Acting in the Night: Macbeth and the Places of the Civil War by Alexander Nemerov

By Alexander Nemerov

What can the functionality of a unmarried play on one particular evening let us know in regards to the global this occasion inhabited so in brief? Alexander Nemerov takes a functionality of Macbeth in Washington, DC on October 17, 1863—with Abraham Lincoln in attendance—to discover this query and light up American artwork, politics, expertise, and lifestyles because it was once being lived. Nemerov’s notion is Wallace Stevens and his poem “Anecdote of the Jar,” during which a unmarried item organizes the barren region round it within the realization of the poet. For Nemerov, that evening’s functionality of Macbeth reached around the tragedy of civil battle to recognize the horrors and vacancy of a global it attempted and eventually did not change.

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Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York. story of the petrified city made real to our eyes,” marveled Holmes in 1861. “Take ten thousand instantaneous photographs of the great thoroughfare in a day,” he wrote, much aªected by “Mr. Anthony’s miraculous instantaneous view in Broadway” (fig. ’ . . The hurried day’s life of Broadway will have been made up of just such stillnesses. ”95 No wonder Holmes focused on stereographs of Westminster Abbey (“Enough of these marbles; there is no end to them; the walls and floor of the great, many-arched, thousand-pillared, sky-lifted cavern are crusted all over with them, like stalactites and stalagmites”).

Macbeth, even after she has departed the stage for the last time, remains. “Look after her,” “still keep eyes upon her,” the doctor says to the gentlewoman, also implicitly addressing the audience, who would note and never forget her even after she is gone. Cushman, in her last scene at the Grover’s production, aimed perhaps not just to be massive and simple onstage but to leave an afterimage, an impression still standing in the air—an impression almost of sculptural permanence—that would freeze her beholders, amaze their sight, mate their minds, and leave them speechless.

One vignette of Miss C—not a good likeness—was very peculiar—she made great sport of it, and she called it ‘Daniel Webster after he had been translated’ (the latter was, I think, the word she used). ”47 Cushman gave at least one of these photographs to the Sewards, tokens of her presence just like the signatures she dispensed later in the week “in several autograph books” sent to her by admiring Union o‹cers. That week her friends were busy collecting more such images. At Ford’s Theater on October 12, Cushman accompanied Fanny, Fred, and Anna to a performance of Fanchon, starring the popular Maggie Mitchell, and they made sure to take home pictures of the young actress: “Photographs of [Mitchell] were brought to the box for sale,” Fanny noted in her diary.

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