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MACBETH
Bevington, Chapter 18
The Scottish Play
Spiritual Evil and the Drama of Conscience
• Always been among Shakespeare’s most
popular
• Highly theatrical
• A vivid investigation of horror
• Although he commits heinous deeds,
Macbeth does not represent
consummate evil; rather he is
unforgettable because he is human.
• First public performance at the Globe in
1611
• Performed at Hampton Court for King
James and the Danish King in 1606.
(James had married the King’s sister in
1589)
A Scottish King and
the English throne
• Powerful factions coveted the
throne in 1603 since Elizabeth
had not left an heir...James
was related to Elizabeth
through Henry VII
• The play explores regicide
• King James could trace his
ancestry to Banquo
Glamis Castle from a tourist brochure.
The Gunpowder Plot
• Catholic sympathizers tried to blow up Parliament in
November 1605. It is celebrated today as Guy
Fawkes day.
• The play makes a specific reference to the event (2.3)
Porter’s speech
A print of the
real Macbeth.
• As Shakespeare himself used to play to comment on
contemporary politics, subsequent stage productions
and films have, as well
• At barely 2000 lines, it is among his shortest plays
• A cinematic quality to the play as many of the scenes
unfold in two-character scenes
CHARACTERS
• Most of the characters based upon historical
models from Holinshed
• Macbeth and Lady Macbeth among his most
fully etched psychological portraits in tragedy
• Films structure and events lend it to
expressionistic staging
• Macbeth exercises free will, knowing with
certainty what will befall him...bloodshed
begets more bloodshed...as he admits
• The only time she seems human is when she
cannot bring herselfto kill the King because
of his resemblance to her father
Moral Character
• Banquo is a co-consipirator in the murder
of Duncan in Holinshed
• Macduff is viewed as an avenging angel
• Several named Thanes (Lennox, Seward,
Ross) are prominent
• The third murderer...who is he? (Ross,
Seward, a 3rd hired killer?)
• One of the most famous minor characters
is the Porter
• Duncan is a loved King whose death is
pathetic because of his goodness
Sources and Inspirations
• HOLINSHED’S Chronicles (1587)
• On the Origins of the Scottish People (1578)
• James I was a prolific essayist who
sponsored the 1604 edition of the Bible
(KING JAMES VERSION)
• He wrote a long tract against the use of
tobacco
• Fascinated by the occult he wrote
DAEMONOLOGIE (1597) which may
have inspired some of the occult elements
of the play
LANGUAGE
• Shakespeare uses language to chart Macbeth’s groing adaptation to his role as
a ruthless monarch and murderer
• It also traces Lady Macbeth’s descent into despair...as the play progresses, her
speech becomes more irregular; by contrast, his speech becomes more
composed
• Two images dominate: blood and ambition
• As with the fairies in MND, the Weird Sisters create an otherworldly aura
• Some sections from Middleton’s THE WITCH (1612) seem to have been
interpolated into the play by those who edited the play for the first folio
…signifying nothing
Act Five, Scene 5
MACBETH
[Re-enter Seyton.] Wherefore was that cry?
SEYTON
The queen, my lord, is dead.
MACBETH
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Themes and issues
THE PERILS OF PRIDE AND VAULTING AMBITION
• Macbeth aspires to be King but he rarely leads
• Yet, he knows the moral implications of his choices
• He is human in is deliberations, inhumane in his actions
Staging challenges
• The setting
• The witches
• Bloody Deeds
• Banquo’s Ghost
• The Final Fight
Macbeth onstage
The Scottish Play
Elizabethan Era
First documented performance at
the Globe on April 20, 1611.
Simon Forman, an astrologer, saw
the play and wrote about it in his
diary.
Evidence suggests that it was
successfully performed at both
homes of the King’s Men –
Blackfriars and the Globe. Both
spaces had machinery to fly and
the floors were trapped.
The Restoration
In 1663 William Davenant revised
the original text to bring it more in
line with neo-classical tastes. He
revised the ending and
interpolated a scene between
Ladies Macbeth and Macduff.
Some of the gory moments were
deleted. Samuel Pepys saw the
Davenant version eight times.
David Garrick restored much of
Shakespeare’s text in 1714. His version
was highly popular well into the 19th
century.
th
18
century
Charles Macklin actually
attempted a characteristically
Scottish costume as early
as 1773.
Sarah Siddons became
noted for her portrayal
of Lady Macbeth.
th
19
century - Gothic
Macready
In the 19th century, William Charles Macready triumphed in
the title role in England and America. His performance in
the role sparked the Astor Place Place riots in NYC (1849).
Forrest
Friedrich Mitterwurzer
Mitterwurzer was a German actor
who was heralded for his portrayal
of Macbeth. He revolutionized the
role as he added even more psychological depth to the role.
In the photo at right, he is pictured
with the German actor Max
Staegemann.
Irving and terry
One of the most famous producitons
of the late-19th century starred Henry
Irving and Ellen Terry.

20th century – freudian
shakespeare and others
Notable performances at Stratford included Laurence Olivier
(1955), Ian McKellan (1976) and Antony Sher (1999).
Orson welles
ORSON WELLES version was
first staged in Harlem in 1936
for the Federal Theatre Project.
His 1948 film (pictured) used
“voodoo” aspects of that early
production.
KENNETH BRANAGH
Manchester International
Festival’s electrifying
production features
Kenneth Branagh with
Alex Kingston as Lady
Macbeth. It is directed by
Rob Ashford and Kenneth
Branagh. Originally
staged in 2013, the
production plays in New
York in the summer of
2014.
Lincoln Center 2013
Act One, Scene 2
The witches were
played by men
FILM AND VIDEO
Macbeth
1948 – Orson Welles
1960 – Maurice evans
1971 - Polanski
Polanski’s version was produced
by PLAYBOY and featured a lot
of nudity.
1979 – Ian Mckellan
Directed by Trevor Nunn
for Thames Television. This
production starred Ian
McKellan and Judi Dench.
It was originally staged
by the RSC.
1983 – Jack Gold
NICOL WILLIAMSON, a
Scottish actor, played the title
role in the BBC version.
Patrick stewart
(2009)
adaptations
• 1957 – Throne of Blood (Kurosawa)
Australia - 2006
Sam Worthington as Macbeth in a modern dress
adaptation.
Verdi’s MACBETH (1865)
“Till Birnam Wood do come toward
Dunsinane” from a Metropolitan
Opera production.
2002
Rock-opera by Dan SchaafTHE
BLOODY DEAD IS DONE
SPIN-OFFS
• 1917 (Italy)
The Lady from Minsk
• 1955 (film noir)
Joe Macbeth
• 1961 (Poland)
Siberian Lady Macbeth
• 1991 (William Reilly)
Men of Respect
• 2002 (Billy Morrissette)
Scotland, PA
Scotland, PA (2002)
Shakespeare Retold
Macbeth (2005) (BBC-TV)
Director - Mark Brozel
Writers - Peter Moffat
Joe Macbeth (James McAvoy) is the hard-working head chef of a high-class
restaurant in Glasgow. The restaurant is owned by famous television chef
Duncan Docherty (Vincent Regan), who gets all the fame for Joe's hard
work. Working with Joe at the restaurant are his wife and maitre d' Ella
(Keeley Hawes), his friend and fellow cook Billy (Joeseph Milson),
Duncan's son, working as a waiter, Malcolm (Toby Kebbell) and head
waiter Peter Macduff (Richard Armitage).
1896 – UBU ROI
Alfred Jarry’s “absurdist”
play premiered in Paris in
198. It is about a stupid
and cowardly Polish king
who maintains power
by killing and maiming
all who oppose him.
The title translates to
“King Turd.”
1967
• Macbird! by Barbara Garson
1977
Cahoots MACBETH
by Tom Stoppard
The play is usually performed with
Dogg’s Hamlet. It shows a shortened
performance of the play carried out
under the eyes of a secret police officer
who suspects the actors of subversion
against the state. It is dedicated to the
Czech playwright Pavel Kohout whom
Stoppard met in Prague in 1977 many
years prior to the Velvet Revolution.
Alan Cummings on
Broadway 2013

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