Shakespeare on Ghosts

Since Halloween is right around the corner, and since this is a huge topic in Shakespeare, I would like to talk a little bit about Shakespeare’s treatment of the living impaired, specters, spirits, in a word GHOSTS.

Ghosts appear in five Shakespearean plays: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Richard the Third, Macbeth and Cymbeline. In all but one of these plays, and in many other Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas, a ghost is a murdered person who needs someone to avenge their deaths. Their function is to warn the hero of the play to revenge their deaths, and/ or to torment their murderers.

Ghosts have been part of western drama almost as long as there have been ghost stories. After all, the Greek and Roman plays that Shakespeare emulated often mention ghosts as warnings from above and below the world is in some kind of chaos. Most of the time, the kind of play in which you see a ghost is a Revenge Tragedy, plays like The Spanish Tragedy, Locrine, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and even the Disney movie of The Lion King.


The most potent example of a Shakespearean ghost is definitely  the ghost of Hamlet’s  father. I actually played this role and, rumor has it, so did Shakespeare himself! Hamlet’s father appears as a ghost two months after his death, and soon after his brother Claudius marries his widow Gertrude. The ghost’s purpose in the play is to get his son’s attention so that he can correct the terrible regicide that Claudius committed, allowing the Ghost to Rest In Peace.

Shakespeare describes the ghost as a pale, sorrowful figure, dressed in full armor. The ghost only speaks to his son in the play, and he begins with a strange and terrifying description of the afterlife:

Ghost: I am thy father’s spirit,

Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purg’d away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,

Thy knotted and combined locks to part,

And each particular hair to stand on end

Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.

But this eternal blazon must not be

To ears of flesh and blood Hamlet Act I, Scene v.

Many scholars believe that the tormenting realm of fire that the ghost describes is actually Purgatory, an old Catholic concept that explains where the souls of the dead go if they are neither evil enough for Hell, or good enough for Heaven. It’s also the place where people go who didn’t confess their sins before death, which was the ghost’s fate since Claudius poisoned him while sleeping.

Though neither Hamlet nor his father explicitly say it, there is a strong implication that Hamlet must avenge his father by killing Claudius, which will presumably release the Ghost from Purgatory allowing it to ascend to Heaven.

Some suggest that the ghost is a manifestation of Hamlet’s superego:

Ernest Jones in his book Hamlet And Oedipusbelieved Hamlet had an unresolved Oedipus complex and couldn’t bring himself to revenge because Claudius had achieved the very goals Hamlet himself secretly desires to kill his father and marry his mother

Faced with his guilt and lack of moral integrity Hamlet could have created a supernatural superego to spur him to revenge. As Freud describes it, the superego

The superego is the ethical component of the personality and provides the moral standards by which the ego operates. The superego’s criticisms, prohibitions, and inhibitions form a person’s conscience, and its positive aspirations and ideals represent one’s idealized self-image, or “ego ideal.”

In essence, since (in Jones’ view), Hamlet is too morally corrupt to be an effective avenger for his father, Hamlet imagines the ghost to help justify his revenge to himself. This is of course, only one way of interpreting the ghost and Hamlet as a whole. There is no right or wrong interpretation for any of Shakespeare’s characters, but it is a testament to Shakespeare’s genius that, 400 years after his own death, his ghostly writings helped inspire one the architects of modern psychology.

Ghosts Of Torment

The ghost of Banquo in Macbeth and the ghosts that plague Richard the Third the night before his battle help quicken the murderous kings’ his downward spiral. Macbeth becomes more and more paranoid, and therefore easier for his foes to defeat.

When Julius Caesar’s Ghost appears to Brutus, he does so the night before his final battle- the battle of Philippi, where Brutus was defeated and committed suicide.

When Richard III sees the ghosts of all the people he murdered, it not only terrifies him, it splits his soul in half! According to Sir Thomas More, Richard couldn’t sleep the night before his final battle at Bosworth Field. Shakespeare gives Richard a strange soliloquy where the ghosts awaken his conscience and awaken him from a fearful dream:

[The Ghosts vanish]

[KING RICHARD III starts out of his dream]

Richard III (Duke of Gloucester). Give me another horse: bind up my wounds.

Have mercy, Jesu!—Soft! I did but dream.

O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!

The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight.

Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.

What do I fear? myself? there’s none else by:

Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.


Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am:

Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:

Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?

Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good

That I myself have done unto myself?

O, no! alas, I rather hate myself

For hateful deeds committed by myself!

I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.

Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,

And every tale condemns me for a villain.

Perjury, perjury, in the high’st degree

Murder, stem murder, in the direst degree;

I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;

And if I die, no soul shall pity me:

Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself

Find in myself no pity to myself? Richard III, Act V, Scene iii.

In these plays, the ghosts are a form of spectral punishment; the punishment of a guilty Conscience.

Shakespearean Friendly Ghosts

The only friendly Shakespearean ghosts appear in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline and these ghosts are the ghosts of posthumous’ ancestors. They appear before the God Jupiter to plead for their descendant. Posthumous Leonidas. They beg Jupiter, the most powerful Roman god to end Posthumous’ suffering.

Like the witches in Macbeth, ghosts in Shakespeare are mysterious and sometimes frightened- the are sort of a mirror for how we see ourselves, our lives, and our hopes to be remembered after death; the final words Hamlet’s father utters before disappearing into the morning mist are: “Adieu, adieu, remember me.”

https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/ghosts-in-shakespeare

https://www.bard.org/study-guides/ghosts-witches-and-shakespeare

Animated Richard III, 20:00 the ghosts appear:

References:

Greenblatt, Steven Hamlet In Purgatory 2001. Princeton University Press. Link: file:///Users/jrycik/Downloads/Hamlet-in-Purgatory-Princeton-Classics.pdf

Jones, Earnest, Hamlet and Oedipus. 

https://people.ucsc.edu/~vktonay/migrated/psyc179d/HamletOedipus.pdf 

Open Source Shakespeare, Cymbeline: 

https://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=cymbeline&Act=5&Scene=4&Scope=scene&LineHighlight=3243#3243

http://www.markedbyteachers.com/gcse/english/which-version-of-the-hamlet-ghost-scene-act-1-scene-5-was-the-most-effective-and-why.html

Pearlman, E. Hamlet: Critical Essays: The Invention Of the Ghost. https://books.google.com/books?id=jdfWAQAAQBAJ&pg=PA71&lpg=PA71&dq=ghost+that+shrieked+hamlet+revenge&source=bl&ots=KY68gIrh2V&sig=MjEr2NxLQ7T4c2xW1QscrmdeMkc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiR5o6M4I_XAhUK0oMKHQIJBeAQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=ghost%20that%20shrieked%20hamlet%20revenge&f=false

https://www.shmoop.com/hamlet/ghost.html

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/456606.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A3f62aed88fb9e9b9a8f8e462186ff95c

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Shakespeare’s Perfect Halloween Play

With just a few days left until Halloween, many of us will be anxious to put the candy bowl away, dim the lights, and watch a scary movie. I’d like to recommend my pic for the single best Shakespeare play for Halloween, and you might be surprised to learn which one it is:

It’s not Macbeth, despite its ghosts and witches, it’s not Hamlet, though it has a famous scene in a graveyard. In my opinion, the scariest, most horrific, most disturbing Shakespearean play is the ancient Roman revenge tragedy Titus Andronicus!

Titus Who?

Titus is the most violent, most outrageous play in the Shakespearean cannon and features murder, mutilation, cannibalism, (and even featured the first recorded trick or treating). It was also his first tragedy ever, written around 1590. Back in this period, Shakespeare’s theater was also the site of public executions and blood sports like Bear-baiting, so Shakespeare knew that gore sells. He also knew that people were reading the bloody tragedies of the Roman poet Seneca, so he created a play that out-does the Roman master of bloody violence!

So why have you not heard of it?

  • Too violent for school For most people, their first encounters with Shakespeare is in the classroom, and because of the violence in this play it’s definitely not appropriate for high school. The most famous atrocity in the play happens to Titus’ daughter, who is raped offstage. Then, to keep her from incriminating the men who raped her, the rapists cut off her hands and cut out her tongue. Quite a departure from the “Honey tongued” Shakespeare we see in the comedies and sonnets.
  • It’s vulgar: T.S. Eliot declared that Titus Andronicus is “one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written.” For people who expect Shakespeare to be poetic and romantic, this play is a sad dissapointment.
  • It’s Over the top- People don’t just die in this play, they get butchered horror movie style! Some get stabbed and thrown in a pit, some get their limbs chopped off, one character is buried alive! Many scholars say that after one atrocity after another, the only way you can react to the horror onstage is to laugh. Look at this scene where the villain of the play, Aaron the Moor, confesses to a laundry list of hideous atrocities which he did just for the pleasure of being evil:

Scholars often compare the dark comedy of Titus to the films of Quentin Tarantino, who will murder his characters in grotesque, but funny ways. I won’t even give away the surprise ending where Titus and his daughter gets their revenge, but let’s just say that they would certainly agree with Tarantino that revenge is a dish, best served cold!

  • It might be racist As I mentioned in the clip above, the main villain of the play is a black man. Aaron, like Richard III is completely evil and unapologetic about it.  When I was studying Shakespeare in college, James Earl Jones, (Darth Vader himself) came to my school to talk about Shakespeare’s racially diverse characters. He argued though that nobody treats Aaron any differently until they learn about his heinous crimes and that the person who seems to hate Aaron’s blackness the most is himself. Look at this passage and see if you agree:

AARON

I go, Andronicus: and for thy hand

Look by and by to have thy sons with thee.
Aside Their heads, I mean.

O, how this villany
Doth fat me with the very thoughts of it!
Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace.
Aaron will have his soul black like his face (Titus, Act III, Scene 1).

Now the question to ask about Aaron and most of Shakespeare’s villains, is are they bad because they’re different (different race, differently abled, illegitimate birth), or did they become bad from people treating them badly?

Serious note– Even though productions often dramatize the violence and rape in Titus as over-the-top black comedy, this kind of rape and violence happens in real life, every day, particularly violence against women like Lavinia. One reason why this play is gaining popularity is sadly, that this kind of violence is more common in our current society with the shocking number of rapes committed in this country (1 in 5 women, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center), and the brutal murders in this play suggest many real-life atrocities such as Abu ghraib,

Plot summary and more at Schmoop.com

More at http://www.gradesaver.com/titus-andronicus/study-guide/summary

Review of Julie Taymor’s Titus

If you can’t get to the theater this Halloween and want to watch a production of Titus, you’re in luck: In 1999, Julie Taymor, famed director of the Broadway production of The Lion King, directed a film adaptation of Titus which I consider the single greatest Shakespearean film of all time. The movie captures the grotesque comedy of the play, while also visually showing the beauty of Shakespeare’s poetry. It also doesn’t get hung up on historical accuracy just because the play is set in Rome. Best of all, the cast in incredible: Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Langue, Alan Cumming, Harry Lennox and more. This cast knows how to do Shakespeare for the movies and their work shows in every scene. Interesting side note: Hopkins actually considered making this movie the last movie of his career, which explains his amazing glee and energy in the role of Titus. Below is a nice in-depth analysis of the film

Another good review comes from the French Shakespeare Society: https://shakespeare.revues.org/1558

And finally, a review from Roger Ebert: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/titus-2000

So that’s my two cents on Titus Andronicus. Happy Halloween everybody!

The Witches Of Macbeth

Happy Halloween everybody!

Tonight I’d like to discuss some of the spookiest, most enigmatic, and above all WEIRDEST characters in Shakespeare: the Three Weird Sisters in Macbeth.

1. Who are they?

Every production has to answer who the witches are, and many have very different answers. Are they temptress? Are they evil agents controlling Macbeth?Furies trying to destroy Macbeth?

I would argue in their basic form the witches are harbingers of change. Their very name “Wyrd Sisters” refers to an old Anglo Saxon concept of fate or destiny. Whether or not they have any effect on Macbeth mind or soul, they point the finger at him and say “things are going to change for you.” Then, he either makes the choices that determine his fate, or they change his fate for him.

"Macbeth and Banquo First Encounter the Witches," Théodore Chassériau, 1854.
“Macbeth and Banquo First Encounter the Witches,” Théodore Chassériau, 1854.
Macbeth meets the witches on a heath, which means land that is literally out of bounds– the wild, untamed wilderness, which the old Anglo Saxons believed was the lair of many cursed spirits and monsters.  This could symbolize Macbeth’ sin or transgressions, slowly turning into a murderer, usurper, and a tyrant. It could also symbolize the chaos in Macbeth’s life.

What Do They Look Like?

Shakespeare’s descriptions of the witches are highly contradictory- they seem to be floating, yet on the ground, they seem to be women, but they have beards! They don’t look Earthly, but here they are on the Earth. This gives them an other worldly quality that keeps us guessing as to who they are, and helps them tempt Macbeth more easily.

BANQUO
What are these
So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,
And yet are on’t? Live you? or are you aught
That man may question? You seem to understand me,
By each at once her chappy finger laying
Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.


MACBETH
Speak, if you can: what are you? (
Act I, Scene iii).

The Witches’ Language:
You know from my earlier posts that the norm for Shakespearean characters is to speak in iambic pentameter- 10 syllable lines of unrhymed poetry that sounds like a normal heartbeat. The witches break these norms- they generally speak in Trochaic Tetrameter- 8 syllable lines with the off beat emphasized. The witches are literally offbeat, and that’s why their speeches are unsettling. Look at the contrast between a normal iambic line like:

“In sooth I know not why I am so sad.” (Merchant Of Venice I,i).

and

Dou-ble Dou-ble, Toil and Tro-ble.

Fire burn and Caul-dren Bu-ble. (Macbeth, Act IV, Scene i).

For more info on the verse forms of the Witches, click here:

The witches also speak their prophesies in a vague, ambiguous manner They like to play with obscuring their prophesies with lines that make Macbeth think one thing, but the opposite is true. The famous example here is when they claim Macbeth will never be vanquished “until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill.” Macbeth assumes this means he’s invincible, but it actually means that the enemy carry wood from the forrest. This is called Equivocation.

Witches and mythology

Illustration from William Blake's  "Europe a Prophecy," 1794.
Illustration from William Blake’s “Europe a Prophecy,” 1794.
1. During the reign of King James,  the modern witch hunt began; the king was fascinated with witches and even wrote a book called Daemonology on how to identify and destroy them. This was the era where people believed that witchcraft, rather than a pagan religious practice, was a forbidden craft that could only come from a pact with the devil. However, Shakespeare borrows from both Satanic and early pagan ritual in the characters of his witches.

2. Shakespeare took a couple of details about witchcraft from ancient Celtic and Greek mythology. First of all, the use of a cauldron. In Celtic myth, a cauldron is a symbol of rebirth and was sometimes used to resurrect the dead, just as the witches do in IV i. Of course, the ideal time for raising the spirits was on the feast of the pagan god Samhain, at the point where the veil between the living and dead was the thinnest. The feast took place on October 31st, our modern day Halloween!

Illustration of witches and their familiar spirits, 1647.
Illustration of witches and their familiar spirits, 1647.
3. Familiar spirits In Act I, the witches speak to animal spirits called familiar spirits, which call to them and tell them where to go. King James himself wrote about how the witches found and communicated with these spirits.

Hecate.
In Act IV, Hecate, Ancient Greek goddess of magic appears. She is clearly the lord of all the witches, and is very displeased that they are riddling with Macbeth. Maybe not all witches believe in giving out prophesies that can destroy the Scottish monarchy. Hecate was always enigmatic in myths- she was born one of the Titans who opposed the gods, but frequently changed sides. More then being two faced, she was often portrayed as having three faces! Shakespeare refers to her frequently as “Triple Hecate.”

"The Triple Hecate," by William Blake, 1794.
“The Triple Hecate,” by William Blake, 1794.
For more information on this mysterious goddess, consult the video below, (WARNING, ADULT-ONLY CONTENT).

In conclusion, the witches are meant to be ambiguous because the play examines the source of evil- whether it is inspired by other people, or if it comes from one’s own heart. The witches can be either or both, depending on how you want to tell the story, which is why they act and speak in contradictory ways.

Visions Of Lady Macbeth

One of the greatest icons of female villainy, Lady Macbeth has been portrayed onstage by our greatest actresses, and immortalized in many alluring and terrifying works of art. Here are some of my favorites:

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 1889 John Singer Sargent 1856-1925 Presented by Sir Joseph Duveen 1906 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02053
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 1889 John Singer Sargent 1856-1925 Presented by Sir Joseph Duveen 1906. Tate Modern Gallery: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02053. More Info Here.
For commentary: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/ideal-portrait-of-lady-macbeth-97937
An Ideal Portrait of Lady Macbeth by John Francis Dicksee, 1870. View gallery information here: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=190776
FMI: http://en.wahooart.com/@@/8Y3AD3-Henry-Fuseli-(Johann-Heinrich-F%C3%BCssli)-Lady-Macbeth-with-the-Daggers
“Lady Macbeth and the Daggers” by Henry Fuseli, 1812. Tate Modern Gallery: 

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/fuseli-lady-macbeth-seizing-the-daggers-t00733 

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1068192/lady-macbeth-watercolour-cattermole-george/
Lady Macbeth observes King Duncan  by George Cattermole, 1850. Victoria and Albert Museum: 

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1068192/lady-macbeth-watercolour-cattermole-george/

http://www.louvre.fr/oeuvre-notices/lady-macbeth-somnambule
Johann Heinrich Fuseili, “Lady Macbeth Sleepwalking Scene.”(1741). Louve Museum in Paris: 

http://www.louvre.fr/oeuvre-notices/lady-macbeth-somnambule

http://aworldelsewhere-finn.blogspot.com/2012/03/dante-gabriel-rossetti-death-of-lady.html
The Death of Lady Macbeth by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (c. 1875). Gallery info here: 

http://aworldelsewhere-finn.blogspot.com/2012/03/dante-gabriel-rossetti-death-of-lady.html 

Crafting A Character: Macbeth

Me and the cast of “Macbeth,” 2009.

Back in 2009, I had the opportunity to play the lead in a touring production of “Macbeth.” It was the first time I’d ever played a titular Shakespearean character and I was really excited to play this part. I feel that playing one of these parts gives you an insight into the character that no other research can, so I’d like to share the steps of my process, with some pictures and videos from other famous Macbeths to give you an idea of what I learned.

 

  1. The Auditions-
    1. As I said in one of my earliest posts, if you’re auditioning for a Shakespeare play, Read the whole play, not just a monologue book. Monologue books won’t give you a sense of the whole story and you’ll miss a lot of details about who your character is by not hearing what he/she says, and what other people say about him/her. Fortunately for me, I first read the play when I was 17 and remembered the story pretty well. Unfortunately, my first reading of the part was a disaster. Unlike Hamlet, Macbeth didn’t feel like a part I could play; he seemed like this huge Scottish warrior who everyone loved until he turned into a psycho killer. I’m not a warrior, not a psycho, and (like most actors), often feel a lot of doubt and loneliness about my self. Ironically, that was what helped me get into the heart of the character!
    2. Figure out what’s the hard part. When directors cast, they need to make sure you can handle the part. If your character has to sing, you better be able to carry a tune. If your character needs to be able to contort into a pretzel and talk to dolphins, he or she will probably make that part of the audition. My advice to anyone auditioning for a specific part in a play (Shakespeare or not), is to think like a director and try and figure out what the hardest thing that your character will have to do, and try to prepare for that. For me, the hardest part of playing Macbeth, was the famous Dagger Speech.
    3. Perform your monologue for someone first. I was fortunate that while I was prepping for the audition, the great Shakespearean director Rob Claire was doing a workshop and he helped me work on Macbeth’s soliloquy in Act I, where he decides whether or not to murder Duncan.
  2. Table work

Table work is the point in the process where the actors sit around and read the play, trying to get an idea of the character’s journey from beginning to end. To me is the most exciting time in rehearsals because it’s just the actor and Shakespeare’s words- you can imagine how the play will go, discover how the lines make you feel, and form a bond with your character and fellow actors.

Me and my Lady Macbeth, Katie Crandol.
Me and my Lady Macbeth, Katie Crandol.

Macbeth’s Motive- During the table read, I decided on Macbeth’s motivation: to prove himself to his wife. In the play, Lady Macbeth frequently criticizes him and seems to define true manhood as taking what you want, regardless of fear or ethics. Take a look at this horrific passage where she first critiques Macbeth’s manhood, then says she would rather bash her baby’s head in rather than give up on murdering the king!

 

MACBETH

Prithee, peace:
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none.

LADY MACBETH

What beast was’t, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;

I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.

MACBETH

If we should fail?

LADY MACBETH

We fail!
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we’ll not fail. (Macbeth, Act I, Scene vii).

One interesting contradiction in the play, although Lady M mentions that she’s nursed a baby, later on in the play Macduff says that Macbeth has no children. I therefore decided that Lady Macbeth has lost a child, and this has caused unimaginable pain for the couple. Therefore, Macbeth is willing to do anything to win his wife’s affection again, even murder.

5136_1180294546018_2683021_n

Study the verse– Another point I’d advise when you’re doing table work is pay attention to Shakespeare’s verse because it provides clues to help you keep your hand on the pulse of your character. Just like a heartbeat, when a line of verse changes or fragments it usually signals an emotional or mental change in the character. Here is a quick analysis of the verse in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Click here to find some great books about how to study Shakespeare’s verse.

  • Voice and Body

Mackers poseWhen creating any character, you have to decide how (s)he walks and talks. Most Macbeth’s I’ve seen are big, heroic guys, and I’m not big and imposing. I talked to one of my mentors at American Shakespeare Center and he suggested that maybe Macbeth has a bit of a Napoleonic Complex. This made a lot of sense to me. I thought about how Macbeth gets honored at the beginning of the play; what if he just got lucky killing the Norwegians? What if deep down, he doesn’t feel he deserves to be honored just for killing in war? That kind of self hatred and desire for approval could easily lead to violent behavior. I therefore based my physical choices on alternately shrinking and sulking when Macbeth feels low, and trying very hard to look big and imposing for the rest of the play.

  1. I worked on my arms for the sword work and my back because I believe that’s where Macbeth caries himself. When I wanted to appear like a king I would stand straight and puff out my chest, however in moments like the appearance of Banquo’s ghost, I shrank and turned my head away.
  2. I didn’t try to do a voice for Macbeth, I just tried to let my voice go through the changes. When Macbeth is paranoid or afraid, my voice went up, when he feels in control, I kept it at a low, strong register.
  3. The one time I shouted was at the end, when Macduff demands that
    I prepare to fight Macduff.
    I prepare to fight Macduff.

    Macbeth surrender. I snarled and barked the line: “I WILL NOT YIELD!” At the end of the play, when Macbeth gets to fight Macduff, I feel he finally feels brave and strong, challenging Macduff even though he knows he will lose. At last he can feel like a valliant hero, even though everyone else sees him as a villain. I gleefully assumed a fighting stance and put all the power in my body into my limbs, ready to attack!

    1. The Speeches. All of Shakespeare’s great characters have fabulous speeches that allow the audience to peer into their hearts. With Macbeth, we see a good man’s journey into becoming a demented, paranoid tyrant through the following speeches.
      1. I contemplate murder in Act I, scene vii.
        I contemplate murder in Act I, scene vii.

        “If It Were Done,” Act I, Scene vii. This speech was my favorite. It’s basically Macbeth’s version of “To Be Or Not To Be.” In both speeches, the character is contemplating murder, without saying the word “murder.” This is the “IT” Macbeth refers to; killing the king to get his crown. Macbeth is tortured by his ambition and his desire, and you get to see him wrack his brain and body over what to do. Below is Sir Ian McKellen’s interpretation of the speech in a 1979 RSC production.

      2. The Dagger Speech Act II, Scene i. The night of the murder,
        Macbeth stands alone during the Dagger Speech, Act II, scene i
        Macbeth stands alone during the Dagger Speech, Act II, scene i

        Macbeth sees a bloody dagger that points his way to the king. It’s up to the actor to determine where and what the dagger is: if it is the Witches’ magic, his own psychosis, or a hellish prophesy. Does Macbeth love or fear the dagger? Does it stay in one place or move? Answering these questions and keeping track of the answers makes the speech very hard to do. Here is Sir Antony Sher’s kinetic and frantic version of the Dagger Speech:

 

  1. 5136_1180295466041_8211516_n“Tomorrow and Tomorrow” Act V, Scene v. This speech is often quoted out of context, given that it has a nearly perfect metaphor for the futility of life: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage… it is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Since this is the most famous speech in the play, I had to do something different than other Macbeths. What many people forget is that Macbeth says all this when he’s trying to command his army, and gets word that his wife is dead.


I chose to play the speech as a fight within Macbeth to not give into despair. At first he’s furious when he hears the news; he didn’t need this news, especially not today! He tries to suppress his grief, delaying it until tomorrow, but he can’t; now that he knows his wife is dead, his life seems completely pointless, including the battle he was trying to fight. I then gave Macbeth an epithany near the end of the speech: If life is pointless, fighting a battle and dying would be a glorious way to end it! Why not die, after all, life is just “a tale told by an idiot?” At last, Macbeth has a reason to fight again, and he concludes the speech as a call to his soldiers to fight without fear of death. Now, you may disagree with my interpretation, but the point is that it’s mine. I wasn’t trying to imitate Antony Sher, or Laurence Olivier, or Patrick Stewart when they played the part. I was doing my Macbeth, and that’s what made it worth watching.

  1. I also drew some inspiration from this video where Ian McKellen analyzes the imagery and ideas within this speech:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGbZCgHQ9m8

 

I hope you enjoyed this look into the process of creating this complex and fascinating character. If you’ve played this character before, leave me a comment about your interpretation, or tell me which Macbeth you liked best and why. Finally, below are links to two full-length productions of Macbeth for your viewing pleasure.

The full Ian McKellen production of Macbeth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpKWWK0Pj34

 

BBC Macbeth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0LrdOa7uZQ

 

Shakespeare Spooky Stories 2: The Voodoo Macbeth

In 1936, famed director Orson Welles, (known for his iconic film Citizen Kane), produced an equally memorable production of Macbeth. At the time, Welles was a theater director, working with a government-funded theater group called The Federal Theater Project. The goal of the FTP was to help support the theater during the Great Depression. Welles also found a way to have his production help black actors by, and casting exclusively African Americans.

Opening night of Orson Welles' "Macbeth" outside the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, 1936.
Opening night of Orson Welles’ “Macbeth” outside the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, 1936.

Although Welles kept Shakespeare’s text, he changed the setting to a tribe in Haiti instead of medieval Scotland, and changed the witches into Voodoo priestesses. Below is the only surviving footage of the production, the final scene in which (spoiler alert), Macduff carries Macbeth’s head and sets it on a pole, proclaiming Malcolm the new king. You can see the witches taking a wicked joy when Macbeth’s cursed head is impaled, implying that Welle’s witches had vengeance on their mind when they drove him to kill Duncan.

Eric Burroughs as Hecate.
Eric Burroughs as Hecate.

Notice also the actor who screams “Peace, the charm’s wound up,” at the end of the play. He is playing the part of Hecate, the goddess of magic who appears before Macbeth in Act IV. According to legend, Actor Eric Burroughs was a real Voodoo priest, as were the drummers Welles used to spectacular effect during the show. Many critics called the frenetic drumming that occurred during the show and in scene changes an experience that they’d never forget.

Welles’ innovations helped black actors and theater in general survive during the Depression, but not everyone praised his efforts. Journalist Percy Hammond criticized the merits of the performance, arguing that the government shouldn’t pay for artistic projects. The next day when he returned to the theater, he was greeted by a rhythmic thumping underneath the stage that intensified until the critic abandoned his seat and left the theater. The next day, he fell suddenly ill and died! Was his illness a voodoo curse? We may never know, but this story clearly illustrates the effectiveness of Welles’ staging, and the dark occult appeal that lurks beneath the text in any production of Macbeth.

Macbeth meets the witches around their cauldron, (Act IV, Scene i).
Macbeth meets the witches around their cauldron, (Act IV, Scene i).

Works Cited:

1.     Dunton-Downer Leslie and Alan Riding.The Essential Shakespeare Handbook: Macbeth p.367. New York: DK Publising Inc, 2004.

2.    Rippy, Marguerite. Orson Welles and the Unfinished RKO Projects: A Postmodern Perspective pp 75-76. Retrieved 10/21/15 from Google Books.

3.  Smith, Wendy. The Play That Electrified Harlem. The Library of Congress. Retrieved 10/21/15 from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fedtp/ftsmth00.html

4. Digital Public Library: The Show Must Go On! American Theater In the Great Depression: Impact On African American  Theater. Retrieved 10/21/15 from http://dp.la/exhibitions/exhibits/show/the-show/african-american-theatre-impac 

5. The Juggler (online publication): “The Voodoo Macbeth.” Retrieved 10/21/15 from http://culture.pagannewswirecollective.com/2011/04/orson-welles-and-the-voodoo-macbeth/

New Play of the Month: MACBETH

Just in time for Halloween, I’ve decided to abandon the Julius Caesar posts and spend the rest of the month talking about the most mysterious, most bloody, and most occult play Shakespeare ever wrote- MACBETH.

As you probably know, I already wrote a review of an amazing adaptation of Macbeth called “Sleep No More,” which you can read here. I also mentioned that there’s a new movie adaptation of this play, starring Michael Fassbender, (look at my last post to see the trailer). In future weeks, I’ll create a new play of the month page, and delve into the magic and curses associated with the play.

But for now, here are some nice tidbits from around the internet.

First, a funny comic from “Zounds, Alack, and By My Troth.”

Macbeth, Act IV summary cartoon from "Zounds, Alack, and By My Troth."
Macbeth, Act IV summary cartoon from “Zounds, Alack, and By My Troth.”

Next, a short recap of the play from 60 Second Recap. 

Third, a feminist interpretation of the play: 

And finally, a modern retelling of the play from a BBC series called: “Shakespeare Retold,” starring James Macavoy: 

Enjoy (devilish last).

A Few More Updates

Hi folks!

I’ve now finished my work on Romeo and Juliet, and this October, I’m taking a little time to talk about two of Shakespeare’s spookiest plays- Macbeth, and Julius Caesar. Right now, the Royal Shakespeare Company is putting on a very inventive production of the play, and I’d like to talk a little about this interpretation. You can read about it here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-reviews/9317659/Julius-Caesar-Royal-Shakespeare-Theatre-Stratford-upon-Avon-review.html 

You can read my analysis of Julius Caesar here.

Here are some posts I’ve got waiting in the wings:

  1. A spooky Shakespeare Stories related to Julius Caesar, and the assassination of President Lincoln!
  2. Analysis of the speeches in Julius Caesar (podcast, hopefully).
  3. Play of the Month for Macbeth.
  4. Explanation of the curse of Macbeth.
  5. Review of “Haunt Me Still,” the sequel to “Interred WIth Their Bones” by Jennifer Lee Carrel.

Stay tuned!