Book of da Week: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Macbeth.

Okay, so Macbeth is a play but it’s also our favourite piece of Bill Shakespeare writing so, you know, we’re reviewing it anyway and we’re not changing our traditional “Book of fa Week” to “Play”. So there. Anyway, the Scottish Play, as the euphemism goes. It’s impossible to determine when it was written exactly, but it’s believed to have been around the 1600 mark. The first performances of it in theatres has been noted as 1606, so that’s quite a long time ago. Isn’t it?

There’s something genuinely eerie and dramatic about the tragedy of Macbeth and there are memorable lines you can reel off in day to day life: “All hail, Macbeth!”, “Is this a dagger which I see before me?”, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”, “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t” – they’re all here, waiting for you to pick up and find the dastardly and rebellious heathen which is hidden inside you, creature. You foul fiend, you!

Macbeth

This is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, as we think we’ve made bloody clear, and is essentially about the terrible consequences of betrayal and violent or manipulative political ambition. Macbeth is a revered general in the army of King Duncan and is held in extremely high regard – he lives in a big old castle, has been fabulously rewarded for his efforts in battle, and King Duncan and Macbeth have, essentially, a right good old bromance going on.

Macbeth has an eerie encounter with three witches at the start of the play. He is travelling with his friend Banquo, but the witches intimate greater things await Macbeth should he be willing to make sacrifices. The witches trigger pernicious paranoia in Macbeth who, until this point, was happy with his lot, but events are set in motion to lead to his emotional downfall.

After another successful battle, Kind Duncan announces his plan to stay at Macbeth’s castle for a celebration. Immediately, the malicious and manipulative Lady Macbeth has far greater plans. Not satisfied with her already impressive lot, she dreams of being Queen and attempts to influence Macbeth towards the ultimate power. With the seeds sowed by the three witches, Macbeth kowtows to her demands and plans to murder the King in his sleep and frame the King’s guards.

After the deed, which he commits despite worrying hallucinations and severe self-doubt, Macbeth disintegrates emotionally and is left with PTSD. Taking control, Lady Macbeth frames the drugged guards outside the King’s room and, after tumult and turmoil, Macbeth somewhat reluctantly assumes the position of King of Scotland. Naturally, this isn’t the end of it and his behaviour becomes erratic, thusly ensuring his future isn’t at all set in stone.

Now, Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets (it’s safe to claim this, although scholars still debate if he did write all of this lot). Macbeth is, unquestionably, one of the best and is a play everyone should read, or watch, at least one. With its classical themes of betrayal and dissent, its central theme of achieving political power for the sake of it remains a powerful warning to the world.

It’s up to you how you take in Macbeth, though. You can read the play (it’s short!), but this will skip out a lot of the brooding themes and madness which a theatre production will capture thoroughly. Give it a whirl, perhaps, and then watch one of the films below so you can, quite proudly, proclaim to the world you have seen Macbeth – the Scottish Play.

Movie Adaptations

Whilst Macbeth remains a popular theatre production across the world and is performed all the time, it’s also been adapted to film on multiple occasions. This includes some innovative takes, such as setting the world of Macbeth in the modern era. Arguably the most memorable is the one below.

For our money, the 1971 Roman Polanski version has a creepiness about it that sticks with you and, thusly, it’s our favourite Macbeth film to date. There’s something about 1970s horror films (which is what it amounts to, in our opinion), whether it’s the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Alien – when they were done properly they were just raw, powerful, and scary. There’s a natural creepiness to this Macbeth production which no amount of CGI or fancy modern camera equipment will accomplish.

Still, people keep trying. Most recently, in 2015, director Justin Kurzel and two leading actors of this generation, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, went all out to deliver a memorable experience. It’s a good effort, but had too much of a polished sheen for our liking and lacks the cold harsh spirit of the Polanski version, which is genuinely creepy and disturbing.

6 comments

  1. Round about the movie go … hahaha
    Anyway, I loved the Polanski version trailer. However, I can’t help but think Billy Zane would have made a better, the quintessential MacBeth. I know, Mr. Zane was only 5 years old at the time. Moot point as his acting skills would have made him appear the correct age. An obvious miss by Mr. Polanski!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, the Scottish play! 🙂 I saw it years ago, performed in an outdoor setting by the Victoria University Drama Club, complete with the witches bungying themselves down to the stage from the trees. I kid you not. I can never think of it, however, without also thinking of that episode in Blackadder The Third where Blackadder kept baiting the superstitious actors with the title…

    Liked by 1 person

    • A bungee jumping version of Macbeth sounds interesting. Might make the pivotal moment of Macbeth taking out King Duncan a tad difficult, but if you’ve got the skills, you’ve got the skills.

      Yeah, I should have mentioned that Blackadder episode. Macbeth is also referenced in season 2, when one character yells: “Hail Edmun! Lord of adders black.” Awesome series.

      Like

  3. Everyone has “their” Shakespeare plays, acquired either from school, film or happenstance. As someone with a liking for the fantastic and grotesque Macbeth is one of mine. You can also blame Blackadder, if I’m honest.

    The only live Shakespeare I’ve ever seen performed was with my sister in a local amateur production of Macbeth donkeys years ago. Big props go out to Akira Kurosawa’s loose but wonderful adaptation Throne Of Blood, of course. There was an interesting televised Antony Sher in camo version too, plus the memorable BBC ~30 minute Animated one. Wasn’t aware of Polanski’s take on it though, will definitely have to track that down cheers!

    Other stray quotes or fragments which stick with me (and are occasionally ejaculated into conversation) are “Seek to know no more!”, “Screw your courage to the sticking-place [and we’ll not fail!]” and one which I recall rendered as an “official” (?!) t-shirt “Be bloody, bold and resolute!”. I will happily bust out “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” at the least provocation. I am the worst variety of pseud.

    Since you read a bit of De Quincey before you might already be aware of his On The Knocking At The Gate In Macbeth, which is apparently considered something of a trailblazing piece of Shakespeare literary criticism. Nice and short, plus public domain of course. Check Wikipedia/Project Gutenberg.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not someone who can reel off huge portions of Shakespearian text, really, I just know little snippets. I’m pretty sure Macbeth will always be my favourite, so I was chuffed to see Blackadder mentioned it on several occasions. I’ve never seen it performed in a theatre, though, which is a bit of a bummer. Only the movie adaptations has one gazed at fondly from whence the middle-distance did allow.

      Ta very much for the public domain link! I shall check that out after work. Exit, pursued by a bear.

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