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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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Archbishop of Canterbury talks about Macbeth

Tuesday 15th May 2012

As part of the BBC's 'Shakespeare Unlocked' season, Archbishop Rowan Williams was asked to speak about the piece of Shakespeare that has inspired him the most.

The Archbishop chose a speech from Macbeth Act 3 Scene 2. 
Dr Williams said:

I've always found Macbeth a particularly challenging and engaging play.  It's the shortest of the plays and therefore a great deal is compressed into it.  There is a sense that the metaphors are particularly packed - there's no time to explain them, you just have to work with them.  And there are also lightning changes of emotion within very short spaces of time.  It's one of the things that makes Macbeth both very hard to perform effectively, and very rewarding to read again and again. 

The speech that most stays with me from Macbeth is from Act 3 Scene 2, where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are discussing - though not discussing - the murder of Banquo. 

Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day;
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale! Light thickens; and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night's black agents to their preys do rouse.
Thou marvell'st at my words, but hold thee still;
Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.

Listen to the programme here [2Mb, 3 min]

The reader is Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The 'My Own Shakespeare' series invites public figures to talk about their favourite pieces from Shakespeare.  These short programmes, each 3 minutes long, are being broadcast across Radio 4 in May 2012 as part of the BBC-wide 'Shakespeare Unlocked' season.

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