“I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more, is none” is Macbeth’s response to his wife when she challenges him to kill his sovereign. Macbeth’s response, among other things, suggests that when people try to overreach their position, it leads to failure; to be a man one must fulfill one’s role and obligations and nothing more. To do more is to fail.
The same could be said of books. Books that attempt to accomplish more than the purpose of their writing often end neither succeeding to attain the ‘vaulted ambition’ (read the play for clarity) nor the original intended end. Books, and men, should know their role.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth, by Leland Ryken, is a book that cannot be accused of overstepping its purpose. Crossway’s Christian Guides to the Classics series aims to help the intimidated or unfamiliar reader in their pursuit of reading classic literature. This guide accomplishes that.
Interestingly, in fulfilling its intended mandate, this small but potent work attains more; I think it is helpful for those beyond the scope of its appointed audience. As a secondary school English teacher who teaches Macbeth several times a year, I found this guide helpful and thus suggest that teachers will similarly find this guide useful.
Readers who are interested in reading this classic Shakespearean tragedy, whether they find this genre daunting or they feel they need some extra help, will find that this guide will assuage their fears and bolster their confidence. In particular, I think this educational tool would benefit students significantly. And the more experienced reader, perhaps familiar with the play or even responsible to teach it to others, will also find this book valuable.
Aside from the compelling and intriguing insights of its acclaimed writer, this guide is largely successful due to its format.
The book includes an introduction to Shakespeare, the play itself, and the context in which it was written. These features, along with the Plot Summary section for each scene, are suited to help those who approach the Bard’s work with imperceptible trepidation or unabashed trembling. The uninitiated reader will find these helpful as well.
The Commentary section along with the For Reflection or Discussion section will aid those involved in the study of Macbeth including both teachers and student. In Ryken’s apt analysis and explanations I found interesting tidbits of knowledge that I will use as I teach the play, but that I also found these nuggets delightful in and of themselves. Ryken’s expositions of scenes and acts are concise without being meagre. This keeps the guide short and useful.
Finally, in the margin on almost every page are points of interest, many of which pertain and speak to the Christian worldview. As a Christian educator in a public school system, I found these excursions refreshing and edifying. Placing this massive literary accomplishment in the context of the Kingdom of God sets this work apart from most other introductory material on this play.
I recommend this book to those who inwardly cower at the thought of reading something from Shakespeare yet recognize that this incredible playwright cannot be ignored. I recommend this book for the willing reader who desires a steadying arm on the journey into this wonderful tragedy. I recommend this reader for both teachers and students who will encounter the ‘Scottish Play’ in their course of study.