Shakespeare wrote ‘Macbeth’ between 1603 and 1606 for King James 1st (England) and 6th (Scotland). It’s about a tale of royalty treachery heroes and witches. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 the public were full of tales of witches and evil. Witchcraft was a subject that the English took very seriously. They believed that a witch had a third nipple under her arm. They burned women or threw them in lakes to see if they floated, if they did, they were sentenced to death. It is estimated that in Scotland between 1564 and 1603 eight thousand suspected witches were burned to death. These executions did not cease until the end of the seventeenth century. The sight of witches in an Elizabethan theatre would have been terrifying for the audience.
For my English coursework on Macbeth I have chosen to look at act one scene one, two and three. This is due to the simple fact that it is the introduction to the play and indeed it sets the feel to the whole play
In Shakespeare’s play, we open during a thunderstorm; this prepares us for the evil witches. Three witches come onto the stage:
‘When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?’
The first witch asks what the setting shall be for their next meeting, thunder, lightning and rain conditions that most people would find frightening and would stay away from. The second witch says that they will meet:
‘When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.’
We then find out that they are going to meet on ‘the heath.’ They have insight into the future. The witches tell us that they are going to meet Macbeth. We do not know who Macbeth is or why the witches are meeting him, but we think that he must be evil because he is linked with the witches. Their familiars call to them and they disappear chanting:
‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair:’
This expresses the main themes in the play, the reversal of fortunes, and the fact that appearance can be deceptive. And we later see Macbeth is ‘fair’ in Duncan’s eyes but underneath he is ‘foul’, he will later betray Duncan. The opening scene is exactly thirteen lines long, thirteen is unlucky and in those times unlucky things were bad. So by this point the audience will have picked up that these are bad people.
Scene two opens in a camp near the battlefield; King Duncan, Malcolm and Donalbain, his sons, and Lennox are present. They see a bleeding Captain and ask him how the battle is going. The Captain tells them how well Macbeth fights:
‘For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name-…
Till he unseamed him from the nave to the chops,
And fixed his head upon our battlements.’
This is portraying a picture of a tall and strong man who is highly regarded by the experienced fighters in the army.
Duncan then praises Macbeth by calling him
‘O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman’
This presents us with a very different view of the main character, a relative of the king’s, well brought up, a courtier, but still highly regarded. The Captain then goes on to tell us of how Macbeth and Banquo responded to a fresh attack by the Norweyan lord, Sweno:
Doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe.
Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds,
Or to memorise another Golgotha,
I cannot tell-‘
Macbeth and Banquo had fought back twice as hard as if they meant to kill every man there or to create a new burial ground, he could not tell. This shows how good and strong Macbeth is in battle.
The Captain goes and Ross and Angus arrive. They tell Duncan that ‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ had won the battle. Macbeth had won and they were painting him as a god. They also tell Duncan that the Thane of Cawdor was a traitor’, Duncan decides to reward Macbeth by giving him the Thane of Cawdor’s title. This is ironic because Macbeth will become a traitor too. We now have two opinions of Macbeth, one evil Macbeth, linked to the witches, and one good Macbeth, a noble warrior who has fought well in battle to protect his country.
The third scene is set on the heath, the witches are there, and telling each other what they have been doing since they last met. The first witch wants to put a spell on a sailor whose wife refused to give her chestnuts. She is going to toss his ship about and make sure that he does not sleep. This is reflected when Macbeth can not sleep later on in the play. The third witch shouts:
‘A drum, a drum!
Macbeth doth come.’
They know that it is Macbeth, this too shows the witches’ insight. A drum is significant because it is a military symbol. We now meet Macbeth and Banquo. The first words Macbeth say are:
‘So fair and foul a day I have not seen.’
This reflects the words of the witches: ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair.’ Which tells us that he is in tune with them and therefore in tune with evil.
It is Macbeth who demands to hear what the witches have to say:
‘Speak, if you can: what are you?’
They acclaim him:
‘All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!
All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!
All hail Macbeth! That shalt be king hereafter!’
Macbeth starts and Banquo asks him why. The witches have seen his thoughts and know his ambitions, he is afraid to hear that other people know his desires. Banquo asks them what the future holds for him and the witches reply:
Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.
Not so happy, yet much happier.
Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none:’
Then they disappear again into the mist. Macbeth is not happy with the information he has received and demands that they stay and tell him how he is to become Thane of Cawdor and the king. The audience will now be itching to see if the latest predictions are true: after all, the previous have all now happened.
Ross and Angus arrive on the scene, they have come from the king to award Macbeth with the title of the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth doesn’t know that the Thane has been sentenced to death for betraying the king:
‘The thane of Cawdor lives. why do you dress me
In borrowed robes?’
Banquo is amazed that the witches are right:
‘What, can the devil speak true?’
Macbeth thinks to himself:
‘Glamis, and thane of Cawdor:
The greatest is behind.’
He thinks that they are evil and will bring about Macbeth’s downfall:
‘And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.’
Macbeth thinks about Banquo’s words and fights with his ambition and decides to let fate take its course:
‘If chance will have me king, why chance may
Without my stir.’
In any screen version, ‘Macbeth on the Estate’, I expect a great warrior, respected by the king and fellow noblemen of Scotland. His best friend, Banquo is always by his side, and both dressed in armour coming from battle, with wounds. Macbeth should be about thirty-five to forty, he should be strong and masculine, as he has the strength to unseam a man:
‘…from the nave to the chops.’
I review now two modern interpretations of the play the first will be, ‘Macbeth on the Estate’ is set on the Ladywood Estate in Birmingham; this is the first difference between the screen version and the text. We open on a desolate estate, you can hear the wind, it is misty, dull, dark and grey. The high rise flats break the skyline. The ground is covered in mud and rubble, something used to be there but has been destroyed. A character comes on scene, he isn’t a witch, he is the Thane of Fife, Macduff. He is wearing a black tracksuit and speaks with a Jamaican accent, his words have rhythm. He tells us that what we are about to see, that Duncan is king and that he has become fat and lazy, he is no longer a good king. He tells us that there had been some problems and Duncan had told Macbeth to sort them out.
The screen blacks and we see the title, when we return, we get a view from a smashed window, signifying violence. There is eerie music playing in the background, the estate is empty, abandoned. We get a clip of an alley, there are rats running around in it, this shows disease, dirt and decay. We then get a shot of a building, and a shot of another building with some children playing outside it, some men come along and they run away.
The camera moves to the inside of a house, the door is kicked in and the men run into the house. The characters are introduced by freeze-frame the first man, the leader is Macbeth, he is wearing jeans and a dark jumper, this may suggest that he is evil. The other characters are introduced including Duncan, who is not at the battle.
He is in a Public House; smoking and drinking, he is wearing a bright shirt, which is not buttoned, he is lazy and immoral, he is not as nice a king as Shakespeare’s Duncan. This makes Macbeth seem less evil when he kills him. The production is not about good fighting evil, it is about bad fighting worse. Shakespeare meant this as a morality play, however this is not a moral king and I feel that it makes me feel more sympathy for Macbeth when he betrays Duncan.
The camera brings us back to the house, they are using pepper spray and baseball bats. The image is extremely violent. The television is switched on and Macbeth is distracted by it. The National Lottery is on, he seems drawn to it and is then disgusted by it and smashes the screen. Upstairs Malcolm and Macduff are fighting when they see the Thane of Cawdor, Malcolm jumps out the window Macduff is pushed down the stairs and they go back to tell Duncan.
Macbeth comes up the stairs and gets trapped with Banquo. We go back to the Public House, where Malcolm and Macduff have just arrived Macduff keeps pushing Malcolm away. He tells Duncan of how the battle is progressing. This is the role of the Captain in the play. In the play we don’t see the battle, this shows us a more violent side to Macbeth, however it shows him as a warrior, not just a nobleman and a loving husband.
We hear that Macbeth has won the battle and all the men are praising him. Duncan decides to reward Macbeth with the title the Thane of Cawdor, he sends men to kill the present Cawdor and deliver the message to Macbeth. We then have another extra scene, they drag Cawdor to a car. Three children, the witches, have just broken the window. Cawdor is shut in the car and Malcolm sets it alight. He takes his punishment and does not attempt to escape. A close up on his face shows his disclaim for the learning Malcolm I think that Macbeth would do the same, they are alike, they are both traitors. The camera then follows the black smoke upwards. The eerie music is still playing in the background.
We see Macbeth and Banquo walking past a building, voices start to shout from windows and doorways. The voices get faster and come from all over the building. The camera follows the sound. Macbeth moves to go into the building, he seems drawn to it, Banquo tries to stop him but he walks in. They go up some stairs, Macbeth seems to be following something and leads Banquo under some low gaps in the wall to a room. They go in and the witches are standing there. There are candles and tarot cards in the room. They speak to him and he scorns them. The witches are not as frightening as Shakespeare’s witches are; they do not have the same effect. A car horn beeps and Banquo leaves, Macbeth lingers, again drawn to the evil, and keeps looking at them, walking backwards through the door.
They walk out onto the balcony, Macduff and Ross are waiting in a car below, and they tell Macbeth that he is the new Thane of Cawdor and that the old Thane is dead. They get into the car to go to Duncan. We get a close-up of Macbeth in the car, he looks out of the window and thinks about all that has happened
‘if chance shall have me King, why chance
may crown me
Without my stir
Ross is saying the porter’s speech; this scene is used after the murder of Duncan in the play. They reach the public house and again Macbeth is the first person to come through the door, he gives Duncan money and then starts a pretend fight with him. Duncan gives him his ring as a reward, he has a tattoo saying ‘love’ on his hand. I think that this shows that he is close to Macbeth.
The scenes in the screen version are not in the same order as in the play. The actors are using Shakespearean language in a modern setting. I do not think that this works well. I think that the Macbeth on the screen reacts well with the witches, he is drawn to them. The screen version of Macbeth is not what I imagined him to be like; he is not a well-built man. Banquo is closer to my image of Macbeth.
He does not seem to be in an army, whereas in the play there was a military tie with the drum. The fight seems to be a turf-war over drugs. Duncan is not as moral as Shakespeare made him, he smokes and drinks alcohol, he is not a good king. The setting is different, the scenes are not the same, and the morality aspect has changed. The screen version does not portray Macbeth as the tragic hero. He is not the Macbeth I expected to see.
The second screen version I am going to look at is ‘Granada’, again I expected to see a great warrior, but now I am more curious after seeing the Macbeth on ‘Macbeth on the estate’. The ‘Granada’ version shows us an even more futuristic view of Macbeth but this time it uses actual warriors instead of vicious gangs of thugs, and they are actually fighting another country.
We open on the wasteland with the witches. There are lots of bodies and old rubbish skips it looks as though there has been a battle fought here recently. We get a camera shot of the witches robbing the bodies anybody watching the scene can tell that these people are bad, evil almost as robbing the dead is frowned upon by anyone. The witches are dressed in rags and torn cloths they are grubby, they have rotten teeth and are wearing tacky plastic jewellery, They look like tramps. As they each say their lines we get a close up of each witch.
‘When shall we three meet again’
I can see a middle aged woman rushing to strip the riches of a dead body, when the witches are all finished talking to each other we see them running away from the bodies and disappearing into thin air.
‘there to meet with Macbeth’
Clutching watches in their hands. The camera then cuts a close up of Macbeth. This time Macbeth looks like I expected he looks strong, he looks like a warrior and he looks braver than the Macbeth we have seen from ‘Macbeth on the estate’.
The camera cuts to scene two upon a hill in the country side with Duncan, Malcolm an Donalbain, Malcolms sons and Lennox standing talking, we are not told that is who they are but any one who has seen Macbeth before will know that this is who they are. With an explosion the Captain arrives war torn and bleeding, he staggers up the hill towards the group of man with his rifle slung over his back. His rifle is the currant issue weapon to the British Army so again it shows the modern aspect of the play. The Captain falls to the ground I front of the men, Duncan grabs hold of the Captain and shakes him.
I can see that this Duncan is also more healthier than the king from ‘Macbeth on the estate’, he demands to know what is happening with the war and what about Macbeth. The Captain tells him that they have won the battle and that Macbeth has unseamed a mans body from his nave to his chops. The group all cheer at this they are all proud of their warrior Macbeth. Duncan then realises the Captain and orders someone to take a look at his wounds. Then with another explosion Angus and Ross appear they give the king the news of the Thane of Cawdor’s betrayal, king Duncan gives the order of the Thane to be killed and Macbeth to be given his title. They turn and leave down the hillside with their guns slung over their backs.
The next scene begins in an original sort of way as Macbeth and Banquo riding down towards the wasteland on scramblers. This indeed is futuristic portrayal of the events, maybe the scramblers are there to represent the horses. They are now walking through the wasteland and spot the witches the viewers can now see that the witches’ predictions are true. Banquo spots them huddled around a fire and asks Macbeth what they are, Macbeth draws his gun and asks them to speak to him.
They tell Macbeth his fortune and make paper crowns to symbolise the king, Macbeth is shocked by this and bites his nails, Banquo is questioning why Macbeth is worried and shocked by what the witches have to say. He then goes on to ask the witches what will become of him he seems happy. The witches then burn the crown in a nearby fire, they disappear in a star-trek like way again. Macbeth breaks out of his trance and calls for the witches to come back. I can see the power on his face he is almost annoyed that they are leaving it shows that he likes what they are saying. It’s like saying goodbye to all the things he has ever wished for.
Almost as soon as the witches leave there is another gunshot as Ross and Angus arrive, Macbeth is told that he has become the thane, he still seems shaken by the witches and now he seems disturbed. He turns his back on Ross, Banquo and Angus, this is what he will go on to do later on in the play to betray all the ones he knows on his quest to be King. He has his gun pressed against his cheek, he likes the power of the gun it makes him feel power, something that he longs to have, and we can hear his thoughts
‘if chance will have me king,
why chance may crown me,
without my stir’
We can see instead of fighting everyone to become king he is waiting for chance to crown him, or make him king. He turns to his comrades and says
‘Till then enough – come now friends’
He calls them friends now but would he be calling them friends if he knew he was going to kill his best friend Banquo
Out of the two screen versions I prefer this one it presents the Macbeth I think of when I read Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It shows good camera work to add to the effects. In this version the scenes are in the same order as the book unlike ‘Macbeth on the estate’ which muddles them around. I also think the witches are better portrayed as adults they seem more evil robbing the bodies.
This Duncan is a good king I think this makes Macbeth seem even worse when he goes to kill him it shows that he is willing to kill good people to get where he wants to be. The war seems to be a proper war over land the way it would have been in Shakespeare’s time, not over drugs. This Screen version does portray Macbeth as the tragic hero I expected to see after first reading the book. Macbeth in both versions seems in a trance like state while the witches are around I think this is significant because the witches could be setting a spell on him.