Sacking the Temple
Bill Long 8/11/05
Biblical (and Other) Reflections on Duncan's Death
No one who has studied Macbeth can forget the scene where Malcolm, recoiling in horror, screams his reaction to finding Duncan bloodied and murdered. He says:
"O horror! horror! horror!
Tongue nor ear cannot conceive, nor name thee!...
Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!
Most sacrilegious Murther hath broke ope
The Lord' anointed Temple, and stole thence
The life o'th' building" (2.3.62-68).
The words about confusion's "masterpiece" are meant to be reminiscent of Lady Macbeth's disdainful words to Macbeth, when he has expressed his fears of going back to the crime scene to murder the King's grooms,
"Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers. The sleeping, and the dead,
Are but as pictures; 'tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil" (2.1.51-54).
LM stresses the impotence, the mere pictorial quality of sleeping or dead people; Malcolm, by contrast, knows immediately that the "picture" he sees is discomfiture's best work. The word confusion, derived from the Latin "confundo," means both disorder and ruin. Confusion and destruction are linked not only here, but also in the Scriptures: "But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed" (Deut 7:23); "The Lord threw them into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon" (Josh. 10:10); "I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you" (Ex. 23:27). Because of the following Scriptural allusions in Malcolm's words, it is best to recognize this expansive definition of confusion when he says "Confusion now hath made his masterpiece."
Malcolm's Biblical Pictures--According to the Scholars
Only the Arden Shakespeare, of the sources I consulted, tries to ferret out the biblical pictures that lie behind Malcolm's words. Most editions are content with a vague reference to the medieval theory of the king's "two bodies"--spiritual and physical--and say nothing of biblical background. The Arden, however, lists two biblical parallels, saying that the "Lord's anointed Temple" is reminscent of I Sam 24:10 and II Cor 6:16 and that Shakespeare mixes* the metaphors in these two verses. The first biblical passage is a conversation between King Saul and the
[*The Arden doesn't realize the irony in its use of the word "mix," as that is one of the root meanings of "confundo"--to mix together. In any case, I think the editors are wrong, but often incorrect insights may be expressed with unwittingly good language.]
youthful David. Ever since Saul's madness virulently attacked him, he set out to kill David. Yet David, under the Lord's protection, evaded Saul's armies and even had opportunities to kill Saul. But he refused to do so because he would not "raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord's anointed."
The second passage cited by the Arden editors comes from a hortatory word of Paul to the Corinthians, where he urges them to flee assocations that lead to impurity. "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we (or you) are the temple of the living God." Here the notion is not of any one individual being God's temple, but rather the community of faith itself as that sacred place. We only understand Paul's theology aright if we see him trying to substitute or spiritualize several traditional Jewish symbols with new realities: circumcision is now baptism, the law of Moses is now the law of love, the Temple in Jerusalem is now the assembled body of Christian believers.
Now let's see how well these images seem to "fit" Malcolm's words in 2.3.62ff. Murder has broken open the Lord's anointed Temple and stolen the "life o'th' building." Is the "anointed Temple" Duncan? Possibly, but the connection seems weak to me. Identification of Duncan with the anointed Temple seems to truncate the passage's flow, for what is being suggested by the words is an image of violation of a sacred space rather than the staying of the hand from God's anointed person. That is, the Arden Shakespeare's images are wooden and word-based, suggested by the words "anointed" and "Temple." "Anointed" must mean the King and "Temple" must have something to do with what? The II Cor. reference seems weak indeed. "Anointed" here is an adjective and not a noun or substantive. It is the "anointed Temple." References abound to the acts of anointing performed by priests in the Hebrew Bible, both to the sacred place and the utensils of sacrifice, as well as to the priests themselves as they assume their sacred office.
In my judgment Shakespeare may have infelicitously used the phrase "anointed Temple," since that isn't really a phrase that appears in the Bible, but his genius in the passage is his creation of an image of ransacking or violating, which is a very familiar one to Biblical writers. As the next mini-essay will show, a richer biblical background for these lines is derived from the Psalms and the Book of Lamentations. And, there are other biblical echoes to which I will make reference.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long