Daggers out for the not-so-Scottish play
Sunday 01 August 1999
vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high
Shall come against him.'
THE location is clearly Scottish, as are most of the characters in Shakespeare's tragedy, which is based - albeit very loosely - on history north of the border.
But while Macbeth has often been referred to as a Scottish play, it now emerges that it is not quite Scottish enough.
News that the tragedy is to be excluded from the recommended list of texts for senior pupils in the compulsory Scottish section of the new Higher in English and Communication has caused uproar in political and academic circles.
The sense that the daggers are out is particularly acute because the definition of a text that qualifies for inclusion is so broad.
According to the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, it includes writing which deals with "life and experience in Scotland, or which exhibits recognisably Scottish attitudes towards Scotland or the world at large".
However, such texts "need not be limited to Scottish authorship" because "the experience of non-Scots living and working in Scotland... can justifiably be regarded as a valuable contribution to Scottish literature." Hence Hound of the Baskervilles author Arthur Conan Doyle makes it onto the list because he went to Edinburgh University, while the Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty also qualifies because he lives in Glasgow.
"Macbeth tells us a lot about Scotland so I think this decision may be down to inverted snobbery on the part of the SCCC, which wants a more `modern' outlook," said the Tory education spokesman Brian Monteith.
And the fact that Macbeth's downfall was brought about with help from the English probably did Shakespeare no favours. However, according to the SCCC chief executive, Mike Baughan, the exclusion of Macbeth should not be a great surprise. "It's a major piece of Shakespearian canon in the English language," he said.
But if Shakespeare were alive today he might read new meaning into Macduff's words:
`These evils thou repeat'st
Have banish'd me from
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