Macbeth is by far my favorite play by Shakespeare, with Titus Andronicus, Hamlet, and Romeo & Juliette coming in second, third, and fourth. Part of why I like it is because of my interest in witchcraft of the middle ages. It is this period in European history in which witchcraft became associated with heresy, as opposed to High Magic or Sorcery, which have been practiced in practically all cultures, but not necessarily associated with heresy to the current popular religion.

I really like the witch's dialogue throughout the play, and I have yet to see anything written that is comparable. There is no doubt that Shakespeare's weird sisters have done more to codify the current and popular iconography of witches and their craft, than any other source to date.

I have often wondered if Shakespeare's audiences would have been scared to see this performance, just as horror movies scare us today, especially in lieu of the fact that witchcraft was considered a very real threat to human society and the church during that time, and for the next 200+ years on.

I could go on and on about this play, as I have read it several times, listened to it on CD more times than I can remember, and seen every film adaptation I could get my hands on. And yet, I still feel that I do not understand it completely.

However, I'll leave you with some additional info:

From a historical perspective, it was either Duncan (who Macbeth murdered), or Banquo (whose offspring were guaranteed the throne), who was an actual ancestor of King James I, for whom the play was written. It was historical fiction, in a way. Also, King James was obsessed with witchcraft, killed many women because of it, wrote a book on demonology, and kept all kinds of protections around him against it; even painting his bedroom red to protect himself, since red symbolized the blood of you-know-who (that Jesus fella.)

If you read it, note the recurring themes of unnaturalness throughout the play. From women with beards singing "Fair is foul, and foul is fair", to horses killing and eating one another, and even to "killing a king", which was considered a crime against nature and God, since kings ruled by Divine Right. One line reads, "Tis unnatural, / Even like the deed that's done", which is spoke after the murder of King Duncan. To murder a king thus, is to upset the natural order of things, and this theme is prevalent throughout the play. Also, Shakespeare was pandering to King James I, who was terribly afraid of being assassinated.

Make a note of how many animals are listed throughout the play: dogs, horses, sparrows, tigers, eagles, sharks, sows, snakes, frogs, newts, lizards, baboons, etc. One cannot help but think Shakespeare must have just read an encyclopedia of the animal kingdom, and wanted to use it in his play somehow. I'm not kidding, like every possible animal is listed in this play, and not just by the witches. Also take note of the patterns of three that exist througout the play. One example: Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, And thrice again, to make up nine.

Here is a little more trivia: The "French hose" spoken of by the porter is a pair of trousers, which were coming into fashion in France (as opposed to those enormous bubble-butt pants worn during that time), and the "tongue of dog" used by the witches is an herb, not an actual dog's tongue. It was called a dog's tongue because that is what the leaves resembled. I don't know what the plant is called today.

Lastly, if you want to see a film adaptation of Macbeth, there are only two worth seeing. The 1948 version with Orson Wells, and the 1971 version directed by Roman Polanski, which is the more accurate/true to Shakespeare version of the two listed here.

Tags: Elizabethan, England, Globe, Literature, Macbeth, Plays, Shakespeare, Thespian, Witchcraft

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Replies to This Discussion

Nice write up. Macbeth is my favorite tragedy of the Bard's as well. Also, I think Polanski's movie is the most enjoyable. Did you see the 2007 version directed by Geoffrey Wright? I have only watched half of it so far, and am not really enjoying it. It tries way to hard to be edgy and cool.
I agree about the Polanski film. I think it is a hard play to interpret, and many people just don't understand what they are doing or getting into. Of course, Shakespeare is hard to do in general, at least hard to do well. I have not seen the 2007 version, though I snuck a peak at it on Amazon. I do not have high expectations for it. In fact, it would probably piss me off.
I love Macbeth. I studied drama at school (and after) for 8 years and worked for a while as an actress. I also studied Shakespeare's classical education and use of rhetoric at university. So I've tended to bump into the play quite a bit over the years.

I have a fabulous piece of Macbeth trivia somewhere. It takes place in the Banquo's Ghost scene. Apparently Olivier once forgot his lines and just ad-libbed for about 5 minutes until his train of thought returned. I'll try to dig out the old theatre programme I saved with that story in it and give you the dialogue some time. I recall that the line, "Round and round the rugged rocks the ragged rhinoceros ran ..." might have been included.

A theatre acquaintance of mine, Clarry Evans, wrote "Macbeth: The Rock Opera", which was amazing! That was back in the 70s and it's still playing today. The Royal Queensland Theatre Company once put on a modernised version of Macbeth - with the set and all the actors in stark black and white. It was so unspeakably dreary I walked out a quarter of the way through (well, I DID know how it ended!)

In latter years as I've been researching our family history I discovered that I am probably distantly related to the historical Macbeth. My 32nd (or thereabouts) great grandfather was a Norwegian Viking named Malahule Eysteinsson. His brother, Sigurd, became the first Earl of Orkney and all the subsequent Earls were from that line. Author, Dorothy Dunnett has closely researched the Macbeth genealogy and believes that Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney (a descendant of the first Earl) was Macbeth. (Another point of trivia, Malahule Eysteinsson is also Prince William's 32 x great grandfather). Small world, ain't it - pity we married into trade! Sigh!

Great idea to start a Shakespeare group!
Did Olivier do a film version of Macbeth? If so, I have not come across it.
Ah, the Scottish Play. I agree with it being a more difficult play to interpret. For example, while it is tragic, does the tragedy apply to Macbeth himself, or say Lady MacDuff, or the King, or Banquo (I could go on)? And, I love the witchiness (is that a word?), as well, and prophecy always makes for an interesting piece of work! There really is nothing comparable to Shakespeare. He is the god of words.

I find the unnaturalness interesting as well. I did a paper on the effects of the characters' actions in comparison to the effects of the same in Francis Bacon's The Great Instauration and The New Atlantis. Nature does mirror human defends itself...always has, always will.

Great group you have here!
Thanks. It's funny how few people know it is referred to as "The Scottish Play". I think, in general, Shakespeare is hard to interpret because people get too confused by the poetry and big words.

As far as it being a tragedy, I think it is a tragedy for all. Almost everyone dies, like in classical Greek tragedies.

Interesting thing about the prophesy: Would events have unfolded the same if the witches never gave the prophecy? Did they cause it, or simply reveal it? Who knows.

I'm not familiar with those works of Bacon.
Blackadder winds up actors' superstision of "The Scottish Play"
I wondered who'd be the first to sully the gravity of a Shakespearean discussion group with Blackadder! ROFLMAO!!!!!! (I love Blackadder, by the way!)

In fact, when we first started watching the archaeology show "Time Team" I was thinking, "Gee that presenter sounds strangely familiar ..." Before I could say anything, my 84 year old Mum piped up, "Ummmm, isn't that Baldrick?" It's frightening the things that woman knows! ;-)
Thanks for this
Infirm of purpose... Give me the daggers

Hell yes, a great play, and the Polanski movie is outstanding.
Yes, the Polanski film is great. Having seen, read, listened to or read analysis of the play over the years, I am astounded at all the ways in which the characters can be played. If you read the text, you can see how the personalities and moral character of the characters can be shifted or reinterpreted depending on how the lines are read.


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