Hope you’re all well and enjoying the spring sunshine which has decided to appear today. It’s been a glorious day!
Today, I wanted to take this opportunity to review one of my favourite Shakespeare plays: Macbeth. I’ve had the opportunity to teach this a lot over the years which is quite a privilege, opening the doors one of Shakespeare’s most popular psychological thrillers to the next generation.
Also, this post was prompted by managing to get my hands on a ticket to see the RSC’s new production staring Christopher Ecclestone and Niamh Cusack. It’s sold out until July so I’ve been quite lucky really. I’m so looking forward to seeing this! (Information about this production and tickets here. )
What’s it all about?
Set in Scotland, the play opens with three witches planning to meet Macbeth after he has finished fighting in a great battle on behalf of King and country. The audience hear how amazing and heroic Macbeth is through the Captain.
‘For brave Macbeth!’
Once the battle has finished, Macbeth and his best friend Banquo come across the witches. They offer Macbeth three predictions: that Macbeth will become Thane of Glamis, Cawdor and King of Scotland. They predict that Banquo’s sons will become king. Whilst Banquo is very suspicious about this, Macbeth is completely enraptured. He lies when Banquo later asks him about them.
‘I think not of them.’
King Duncan decides to reward Macbeth for his bravery in battle and gives him the title of Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth writes a letter to his wife, Lady Macbeth to tell her the good news. She’s just as pleased as he is. After all, it means she will get a crown too.
‘They met me in the day of success: and I have learned by the perfectest report, they have more in them than mortal knowledge. When I burned in desire to question them further, they made themselves air, into which they vanished.’
A messenger then tells Lady Macbeth that King Duncan is on his way to their castle for a banquet to celebrate. Lady Macbeth calls on the evil spirits to help her kill King Duncan. After all, that title has been promised to her husband and he is in the way!
‘Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires.’
Macbeth, however, doesn’t seem convinced. Nevertheless, he is talked into it by his wife. Alas, Duncan is killed and Macbeth is crowned king. Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donaldbain, flee in fear.
‘Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under it.’
There is a great sense of unease within Scottish society. No one quite feels safe. Yet, now that Macbeth is king, he knows that his predictions have come true. This evokes a ringing in his ears (metaphorically) about Banquo’s prediction for his sons.
Surely Macbeth hasn’t done all this work for Banquo’s children to become king? He decides that Banquo is the enemy and decides to kill him and his son Fleance. He hires murderers who successfully kill Banquo but his son escapes.
‘Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold.’
At another banquet, Macbeth believes he is going mad as, in his eyes, he sees the ghost of Banquo. He shouts out and creates a scene in which Lady Macbeth has to cover for him and smooth over alarm from the guests.
Lady Macbeth is furious. Macbeth decides to call upon and visit the witches. After all, they will tell him what happens next. Three new prophecies follow, mainly focusing around Macduff. Macbeth sinks deeper and decides to kill Macduff’s wife and children.
‘Blood will have blood.’
What is fascinating is Macbeth still believes he is safe despite the fact that the witches prophecies come true, one by one. It is Lady Macbeth who struggles immensely with guilt. She can’t stop thinking about Duncan and the other murders her husband is involved in. She sleep walks, confessing everything and dies.
‘Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’
This is the beginning of the end for Macbeth. Macduff is absolutely furious and gathers an army together to fight Macbeth. They use the branches of Birnam Wood to disguise themselves and approach Macbeth’s castle. The play ends with Macduff killing Macbeth, bringing his head in on a spear and Malcolm being crowned king. Harmony in Scotland is restored.
This play is awesome. It’s full of ambition and tension. The rise and fall of a character. The circular structure leads us to know that Macbeth is doomed as he is given the title of Thane of Cawdor – the original Cawdor is killed for treason. Lady Macbeth is my favourite character. She’s just incredible. She persuades and charms her husband but inevitably the guilt destroys her. I’m genuinely so excited to see this on stage. Bring. It. On.
Big loves all xx