Tuesday, 6 March 2012


I didn't know what to expect of Macbeth by Shakespeare.  Having only heard small passages of the play in various classic mystery films (the latest was a Columbo episode, where the murderers were actors playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth),  I was not sure whether all this war theme and blood and madness would appeal to me.

I loved it.  Plain and simple - I loved it.

I enjoyed the gradual degradation in Macbeth's feelings towards the witches' oracles:  in the beginning, when even Banquo tells Macbeth that
"... to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths", 
Macbeth replies:
"if chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir"
only to shortly afterwards exclaim:
"that is a step, on which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, for in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires! let not light see my black and deep desires"
before foreseeing doom:
"Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red"

and already I had the feeling that Shakespeare insinuates that the trick with the Witches actually the deep immoral thoughts of Macbeth were - he personified his inner want for power to the hated figures to justify the evil taking over his soul and to justify his actions.
Macbeth is further descending into madness when he realises that everyone is his rival - as there are no direct heirs to him, it will be Banquo's children he will have committed the crimes for - therefore they must die.  What an insight into the tortured soul of someone already realising that he's at a point of no return...

Lady Macbeth is a character I couldn't quite make out.  She's portrayed as the evil initiator, asking spirits to
"... unsex me here; and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty!"
but cannot afterwards bring herself to live with the idea of her deeds (or rather her contribution) and dies:
"... unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles"
the blood from the first killing has stained her for good and she can't just seem to be able to pull through.  But being such an evil planner, I would never have suspected she would be of a sensitive nature - there, of course, comes Shakespeare to bring everything off balance and provide a twist to the story.  
Her death drives Macbeth further into despair, delivering the perhaps most famous monologue on "tomorrow", on how his life no longer has a meaning, but is rather "a tale told by an idiot... signifying nothing" (I'm still in awe of this monologue - if it's all a tale meaning nothing, then all  the conspiracies, all the deaths are "nothing"? 

A truly great play with yet another innovation - I loved the fact that the most important parts of the play do not actually take place in the main stage, but are rather presented afterwards or only mentioned ... this, however, sent my poor imagination into overdrive -- if I could close my eyes to the horrible scenes I was imagining, I would!

The language used throughout is fairly strong and gory, which is exactly the indication that this is no child's play  -- we find ourselves in a dangerous plot, we witness the darkest hours of human kind through the eyes of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.  Several of the monologues have become iconic for pointing right at the core of the feelings of the characters, be it the preparation phase for a murder or the time afterwards, when they realise what has been done.  I would even go as far as to say that the play is a series of well-delivered monologues showing the spiralling fall of Macbeth. It's not nice, but it's truly interesting!
On the other hand, I also like the rhyme-like dialogues of the three witches and Hecate, blurring out horrible things in such a pretty way... It's a twisted hilarity to an otherwise solemn play.

I've read the psychological interpretation of Macbeth, but I would rather not see it purely as an essay on ambition / aggression and masculinity - I like to think this is play on the loss of control and morals and the ensuing dangers. A lesson bound to have had an audience in those times...


For the visual interpretation of this play, I watched the 1979 version of Macbeth with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench (not yet Sir and Dame at the time). I cannot recommend this version enough - beautiful chemistry between the two, mastery of the gory nature of the play and then there were the monologues - both by Dench on the "come spirits..." but especially by McKellen on "is this a dagger..." and "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" - they are truly unbelievable and sent shivers down my spine!


  1. That took me back, I had to read Macbeth at school when I was about 13. Birnam Wood is not far from where I live, you can see some of it at the link below. There aren't many trees there now.


    1. thanks for the link Katrina! Always interesting to see where it all comes from...

  2. Good point about the language letting you know we're not in Kansas anymore. I felt it keenly, especially after reading it so shortly after Midsummer Night's Dream.

    What was you favorite monologue?

    1. From the film, I would go for the "tomorrow and tomorrow" monologue. I can still feel Ian McKellen's voice...

  3. I'm so excited you loved this! It's my favorite Shakespeare so far. :D

  4. mine too - although I still have a lot of plays to read ;-)

  5. I don't agree that Lady Macneth is evil, I think she is so ambitious for her husband that she does not realise the consequences of what she has done.




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