he is full so valiant,
And in his commendations I am fed;
It is a banquet to me
Commending the victorious Macbeth with these lines, King Duncan sets up a model of mutual nourishment between lord and vassal, between political father and son. Duncan’s praise is commodiously ambiguous, potentially pointing both to other thanes’ reports of Macbeth’s valour as nourishment for Duncan and to Duncan’s advancement of Macbeth as itself a source of nourishment: by praising him, I am fed; his valour and my remarking that valour constitute the mise en place for concocting the comedic feast of successful community. ‘Banquet’ evokes both social and natural, both festive celebration and quotidian requirement. Being ‘fed’ – here in provocatively passive construction – also signals the way that food functions as a liminal substance that is both part and not part of the individual who ingests it, the way eating enacts both agency (the eater masticating, consuming, metabolizing the foodstuff) and dependence (without sustenance, no agent survives). All these resonances accrue to the dramatic logic of food as a leitmotif in Macbeth.
Billy Morissette’s film Scotland, PA (premiered at the 2001 Sundance festival and commercially released by Lot 47 films in 2002) playfully literalizes Duncan’s ‘banquet’, exploring these questions of agency and identity in the context of depressed – if officially only ‘recessed’ – 1970s rural America. This black comedy, Morissette’s first feature film, offers a surprisingly detailed and nuanced set of ways to think about identity and agency in both Macbeth and the 1970s.
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