‘O nation miserable!’ — ‘Macbeth,’ prophecy and the Chicago mayor’s race

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Macbeth (Ian Merrill Peakes) weighs the cost of his ambition, shadowed by the spirits of the Weird Sisters in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Macbeth.” | Liz Lauren

You don’t have to be Harold Bloom to analyze Shakespeare. Anyone can do it. For instance, I believe the entire character of Othello and the root of the play’s tragedy can be comprehensibly summed up in two words: He’s stupid.

His subordinate Iago, envious and bitter at being passed over for promotion, lays a crude trap and Othello falls in, eyes open.

A critique which Bloom, famed literary critic and scholar, agrees with, in more ornate terms: “He so readily seems to become Iago’s dupe. … Othello is a great soul hopelessly outclassed in intellect.”

In other words, he’s stupid.


The details can be parsed in any play, which is also part of the fun. With “Macbeth,” for instance, now on stage to great effect at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, we can argue whether Macbeth is undone by the witches’ prophecy; fresh from victory, General Macbeth encounters the Weird Sisters, who tell him he’ll be king of Scotland.

Are the crones predicting Macbeth’s certain future or merely goading him toward it?

Bloom considers Macbeth a pig trussed for slaughter, forced along the chute that fate and his scheming wife have set for him. I’m not so sure. Maybe I just don’t like predestination. But any resistance Macbeth might have felt is undercut by that fatal prediction, “All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king!”

Lady Macbeth (Chaon Cross) is taunted by the unseen Weird Sisters (from left to right: Theo Germaine, McKinley Carter, Emily Ann Nichelson) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Macbeth,” adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, in The Y

Lady Macbeth (Chaon Cross) is taunted by the unseen Weird Sisters (from left to right: Theo Germaine, McKinley Carter, Emily Ann Nichelson) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Macbeth,” adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare, April | Liz Lauren.

The prediction dooms Macbeth as much as his wife does. He’s supposed to be king, so naturally goes about the bloody business. I flashed on that augury while reading the Sun-Times front page Tuesday: “LIGHTFOOT’S BIG STEP” it trumpeted, with Fran Spielman’s careful analysis of why the former police board president seems to be joining the pack baying after Rahm Emanuel’s job.

First I felt the tickle of hope. Is Lightfoot the chosen one to deliver Chicago from the clutches of Rahm Emanuel, that charmless man, who can be easily imagined wandering the fifth floor of City Hall, trying to rub Laquan McDonald’s blood from his hands. “Out, damned spot! … What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?” (Since vagueness allows anyone to interpret wildly and then criticize the product of their imaginings, let me be plain: Emanuel didn’t kill McDonald, just sat on the evidence of his killing for a year, either through willful ignorance or desperate complicity).

But we cannot wish Emanuel’s opponents into having a chance against him. I’m not sure whether media attention doesn’t magnify them to a stature they don’t deserve and, like the witches’ augury, drive lambs toward the cash buzzsaw slaughter that Rahm Emanuel has for them. If a high school squad challenged the Bulls to a game, would we treat them as serious contenders and put them on the front page? Are we not confusing intention with result?

Fran’s story is illustrated by seven tiny photos of dabblers already running, and a more apt graphic could not be imagined. Dorothy Brown? Really? She can’t run the clerk’s office, never mind the city. Garry McCarthy? (McCarthy, McDonald, it’s like we have our own set of shabby minor characters cut from “Macbeth.”) A true villain out of Shakespeare, slouching back to Chicago to avenge his lost manhood, Falstaff-like Mike Ditka, in fool’s motley, jingling after him, goading him on to higher folly. Willie Wilson? The man needs an expensive hobby — he should buy a boat — so as to keep him from these expensive forays into politics. Paul Vallas? We’ve already got one rebarbative figure-spouting white insider murmuring in the mayor’s office; why go through all this only to swap for another?

The rest aren’t worth the breath to ridicule. Let’s exit today’s stage with the bard, as we entered it. The paper ran a lukewarm review of  Chicago Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” Tuesday. I won’t contradict expertise, but my wife has been raving about it for a week. The powerful performances of Macbeth and his lady, played by Ian Merrill Peakes and Chaon Cross, are reason enough to see the play, forget the special effects. I thought it magnificent.

Than again, I viewed “Macbeth” as perfect for these Trumpian times, particularly when Macduff scoffs:

Fit to govern! No, not to live. O nation miserable, With an untitled tyrant bloody-scepter’d, When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again?

Not this year, not next. Maybe 2021. Maybe not.

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