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Macbeth is the last of the Shakespeare plays that I know well. It really is a good one: actually rather tightly plotted, with both lead roles undergoing transitions of character, in Macbeth's case egged on by the witches (who are memorable but a bit superfluous). The pivotal moments are in Act 3, where Macbeth thinks he is securng his rule by Banquo's murder but in fact finds his ability to operate as a king destroyed by Banquo's ghost. It's as if Shakespeare is returning to the themes of the first quadrilogy, but fictionally this time, and perhaps with a perspective of the reign of King James rather than Queen Elizabeth.

Lots of good lines - the reason they stick in the mind is that they are actually memorable images or juxtapositions of words, like the seeds of time, the milk of human kindness, screwing one's courage to the sticking-place, Out, Damned Spot! and Lay On, Macduff!

Arkangel have done very well here, by taking the rare but very obvious course of setting the play in, er, Scotland, with appropriate accents and skirling of bagpipes; this gives the whole play an extra edge that I had never really considered properly before. Hugh Ross is OK in the title role, but Harriet Walter is absolutely superb as Lady Macbeth and really carries the rest; I was not surprised to discover that she had played the part memorably for the RSC a few years before.. (David Tennant looks in as the Porter.) It's not quite as stellar as some of the best Arkangel productions, but it's certainly good enough for me.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love's Labour's Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night's Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All's Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter's Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 13th, 2009 01:08 am (UTC)
There's a great Trevor Nunn RSC version on DVD with McKellen and Dench as Macbeth and Lady M. The DVD is from Fremantle. Probably the best version I've seen.
Mar. 13th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure the witches are superfluous - surely they are the equivalent of an oracle in a Greek tragedy, giving the character a shove in the direction of their fate. (On the subject of Greek, 'tetralogy' is the traditional term, 'quadrilogy' is a recent Hollywood invention isn't it?)

Also, I'm not sure how Macbeth can be termed 'fictional' in a sense that Henry VI or Richard III aren't. Surely all five are fictionalised accounts of real historical figures, and as with all Shakespeare's history plays, they say more about the politics of the era they were written than about actual historical events. Indeed, there is surely a precise analogy between the vilifications of Richard III and of Macbeth, given that James claimed descent from Malcolm Canmore.

I haven't heard the Arkangel version, though I would question what constitutes an 'appropriate' accent - Tudor? Medieval? I get the impression you're saying that they have chosen to present it in a way emblematic of modern Scotland (even down to bagpipes, which were ubiquitous across Europe until at least Shakespeare's time). Is that somehow more authentic? This is rather like the question of what would constitute accurate costuming for Julius Caesar - togas worn over Tudor dress as in Shakespeare's day? Indeed the whole notion of authenticity is pretty ludicrous - every generation has reinvented Shakespeare's plays in performance. There's no reason not to set it in (effectively) modern Scottish culture, but there's also no reason to regard that as more 'appropriate' than any other setting. Indeed, I'm rather fond of Kurosawa's version "Kumonosu Jou".

Paul T
Mar. 13th, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
Dorothy Dunnett's King Hereafter is a very fine fictional treatment of MacBeth - if you were to add it to your reading pile I would be very interested in your opinion bye and bye.
Mar. 13th, 2009 07:49 pm (UTC)
I read that very shortly after it came out - I'd heard Dunnett being interviewed about it on Frank Delaney's programme. I thought she made (and still makes) a very interesting case. My own medieval studies of the period about a century later involved disentangling a lost scholar from multiple identities; the idea that this might happen to a king and earl was really provocative and fascinating. I cannot have been more than 16 when I read it but I really loved it.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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