I've decided to start posting a regular blog here. I’ll be posting these on Mondays, because (a) that gives me the whole weekend to write them, and (b) Monday is a day of the week that needs all the help it can get.
I'll be posting every other week, unless I have a story or essay too long to tell it one post, which as it happens I do right now.
In addition to being a writer, I’m an actor. This is surprisingly good training for being a writer, because one of the things actors are encouraged to do is think about the characters we play and develop a backstory for them. It helps us understand what sort of people they are and how they react to their situation. At the moment, I’m playing the relatively minor character of Lennox in a production of Macbeth. (No, I won’t call it “the Scots play.” Superstition can go hex itself.)
An actor always starts by picking up clues about the character from the text and extrapolating from there. So what do we know about this Lennox? We know he’s a thane, nominally of the same social class as Macbeth, Macduff, Ross and the rest. That means he’s been trained from birth in fighting and in leading others in battle.
We know he’s young, because he says so in Act 2, scene 3, just before Macduff starts screaming bloody murder. So you’d expect him to be a warrior — but when we see him at the beginning, he’s at Duncan’s field headquarters, right where the fighting isn’t.
In fact, for the whole first act, Lennox never leaves the side of Duncan and his sons. Later on, in the banquet scene, he seems to have a seat right next to Macbeth’s seat, or what would be Macbeth’s seat if some ghost hadn’t already commandeered it.
In Act 3, scene 6, Lennox questions another lord and learns that Macduff has fled to England. For some reason, in Act 4, scene 1, when he reports this to Macbeth, he presents it as news coming from another source entirely (“'Tis two or three, my lord, that bring you word”.) The next time we see him, in Act 5, scene 2, he has not only joined Malcolm’s rebel army, but has compiled a Who’s Who of it (“I have a file/Of all the gentry”) and sounds as enthusiastic as anyone about bringing Macbeth down.
The Smart Guy
A picture emerges. Lennox is a young lord, bright but inexperienced, who gravitates to the leader by instinct. He is a REMF in war and a politician in peace.
They let him get away with this because he’s smart. As a front-line fighter, he doesn’t bring anything to the table that you couldn’t get from a couple of good kerns or gallowglasses. He’s much more valuable at HQ, dealing with problems of tactics, strategy and (especially) logistics. A guy who can make a list of all the important people in an army is a guy who can keep the army in oatmeal and haggis long enough for them to make it to the battlefield.
He’s probably made a point of making friends with Malcolm and Donalbain. When Duncan announces that Malcolm is to be his successor, Lennox is probably one of the few thanes who already knew it. So his life is pretty much on track.
Until one dark and stormy night…
(Continued next week)