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Polanski’s Film Version of “Macbeth”

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Polanski’s film version of ‘Macbeth’ is a very effective interpretation of the play. Every detail that Polanski includes is significant but also has an implication behind it. By referring closely to every detail of Polanski’s film version of Act1 Scene 1 we could interpret what this scene is like, but not only that, we can interpret what the content of the play will be like.

From the beginning of the play we are feeling a sense of curiosity and confusion as to what is happening. The scene is unique and remarkable, which makes Polanski’s image of ‘Macbeth’ both intriguing and creative.

Upon watching ‘Macbeth’ the first event that is noticed is the sunrise. This is unforeseen. A sunrise is a beautiful image, but it doesn’t quite fit into the play ‘Macbeth’ as the play is full of darkness and evil. The sunrise displays many different spectrums of colours which all have a representation and a purpose for being used. The first colour we notice is pink, which epitomizes a time of prosperity under king Duncan. We are aware that king Duncan was a generous and prosperous king. The sunrise changes colour then from red, promptly to grey. This is symbolical of the bloody and tyrannous rule of Macbeth and his later depressed state of mind. The sky then turns blue rather slowly which insinuates a sign of hope and the slow restoration of natural order, which had been invaded by the presence of the supernatural. From reading the play we know the colour blue represents Malcolm as he brings hope to the people of Scotland, as they have been afraid of the once bloody and tyrannous Macbeth.

Although there is a sunrise, there is never a sign of the sun. This suggests something is going to take place, which is exceptional and unnatural. There is also a suggestion that there is no warmth in this scene, which again brings back a feeling of unnaturalness.

After the sunrise we notice that this scene and whatever will happen is about to take place on a beach. This is unusual as a beach portrays a happy and fun-filled place but in this situation the beach is isolated and remote. This isolated beach also emphasizes the isolation of the witches from civilization. From the beach we can see the sea, which adds enigma, secrecy and power to this remote and isolated place. This also brings about a reference to the witches being able to control nature. For example when they said they could produce a tempest. (1.3.25) “Though his bark cannot be lost/ Yet it shall be tempest-tost.”

In the background dark mountains are seen, which creates a haunting and evocative atmosphere. Darkness is a major theme in the play ‘Macbeth’. For example when they must kill under the cover of darkness so as not to be seen, (1.5.52) “Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark.”

The weather is surprisingly calm, which is unexpected. We expect the weather to be more violent, which would be more suited to the play.

Polanski’s idea of the setting is very unexpected. We expected something more like the play. The witches would meet on a heath land in a storm, but it is this unexpectedness that makes Polanski’s image of ‘Macbeth’ all the more effective.

During the start of the scene we expected to hear a sudden, loud, dramatic entrance of music, which did not happen. The lack of music creates suspense. There is not complete silence because if you listen carefully screeching noises can be heard. These noises and along with the lack of music make us feel uncomfortable and tense. The silence makes us focus in on the surrounding. We listen and watch tentatively to receive something we expect. We see a bird fly over the beach, which is a sign of ill omen. The lack of sounds of animals shows that we are now outside natural order. The silence also portrays peace and tranquility, which we know are qualities that the witches are not able to possess. This feeling of uneasiness and discomfort is very effective in bringing the scene to life.

The next image we come upon is the witches themselves. Their physical appearance is somewhat unrefined. They are dressed in dark clothes, which are basically layers upon layers of rags. There are three witches, – one young and two old. The witches are not very stereotypical as the young witch is not a traditional witch. The two older witches are both deformed. The oldest witch wears a hood, which sits in a point. This indicates a traditional witch; the hood is seen as a pointed hat. Her ears are also visible from the hood, which implies that the witch uses her ears a great deal.

The witches have disabilities. The oldest witch is blind while the young witch is dumb. This shows that they rely on each other for the senses, which they do not possess. Their disabilities separate them from society. Polanski exploits the idea of their disabilities to make us feel pity for the women but we know that they are not what they seem. They are deceiving us. They are capable of so much more. Deceiving appearances is another major theme in the play. For example when Lady Macbeth says, “Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under’t.” She is telling Macbeth to deceive others so their plans will remain a secret.

The camera is up close to the witches, which portrays their closeness to each other. Their deformities lead us to ask the question, ‘Are these human?’ just as Banquo has wondered. (1.3.45) “You should be women,/ And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ That you are so.’ Banquo does not know what they are.

The first words they chant are, “Fair is foul and foul is fair”. The witches talk in paradox, which confuses us. The words introduce the idea of illusion and reality, again bringing back the idea of deceiving appearances. The reality is being deceiving because when they talk we are confused. This confusion makes us think the witches do not know what they are talking about, but they do, so this is an illusion they are portraying. They talk in rhymes, which is unusual but this tells us they are not part of society. This makes us aware of who they are.

We feel as if we have walked in on something eerie which leads us to be confused. Being up close Polanski lets us hear the witches coughing and spluttering which makes us have a feeling of disease and repulsion. Hearing them breathe makes us feel very close to them. This feeling is almost claustrophobic. This also brings about a reference of sin as disease, which is another theme in the play ‘Macbeth’. For example (3.6.34) “Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights/ Free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives.” There is a shortage of food. People are afraid to sleep. The sin is Macbeth and the people of Scotland are suffering because of him.

The witches begin to dig a hole in the sand. They dig as if they were savages. They place a noose, a severed arm and a dagger into this hole. These props suggest they are evil. Once covered the older witch pours blood, which we can hear rather clearly. This emphasizes the bloody imagery of the play. The spilling of blood is an evil action, which adds to the disturbing effects of the play. The blood makes them unclean much to our disgust. They chant a spell, which is another sign of their evilness and shows they are outside of natural order, away from civilization.

What do the three witches represent? The three witches are the antithesis of the Trinity, – The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost. The Trinity is holy but it is blatantly obvious that these witches are evil.

Throughout the scene the witches use the same language as the text but Polanski has changed the text around. This is effective as it is easier to understand but it also gives us quick information to what this scene is about and what the rest of the play will be like. The witches talk about meeting again and when they do it will be to meet Macbeth. From this we immediately know Macbeth is an important character who will have something done to him by the witches. The fact they are evil witches suggests the action will be rather disturbing and foul.

From the beginning of the play we notice the witches use props, which are not found in the play. Why does Polanski use these props? The props all have significance. The first prop we come across is the staff although at first sight it is indistinct what the object is or even who is holding it. This creates a feeling of confusion and curiosity. The staff captures our attention and makes us focus into the play. Polanski creates tension, as the staff is perplexing. With the staff a circle is drawn in the sand. The circle is interpreted as a sign of never-ending evil. The circle could also represent the unity of the witches as they rely on each other. The witches then dig into this circle. Into the circle they place a severed arm, a dagger and a noose. The audience feels disgusted and repulsed. In the play hands are referred to as ‘Hang mans hand’. The severed arm could foretell the murders, which occur later in the play by villains who have hang mans hands. Their hands should be severed as punishment.

A dagger is placed into the hand. The dagger is the main weapon used in the murders. The fact it was placed into the hand could suggest, metaphorically, the witches had some responsibility in Macbeth’s downfall. They weren’t entirely responsible as they only tempted Macbeth. They gave him the opportunity. It was Macbeth who decided to seize this opportunity. To a certain extent Macbeth is a pawn in their game but it must be remembered they only prompt him. They do not force him.

The noose represents treason, where punishment is carried out by execution. The noose is also a symbol of suicide. The noose is used to kill traitors. Lady Macduff says (4.2.49) ‘All traitors must be hung.’ Both Thanes of Cawdor were executed for treason. The noose prefigures the events, which lie in the future.

Once the hole is covered, blood is poured over the top of it. Blood is the primary image in ‘Macbeth’. It is a sign of death and guilt. The Macbeth’s were obsessed by blood because of their deceitful actions. The spilling of blood is an evil action, which adds to the disturbing effects of the play.

Towards the end of the play we see the witches walk away. They walk rather slowly and rhythmically. This reflects their existence, which is lifeless, futile and desolate. As they move away mist envelops them. The mist and darkening sky shows that the idea of bad weather, in Shakespeare’s time, is evil and foretells misfortune. It also shows that the witches can control the weather because at the beginning the weather was bright, calm and tranquil and now the mist adds mystery to the scene.

Unexpectedly the word ‘Macbeth’ appears in heavy, bold and black writing at the very end of the scene. This abrupt appearance of the name creates a dramatic anxiety and we are left waiting for the action of the play to begin. The appearance of the word ‘Macbeth’ also leads us to believe that Macbeth is to be the victim of the witches’ evil deeds. He will be lured into something evil and unnatural. We know now ‘Macbeth’ is the main character so now we are eager to find out more about him.

In conclusion Polanski’s image of Act 1 Scene 1 of ‘Macbeth’ is very effective. Through the use of sounds, setting and props we can relate to what the play is about. Polanski’s image of the witches shows us immediately they are not part of natural order. Polanski makes the play remarkable and easily understandable. Polanski’s image is both compelling and creative which makes his interpretation so effective.

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