Name: Angus a.k.a. “Man of a Few Words.” Occupation: Shakespearean figure, Scottish nobleman. Favorite hangout: royal court and battlefield, particularly Birnam wood. Most famous line: “Now does he (Macbeth) feel/ His secret murders sticking on his hands” (5.2.17-18). Translation: serves the asshole right.
Angus is the walking rationale of tragedy. He is the last person a fallen man (say, a poverty-stricken Donald Trump considering hara-kiri) would want to have around his deathbed (note: physical and psychological deathbed). See, falling the Macbeth way is heart-breaking and suicide-inducing enough. Now, for a fleeting figure named Angus (the guy is so easy to miss; now you see him, more often you don’t) to shove the fact down his throat is another hair-tearing and hand-wringing story. Angus sole purpose in the play is to draw a comprehensive and up-to-the-minute account of the tragic hero’s flaws and fall.
Not that Angus creates tragedy. Far from it. As a matter of fact, he seems to be one of the genuinely good guys in the dog eat dog world of the insomniac usurpers. “Seem” is the big word. That Angus dons no fair mask that belies a foul spirit within, one can only draw, and rather hastily at that, from the fellow’s few lines. Perhaps the audience, thanks or no thanks to their limited gaze might as well leave at that. All Angus has is one big heart throbbing for the welfare of dear Scotland. Period.
Or no period? Angus seems a shadowy figure himself. A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma clad in Scottish armor. Notice that he only speaks in Acts 1 and 5. How symbolic, the beginning and the end. As if the Bard, overburdened with theatrical work, fire and brimstone sermons courtesy of the Puritans, rowdy fans, has forgotten to give him a few more lines in the acts in between. This could mean to highlight what a man of action he is. When Angus talks, he talks sense, no matter how painful it sounds. His words regarding the traitors Cawdor and Macbeth are pretty much the same. For state enemy no. 1, he says: “But treason’s capital, confessed and proved/ Have overthrown him” (1.3.114-116). Of Macbeth his words are no less seething: “…Now does he feel his title/ Hang loose about him/ Like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief” (5.2.21-23).
Thing is, Angus has a knack for re-creating a tragic fall. His matter-of-fact, unsympathetic take of Macbeth’s demise makes him sound “merciless” (almost next door to t he bearded hags), that is, he dampens the audience’s insuppressible (not to mention guilt-inducing, as in, if one pities a bad person’s fall does that reveal a common thread?) sympathy for the evil Macbeth.
Booth (1991) writes how Shakespeare “…while transforming a (Macbeth) into one of the most despicable monsters conceivable, maintains him as a tragic hero—that is, keep him so sympathetic that, when he comes to his death, the audience will pity rather than detest him…” (9). In which case, Angus serves as a constant check on the audience’s feelings. He is a strong though not omnipresent reminder of retributive justice. What goes around comes around, Macbeth. Angus offers no excuse, no justification. Just plain, commonsensical picture of tragedy.
A modern Angus will be more or less like this: he begins by saying that So-and-so just ended up behind bars. The listener blurts out a big “Why?” (So-and-so is reputed to be a good man). Angus retorts, it is So-and-so’s fault, that justice has simply taken its natural course, etc. Angus’ character is perhaps his reason for being. He, as with any of the characters, exists in the face of evil. A rational take on tragedy is a means of self-preservation. It is easy to imagine Angus asking himself: now that you have seen them fall, are you following their missteps?
Booth, W. (1991). Macbeth as tragic hero. In Harold Bloom (Ed.), Macbeth (pp. 91-
101). New York: Chelsea House Publishers.
Shakespeare, W. (1927). The tragedy of Macbeth. (S.W. Searson, Ed.). London:
University Publishing Company.