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Compare Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Polanksi’s Film Version

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In class we studied Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Polanksi’s film version and how they present the witches to portray them in an evil and sinister manner and how the audience felt about them at this time. The witches had told Banquo ” Thou shalt get Kings, though thou be none.” Meaning that his children’s children would be Kings. And this so happened when King James took the throne who would have been reigning when Shakespeare’s play was shown. He had an immense fear of witches and black magic and in his power banned all kinds of witchery claiming that he had been almost killed by three witches. His hatred of them stretched so far that he even wrote a book called Daemonology, which told readers how to identify someone being controlled by magic. The witches in the Shakespeare’s play are referred to as the “Wyrd Sisters”; “Wyrd” does not have the same meaning as the word “Weird” today. It is an old English/Anglo Saxon word-meaning fate, which is mainly what witches were assoiciated with in those days. When Shakespeare wrote Macbeth he based it on a real historical story but twisted it a lot. In reality Duncan had been a horrible King and deserved to die.

Act one scene one opens and immediately Shakespeare suggests an eerie atmosphere on the other hand Polankisis does not. Thunder and lightning were usually associated with evil, and people in the Jacobean era believed that witches could control the weather. He shows this when he writes,

“When shall we three meet again?

In Thunder, lightning or in rain?”

The first thing we recognise is that they are speaking in rhyming couplets; this is very unusual as the rest of the characters speak in blank verse. This shows that Shakespeare wanted the witches to stand out, they were outcasts in society and he wanted them to be outcasts in his play. It is almost as thought they are performing a chant, putting a curse on someone. Polanksis’ opens a little differently, his film starts on a beach as he had done his historical background and believed that, that’s where the battle would have taken place when the enemy reached the shore. The 3 witches are presented as an old lady who is wrinkled with an aged bone structure. A maiden who is young and playful and another whose face is almost “deformed” and strange looking, she is also blind and although can’t see she can somehow “see” into the future.

On the beach they dig a hole in the sand with a stick and bury a noose, a dagger and a severed hand representing the hanging of a traitor, the killing of King Duncan and a battle. They then cover them and pour blood on the top, which is a powerful ingredient in any black magic spell. When his would have been performed on stage in Shakespeare’s day the audience would have been very tense wondering why they are meeting and what is their purpose? Whereas in Polanksis day people wouldn’t believe in this as much as witches have been highly commercialised and are now used in children’s cartoons. Not very scary now are they? When we see this part of the play we automatically ask the question who are they meeting? And when they mysteriously mention Macbeth this gives the audience a chill, as associating Macbeth to the witches is also referring him with evil. It also gives the impression that the witches already know that they will meet with Macbeth frightening the audience further and giving them evidence that they can see into the future.

In the next two lines the witches mention two creatures Graymalkin and Paddock. Graymalkin in the index is said to be a grey cat and Paddock a toad. Shakespeare chooses to mention these in his play as cats and toads were usually associated with witches. Cats were seen as witches familiars that would travel with them to keep them company. Toads were seen as ugly poisonous creatures and thus commonly referred to with witches. People believed witches carried these animals with them to assist in there evil acts. In contrast the audience watching Polanksis film believed cats travelled with witches on the end of their brooms and if you kissed a toad it would turn into a prince. The scene ends with witches vanishing in a mysterious fashion, making known to us that they can appear or disappear when they wish. They leave with a rhyming couplet, to close the scene with an eerie finish.

Scene 3 opens with the reappearance of the witches, when they meet, similarly in both, upon the heath as arranged in scene 1.

In Shakespeare’s play the first witch tells the other two a story about a greedy sailors wife who would not share her chestnuts. So she curses the women’s sailor husband so as his ship would not gather any wind and stay stationary and they would therefore starve and have sleepless nights. Insomnia was seen as having a cursed life therefore showing the audience the cruelty of their plot. In line 20 the first witch mentions a pent-house lid which is otherwise seen as an eyelid suggesting that another in the play will suffer from sleep deprivation, which later is associated with Macbeth, who, after killing Duncan cannot sleep because of his nightmares.

Polanksi chooses to scrap this information and has the witches singing or are they saying a chant? One of the witches is rubbing ointment into another’s back, showing their compassion for each other, even if they don’t have any love for others they still have some for their own kind. The maiden helps the blind witch to the cave as a goat runs by. Goats were seen as evil creature and associated them with the devils, most people think because of the horns. They talk to Macbeth as they walk into the cave this is quite mysterious and we wonder why a cave? The maiden flashes showing us her disrespect for others and they disappear into the cave and Macbeth and Banquo ride off.

In the time when the play was set there was a ship that had come in from sea after being suspected lost, claiming that they had been calmed and couldn’t get back this tells us that Shakespeare did research for his play to make it as real as possible. This gives us the impression that if you annoy a witch you will come to harm, this story makes their power very real and convincing to the audience as they show their evil side.

Their magical ability may be powerful but they cannot kill people outright but can only curse and torture them to death. After telling her tale the other witches show their compassion for their sister helping her bring revenge to the sailors wife by “giving her wind”. This claims that the trinity is true and that for the curse to work the three sisters must work together this shows their evil vindictiveness.

She tells of how he will die in a cruel manner almost laughing at his misfortune. She then brings out a pilots thumb to show to the other witches bringing a touch of horror to the scene, as it is a visual sign of their evilness. Their meeting is suddenly silenced by the beating of drums, from the celebrations of the battle. Even before they see Macbeth they know that he is near. They perform a chant together, they say “thrice” in the chant referring to the trinity.

Macbeth and Banquo enter, until Shakespeare wrote this the worlds of humans and witches were said to been separated with Macbeth stating

“So foul and fair a day I have not seen”

This is a repent of the witches’ words earlier in the play,

“Foul is fair and fair is foul”

This gives the impression of Macbeth’s wickedness at an early stage in the play suggesting that he too will eventually became evil also. Banquo enters with Macbeth and is immediately disgusted with the thought and look of the witches stating that,

“…You should be women and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so”

Showing he has no emotion for them in and he thinks they are so ugly and unfeminine that he doubts them to even be women. Macbeth knows he is Thane of Glamis so when they state this he has no trouble hearing this. But thane of Cawdor? …King? What Macbeth doesn’t know is that the current Thane of Cawdor had been a traitor to the king and will be hung and Macbeth will take his place because of his success on the battlefield.

The 3rd witch states,

“That shalt be king thereafter”

Which means he will be king in the near future, which Macbeth doesn’t understand how he could be seeing as the current King Duncan had two perfectly healthy sons to heir him. This makes us think, had Macbeth thought about being King before? Or had the witches just planted a seed in his head suggesting to him that he could be? His urgently in the final cut with the witches suggest to us that he wants to know more, but is it to know how he can? Or how he can prevent it? By this time Banquo is anxious to hear what will happen to him and asks to know his own future saying,

“If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not speak to me then…”

Banquo gets three answers the first being,

“Lesser than Macbeth, and greater”

Which I think means that even thought Banquo Is no Thane of Cawdor or King, he will be a noble man and stand by good until the day he dies which will be a soldiers death. He will not go the way of Macbeth and do on evil to others to get more in life. So in this way he will be greater than him even without a crown.

The 2nd witch tells him,

“Not so happy, yet happier”

I think this statement means although he doesn’t have as much money as Macbeth, nor is he as good on the battlefield. But at home he has a loving family, which makes him far happier than Macbeth could ever be.

The 3rd witch tells him,

“Thou shalt get Kings”

This means Banquo’s children would take the throne after Macbeth. This is later to make Macbeth paranoid and to result in his downfall and the killing of Banquo. The witches then leave with Macbeth begging to know more.

I conclude that Shakepeares play would have the greatest impact on the audience as in the Jacobean era people believed in witches and the supernatural, but now in the time of Polankis witches are just seen as ugly creatures children dress up as at Halloween. They are not frightening no more as Terry Pratchet, author of “The Wyrd Sisters” based on Shakespeare’s play, makes quite clear presenting them in an amusing, funny nature showing us people have no fear of them any more. The witches have a great impact on both plays and although they are not as scary anymore they are still associated with black magic and therefore linked with the evil turn of Macbeth. The play wouldn’t have the same twist without them.

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