Reading Shakespeare: Moving on from Macbeth

I finished The Tragedy of Macbeth about two weeks ago. I took a break from Shakespeare to indulge my current obsession with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. But now it’s time to move on and continue with my Shakespeare read. Because Macbeth was a dark tragedy and this month I’m feeling rather jovial I’m going to read the only Comedy on my list, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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Macbeth was an amazing character piece about the descent into evil that greed and wickedness bring. A decorated hero succumbs to pride murdering his King, sending him and his wife down a spiral of murderous evil and eventual destruction. Lady Macbeth stole the play with her evil. From now on every female antagonist will be judged against her. The obvious comparison that springs to mind is GRRM’s Cersei Lannister, but even her incestual evil is no match. Cersei loved her children and her actions can be framed as protecting them, but Lady Macbeth was barren evil, stating that she would willingly dash her infant’s brains against rocks to have her way.

Before I move on I wanted to also mention that I highly recommend the 2015 Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard.  It’s dark, moody, and violent, capturing the feel of the play exactly how I pictured it. The soundtrack is also really excellent and worth giving a listen, the title track a Swans song.

The other Macbeth movie I plan on watching is Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. It’s Macbeth played by the great Toshiro Mifune is rewritten to take place in feudal Japan and stylised as a Noh drama. As soon as I have some free time I’m going to give it a watch.

Reading Shakespeare

Reading Shakespeare: Part 1

Reading Shakespeare: Part 2

Macbeth: Act 1

Macbeth: Act 2

Macbeth: Act 3

Macbeth: Act 4

Macbeth: Act 5

Reading Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 5

Scene 1

Summary:  Back at Inverness Castle a Doctor and a Lady attendant watch Lady Macbeth sleepwalk, an act she has been performing nightly since her husband has been out in the field. She walks around the castle with her eyes open but asleep, the whole time rubbing her hands and lamenting un-washable blood.  The Doctor exclaims that she is sick spiritually more than physically.

tomorrowCommentary: In past acts, we have seen Macbeth breaking down mentally now Lady Macbeth is tragically cracking from the guilt of murder. In her sleep, she mentions the murder of Duncan but also feels responsible for the murder of Banquo, and Macduff’s family. So far she’s been the strongest character, steeling herself for the original murder and even controlling Macbeth during the banquet. But now left alone in the castle she is falling apart.

Scene 2

Summary: A bunch of Scottish nobles are riding together and discussing the upcoming battle. They are rising in rebellion and heading towards Birnam Wood to join up with the army led by Malcolm and Macduff. They discuss Macbeths tyranny and how he has fortified himself in the royal castle surrounded by people that obey him only out of fear.

Commentary: All of Macbeth’s enemies are gathering and heading towards the forest mentioned in the second prophecy. The standout line in the scene came from Thane Angus dissing Macbeth, “Those he commands move only in command, noting in love: now does he feel his title hang loose about him like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief.” The basic trait of a tyrant.

Scene 3

Summary:  Back at Macbeth’s castle he is surrounded by his men and the doctor. The men are telling him that 10,000 English are on the way led by Malcolm, Macduff, and all the rebel Thanes. Macbeth is not afraid, tells them about the prophecy how no man born of woman can kill him, and requests his armor. Then he yells at the Doctor commanding him to find a cure for Lady Macbeth’s illness.

Commentary:  The Macbeth portrayed in this scene is manic with madness, raging at his men calling them pasty faced cowards. He truly believes that the prophecy will protect him and even with the rebels marching thousands against him he is ready to go out of the castle and fight.

Scene 4

Summary:  The rebel Scottish meet up with Malcolm, Macduff, and the English soldiers in Birnam Wood. Malcolm orders all the soldiers to cut down pieces of the trees and use them for concealment.

Commentary: Cutting down the trees and marching with them for concealment fulfills the prophecy of Birnam Wood coming to Macbeth’s castle.

Scene 5

Summary: Macbeth is rallying up his troops as the enemy approach, suddenly women scream, and he is told that Lady Macbeth has died. He reflects on her death but is interrupted by a guard that tells him it appears Birnam Wood is marching towards them. Furious, he realizes that this means the end for him. He decides to leave the castle and meet his enemies in battle.ladymacbeth1

Commentary:  This is a critical scene and where Macbeth speaks the famous “and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow..” soliloquy.

She should have died hereafter,

There would have been a time for such a word.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

to the last syllable of recorded time,

and all our yesterdays have lighted fools

the way to dusty death. Out, Out brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Nihilistic and dark. If Shakespeare was alive in the 1980’s he would be smoking cloves with Andrew Eldridge and writing lyrics for the Sisters of Mercy. But then at the end of the scene, he decides to go out fighting against all odds, ordering his men into the field.

Scene 6

Summary: All of the Thanes and Malcolm prepare to attack Macbeth. The battle begins.

Scene 7

Summary: The battle is raging, Macbeth comes across Young Siward the son of the British commander. They fight and Macbeth kills him while boasting about not being vulnerable to any man born of woman. Meanwhile, Malcolm takes over the castle and most of Macbeth soldiers surrender or switch sides.

Commentary: This is a simple battle scene also used to illustrate that Macbeth still believes that he is invincible due to the prophecy. It’s the scene before the final fight where the villain is surrounded but still extremely dangerous, shown by how easy he kills Siward.

Scene 8

Summary: Macbeth and Macduff finally meet on the field of battle. They fight back and forth and Macbeth taunts his opponent with the prophetic fact that he is invulnerable to any man born of woman. Macduff then lets him know that he was ripped from his mother’s womb thus not technically born of woman. This drains Macbeth of courage as he realizes that it’s over, but he refuses to give up so he fights on until the very end when Macduff kills him.

Off by the castle Malcolm tells Siward(young Siward’s father) about the death of his son and appraise the battlefield. Macduff arrives carrying the head of Macbeth and shouts, “hail the King of Scotland!” Proclaiming Malcolm the rightful king.

Commentary: The final scene and the final battle. It opens up with Macbeth thinking “Why should I play the Roman fool and die on my own sword? While I see lives, the better gashes upon them.” He’s referring to the act of suicide fashionable with the Romans when losing on the battlefield, a direct reference to Brutus in Julius Cesar. Basically saying, why should I kill myself when I can take out a few of these guys with me. He’s not going to go quietly.macbethmovie

The part where Malcolm tells Siward about his son’s death has a few good lines when Siward asks if his son’s wounds were in front or the back. Asking did my son die a man or a coward.

Then the play ends with Macduff holding the severed head of our main character. Always a good way to end a play in my opinion.

The End

Macbeth was an excellent play, masterfully plotted and written. I enjoyed reading it over and over, absorbing the language. I’m going to let it stir in my mind a bit, filling it with scorpions, then write a final review post. Next week, I’m starting A Midsummers Night Dream.

 

 

Reading Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 4

Scene 1

Summary: In a dark cave the Weird Sisters are chanting vile incantations around a bubbling cauldron. Macbeth enters and demands that they give him more prophecy. They agree and show him three visions. The first is a floating armored head that warns him about Macduff. The second is a bloody child that tells him no harm will come to him from any man born of woman. Finally the third is of a young child with a crown who holds a piece of yew wood and the witches state that he will be King until Birnam Wood a local forest comes at him. Not fully satisfied with what he sees he demands to know who will be future kings. The witches agree and show him a series of apparitions representing future kings of Scotland that all bear resemblance to Banquo. When they finish the witches begin to dance around the cauldron and disappear into thin air.macbeth-and-the-witches

At the mouth of the cave Thane Lennox greets Macbeth with the news that Macduff has left for England and is in rebellion. Macbeth orders an attack on his castle and that his family should be put to death.

Commentary:  I really like this scene for both the imagery and the language. Probably the most supernatural scene so far, with the witches chanting and throwing bizarre ingredients into the bubbling cauldron, summoning apparitions, and vanishing on the wind. This scene also has some awesome lines. For example the famous “Double double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble,” is the repeated refrain chanted by the witches. This play is obviously the origin of the whole witches brewing eye of newt in a giant cauldron. They list all the crazy stuff that goes into it, now a staple of Halloween imagery.  Another great line, “Something wicked this way comes.” Spoken by the witches as Macbeth approaches the cave. Or one of my favorites, “How now, you secret midnight hags!”

At this point in the play we see Macbeth not only broken mentally but fully embracing evil. In Act I he stumbles across the witches who offer the prophecy in passing tempting him towards darkness. Here Macbeth has fully embraced the evil of the Sisters, seeking them out and demanding more from them. After they disappear he doesn’t even seem fazed by the supernatural black magic on display, instead he focuses on Macduff, ordering death to his family.

Scene 2

Macbeth_illustration12_midSummary: Thane Ross is with Lady Macduff and her son at their castle. She’s mad that her husband has run away to England and left them behind and considers him a traitor. Ross tries to convince her that he isn’t a traitor and that what he is doing is noble. After Ross leaves a messenger arrives and warns her to get out because she is in danger, but before she takes off murderers arrive and kill her and her son.

Commentary: This scene is very similar to the scene where Banquo is murdered. Side characters talk, murderers appear, and killing commences.

Scene 3

Summary: In England Malcolm(Duncan’s son that ran away) and Macduff meet at the English Kings court. They have a long conversation where Malcolm checks to see if Macduff is loyal to him or an agent of Macbeth. Ross arrives with bad news informing Macduff about the destruction of his castle and murder of his wife and children. Malcolm tells Macduff that he should channel his rage into fighting Macbeth and that the English King is giving them thousands of men to go fight.

Commentary:  A somewhat tedious scene bogged down by a long discussion on the evils of tyranny and what a good king should be. I’m guessing this is a bit of commentary aimed at the present that falls a bit flat four hundred years later.

In Act 1 when we come across Macbeth and the witches he is an innocent man, a victorious hero, who anguishes at the thoughts that the witches give him. But by Act 4 he has become a monster not thinking twice about ordering the murder of women and children.  Act 4 is basically illustrating Macbeth at his most depraved.

 

Reading Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 3

We continue the play with Macbeth crowned King.

Scene 1

Summary: Scene one starts with Banquo alone, contemplating his plans. He is strongly suspicious of Macbeth and at this time believes that he is the true murderer of Duncan, but he recalls the prophecy which stated that his own sons will become kings. His thoughts are interrupted by King Macbeth and Lady Macbeth walking up. After a bit of small talk about the sons of Duncan Macbeth invites Banquo to a feast in his honor. Banquo says he has to leave but he will attend if instructed. After a bit more small talk he takes off.

After Banquo leaves Macbeth dismisses the Queen and servants and summons two men who are described as murderers. He tells them that Banquo is their enemy and instructs them to kill him and his son.

 

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Commentary: Banquo’s opening is interesting. In the previous acts, he appears to be unfazed by the Witches prophecy, but this opening reveals otherwise. From his inner monologue, he knows Macbeth is the true murderer but he won’t do anything about it because after all if that part came true that means that eventually, his children will be kings. So just like Macbeth, he is also tempted by the lure of the supernatural.

The rest of the scene is your typical tyrant king hires killers to kill his old friend. Ruthless because he also includes his children but it makes sense due to the prophecy.

Scene 2 

Summary: Lady Macbeth is trying to comfort her husband who is clearly not at ease with the murder of Duncan and also worrying about Banquo. She knows the prophecy and equally worries about what will happen in the end.

Commentary: This scene has my favorite line, O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife. Both Macbeth and his wife are starting to lose it, on one hand from guilt at the murder on the other with paranoia. An interesting point here is that Macbeth does not tell her that he already hired men to murder Banquo and his son.

Scene 3

Summary: The murderers wait for Banquo and his son at twilight. When they finally approach in the middle of the night they fall upon them and murder Banquo. But, Fleance, his son, manages to escape.

Commentary: Not much to say about this scene except that it marks the beginning of the end for Macbeth. It’s the first time in the play where something does not go according to plan. It’s a basic trope scene where the father is murdered by the evil king’s men while banquomurder.jpgthe young son escapes so he can one day return as king. Pretty much Lion King.

Scene 4

Summary: All the lords are gathered at Macbeth’s castle for the planned banquet. After the introductions, Macbeth notices that one of the murderers has arrived. After a brief conversation, he finds out that Banquo was murdered but Fleance has escaped. When he returns to the banquet he starts to have a breakdown when he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting in his chair. Lady Macbeth calms him down and takes control of the situation but when the time for the toast arrives the ghost reappears and Macbeth beings to address it directly even tho nobody else can see it. He starts incriminating himself so Lady Macbeth calls the banquet over and sends all the lords away.

Commentary:  This is the best scene of the play. Here is the full-on breakdown of Macbeth. He starts having a freakout and speaking the invisible ghost of Banquo like a lunatic. Lady Macbeth tries to control the situation but he is too far gone. The scene is great, a full royal banquet and the king has a supernatural freakout. I can picture the other nobles grinding their teeth as they realize that this guy is most likely a madman and possibly a murderer.

Scene 5

Summary:  The three witches have a conversation with Haecte.

Commentary: When I first read this it made absolutely no sense so I looked it up based on the commentary in my copy. All scholars believe that this scene was inserted by another writer and not original to the play so it’s always skipped and never portrayed on stage.

Scene 6

Summary: Lennox(one of the Thanes) and an unnamed Lord are sarcastically discussing the murders and the tyranny of Macbeth. They mention that Macduff has taken off to England and has linked up with Duncan’s son Donalbain to raise an army so they could liberate Scotland from Macbeth.

Commentary:  This scene is almost identical to Act 2, Scene 4, where Ross is talking to an old man about all the ills that befell Scotland after Duncan’s murder. Both of these scenes are used to illustrate the larger world outside. We find out that most of the Lords now believe Macbeth murdered Duncan and that one of them MacDuff even took off to raise an army with Duncans son.

I like these scenes because they are extremely utilitarian. They paint a picture of the setting through several lines of quick conversation. We know that everything has fallen apart, bad omens abound, the peasants are unhappy, and the nobility is on the verge of revolt. Macbeth is ruling a crumbling kingdom and is openly seen as a tyrant. Shakespeare lets us know all of this through a quick efficient conversation between two minor characters.

Here is a bit of the Banquet scene from the recent MacBeth movie:

 

 

Reading Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 2

Act 1 was exciting. The scene was set, a gloomy war-torn Scotland. The principal actors were introduced, the good King Duncan, his son Prince Malcolm, victorious Macbeth and his ambitious ice cold wife Lady Macbeth. Her first name is Gruoch if you were wondering, I had to look it up.

The main thrust of the play is revealed. Macbeth is ambitious, he wants more than just honors, he wants to be the king. His wife swears to stop at nothing to help her husband attain his desires. Act 1 ends with King Duncan and his crew spending a pleasant night at Macbeth’s castle, unknown to them their honey tongued hosts have regicide on the mind.

Scene 1

SUMMARY:  Act 2 starts off with Banquo and his son Fleance at Inverness castle whispering by torchlight while everybody else is sleeping. Banquo tells his son that he’s been sleeping poorly, revealed later because he’s been dreaming about the Witches and the prophecy.

The conversation is interrupted when Macbeth stumbles upon them. Macbeth is of course about to commit regicide. Banquo tells Macbeth that King Duncan is very pleased with his reception and gives him a diamond meant for Lady Mcbeth as a reward for her loyal hospitality. After having a quick conversation Banquo and his son retire for the night leaving Macbeth by himself.

Macbeth dismisses all his servants and continues to make his way through the castle towards King Duncan’s chamber when he is startled by an apparition. In front of him is a floating dagger that becomes clearer and clearer as he realizes that he must commit the murder. His vision or hallucination is interrupted by a chiming bell that is being used as the signal that it is time to kill Duncan.duncans-death

Commentary: Banquo is a bit skeeved out by the prophecy, he mentions to his son that he would not sleep. Deep down I think that he knows something dark is about to go down and that suspicion increases once he comes across Macbeth creeping around in the middle of the night. The majority of their interaction is Banquo reminding Macbeth how appreciative Duncan is and gives him the gift of the diamond.

This scene is also the first of Macbeth’s crazy visions, the bloody floating knife. I just don’t understand why when he saw a bloody floating knife he didn’t take that as a warning to not be a murdering bastard.

I also want to mention a meta element here. During Macbeth’s floating knife speech he compares himself to Tarquin. This is a classical reference to Ancient Rome and the legendary Rape of Lucerne where king Tarquin raped the beautiful Lucerne sparking a civil war that eventually led to the creation of the Roman Republic. It’s basically a reference to Roman creation mythology and interesting because it illustrates the level of classic education Shakespeare and his contemporaries must have had in order to understand such a reference. It’s safe to say that most modern readers would not understand what he is talking about because the histories and classical studies are no longer a critical part of our education.

To make the above reference, even more meta, Shakespeare is also alluding to his own previous writing. One of his most famous long form poems is The Rape of Lucerne, so he is basically advertising himself in his own play. But, let’s get more meta. I recognized the reference right away because I recently listened to a podcast on ancient pre-republican  Roman mythology. I even tried to be smart and named a location in the short story I’m working on Tarquin’s Manor for some obvious plot reasons.

Scene 2

Summary: Scene 2 starts with Lady Macbeth in the dark courtyard of the castle(or creeping around). She just drugged the milk and alcohol drinks of Duncan’s guards and is not waiting for Macbeth to finish the murder.

Macbeth wanders into the courtyard carrying the bloody daggers he just used to murder Duncan. He is spooked and hears voices and startles at every noise and snore from the castle. The two conspirators whisper and Lady Macbeth is upset that he brought the daggers. She takes them from him and goes to Duncan’s chambers to place them on the sleeping guards in order to make them look like the murderers.

macbethmovieWhen she returns Macbeth is freaked out and they start hearing a knock, most likely the morning bell ringer or castle guards making their rounds. She tells him to quickly go back to his chamber and change into his morning clothes so they appear to of just woken up.

Commentary:  This is the post murder scene, an interesting murder from a dramatic perspective because it happens off screen. Duncan’s murder is the catalyst of the whole play but we don’t see it. We see the before and the after, yet the whole thing is very effective, we fill in the blank with our own imagination.

Personally, this is the scene where I started to despise Macbeth. He went from being a great warrior to a sniveling coward. He has ambition but no heart doesn’t even have the balls to put his plans into words. It’s his wife who pushes him, it’s his wife who comes up with the plan, and after he finally murders a sleeping man, it’s his wife who has to clean up the scene of the crime and frame the guards. Macbeth is a weak coward.

Scene 3

Summary: A drunk porter is joking about being a gateman in hell, sadly the gags don’t translate well 400 years later. Macduff and Lennox, who were two of the  Thanes at the beginning of the play just arrived at the castle. They walk in and are met by Macbeth who is dressed like he just woke up. Macduff goes to wake up the king while Lennox talks about the horrible night full of bad weather, spooky animals, and ill omens.

Macduff returns shouting after discovering Duncan’s murdered body. Bells of alarm are rung and the whole castle is woken. Banquo and the kings two sons Malcolm and Donalbain show up along with Lady Macbeth. In the chaos of the discovery, Macbeth quickly kills the two guards he framed. When questioned by Macduff he says that the sight of Duncan’s body put him into a rage, but the scene is quickly interrupted by Lady Macbeth shouting for help as she is fainting.

The scene ends with Duncan’s sons realizing that they are prime targets for being framed or murdered themselves so they decide to split. Malcolm runs off to England and Donalbain to Ireland.

Commentary: This scene is your basic sequel follow up if you know about the Scene and Sequel method of writing. There is a reaction, then a dilemma, followed by a decision. In this case we see the reaction stemming from the murder, the dilemmas are implied for different characters, and finally, Donalbain and Malcolm decide to get the hell out of Scotland.

Interesting to note is the supernatural element throughout the play is strong. The discussion about the weather being furious, filled with strange beasts and wild omens. All of this happening while the murder was being committed.

Scene 4

Summary: Sometime after the murder Ross another Thane is walking in the courtyard talking to an old man about the tragedy that befell Scotland due to Duncan’s murder. The old man is listing ill omens such as night lasting longer, hawks dying, and all of Duncan’s prized horses going wild and eating each other.

Macduff joins them, just out of a council meeting. He informs them that the blame is being put on Duncan’s sons and that Macbeth has been elected to become king. He lets Ross know that Duncan’s body has been taken to Colmkill the resting place of Scottish kings and that Macbeth is already on the way to Scone where he will be crowned king. Ross asks Macduff if he will be going to Scone and he says no, he’s heading home to his own castle at Fife.

Commentary: This scene is a closer and lets us know that everything has gone to hell through the words of the old man. Most importantly it hints that Macduff and Ross aren’t buying the official story, most importantly Macduff skipping the coronation, most likely to get his boys ready for a throw down.