safety (Ophelia).

The play's foreshadowings are a much more reliable guide to its ending than Hamlet's musings. For example, in A2s2 the player’s speech features the destruction of Troy in flames and blood. In A3s1 Claudius smells danger.

But in case you missed all this, it is spelt out by a minor character:

The cease of majesty
Does not alone; but, like a gulf, doth draw
What’s near it, with it: it is a massy wheel,
Fix’d on the summit of the highest mount,
To whose huge spokes ten thousand lesser things
Are mortis’d and adjoin’d; which, when it falls,
Each small annexment, petty consequence,
Attends the boist’rous ruin. Never alone
Did the king sigh, but with a general groan.
Rosencrantz, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (A3s3)

Hamlet learns that thousands may die battling over a patch of land:

I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
Hamlet, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (A4s4)

By A4s5, Queen Gertrude fears some great amiss and King Claudius fears the resentful people led by Laertes, drawn home by father’s death, as if people should choose their own king. On the other hand, in A5s2 Hamlet relates with relish how he sealed the fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and pleads diminished responsibility to Laertes.

On the balance of probabilities within the text of the play, Hamlet forsees how enacting his revenge against Claudius will lead to bloodshed. On this reading, Hamlet's struggle to hold a King to justice can be read as an attempt to take the least bloody path, the means by which Gertrude, Ophelia, Laertes and others deemed not guilty will be spared (interestingly, Hamlet seems to regard Horatio as both valuable and expendable, ironically as it transpires). Shakespeare turns our attention to systems, to question why the rule of law does not apply for regal power with royal prerogative, to effectively propose election. But… do we really believe Hamlet's protestations that he does not value his own life? And how much does Hamlet really value other lives?

Henry V: premeditated war criminal

See above quote when Henry was a Prince. In Henry V A1s1, Henry protests his care not to shed blood, but it is clearly a pretence. See his father’s advice in the previous play. We later see his manipulation of traitors and mercy. Henry’s threat to French king, and particular to Harfleur, are chilling, horrifying, indeed terrorism. While soldiers before battle tell it like it is. Henry V is not a bloodsaver, though we see him pose as one when it suits.

Titus Andronicus: oops

It might seem strange to view Titus, a blood-shedding 40-year warrior for Imperial Rome, a sacrificer of a prisoner and murderer of his own son on his return, as a bloodsaver, but consider this. The homecoming warrior is both weary of blood and power but not honour “Give me a staff of honour for mine age” (A1s1), arrives unprepared for Roman politics at a wave of civil strife which immediately threatens to settle succession by open civil war. Titus (why does Rome keep repeating the mistake of electing victorious generals in Shakespeare’s plays?) is patently unsuited for civil office, unlike his diplomatic brother Marcus, and foists the even less suitable prince Saturninus on Rome, in apparent attempt to save blood on the streets.

This shows the sometimes disastrous side of blood-saving when it fails to treat the underlying problems or address politics maturely and responsibly. The younger princely brother Bassianus, already engaged to Titus’ daughter Lavinia, was the safer choice of Emperor, but whether through haste, respect for primogeniture or another reason, Titus makes this bad choice which sets the rest of the play on a tragic course. If Saturninus failed to accept Bassianus’ ascent, then likely the combined supporters of Titus, Marcus and Bassianus would have decisively prevailed in the civil conflict without weakening Rome as much as electing Saturninus does.

Undoubtedly Titus' character changes over the course of the play, distracted by grief and horror if not true repentance. When Marcus kills a fly, Titus is enraged by this tyranny over the innocent (and may not that fly have a mother and a father?), until Marcus denies the fly’s innocence. Perhaps there is a sense of Titus, so long the enforcer of Rome's 'Might is Right' imperial policing, failing to empathise with the innocent until the atrocity inflicted upon his daughter Lavinia finally (and far too late) opens his eyes, even to the point that flies might have rights.

Edmund of Langley Duke of York: the honourable exception?

When Shakespeare's dramatic projects want to stress an attribute common in a class of people, the playwright typically inserts an exception somewhere to emphasize what is the norm. Therefore Cressida is unfaithful, even though female characters are normally faithful. Prolix characters are generally politically inept, yet Gonzalo is astute. This is a powerful way of challenging stereotypes and emphasising the individual agency of characters, but also of judging social classes (the odd good king does not detract from Shakespeare's devastating critique of hereditary monarchy).

Most peace-making attempts fail in histories and tragedies (Edmund York may be an exception, but only a postponement). So we come to Richard II, and another looming civil war.

A number of characters, including the principal contenders for the throne, King Richard II and his cousin Henry (Hereford/Lancaster) Bolingbroke, make protestations about how they deeply care to spare the blood of subjects. Some notable quotes on this theme:

And for our eyes do hate the dire aspect
Of civil wounds plough’d up with neighbours’ swords
Richard II, The Life and Death of Richard the Second (A1s3)
Why have they dar’d to march
So many miles upon her peaceful bosom;
Frighting her pale-fac’d villages with war,
And ostentation of despised arms?
York, The Life and Death of Richard the Second (A2s3)

It is noticeable that really only York uses humour in the play to defuse tension and (interspersed with more assertive passages) attempts to appear both relatively harmless and yet just.

If not, I’ll use the advantage of my power,
And lay the summer’s dust with showers of blood,
Rais’d from the wounds of slaughter’d Englishmen:
The which, how far off from the mind of Bolingbroke
It is, such crimson tempest should bedrench
The fair green lap of King Richard’s land,
My stooping duty tenderly shall show.
Henry Bolingbroke, The Life and Death of Richard the Second (A3s3)

But Richard and Henry are quite happy to make such threats:

Armies of pestilence; and they shall strike
Your children yet unborn, and unbegot…
The purple testament of bleeding war;
But ere the crown he looks for live in peace,
Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers’ sons
Shall ill become the flower of England’s face;
Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace
To scarlet indignation, and bedew
Her pastures’ grass with faithful English blood.
Richard II, The Life and Death of Richard the Second (A3s3)

So no offer of single combat, then. A contrast is immediately provided by the gardeners (A3s4) who espouse a kind of biocracy, a view that a nation should be tended for all that live in it.

Richard II is the play which begins an arc of plays covering a bloody period in English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and French history, a time of invasions, dynastic conflicts, political murder, civil war, massacres, various other war crimes and unnecessary infliction of mass suffering. We are given a foreshadowing of these future events:

And if you crown him, let me prophesy,—
The blood of English shall manure the ground,
And future ages groan for this foul act;
Peace shall go sleep with Turks and infidels,
And, in this seat of peace, tumultuous wars
Shall kin with kin, and kind with kind confound;
Disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny
Shall here inhabit, and this land be call’d
The field of Golgotha, and dead men’s sculls.
O, if you rear this house against this house,
It will the wofullest division prove,
That ever fell upon this cursed earth
Bishop of Carlisle, The Life and Death of Richard the Second (A4s1)

These likely effects are obvious enough to Carlisle, and indeed to York, who in striving to prevent them (for example, by remaining neutral in A2s3), perhaps only postpones them.

In the closing Act of the play, York privately states his allegiances to his wife, although the subtext is loyalty to the enduring state, rather than whoever currently sits on the throne:

To Bolingbroke are we sworn subjects now,
Whose state and honour I for aye allow.
York, The Life and Death of Richard the Second (A5s2)

and immediately has cause to demonstrate such allegiance. On discovering their son Aumerle’s plotted treachery, York immediately wants to turn him in, which his wife opposes.

Fond woman! were he twenty times my son,
I would appeach him.
York, The Life and Death of Richard the Second (A5s2)

All three ride separately to Henry Bolingbroke in haste. When all arrive begging, Bolingbroke sees ridiculous side (why is it ridiculous that a lord would put public duty before private dynasty? This is the key to the play). York passes the test.

The play ends with Henry Bolingbroke, now Henry IV, trying to draw a line under the bloodshed after rebels have reportedly burnt Cicester and the heads of leading traitors have been severally delivered to him: he spares the Bishop of Carlisle.

Production traditions, and what we can learn from them

Some of the key passages and even scenes I mention here have been edited, downplayed, ridiculed or even entirely omitted from productions I have seen. Rosencrantz's speech, the Yorks' plea to spare their traitor son. Do these puzzle directors, make them confused or uncomfortable? If York is a kind of traitor to the dynastic class, a lord who would sacrifice his own son in the public interest, and York is an extreme exception, and outlier, what does that say about the norms of the English ruling class? Norms that, whatever the background of directors, may have seeped into their conscious and unconscious minds from the conditioning of acceptance to social cheating the Anglo-British establishment specialise in.


We have looked at the phenomenon of bloodsavers in Shakespeare's theatrical works. We see mixed motives in Hector, ambivalence but also humanitarianism in Pericles, false pretence in Henry V, obscurity in Hamlet, tragic conversion to side with innocents far too late in Titus Andronicus, and a number of other characters who do not fit the template one way or another. Only the dramatic character of Edmund of Langley Duke of York (Richard II) passes the test (and only for English lives, not French or Irish) of concern to prevent general bloodshed, even at the cost of his own son's life. A character whose behaviour is so out of keeping with the rest of his social class, we are impelled to look at the character of that class. Because if all characters of a class behave alike in one respect, that behavioural attribute is more likely to go critically unexamined. An exception who, if not proving the rule of the bloodshedding elite, gives compelling evidence for it.

Creative Commons Licence
Shakespeare’s Bloodsavers by Sleeping Dog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Wednesday 19 April 2023

How to stage Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a popular uprising


Have you ever watched Macbeth and got the impression there was something else going on in this pre-revolutionary artwork, that was realistically political rather than a magical conspiracy?


Is there a case for staging Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a popular uprising, where the witches are not supernatural entities but revolutionaries pretending to be? I think the text supports such a possible reading. If so, how would you stage it? Like this, perhaps. How many changes would it need to the text? None, and possibly a more faithful production is possible and indeed indicated than many contemporary versions. What additions? Mostly dumbshow, to indicate the silent background activity of the revolutionaries, particularly messengers, coordinators, eavesdroppers and common soldiers.

During which explanation, some questions the play raises are answered in this light. I will use ‘revolutionaries’ for the witches’ faction(s), and ‘lords’ as a shorthand to describe the ruling Scottish class including the king, queen, princes, lords, ladies, gentry.


The first revolutionaries we see are the three witches, who are rehearsing for their meeting with Macbeth and Banquo. Other revolutionaries are servants, messengers/runners, old folk, camouflaged spies who monitor events. There are ample hints of class war in the text, but also class traitors in the pay of scheming lords.

Witches are (over)acting

The portrayal of the witches should show that they are acting supernatural parts (indeed, sometimes overacting) to con Macbeth (and to some extent Banquo, and indirectly Lady Macbeth) into taking part in their plot. The witches are professional revolutionaries but amateur actors. Hence they only dare appear twice to the most promising mark, Macbeth.

What motivates the witches?

Banquo appreciates this and says as much to Macbeth (enkindle you unto the crown). But what is the end? Shakespeare will have been familiar with the founding myths of republics such as Rome, whose people apparently kicked out their kings after exposing the rapaciousness of their ruling dynasty. Equally, the witches may be revolting against hierarchical Christianity. This raises the possibility of factions within the revolutionaries, with somewhat different motivations. Clearly, though, the aim is not just to kill any number of kings but to thoroughly discredit kingship amongst the people.

Internecine plot

It seems that the revolutionaries (witches etc) aim to use psychological warfare to ‘enkindle’ the lords into a mutually destructive conflict. They have done their research, but there are factors outside their control or influence (like the English).

Revolution HQ targets and dumb show

Staging the Revolution will probably require showing a Rebel Headquarters on stage in key scenes, perhaps literally underground compared with concurrent action. This HQ could feature large cards showing Duncan atop row of Malcolm, Donalbain, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Macduff, perhaps Lenox, Cawdor, Rosse, Menteth, Angus, Cathness or so and such, some crossed out during play, some removed or added?

Cartoonish drawing of a gloomy cave containing three hooded figures dressed in green robes with blue and brown triangles, sitting, entering at pace and crossing off cards representing the nobles in Shakespeare's play Macbeth.
Revolution Headquarters

Class War

There are a number of indications of class war in the text. The word ‘slave’ is used as a pejorative by the lords, while lords are ‘noble’. Servants live in fear of upsetting lords. Something is brewing. Were the kerns and gallowglasses foreign freedom fighters?


Where are Macbeth’s wounds?

The wounded sergeant spins a tale of Macbeth’s toe-to-toe battlefield heroics, but this is almost immediately rendered implausible. No reference to Macbeth’s wounds are ever made (though some productions choose to show them). Indeed, Macbeth rides furiously home and his wife embraces him without comment on any hurt.

We later find that Macbeth has servants in his pay throughout the lords’ households. If we look at the over-flowery speech of the wounded sergeant, we see he falters after delivering Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds as if he realises he has over-delivered on his tale.

Lords lie, use flowery-serpent courtesy.


Malcolm delivers the most devastating critique of hereditary monarchy, so much that Macduff has difficulty processing it.

Cowardice not valour is the norm

Shakespeare mocks the lords’ pretensions to valour, not just in Macbeth (who needs promise of a charmed life to enkindle him, and sends others to do his dirty work) but in his enemies like Macduff, who flees his home and family. We may suspect that common soldiers win the lords’ battle for them (Duncan conspicuously sits out battle). Not all lords are cowards, though, especially if young and seeking martial glory like Siward's son.


A weakness of the lords’ position as a ruling class is its irrationality, so perhaps no wonder they turn to superstition. And yet dispense with it when it doesn’t suit (Macbeth: 'Twas a rough night.)


Commoners sometimes mock courtly speech. Only a small minority will be professional revolutionaries, hence their indirect approach. Many commoners will be employed directly (or indirectly, double-paid as spies) by lords. Some are apparently desperate or vicious enough to volunteer to murder children.

Act 1

Scene 1

A meeting and rehearsal of witchy roles.

Scene 2

The ‘bloody man’ (a sergeant) contrasts with apparently unscathed Macbeth and Banquo. His testimony is flowery, therefore either created by lords for lords and rehearsed, or improvised possibly to set up power struggle. The testimonies credit only lords with victories, a second thaneship is merely a prize, not an additional onerous administrative duty.

At the mention of greeting Macbeth with Thane of Cawdor title, a revolutionary runner sets off to tip off Revolution HQ and witch revolutionaries.

Scene 3

Witches improvise (and may be overheard on heath at distance) waiting for Macbeth and Banquo. A revolutionary runner whispers in their ears. The witches’ greeting now improvised with the Thane of Cawdor news. The Revolution are at times literally underground, or camouflaged. Insane root mention may give witches ideas for later meeting.

Scene 4

Nepotism rules.

Scene 5

Attendant may overhear “metaphysical aid”, revolutionary servants may overhear Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth. look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it

Scene 6

Lady Macbeth not sharing praise for hostess duties.

Scene 7

‘divers servants’ may be well placed to overhear.

Act 2

Scene 1

Servants placed to overhear, to project image of dagger.

Scene 2

Servants could produce the noises and voices.

Scene 3

Suggestions that Revolutionaries have been behind some of the night’s omens to put the wind up the lords.

Malcolm: There’s daggers in men’s smiles: the near in blood, the nearer bloody.

Scene 4

Old Man (possible Revolutionary) makes references to lowly birds of prey attacking mighty and internecine horse conflict, feeding lords’ unease.

Act 3

Scene 1

Macbeth: Masking the business from the common eye Royalty is not only private government, but murderous and deceitful.

Interestingly the Murderers do not directly agree to kill Fleance, something that a Revolution might consider sadly necessary for all claimants.

Scene 2

Again, servants could overhear Macbeths.

Macbeth lists treason’s tools: steel, poison, malice domestick, foreign levy.

Macbeth: Things, bad begun, make strong themselves by ill is royalty’s recipe. Essentially royals ride a crime wave.

Scene 3

Servant leads Banquo and Fleance, 3rd Murderer joins previous two. Only Banquo is killed by 1st Murderer. Did Servant and 3rd Murderer collude in letting Fleance escape? Is the Revolution reluctant to kill children?

Scene 4

1st Murderer reports Banquo’s killing and Fleance’s escape to Macbeth as Revolution stages a daring set-piece, the Macbeths’ own servants contriving the appearance (only to Macbeth) of the likeness of Banquo’s supposed ghost. No connection between Macbeth and 3rd Murderer is made.

Angles at the table should make it appear from Macbeth’s end that the opposite seat is taken but not from angles to each side.

The back of a servant’s headdress might give the illusion of a bloodied face some distance behind, whilst another servant has placed a cloth over the chair. The illusion should disappear as Lady Macbeth draws close to her husband’s view angle.

Reappears, disappears as obviously designed, marked, rehearsed, reacting to any changes in sightlines.

Macbeth reveals he has a paid servant as his agent and eyes in every Lord’s house, so why not the Revolution a true believer in each too? Maybe the same servant even.

Scene 5

Does Hecate represent a disgruntled self-styled leader or vanguard of the Revolution? Is this stylised magical cant put on to confuse royalist infiltrators?

Hecate: And you all know, security Is mortal’s chiefest enemy.

Scene 6

The Scottish lords appear too weak to move against an apparent regicide and tyrant, one meaning of Lenox’s Things have been strangely borne

Act 4

Scene 1

Witches prepare for, and be overheard by, Macbeth.

2nd Witch By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes is crying out to be hammily overdone and cackle-ended, inviting rolling eyes from other witches.

Revolutionaries have practised their special effects, probably throw a bit of insane root into the cauldron, and researched Macbeth’s fears, MacDuff’s birth and Dunsinane’s approaches. Ingredients may obviously be unlike their labels or incongruously packaged. The Revolutionaries plan to stir Macbeth into further outrages against lords to bring about internecine conflict. Which works.

Scene 2

Lady Macduff calls her husband’s flight unnatural and a mother wren decidedly more valorous.

He wants the natural touch: for the poor wren, The most diminutive of birds, will fight, Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.

The messenger who brings warning could be a revolutionary, but one who breaks with or keeps policy?

Scene 3

Revolutionaries will follow to the English court but keep quiet during scene. Have they, not just Macbeth, tried to work on Malcolm?

Malcolm may be testing Macduff, but is also laying bare the true nature of kingship. For example:

Malcolm: I grant him bloody, luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin that has a name but claims he will be much worse still. The silently-watching Revolutionaries may nod in agreement.

Lenox: Would create soldiers, make our women fight this is essentially the Revolutionary plan, although to the end of removing the last lords standing.

Act 5

Scene 1

The waiting gentlewoman and doctor of physick well know that the crimes of their masters are dangerous to report on.

Doctor: Foul whisperings are abroad presumably some spread by Revolution.

Scene 2

It seems that the Revolutionaries have chosen Dunsinane for Macbeth’s downfall and planned for a host to travel through Birnam Wood, but have they miscalculated on English power? They seem to need foreign aid since Macbeth appears to have admirers even now of his 'valiant fury'. This is the problem with people who expect one monarch or another to rule over them.

Scene 3

It is a bit late for Macbeth to worry about the health of Scotland, having long had what his wife once called the sickness that should attend power.

Scene 4

Clearly, Revolutionaries amongst the soldiery are already prompting Malcolm’s order to camouflage themselves with branches. Like a Lord he wants to take all credit, of course.

Scene 5

The cry of women signify Lady Macbeth’s death. For good measure, the Messenger should be a Revolutionary to describe a moving wood rather than camouflaged troops.

Scene 6

Revolutionaries in Army are surely in contact with those in Dunsinane and are aware their ruse has worked.

Scene 7

Macbeth is now trapped and cannot fly, emerging onto plain before castle.

Macduff expresses pity: I cannot strike at wretched kernes, whose arms are hir’d to bear their staves

Maybe one of the witches was Macduff’s mother’s midwife?

Again Macbeth is exposed as a coward, relying on charmed protection, but fears humiliation by Malcolm and the rabble’s curse, although probably hasn’t realised that the rabble’s curse has brought him down already.

Malcolm is crowned king after Macduff kills Macbeth, and horror of horror, creates new earls.

Failure of the Revolution to Establish Popular Government

So, on this interpretation, where did the Revolution go wrong? Did they underestimate the Lords’ hydra-like ability to spawn new Lords to replace those killed in this engineered conflict? Or are they waiting until the English are gone? Do they have a narrative to compete with Malcolm’s? What exactly were the witches’ motives? Were the witches pagans, and was the Revolution also against Christianity, or perhaps religious differences split and weakened it? Do the Revolutionaries start wearing identical blue-brown-green triangle-patterned clothing, and end up in separate blue, brown and green factions, each represented by a different witch? The customary division of witches into Maid, Mother and Crone may help here.


The witches may make more sense in the context of the play, Macbeth, as revolutionaries rather than as supernatural beings. They do not possess more knowledge than could be gathered by eavesdroppers and relayed by messengers. Their acts are performances tried out on Macbeth and briefly Banquo. Certain aspects of the play make more sense as part of an orchestrated internecine plot by republican commoners against corrupt lords. Shakespeare’s play Macbeth can be staged as a popular uprising without changing any text, with the addition of some extras like dumbshow and stage directions for the revolutionary faction.

Creative Commons Licence
How to stage Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a popular uprising by Sleeping Dog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Saturday 15 April 2023

Woke, Foke, Smoke, Boke and Choke: True Paths from the Cave of Shadows, False Paths, Path Obliteration, Fouling and Blocking

The allegorical Cave of Shadows from Plato’s Republic represents our difficulty in perceiving and understanding objective reality. A major function of Philosophy is to find those true paths which lead from the Cave of Shadows into the sunlight of understanding the world-as-is.

Woke refers to the ability of philosophy to find true paths. For many political and personal reasons, obstacles are placed in the way of those wanting to leave the Cave of Shadows.

Foke is ‘fake woke’, the marking of false paths which lead elsewhere in the Cave of Shadows but never reach the sunlight of understanding the world-as-is. It is commonly used knowingly by those who want some change, but on the basis of untruths, and sometimes in denial of objective reality itself. These are sophists, religionists, activists for partial interests, who often dress their rhetoric in parts taken from successful philosophical arguments to give them the semblance of soundness.

Smoke is the obscuring of paths, typically cast by cacophonists who are against substantive change, usually those happy with the status quo, whether shadow-casters or their beneficiaries, or even those who prefer their chains.

Boke is used to foul the paths (whether true or false), the equivalent of vomiting on someone’s shoes, and it may be used to smear individual philosophers. These actors include the more reactive trolls, the instinctive enemies of philosophy, the shunners of sunlight; but also can be done in a more calculated way.

Choke is the use of force to block paths, often by groups closing ranks against philosophical progress. This tends to draw attention, so may be used where the shadows are putting on effective distractions, or when onlookers have been suppressed in some way; or alternatively where there is a large group of onlookers, to act as a deterrent to others. These actors are often militants, corporate agents, thugs, but it doesn't have to involve physical force.