Exploring Macbeth Essay, Research Paper
Macbeth was first performed for King James (of England and Scotland) in 1605. Shakespeare wrote the play in the knowledge that it was likely to appeal to the king, who was interested in witchcraft. In the Jacoben period, most of Britain believed that withces existed and there were laws in place that forbade anyone from practising witchcraft. The king had written an academic work on the topic, and by including the witches and supernatural events in the play Shakespeare raised some popular comtemporary issues. He also created more interest for King James by having the character Banquo in the play. Banquo was a Scottish ancestor of King James, and as predicted by the weird sisters, Banquo’s sons become kings.
By Act Two the audience has already has seen the witches, and it has been made clear that there was a rebellion in Scotland, withthe former Thane of Dawdor and some other lords joining Norwegians in an attempt to invade. After the battle is when Macbeth and Banquo run into the weird sisters and they predict the future for the two. The atmosphere at this point in the play is quite relaxed, in comparison to how we see Macbeth and Banquo together in later stages of the play.
The characters are firmly established by Act Two. Macbeth is a brave, well-respected soldier who is tempted by the powers of evil (the weird sisters). Banquo is an equally good soldier and is as high in society as Macbeth but isn’t corrupted by the weird sisters. Lady Macbeth is a loving wife who is more than happy to help her husband to the throne of Scotland. Duncan is an elderly king, too old to fight but very proud of his strong army.
More characters are introduced in Act Two and the characters that were introduced in Act One are explored more deeply. This especially applies to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth whom the audience see very affectionate in Act One of the play; later on their marriage becomes more a marriage of convenience than a marriage of love. This is dramatically interesting because it suggests to the audience that ultimetely for them power is more important than love.
In the beginning of Act Two there is a lot of tension between Banquo and Macbeth, and the two aren’t as relaxed as they had been previously. The atmosphere is also very significant, Fleance says “…the moon is down” meaning that it would be very dark, cold and the little amount of light would be coming from candles, making for an atmosphere where it would be easy to become jumpy or scared.
The audience learn that Banquo wants not to think about the weird sisters because he doesn’t believe them and he wishes to fight the good fight, he says “May my alliance be clear and my bosom franchised.” Banquo grows into a character quite the opposite of Macbeth and this makes an interesting contrast between the two. This contrast is very visible at the beginning of Act Two Scene One which demonstrates that he is still under pressure from evil but resists. This extract from the text tells the audience this “I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters. Macbeth lies to Banquo when saying “I think not of them”, when it is evident that Macbeth thought of them considerably more than Banquo and has even discussed them with his wife.
Shakespeare introduces Fleance at this stage of the play as a symbol of youth and innocence. He doesn’t have a major part in the play but he reminds the audience of the predictions of the weird sisters, that the sons of Banquo’s will become kings.
It is interesting that the murder of Duncan isn’t actually performed on stage. I feel that Shakespeare left it out of the text because there is already a lot fo blood and gore in the play without it. It also leaves what happened to the audiences imagination. In some film adaptations of the play, the murder is shown. This has varying results. The older versions, like the one by Roman Polanski, isn’t very successful; probably because of the limited special effects available at the time. However in more recent versions, with more convincing special effects, the murder can be performed extremely realistic. Shakespeare’s decision not to include the murder in the original text, may have proved to be a wise one, if it didn’t work in a film version in 1970, it would have arguably been a lot harder to perform on stage in 1605. This is not the only difference that can be seen between film versions and the original play. In some film versions (for example the Roman Polanski version), where Macbeth sees an illusion of a dagger there is a superimposed image of a dagger on the screen. Once again, how well this worked depended on the time that it was done. The Freestone version has the illusion as a shadow of the cross, bringing into the sequence issues like religion. This was a very simple and effective way of putting the illusion on screen. The whole dagger sequence is very significant, as it raises questions like: Is it from Macbeth’s imagination? Is it a warning, possibly from God? Or is it from the weird sisters, directing him towards Duncan? I think that it is likely to be from Macbeth’s own imagination, simply because he is extremely nervous and isn’t thinking straight.When taking a play from stage to the screen could affect the success of the scen, like it did in the Polanski version.
The audience can also contrast and compare the characters of Macbeth and his wife in Act Two Scene Two. It is after the murder of Duncan when they speak. Macbeth is tense and nervous. There is evidence of this when, mistakenly, Macbeth brings the daggers he killed Duncan with out from his chamber. He refuses to go back and smear the guards with blood, framing them for the crime. He’s afraid to see what he has done. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand is very practical and is thinking straight and seems to know what she is doing. We can tell this by her calm speech, for example “A little water clears us of this deed.” She speaks in short sharp sentences throughout the scene. Macbeth sees his actions as a lot worse than Lady Macbeth. He doesn’t share her view that he can wash his hands and be as good as innocent. He says “The multitudinous seas incarnidine, making the green one red.” This creates a very strong image of many seas being stained red with blood. A possible reason for her acting like she does is to prevent Macbeth from losing his grip. This is intersting because, towards the end of the play, Lady Macbeth is seen sleep walking, replaying the murder of Duncan in her mind, suggesting that it she needed assistance and she had a weaker mind, where as Macbeth fights to the end.
In Act Two scene Two Macbeth establishes himself from Lady Macbeth, proving that he can make his own decision, whilst in his soliloquy, he decides that he will murder Duncan; without Lady Macbeth there prompting him to do so. It also suggests to the audience that Macbeth is possessed in some fashion, when at the end of his soliloquy, he performs what is almost a spell when he says “Hear it not Duncan for it is a knell which summons thee to heaven or to hell.”
Shakespeare creates definite senses of evil through what is said and heard, like the end of Macbeth’s soliloquy. There is a thin line between good and evil in the play, and it is easy to over step the mark, which Macbeth does. He goes from war hero to a corrupted king in a matter of days. The possible turning point is when Macbeth hears a prayer but cannot pronuonce ‘Amen’, and he himslef thinks of this deeply. He knows himself that what he has done was wrong, and he acknowledges this by refusing to return to the scene of the murder. Shakespeare uses blood to almost ’stain’ Macbeth’s mind, marking him permanently as a murderer. Macbeth knows that a water can never get rid of the guilt.
In conclusion if I was to direct a film version of the play I would use a shadow effect to create the illusion of a dagger, as this was the most successful way of performing it out of the three different versions I have seen. Also, I would choose not to show the murder of Duncan on stage because I think it s better to leave what happened to the audience’s imagination and not change the original writing, and the implications of the murder. In the Freestone version, Lady Macbeth helped to kill Duncan, which is not in the text, nor is it suggested that she did so. By doing that the director changed a lot of the complex storylines, which would have been best left untouched.
Roman Polanski’s version (1971) of the play doesn’t change too much as it is for a cinema audience, and the people viewing it would have payed and would have been expecting a more conventional, unchanged ‘Macbeth’ because they made a deliberate choice to view it. On the other hand people watching ‘Macbeth on the Estate’ may not have wanted, or intended to see a Shakespeare film and may not normally opt to watch Shakespeare. Both versions are made with this in mind, and adapt the play accordingly. The Polanski version opens with a long establishing shot, giving the viewer an idea of the settings. It is set on a beach, which is deserted and lifeless. The soundtrack plays a distorted string instrument with a regular piano note as an accompaniment, making for a very unusual effect, as it is played alongside a speeded up sequence of the beach using time lapse photography. A single seagull flying across the sky signifies the change back into realtime, it sqawks as the nondiagetic sound fades. Traditionally the cry of seagulls have been associated with the cry of lost souls and this has probably been chosen for that reason. In ‘Macbeth on the Estate’ the beginning is similarly bleak. The first shot is a long shot of a scrap heap, the colours of the landscape are dull and depressing with lots of browns and greys. The colours in the Polanski version are stronger, and probably more significant; red stains the settings at the beginning, using a filter on the camera, signifying blood. This pre-empts what actually happens in the play. This colour rapidly changes from red to white and eventually to blue. At this point the diagetic sound of a human cough is heard, preparing the audience for the arrival of the witches. A similar technique is used in ‘Macbeth on the Estate’ as MacDuff comes into view the crunching of gravel can be heard making the audience aware of his presence. In the Polanski version, it’s not a human that appears first on the screen. A long twig comes in diagonally from the right, with a distorted unnatural sound. The twig is used by the witches to draw a circle in the sand as they appear on screen. They appear to be frail, and dressed in rags that are colourless. Their faces are made to look ugly, and throughout the whole sequence they never smile once. It is made clear that they are witches, whereas in the Woolcock version, the characters are identified with freeze frames during the fight, freezing an aggresive expressions. It is also a quick and effective way for the audience to be made aware of the characters as they may not be as familiar with the text as a cinema audience. After the establishing shot in the Polanski version it becomes a high angle shot of the witches. Throughout this sequence there is a minimal amout of cuts, in stark contrast to ‘Macbeth on the Estate’ which cuts frequently, making for a more dramatic introduction. The cuts are used with quick replays to give more of an impact to the fighting, which I believe works very well. The cuts are appropriate because it adds to the excitement, along with the fast non-diagetic sound track. There is very little diagetic sound in this part and there is no dialogue. In the fight sequence the lottery is on the television, suggesting things like what MacBeth is doing is a game of chance, luck and ultimately based on greed. During the fight sequence, the camera cuts to Duncan in a social club. He’s sitting at the bar, and directly behind him is a gambling machine, bringing in the greed issue again. The machine has a light, and for a moment the lights are arranged so that it is almost like a crown over his head. As the witches perform their ritual, their voices make it seem like they have done this many times before, as they are out of time and weary. The speech in ‘Macbeth on the Estate’ ’s introduction is a lot of different, almost radical. In the past, Shakespeare has been seen as exclusive for middle class whites. By placing a black actor with a Carribean accent, a gold tooth wearing casual clothes, in the first shot it breaks down these stereotypes of conventional Shakespeare and, in the words of Al Pacino, “gets their (the audience) guard down so that they are receptive to Shakespeare.” MacDuff’s soliloquy is made up of original text, but isn’t actually directly from the text. He says it although the events had already took place and it is made to seem like a flashback, and the sequence is shot as an extreme closeup on his face. The closeups in the Polanski version aren’t as long, and this makes for a different effect and it focuses more on their expressions rather than speech. This is because images can often take the place of words, and be just as effective, if not more so. The Polanski version is very successful in creating an atmosphere of the eerie and supernatural. It achieves this by using different techniques, like the filters mentioned earlier. An interesting technique is used towards the end as the witches leave the scene. They appear to be walking slowly but moving very far, “hovering through the fog and filthy air”. This is done by slowly bringing the focus out on the camera, making for an extremely uncanny effect. The silhouettes of the witches then become the letters for the title, this graphic suggests the thematic link between the witches and MacBeth. The two versions are very different mainly because of the media that they have been designed for and also because of the time at which the films were made. ‘Macbeth on the Estate’ raises issues about bringing Shakespeare to different audiences. Some people would say that Shakespeare should be left untouched. Others welcome the changes, as does actor Sir Ian McKellen “If an audience enjoys it, it will be Shakespeare that they are enjoying.” Changes to the text are done with varying success. I think ‘Macbeth on the Estate’ would have been better if the language would have been updated, as the Shakesperian language doesn’t seem to fit with the modern characters. The Polanski version is a more typical approach to adaptation, and is well edited and presented for a film of its period. However I do prefer the Woolcock version because I believe Shakespeare should be accessible to everybody and eventually original Shakespeare will die out if it is not updated to suit modern tastes.