Macbeth – 5/5
I am teaching this play to several of my classes this year, so when we re-read it I will also let the students review it as well. The play is great for use in class because it’s weird, it’s wild, it’s bloody, and it’s relatively opaque in some of its implications. Shakespeare was on potential shaky ground writing this one because it was right after the coronation of James I and since he was the Scottish king, having two different Scottish kings die on stage seems a little funny. Also, James apparently claimed to be from the line of Banquo’s descendants, in order to suggest a significant legitimacy to his reign. All good, until you realize that at the end of the play, it’s Malcolm who is king, not Fleance, or any other Banquo line. So SOMETHING has to happen to install that line into power, and well, SOMETHING tends to be violent.
The play begins with a more or less nonsense scene with the three witches telling us among other things “Foul is fair and fair is foul” and that sets up a kind of murky morality for the play. If it’s all in the eyes of whosever perspective you’re taking, then maybe there’s nothing clearly wrong and clearly right. In addition, you can look at the early prophecies that Macbeth hears as either temptations or fate. If it’s temptation, then he’s both responsible for his actions, but he’s also the subject of manipulation. If it’s fate, he’s the victim of circumstance, and if you think about what happens to those who deny fate in theater (Oedipus) there might not be anything for him to do.
Like a lot of Shakespeare plays, this one also jumps in time and place in some real loose ways. We see MacDuff meeting with Malcolm in England and then rushing back to Scotland to fight Macbeth. It also sometimes seems like only a day or two has past since the beginning of the play.
Regardless, this play offers of several chewy roles of actors. Macbeth’s scene after the death of Lady Macbeth is still a great soliloquy and pretty much everything Lady Macbeth says is great.
I got this audio guide from the library and it’s narrated by Roger Rees, which is nice. It covers the context for the writing and production of the play setting up the funny idea of James not only seeing this play, but viewing it privately, as he was such a patron of the company. In addition, there’s a very good breakdown of the plot with key quotes. Finally, it ends with some basic analysis. What works really well about this section is that especially with this play, the murky or ambiguous morality allows for lots of different general readings and even overlapping readings. There’s no reason to find a neat fit, and nothing in Shakespeare really allows for or requires a neat and tidy reading. This is a 90 minute listen that really gives someone a great overview of the play and some ideas to play around with.