Macbeth – The Presentation Of The Supernatural In The Two Productions
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‘Macbeth’ is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Shakespeare wrote three types of plays, which were tragedies, comedies and histories. ‘Macbeth’ is a tragedy. The Aristotelian definition of tragedy is the destruction of a great man by a fatal flaw in his character. Macbeth’s flaw was that he was too ambitious and he was too easily influenced by the witches. Macbeth was an eponymous hero which means that his name is the title of the play. The play is set in 11th Century Scotland in the middle of a Civil War. Shakespeare included a wide range of supernatural elements in this play because at that time of history the Elizabethans and the King would have believed in witches and sorcery. The fact that over the years the play has been changed to tone down the supernatural element to suit the more sceptical audience proves just how powerful Shakespeare’s plays were and still are many years after his death. The play is based on fact and carries the moral that you should not be too ambitious because ambition leads to hate. Over the years, actors who have played the role of Macbeth have become very superstitious and it is said to be bad luck to say the name, Macbeth.
We have watched two versions of Macbeth on video. The Polanski is the Elizabethan style version and the Channel four is the modern, up to date version starring Sean Pertwee as Macbeth. They are both very different in many ways. In the Polanski the play is dependent on supernatural and witchcraft whereas in the Channel four production there is very little supernatural element although it does show Macbeth being destroyed by his overwhelming ambition. There is a much greater emphasis on his obsession for power.
In the opening scene of the Polanski, Act one, scene one, we see the witches for the first time in 11th Century Scotland. The witches are very stereotypical and they are chanting in Troaich Tetrameter. They say things like ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair,’ which shows us that they are planning evil. They are ugly and androgynous although one is a definite female. Two of them are older and one is a younger apprentice witch. They are planning to meet with Macbeth but at this point we do not know their plans, which produces dramatic tension.
‘There to meet with Macbeth.’
The thunder claps and lightning flashes, which creates pathetic fallacy. The background music is discordant and seagulls can be heard in the distance, which portrays a haunting sound. This adds to the eerie feeling in this scene. They are standing on the moors and the lighting is dull and misty which shows the mystical energy in the air. The witches are burying three objects in the sand, which could represent future events in the play. The rope could symbolise the hanging of the Thane of Cawdor, and the hand and dagger could represent the regicide of King Duncan, the hand being Macbeth’s. This also leads us to think that perhaps the witches caused these unlikely
occurrences. The atmosphere of evil sets the scene for the rest of the play. Overall, this scene shows supernatural and the evil nature of the witches. This opening scene would intrigue the Elizabethan audience and they would automatically know that witches were involved.
The Channel four video portrays this scene very differently because it is aiming at a different audience. The supernatural element is played down a lot and in this scene it is not actually clear that the women are witches. The atmosphere is much more cheerful and the weather is very calm. It is a bright, sunny day and the witches are on a hill in the middle of a war zone in the present day. There is a lot of debris from the war around them and they are standing around a burnt out car.
This would be because nowadays people do not believe in witches so the producers have tried to move away from the supernatural element as much as possible to keep the audience interested. The witches are presented in a very different way in this version. Although they are speaking in the same language, the delivery of the lines is very different. They talk in colloquial, chatty language and they look like bag ladies or scavengers more than witches. They are wearing tatty, old clothes and they look like they are living in the burnt out car. This adds to the sense of realism depicted in this scene unlike the eerie feeling we acquire in the Polanski version. The soundtrack is more upbeat and dramatic in this version and you can hear gunshots in the distance, which shows the atmosphere of war. Also, we get the first picture of Macbeth in this scene when his name is mentioned. We get the impression that he is brave because he is seen in his army uniform and he is going into battle. Overall, we can see that whereas the Polanski version is dominated by the supernatural, the Channel four version had to be made more realistic because today we are much more sceptical.
In Act four scene one, Macbeth goes in search of the witches after all of his prophecies have come true and he wants to know if Banquo’s predictions will come true. Also, he is getting nervous by this point because people are becoming suspicious of Macbeth especially Macduff. In the Polanski version it is once again dark and misty although this time the mist could be fumes from the cauldron. There is thunder and lightning which creates pathetic fallacy that something evil is going to happen. The witches are standing around a cauldron naked in a cave, which makes the audience and Macbeth feel uneasy and uncomfortable.
They are casting a spell and there is a great emphasis on the ingredients because at the time the audience would have been confident of magic. The potion generally contains things people would not like. For example, ‘eye of newt and toe of frog.’ The spell also contains parts of people that Elizabethans at the time would not have liked. For example, ‘Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips.’ This gives us ugly and cruel images, which lets us know how evil the witches are. There are lots of witches in this scene, which gives us a strong sense of evil. When Macbeth ‘demands’ to be told more about the predictions, the witches give him a potion to drink, which he takes willingly, which shows that he trusts them and he
desperately wants to know more. The witches make Macbeth look into the cauldron where he see his own head telling him to ‘beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife.’ This could be symbolising his own conscience telling him that Macduff is suspicious. The next apparition shows a baby being born by caesarean and growing up into a man in armour. This man says, ‘None of Woman born shall harm Macbeth.’ Macbeth goes to stab the armour but realises it is not really there. This could represent that he has become more ruthless and he is willing to kill anyone who gets in his way. Also we see how Macbeth is evil because he is prepared to kill Macduff even though he cannot harm him. The third apparition shows a child who has been crowned with a tree in his hand.
This could be Duncan’s son Malcolm but it is not clear. Macbeth is told that he will not be harmed ‘until Birnam Wood climbs up Dunsinane Hill.’ In the final part of this scene, Macbeth asks if Banquo’s predictions will come true which shows that he is not as confident as he acts because he is worried abut being taken over. The witches show him one last apparition. Macbeth is walking through the forest and there are many Kings holding mirrors. Every time he looks in a mirror he sees Banquo’s sons and they are followed by Banquo. This gives a sense that Macbeth cannot get away from the fact that Banquo’s sons will become Kings. Macbeth seems very nervous and he appears to be trapped. Overall, this scene shows a very powerful supernatural element and it is a very important scene in the play because it shows Macbeth succumb to evil once again and plan to murder Macduff’s wife and children.
The Channel four version portrays this scene differently again due to the fact that the audience do not believe in witches anymore. To start with the setting is very different. It is bright daylight and the witches are standing around a giant water reservoir with flames floating on the water. This could not happen realistically so we know that there must be petrol on the surface, which would be typical of a war zone. The actors are very different in this scene. The characters sound like they have real emotions and the language sounds like it comes natural whereas in the Polanski the lines are over acted.
Macbeth is more confident in this version and there are just three witches which takes away some of the tension in the atmosphere. This whole scene is shot in black and white with just the flames of the reservoir in colour. This shows that there is a clear cut between good and evil and the colour stands out as a contrast. Also the fire could symbolise hell and the black and white shows that it is a dream as we find out at the end of the scene. At the beginning of the scene we see tailors dummies, which could represent destruction and war. Tinging noises are heard which sets an eerie atmosphere. The rest of the scene involves a fast upbeat soundtrack to build up dramatic tension. The potion is ignored in this version, which is another way in which the supernatural element is played down. There are a lot of special effects in this scene. All the apparitions are computerised and they all appear to be moving towards the screen. The first shows Macduff holding Macbeth’s head by the hair, which symbolises the end of the play when Macbeth is killed. The second is a dolls head, which shows the caesarean
baby. The third apparition shows Macduff holding a tree branch. Behind each apparition fireballs burst into flames, which represents evil and it also makes the images stand out more. Finally, when Macbeth asks about Banquo’s predictions he is shown another apparition. This time we see kings with skulls for faces moving past the screen with masks of Banquo in their hands. This gives an eerie feeling because it seems like Macbeth cannot get away from Banqou and his sons. The last part of this scene is very effective because we see the last mask turn into Macbeth’s face and then he screams and wakes up in his bed. He appears to be very shaken up which means he could be suffering from a guilty conscience after killing the King and his best friend. He also is seen to have been sleeping with a gun in his bed, which shows that he is nervous because people are becoming suspicious. This portrays a more realistic effect of guilt, which would be more appropriate to the audience nowadays.
In the Polanski version, Macbeth was influenced by a number of people. From the start he was very much controlled by the witches and their predictions whereas further on he becomes more influenced by his wife, Lady Macbeth. At first she does not feel that he is ruthless enough and she emasculates him.
She says ‘It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness,’ and ‘Wherein you dress’d yourself? hath it slept since,’ which is basically asking him if he is a man or a mouse.
Soon he becomes over ambitious and he does not need her to push him anymore. In the Channel four version he is less influenced and he is more confident of himself. Also, Lady Macbeth is a stereotypical wife in Elizabethan times who should just follow the husband’s orders. She uses her emotions to push Macbeth rather than trying to make him feel weak as in the Polanski. There is also the question in both plays as to whether or not she is one of the witches and she too wants to wreak havoc in Macbeth’s life but it is not clear if this is true. In both plays the witches knew from the beginning that Macbeth was capable of evil and all they needed to do was to push him. This is shown because they could have chosen Banquo but they knew he did not have the evil in him.
The idea of sleep is strongly emphasised in this play in many different aspects. Of course, we know that sleep is essential to all human beings and if we don’t get sufficient hours of sleep it will drive us mad. The witches, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, mention this in several scenes. In Act One Scene three, one of the witches is telling the others about an incident with a sailor’s wife. The witch had asked the woman to give her the chestnuts she was eating, and when she refused she cast a spell on her husband the sailor. ‘I’ll drain him dry as hay:
Sleep shall neither night or day.’
Later on in the play Macbeth also mentions sleep. In Act Two Scene Two, after he has murdered the king he says that he thinks he will never have untroubled sleep again just like the sailor. This could represent that the
witches have caused Macbeth to suffer from insomnia or it could just be his guilty conscience. Finally, in Act Five Scene One, Lady Macbeth suffers from troubled sleep and she sleepwalks re-enacting the murder of King Duncan. She tells the doctor and the gentlewoman about the murder of Banquo and the King, which could give us another reason to believe that perhaps Lady Macbeth was a witch, trying stir up trouble for Macbeth.
The end of the play shows that Macbeth has totally been destroyed by his ambition and everyone has deserted him. The witches deceived him into believing that no one could harm him but when the messenger tells him that the wood appears to be moving up the hill he realises his mistake. Also, Lady Macbeth commits suicide but Macbeth is not upset. He has been consumed with guilt after all the terrible things he has done and he says life means nothing. In the polanski version, Macbeth kills young Siward and then is killed by Macduff. His head is severed from his body then placed on a stick. This could show the dishonour after his death. In the Channel Four version, they fight using guns instead of swords, which shows how the play has been updated over the years.
The two closing scenes are very important to this play although they are very different and neither is in the original play script. In the Polanski, we see Donalbain, Duncan’s son, riding on his horse up to the hill where the witches are. The weather is dark and dreary and you can hear shrieking and eerie singing noises. This all gives the impression that it could all start again and perhaps Donalbain could kill his own brother to become the King. The final scene of the Channel four version is also very effective. Macbeth’s dead body is picked up by a truck and dumped on the hill where the witches are living. The final part of this scene shows the witches going through Macbeth’s belongings and taking all his things. This shows the humiliation after his death and it shows that he got what he deserved in the end. Overall, in both plays we learn that too much ambition is not a good thing and once it has gone too far there is no turning back.