Among the most-famous essays of the 19th century is Thomas De Quincey’s “On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth.”
In it, he ponders the meaning and dramatic effect of that strange incident. He first sets the stage:
“From my boyish days I had always felt a great perplexity on one point in Macbeth. It was this: the knocking at the gate, which succeeds to the murder of Duncan, produced to my feelings an effect for which I never could account. The effect was, that it reflected back upon the murderer a peculiar awfulness and a depth of solemnity; yet, however obstinately I endeavored with my understanding to comprehend this, for many years I never could see why it should produce such an effect.
I thought of De Quincey’s essay this morning as I watched once again —and again with a mixture of deep perplexity and deeper anger — the now-famous video of the Trump-incited mob battering the doors of the House of Representatives. Yes, it was a violent act they were performing, inexcusable and deserving of both harsh punishment and universal condemnation.
For some reason, though, the battering of the House doors, like Macbeth’s knocking at the gate, has a deeper meaning and symbolism than mere property damage or even the desecration of the country’s Capitol. It is one thing to see the video — to use the visual sense — but even more disturbing to add the audio.
Indeed, I believe the full power and awfulness of this vandalism would be sensed just as fully if all we had was an audio recording. A person who was unable to see would, I imagine, find the event equally disturbing.
Is the banging on the House doors an augury of gavels pounding in federal courts in future months — or in the Senate this week and next? Someone — what traitor? — erected a gallows outside the Capitol during the riot, the better to hang then-Vice President Mike Pence and perhaps others. Was that gallows held together by nails? Was there a hammer?
Nearing the end of his essay, De Quincey writes:
“In order that a new world may step in, this world must for a time disappear. The murderers and the murder must be insulated — cut off by an immeasurable gulf from the ordinary tide and succession of human affairs locked up and sequestered in some deep recess; we must be made sensible that the world of ordinary life is suddenly arrested — laid asleep — tranced — racked into a dread armistice; time must be annihilated; relation to things without abolished; and all must pass self-withdrawn into a deep syncope and suspension of earthly passion. Hence it is, that, when the deed is done, when the work of darkness is perfect, then the world of darkness passes away like a pageantry in the clouds: the knocking at the gate is heard; and it makes known audibly that the reaction has commenced: the human has made its reflux upon the fiendish; the pulses of life are beginning to beat again; and the reestablishment of the goings on of the world in which we live, first makes us profoundly sensible of the awful parenthesis that had suspended them.”
Has the Senate heard the knocking at the gate? Shall De Quincey’s “work of darkness” be perfect, or did the Senate’s rejection yesterday of ex-President Donald Trump’s desperate motion to dismiss because he is no longer President — a motion that collides with his seditious claim that he actually still is — a sign that the pulses of moral life yet beat within the Republican Senate caucus?