Appetite and Ambition: The Influence of Hunger in Macbeth
Early English Studies, vol. 2 (2008)
This article examines the prevalence of food and food-related imagery in Macbeth, arguing that the severe anxiety about the provision of food that affected a large proportion of the population of early modern England has a profound influence on the play. It surfaces first in the brief encounter between the weird sisters and the sailor’s wife in 1.3 – an episode which depicts hunger and deprivation overtly – and re-emerges in the language of the noble characters, who, though they do not suffer such an obvious shortage of food themselves, nevertheless express their desires, fears and ambitions through the language of eating, suggesting that during Macbeth’s tyrannical reign – despite the appearance of plenty that the banquets imply – food supply might be precarious for all social strata. Thus food becomes, in Macbeth, universal shorthand for all that is significant, reflecting the fundamental place it occupied in the minds of early modern people: a centrality that has perhaps been lost to modern western society where food is plentiful and easily obtained.