The Macbeth Murder Mystery
by James Thurber
 

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

The New Yorker, 2 October 1937

included in —
My World — And Welcome To It

Writings and Drawings

October 2007

  

"The Macbeth Murder Mystery" is a neat little short story by James Thurber, about a reader who approaches William Shakespeare's great drama Macbeth as though it's a genre mystery, a whodunnit:

"It was a stupid mistake to make," said the American woman I had met at my hotel in the English lake country, "but it was on the counter with the other Penguin books — the little sixpenny ones, you know, with the paper covers — and I supposed of course it was a detective story. All the others were detective stories. I'd read all the others, so I bought this one without really looking at it carefully. You can imagine how mad I was when I found it was Shakespeare."
  

Her naive enthusiasm — despite her initial disappointment in discovering her purchase is by Shakespeare — and her well-worn genre presumptions, carry her easily through a basic analysis of the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the others, and who really must have killed King Duncan.

From another viewpoint, we might prefer to call Macbeth a procedural tragedy rather than an untangling discovery: the power of Shakespeare tends to increase with re-readings.
  

"The Macbeth Murder Mystery" is concise and funny, worth seeking out both for fans of Shakespeare and of mysteries.

And it does make one stop and think in yet another way: with what simple strong cords of muscular plot, Shakespeare binds the great and small events of his tragedies.

  

© 2007 Robert Wilfred Franson


 

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