A little late this week. Sorry. Busy writing a big chunk of Locksmith's Journeys yesterday.
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Tyrant Takes the Helm
It was a quiet day in the court of King Macbeth. There was supposed to be a meeting of state discussing the situation with Malcolm and Donalbain, who have taken shelter in England and Ireland and are “filling their hearers with strange invention.” Lennox could make a pretty good guess as to what the princes have been saying, but when Macbeth’s old friend Banquo announced he and his son Fleance would be spending the day riding, the king decided at the last moment to postpone the meeting until tomorrow and spend the day alone. But never mind all that. The important thing is, it’s dinnertime, there’s a big feast on and Lennox has a place of honor.
Nothing can prepare Lennox for what happens at the banquet. It begins ominously — he heard Macbeth repeatedly remind Banquo to attend, and now Banquo is a no-show. Macbeth, after saying he will “mingle with society and play the humble host,” disappears from the hall and has to be dragged back in by his wife. Even then, he seems strangely reluctant to take his seat.
Then, just as the feast is about to begin, the king appears to go crazy. First, he says “The table’s full,” even when there’s an empty seat right in the freaking middle of it. When Lennox gently points this out, Macbeth screams, points at the empty stool and starts raving. “Thou canst not say I did it! Never shake thy gory locks at me!”
Lady Macbeth assures everybody that this is totally normal and they should try to ignore it. Lennox, ever polite, tries to do this, but he can’t help overhearing his king babbling about murders too terrible for the ear and corpses rising from the grave with twenty mortal wounds on their heads.
Finally Macbeth calms down and tries to lead the table in a toast to the missing Banquo… only to then start gibbering and pointing at thin air again. Even his wife seems to lose patience with him at this point, and announces that the dinner party is at an end. Lennox (have I mentioned this guy is a courtier?) manages to get in a “Good night, and better health attend his Majesty” before the queen shoos him out the door.
As the thanes leave, they find Banquo in a ditch near the palace… stabbed repeatedly in the head. Fleance, instead of taking shelter in the nearby castle, has gotten on his horse and headed for the hills.
This is when it really sinks in how bad the situation is. If Lennox had any doubts about who really murdered Duncan, this puts paid to them — and now it’s clear that Macbeth was just getting started. And being his friend, which Lennox has tried so hard to do, doesn’t seem to be any safer than being his enemy. Safety just isn’t on the menu right now.
So Lennox does what comes naturally to him — gather information. First, he wants to get a sense of where everybody else stands. Second, he wants to know about Macduff, who didn’t come to see the coronation or to the big feast, and is now in bad odor with the king. Of course, he has to do this very carefully — he’s in what is now Macbeth’s castle, and he has no way of knowing who else is listening. But he does learn that none of the other thanes have any illusions about Macbeth, and that Macduff is headed to England to rouse support for Malcolm’s cause. Having gained this vital bit of intelligence, Lennox (who is at this point one of Macbeth’s top advisers) proceeds to sit on it until the last possible moment.
The Moral Event Horizon
That last possible moment comes when two or three of Macbeth’s henchmen arrive at the castle with the word of Macduff’s fleeing and ask Lennox to lead them to him. Lennox would really rather not be going off alone with Macbeth’s henchmen after dark, but he doesn’t have a lot of options.
Somehow, that morning Lennox manages to find Macbeth’s horse tied outside a cave. From within the cave comes the king’s voice — “Come in, without there!”
Lennox enters the cave to find Macbeth in an even worse state than he was during the banquet — wild-eyed, unwashed, unkempt, having apparently slept in his armor, and raving about “weird sisters.” Also, the cave smells like somebody’s been boiling toads and snakes and poisoned entrails in it. For the first time in his life, Lennox has encountered a situation he doesn’t want to know any more about. He also doesn’t want to be the one giving the boss bad news at a time like this, but again he has no choice.
Macbeth’s reaction is worse than Lennox could have imagined. He announces that in lieu of killing Macduff, he’s going to kill the Thane of Fife’s entire household.
What You Are In the Dark
As soon as Lennox is alone, he sends a message to Castle Fife, warning Lady Macduff to take her children and get out of there.
Why send the messenger instead of going himself? If you asked him, he’d tell you that the messenger was a faster horseman and would be more likely to get there in time. Also, Lennox probably had duties that day that he couldn’t be spared from without drawing the king’s ever-increasing suspicion down upon him. And this is what our bright young thane tells himself.
But the real reason is that Lennox is a thane. He might not be the mightiest sword-slinger in Scotland, but he has been taught how to fight. More importantly, he has been raised in the ethos of the warrior class. The low-class, unwarlike messenger he sent has no obligation except to deliver the message and go. But if Lennox were there, faced with a situation in which a noblewoman and her children were in immediate danger of being murdered by thugs, he would be expected to do something about it. He would be expected — and would expect himself — to fight. However many assassins the king sent to massacre the inhabitants of this castle, Lennox would have to battle them all alone. He doesn’t quite feel up to that.
But if he isn’t a hero, neither is he a coward. He could choose to do nothing at all, and nobody would ever know. And by sending the messenger, he is incurring a certain amount of risk — if the murderers waylaid the messenger (they are all headed in the same direction at nearly the same time) Lennox would be found out.
So Lennox decides that now is a great time to desert Macbeth and go over to Malcolm’s side. At the end of the play, he has once again landed on his feet, one of “his kingdom’s pearl” with the new title of earl to go with it.
And that’s the story of Lennox.