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Three Productions of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Free analysis essay

A Turning Point in Macbeth

Macbeth is one of the most famous Shakespeare’s plays. It was first performed in April 1611 in the Globe Theater, London; and since then, the performance has not left the scene for four centuries (Shakespeare, 2016). Dozens of times the play was filmed, in particular, by Roman Polanski and Akira Kurasawa. Similar to most classic works, Macbeth has become an interesting subject for opera and ballet. Out of all the most popular Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth inspired rock musicians to write songs or concept albums. The secret of the popularity of the play is that it involves various themes in its plot: mysticism, fate, crime, cruelty, remorse, revenge, and sadness. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth belong to the most complex and controversial images in literature. Macbeth, despite his cruelty, does not provoke disgust in readers, but on the contrary, it invokes sympathy at the end. Each reader or viewer can see and feel the inner world of the main characters of the play in his/her own way and differently interpret their actions and feelings that drive them. This paper aims to analyze some famous parts of Macbeth, in particular, a key dialogue between Macbeth and his wife before their commitment of murder which is considered a turning point in the tragedy.

Many scenes in Macbeth are essential for further development of drama and the course of events. However, the scene of the first act, in which Lady Macbeth incites her husband to kill King Duncan, can be considered as a turning point in the whole tragedy. This scene is crucially important as it is Lady Macbeth who, being guided by the bloodthirsty desire for power, makes her husband commit a terrible crime that has led to many deaths but has never brought them neither happiness nor power. A reader or viewer can see that Macbeth hesitates; he would never kill Duncan at his discretion. Nevertheless, Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to kill the king. The reproaches and taunts of his wife make Macbeth reject the hesitations, and he agrees to kill Duncan (Shakespeare, 2016).

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The scene of planning the murder is significant because it marks the beginning of the end. Both spouses have embarked on the path, which has led them to the collapse of their ambitions and defeat in an unequal battle with fate. The three witches who personify fate also belong to the most important images of the tragedy. They can also be considered a root cause of further murders as their prophecies cause the uncontrollable desire for power in Lady Macbeth’s mind. Her control over her husband turns into a pathological desire for control over the world around them (Shakespeare, 2016). However, she is a toy in the hands of providence; her function is to force Macbeth to embark on a fatal path. Therefore, with the appearance of Macduff, when Macbeth’s fate has already been doomed, the lady goes mad and dies, having completed her bloody mission till the end.

Giuseppe Verdi’s Opera

An Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, who admired the works of the great English playwright William Shakespeare, began to work on the creation of the opera Macbeth in 1845. The most difficult stage in his work was writing the libretto, because it was necessary to explain the basic plotline of the play while avoiding frequent changes in the scenery, which is unacceptable in operas. Giuseppe himself wrote the full text of libretto (Wills, 2011). He did not showcase the vocal abilities of the singers in the first place as he considered their acting, facial expressions, and gestures to be of greater significance in this performance than the words. Not surprisingly, Verdi believed that the most important dramatic scenes in this tragedy were the duet between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the first act, when she provoked him to commit a murder, and the stage of her sleepwalking in the fourth act. He said that if these moments had been lost, the opera would have failed. The distinguished composer argued that these key moments should not be sung but rather conveyed by the play, declamation, and very dark and subdued voice. He saw these scenes this way: extremely dark stage and muted orchestra (as the sound had to seem distant and muffled); therefore, an orchestra had to include clarinets, double basses, bassoons, contrabassoon, and nothing else (Wills, 2011). The orchestra, which takes an active part in the recitative sections, reveals the shades of spiritual movements. Despite the predominance of the atmosphere of darkness and mystery in the opera, dramatic contrasts are of paramount importance as well. Tense dialogue between Macbeth and his wife, while plotting the murder, is interrupted by the march announcing the arrival of the king. It was interesting how the author saw the image of Lady Macbeth. He regarded her as an ugly woman, whose unpleasant or repulsive appearance personified her cruelty and bloody desire for power. Thus, he wanted a singer who played the role of Lady Macbeth to be unattractive yet gifted with a sharp, subdued, and somber voice. Marianna Barbieri-Nini has perfectly succeeded in acting this part.

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It was rather unusual for an Italian opera plot that the fantastic world of ghosts and witches as well as the psychological depth of many scenes have led to the renewal of means of musical expression. Verdi tried to achieve a sharp and clear pronunciation of words, which created a new type of vocals: something between recitative and melody, highlighting the most important words and cues by melodic phrases and framing them by pauses. The expressive melodic leaps allow us to feel a close similarity to the natural intonations of human speech that are reflected in the duet scenes (Wills, 2011). It is most vividly illustrated in the duet between Lady Macbeth and her husband from the first act and the stage of somnambulism, which is considered the most important dramatic opera scene.

Macbeth in Thtre National Populaire

Macbeth was one of the best performances in France in 1954. Behind the bloody drama, the horrors, and illusions of the era depicted in the tragedy, a French theatre director and actor who played Macbeth himself, Jean Vilar, saw a struggle of Macbeth’s life (March & Valls-Russell, 2016). Vilar creates a truly Shakespearean climate in his production, both in the most intimate experiences and in the major tragic conflicts. He achieves a large impressive effect not only in the spectacular scenes but also in the minor episodes. An episode of the feast and a dialogue between Macbeth and his wife before the murder were the most outstanding scenes in this performance. The episode, in which Macbeth and his spouse leave the stage, is one of the most pathetic moments of the play. Having realized that he has become a prisoner of his crime, which will be followed by other deaths, Macbeth hugs his wife’s shoulders and slowly and sadly steps together with her in the darkness of night, in the solitude of their crime.

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In the scene, which precedes the murder, Macbeth is depicted as a martyr and a torturer; he is burned in the fire of his desires, passions, fears, and traces of remorse. This is the main Vilar’s theme, and although it is depicted in sequence, it appears to be somewhat monotonous, without an increase of these feelings, which results in the full emptiness and indifference. Jean Vilar’s talented partner was Mar?a Casares, who played Lady Macbeth (March & Valls-Russell, 2016). Her beaming smile while reading her husband’s letter conveys the feeling of happiness at the thought of future greatness and power. Unlike Verdi’s image of Lady Macbeth, she was a thin and fragile woman, who showed the infinite love to her husband, comforting him as a child that was afraid of darkness. She appears in the first act in a beautiful black dress, trimmed with a white cloth with a green belt, impressing the viewers. She grabs the attention of the audience from her first appearance and holds it almost until the end, up to the famous sleepwalking scene. Her hushed voice inciting her husband to commit a crime and her beautiful mournful face is very expressive. That is why Macbeth is too weak to resist the power of his wife.

Macbeth on Screen

In 1971, Roman Polanski filmed Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In this movie, he perfectly conveyed the atmosphere of evil. Interestingly, the film shows how evil is perverting a human on the one hand and its inescapability on the other one. Hence, the new ending, which was not created by Shakespeare, appears: after the coronation of Malcolm, Donalbeyn ? his brother, comes into the circle of witches, which is a reference to the fact that the circle of evil begins anew (Hatchuel, Vienne-Guerrin, & Bladen, 2013). Moreover, in comparison with Verdi’s and Vilar’s productions of Macbeth, which were very close to the original, the sequence of some scenes is rearranged and some episodes were removed in Polanski’s film.

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In the beginning, Macbeth is depicted as a good and virtuous man, who is fighting for his country, but then, not without his wife’s help, he turns into a greedy and totally ruthless man that can do anything to possess power. A key scene of a dialogue between Macbeth and his wife is expressed in the movie with the same power as in the play or opera. This indicates that in this version of the play Lady Macbeth is also good at manipulating her husband. To choose a young blonde (Francesca Annis plays the role of demonic Lady Macbeth) is typical of Polanski. A director uses some erotic scenes to show her power and control over her husband. For example, during one of the episodes, she is completely naked in front of the camera (Hatchuel, Vienne-Guerrin, & Bladen, 2013). Francesca Annis has also managed to perfectly convey an unbridled ambition and blind cruelty of Lady Macbeth completely devoid of fear or conscience. However, in the end, she suffers from a huge regret leading her to suicide.

Conclusion

The versions of Macbeth analyzed above differ by genres and their images of the main characters, Macbeth and his wife. However, they are similar in the representation of a turning point in a tragedy, namely the scene, in which Lady Macbeth provokes her husband to kill a king. In all three productions, she is depicted as a woman whose blind and uncontrolled desire for power makes her lose her mind. These productions have been very successful and are still popular today because all of these works pay much attention to the depths of the human psyche. However, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera can be considered the version that bears the most striking resemblance to the original. The libretto, orchestra, and acting are the most successful in illustrating Shakespeare’s goals. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that Giuseppe Verdi sees Lady Macbeth as an ugly woman, transferring her spiritual ugliness to her appearance since that woman is the reason for all further violent events in the tragedy.

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