Performance history

Shakespeare's day to the Interregnum

The first actor to play Macbeth may have been Richard Burbage, chief tragedian of Shakespeare's company, The King's Men. The play required an effigy of his head, for its closing scene.[46] The only eyewitness account of Macbeth in Shakespeare's lifetime was recorded by Simon Forman, who saw a performance at the Globe in 1610 or 1611.[47] Scholars have struggled to explain the differences between his account and the play as it appears in the Folio; for example, the following does not accord with anything in the Folio text:

And when MackBeth had murdred the kinge, the blod on his hands could not be washed of by Any means, nor from his wiues handes, which handled the bloddi daggers in hiding them, By which means they became moch amazed and Affronted.[48]

Conversely, he makes no mention of the apparition scene, or of Hecate, of the man not of woman born, or of Birnam Wood.[49] As mentioned above, the Folio text is thought to be a revision of the original play, probably adapted by Thomas Middleton (and unquestionably using Middleton's material), and is very short by Shakespeare's standards, suggesting abridgement. This has led to the theory that the play as we know it from the Folio was an adaptation for indoor performance at the Blackfriars Theatre (which was operated by the King's Men from 1608) – and even speculation that it represents a specific performance before King James.[50] The play contains more musical cues than any other play in the canon as well as a significant use of sound effects.[51]

Restoration and Eighteenth century

"The chill of the grave seemed about you when you looked on her; there was the hush and damp of the charnel house at midnight ... your flesh crept and your breathing became uneasy ... the scent of blood became palpable to you."

—Sheridan Knowles on Sarah Siddons' sleepwalking scene.[52]

All theatres were closed down by the Puritan government on 6 September 1642. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, two patent companies (the King's Company and the Duke's Company) were established, and the existing theatrical repertoire divided between them.[53] Sir William Davenant, founder of the Duke's Company, adapted Shakespeare's play to the tastes of the new era, and his version would dominate on stage for around eighty years. Among the changes he made were the expansion of the role of the witches, introducing new songs, dances and 'flying', and the expansion of the role of Lady Macduff as a foil to Lady Macbeth.[54] There were, however, performances outside the patent companies: among the evasions of the Duke's Company's monopoly was a puppet version of Macbeth.[55]

Macbeth was a favourite of the seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys, who saw the play on 5 November 1664 ("admirably acted"), 28 December 1666 ("most excellently acted"), ten days later on 7 January 1667 ("though I saw it lately, yet [it] appears a most excellent play in all respects"), on 19 April 1667 ("one of the best plays for a stage ... that ever I saw"), again on 16 October 1667 ("was vexed to see Young, who is but a bad actor at best, act Macbeth in the room of Betterton, who, poor man! is sick"), and again three weeks later on 6 November 1667 ("[at] Macbeth, which we still like mightily"), yet again on 12 August 1668 ("saw Macbeth, to our great content"), and finally on 21 December 1668, on which date the king and court were also present in the audience.[56]

The first professional performances of Macbeth in North America were probably those of The Hallam Company.[57]

In 1744, David Garrick revived the play, abandoning Davenant's version and instead advertising it "as written by Shakespeare". In fact this claim was largely false: he retained much of Davenant's more popular business for the witches, and himself wrote a lengthy death speech for Macbeth. And he cut more than 10% of Shakespeare's play, including the drunken porter, the murder of Lady Macduff's son, and Malcolm's testing of Macduff.[58] Hannah Pritchard was his greatest stage partner, having her premiere as his Lady Macbeth in 1747. He would later drop the play from his repertoire upon her retirement from the stage.[59] Mrs. Pritchard was the first actress to achieve acclaim in the role of Lady Macbeth – at least partly due to the removal of Davenant's material, which made irrelevant moral contrasts with Lady Macduff.[60] Garrick's portrayal focused on the inner life of the character, endowing him with an innocence vacillating between good and evil, and betrayed by outside influences. He portrayed a man capable of observing himself, as if a part of him remained untouched by what he had done, the play moulding him into a man of sensibility, rather than him descending into a tyrant.[61]

John Philip Kemble first played Macbeth in 1778.[62] Although usually regarded as the antithesis of Garrick, Kemble nevertheless refined aspects of Garrick's portrayal into his own.[63] However it was the "towering and majestic" Sarah Siddons (Kemble's sister) who became a legend in the role of Lady Macbeth.[64] In contrast to Hannah Pritchard's savage, demonic portrayal, Siddons' Lady Macbeth, while terrifying, was nevertheless – in the scenes in which she expresses her regret and remorse – tenderly human.[65] And in portraying her actions as done out of love for her husband, Siddons deflected from him some of the moral responsibility for the play's carnage.[62] Audiences seem to have found the sleepwalking scene particularly mesmerising: Hazlitt said of it that "all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical ... She glided on and off the stage almost like an apparition."[66]

In 1794, Kemble dispensed with the ghost of Banquo altogether, allowing the audience to see Macbeth's reaction as his wife and guests see it, and relying upon the fact that the play was so well known that his audience would already be aware that a ghost enters at that point.[67]

Ferdinand Fleck, notable as the first German actor to present Shakespeare's tragic roles in their fullness, played Macbeth at the Berlin National Theatre from 1787. Unlike his English counterparts, he portrayed the character as achieving his stature after the murder of Duncan, growing in presence and confidence: thereby enabling stark contrasts, such as in the banquet scene, which he ended babbling like a child.[68]

Nineteenth century

"Everyone seems to think Mrs McB is a Monstrousness & I can only see she's a woman – a mistaken woman – & weak – not a Dove – of course not – but first of all a wife."

—Ellen Terry[69]

Performances outside the patent theatres were instrumental in bringing the monopoly to an end. Robert Elliston, for example, produced a popular adaptation of Macbeth in 1809 at the Royal Circus described in its publicity as "this matchless piece of pantomimic and choral performance", which circumvented the illegality of speaking Shakespeare's words through mimed action, singing, and doggerel verse written by J. C. Cross.[70]

In 1809, in an unsuccessful attempt to take Covent Garden upmarket, Kemble installed private boxes, increasing admission prices to pay for the improvements. The inaugural run at the newly renovated theatre was Macbeth, which was disrupted for over two months with cries of "Old prices!" and "No private boxes!" until Kemble capitulated to the protestors' demands.[71]

Edmund Kean at Drury Lane gave a psychological portrayal of the central character, with a common touch, but was ultimately unsuccessful in the role. However he did pave the way for the most acclaimed performance of the nineteenth century, that of William Charles Macready.[72] Macready played the role over a 30-year period, firstly at Covent Garden in 1820 and finally in his retirement performance. Although his playing evolved over the years, it was noted throughout for the tension between the idealistic aspects and the weaker, venal aspects of Macbeth's character.[73] His staging was full of spectacle, including several elaborate royal processions.[73]

In 1843 the Theatres Regulation Act finally brought the patent companies' monopoly to an end.[74] From that time until the end of the Victorian era, London theatre was dominated by the actor-managers, and the style of presentation was "pictorial" – proscenium stages filled with spectacular stage-pictures, often featuring complex scenery, large casts in elaborate costumes, and frequent use of tableaux vivant.[75] Charles Kean (son of Edmund), at London's Princess's Theatre from 1850 to 1859, took an antiquarian view of Shakespeare performance, setting his Macbeth in a historically accurate eleventh-century Scotland.[76] His leading lady, Ellen Tree, created a sense of the character's inner life: The Times critic saying "The countenance which she assumed ... when luring on Macbeth in his course of crime, was actually appalling in intensity, as if it denoted a hunger after guilt."[77] At the same time, special effects were becoming popular: for example in Samuel Phelps' Macbeth the witches performed behind green gauze, enabling them to appear and disappear using stage lighting.[78]

In 1849, rival performances of the play sparked the Astor Place Riot in Manhattan. The popular American actor Edwin Forrest, whose Macbeth was said to be like "the ferocious chief of a barbarous tribe"[79] played the central role at the Broadway Theatre to popular acclaim, while the "cerebral and patrician"[71] English actor Macready, playing the same role at the Astor Place Opera House, suffered constant heckling. The existing enmity between the two men (Forrest had openly hissed Macready at a recent performance of Hamlet in Britain) was taken up by Forrest's supporters – formed from the working class and lower middle class and anti-British agitators, keen to attack the upper-class pro-British patrons of the Opera House and the colonially-minded Macready. Nevertheless, Macready performed the role again three days later to a packed house while an angry mob gathered outside. The militia tasked with controlling the situation fired into the mob. In total, 31 rioters were killed and over 100 injured.[80]

Charlotte Cushman is unique among nineteenth century interpreters of Shakespeare in achieving stardom in roles of both genders. Her New York debut was as Lady Macbeth in 1836, and she would later be admired in London in the same role in the mid-1840s.[81] Helen Faucit was considered the embodiment of early-Victorian notions of femininity. But for this reason she largely failed when she eventually played Lady Macbeth in 1864: her serious attempt to embody the coarser aspects of Lady Macbeth's character jarred harshly with her public image.[82] Adelaide Ristori, the great Italian actress, brought her Lady Macbeth to London in 1863 in Italian, and again in 1873 in an English translation cut in such a way as to be, in effect, Lady Macbeth's tragedy.[83]

Henry Irving was the most successful of the late-Victorian actor-managers, but his Macbeth failed to curry favour with audiences. His desire for psychological credibility reduced certain aspects of the role: He described Macbeth as a brave soldier but a moral coward, and played him untroubled by conscience – clearly already contemplating the murder of Duncan before his encounter with the witches.[84] (Similar criticisms were made of Friedrich Mitterwurzer in Germany, whose performances of Macbeth had many unintentional parallels with Irving's.[85]) Irving's leading lady was Ellen Terry, but her Lady Macbeth was unsuccessful with the public, for whom a century of performances influenced by Sarah Siddons had created expectations at odds with Terry's conception of the role.[86]

Late nineteenth-century European Macbeths aimed for heroic stature, but at the expense of subtlety: Tommaso Salvini in Italy and Adalbert Matkowsky in Germany were said to inspire awe, but elicited little pity.[87]

Twentieth century to present

"And then Lady Macbeth says 'He that's coming / Must be provided for.' It's an amazing line. She's going to play hostess to Duncan at Dunsinane, and 'provide' is what gracious hostesses always do. It's a wonder of a line to play because the reverberations do the acting for you, make the audience go 'Aaaagh!'"

—Sinéad Cusack[88]

Two developments changed the nature of Macbeth performance in the twentieth century: firstly developments in the craft of acting itself, especially the ideas of Stanislavski and Brecht, and secondly the rise of the dictator as a political icon. The latter has not always assisted the performance: it is difficult to sympathise with a Macbeth based on Hitler, Stalin or Idi Amin.[89]

Barry Jackson, at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1923, was the first of the twentieth-century directors to costume Macbeth in modern dress.[90]

In 1936, a decade before his film adaptation of the play, Orson Welles directed Macbeth for the Negro Theatre Unit of the Federal Theatre Project at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, using black actors and setting the action in Haiti: with drums and Voodoo rituals to establish the Witches scenes. The production, dubbed The Voodoo Macbeth, proved inflammatory in the aftermath of the Harlem riots, accused of making fun of black culture and as "a campaign to burlesque negroes" until Welles persuaded crowds that his use of black actors and voodoo made important cultural statements.[91]

A performance which is frequently referenced as an example of the play's curse was the outdoor production directed by Burgess Meredith in 1953 in the British colony of Bermuda, and starring Charlton Heston. Using the imposing spectacle of Fort St. Catherine's as a key element of the set, the production was plagued by a host of mishaps, including Charlton Heston being burned when his tights caught fire.[92][93]

The critical consensus is that there have been three great Macbeths on the English-speaking stage in the twentieth century, all of them commencing at Stratford-upon-Avon: Laurence Olivier in 1955, Ian McKellen in 1976 and Antony Sher in 1999.[94] Olivier's portrayal (directed by Glen Byam Shaw, with Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth) was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. Kenneth Tynan expressed the view that it succeeded because Olivier built the role to a climax at the end of the play, whereas most actors spend all they have in the first two acts.[95]

The play caused grave difficulties for the Royal Shakespeare Company, especially at the (then) Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Peter Hall's 1967 production was (in Michael Billington's words) "an acknowledged disaster" with the use of real leaves from Birnham Wood getting unsolicited first-night laughs, and Trevor Nunn's 1974 production was (Billington again) "an over-elaborate religious spectacle".[96] But Nunn achieved success for the RSC in his 1976 production at the intimate Other Place, with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in the central roles.[97] A small cast worked within a simple circle, and McKellen's Macbeth had nothing noble or likeable about him, being a manipulator in a world of manipulative characters. They were a young couple, physically passionate, "not monsters but recognisable human beings,"[98] but their relationship atrophied as the action progressed.[99]

In Soviet-controlled Prague in 1977, faced with the illegality of working in theatres, Pavel Kohout adapted Macbeth into a 75-minute abridgement for five actors, suitable for "bringing a show in a suitcase to people's homes."[100]

Spectacle became unfashionable in Western theatre throughout the twentieth century. In East Asia, however, spectacular productions have achieved great success, including Yukio Ninagawa's 1980 production with Masane Tsukayama as Macbeth, set in the sixteenth century Japanese Civil War.[101] The same director's tour of London in 1987 was widely praised by critics, even though (like most of their audience) they were unable to understand the significance of Macbeth's gestures, the huge Buddhist altar dominating the set, or the petals falling from the cherry trees.[102] Xu Xiaozhong's 1980 Central Academy of Drama production in Beijing made every effort to be unpolitical (necessary in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution): yet audiences still perceived correspondences between the central character (who the director had actually modelled on Louis Napoleon) and Mao Zedong.[103] Shakespeare has often been adapted to indigenous theatre traditions, for example the Kunju Macbeth of Huang Zuolin performed at the inaugural Chinese Shakespeare Festival of 1986.[104] Similarly, B. V. Karanth's Barnam Vana of 1979 had adapted Macbeth to the Yakshagana tradition of Karnataka, India.[105] In 1997, Lokendra Arambam created Stage of Blood merging a range of martial arts, dance and gymnastic styles from Manipur, performed in Imphal and in England. The stage was literally a raft on a lake.[106]

The RSC again achieved critical success in Gregory Doran's 1999 production at The Swan, with Antony Sher and Harriet Walter in the central roles, once again demonstrating the suitability of the play to smaller venues.[107] Doran's witches spoke their lines to a theatre in absolute darkness and the opening visual image was the entrance of Macbeth and Banquo in the berets and fatigues of modern warfare, carried on the shoulders of triumphant troops.[108] In contrast to Nunn, Doran presented a world in which king Duncan and his soldiers were ultimately benign and honest, heightening the deviance of Macbeth (who seems genuinely surprised by the witches' prophesies) and Lady Macbeth, in plotting to kill the king. The play said little about politics, instead powerfully presenting its central characters' psychological collapse.[109]

While the play has been translated and performed in various languages in different parts of the world, Media Artists was the first to stage its Punjabi adaptation in India. The adaptation by Balram and the play directed by Samuel John have been universally acknowledged as a milestone in Punjabi theatre.[110] The unique attempt involved trained theatre experts and the actors taken from rural background in Punjab, India. Punjabi folk music imbued the play with the native ethos as the English setting of the Shakespeare's play was transposed into Punjabi milieu.[111]


Twentieth century

The earliest known film Macbeth was 1905's American short Death Scene From Macbeth, and short versions were produced in Italy in 1909 and France in 1910. Two notable early versions are lost: Ludwig Landmann produced a 47-minute version in Germany in 1913, and D. W. Griffith produced a 1916 version in America featuring the noted stage actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree.[112] Tree is said to have had great difficulties adapting to the new medium, and especially in confining himself to the small number of lines in the (silent) screenplay, until an ingenious cameraman allowed him to play his entire part to an empty camera, after which a real camera shot the film.[113]

In 1947, David Bradley produced an independent film of Macbeth, intended for distribution to schools, most notable for the designer of its eighty-three costumes: the soon-to-be-famous Charlton Heston.[114]

Orson Welles' 1948 Macbeth, in the director's words a "violently sketched charcoal drawing of a great play,"[115] was filmed in only 23 days and on a budget of just $700,000. These filming conditions allowed only a single abstract set, and eclectic costumes. Dialogue was pre-recorded, enabling the actors to perform very long individual takes, including one of over ten minutes surrounding the death of Duncan.[116] Welles himself played the central character, who dominates the film, measured both by his time on screen, and by physical presence: high-angle and low-angle shots and deep-focus close-ups are used to distort his size in comparison to other characters.[117] Welles retained from his own 1936 stage production the image of a Voodoo doll controlling the fate of the central character: and at the end it is the doll we see beheaded.[118] The film's allegorical aspect is heightened by Welles' introduction of a non-Shakespearean character, the Holy Father (played by Alan Napier),[119] in opposition to the witches, speaking lines taken from Shakespeare's Ross, Angus and the Old Man.[120] Contemporary reviews were largely negative, particularly criticising Welles' unsympathetic portrayal of the central character. Newsweek commented: "His Macbeth is a static, two-dimensional creature as capable of evil in the first scene as in the final hours of his bloody reign."[121]

Joe MacBeth (Ken Hughes, 1955) established the tradition of resetting the Macbeth story among 20th-century gangsters.[122] Others to do so include Men of Respect (William Reilly, 1991),[123] Maqbool (Vishal Bhardwaj, 2003)[124] and Geoffrey Wright's Australian 2006 Macbeth.[125]

In 1957, Akira Kurosawa used the Macbeth story as the basis for the "universally acclaimed"[126] Kumunosu-jo (in English known as Throne of Blood or (the literal translation of its title) Cobweb Castle).[127] The film is a Japanese period-piece (jidai-geki), drawing upon elements of Noh theatre, especially in its depiction of the evil spirit who takes the part of Shakespeare's witches, and of Asaji, the Lady Macbeth character, played by Isuzu Yamada,[128] and upon Kabuki Theatre in its depiction of Washizu, the Macbeth character, played by Toshiro Mifune.[129] In a twist on Shakespeare's ending, the tyrant (having witnessed Cobweb Forest come to Cobweb Castle) is killed by volleys of arrows from his own archers.[130]

George Schaefer directed Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson in a 1960 made-for-TV film which later had a limited European theatrical release. (The three had also worked together on the earlier Hallmark Hall of Fame 1954 TV version of the play.)[131] Neither of the central couple was able to adapt their stage acting style to the screen successfully, leading to their roles being described by critics as "recited" rather than "acted".[132]

Roman Polanski's 1971 Macbeth was the director's first film after the brutal murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, and reflected his determination to "show [Macbeth's] violence the way it is ... [because] if you don't show it realistically then that's immoral and harmful."[133] His film showed deaths only reported in the play, including the execution of Cawdor, and Macbeth stabbing Duncan,[134] and its violence was "intense and incessant."[135] Made in the aftermath of Zeffirelli's youthful Romeo and Juliet, and financed by Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner, Polanski's film featured a young sexy lead couple, played by Jon Finch (28) and by Francesca Annis (25), who controversially performed the sleepwalking scene nude.[136] The unsettling film score, provided by the Third Ear Band, invoked "discord and dissonance."[137] While using Shakespeare's words, Polanski alters aspects of Shakespeare's story, turning the minor character Ross into a ruthless Machiavellian,[138] and adding an epilogue to the play in which Donalbain (younger son of Duncan) arrives at the witches' lair, indicating that the cycle of violence will begin again.[139]

In 1973, the Virginia Museum Theater (VMT, now the Leslie Cheek Theater), presented Macbeth, starring E.G. Marshall. Dubbed by the New York Times as the "'Fowler' Macbeth" after director Keith Fowler, it was described by Clive Barnes as "splendidly vigorous, forcefully immediate... probably the goriest Shakespearean production I have seen since Peter Brook's 'Titus Andronicus'."[140]

The Nunn/McKellen/Dench RSC Other Place stage performance discussed above was adapted for TV and broadcast by Thames Television (see Macbeth (1978 film)).[141]

William Reilly's 1991 Men of Respect, another film to set the Macbeth story among gangsters, has been praised for its accuracy in depicting Mafia rituals, said to be more authentic than those in The Godfather or GoodFellas. However the film failed to please audiences or critics: Leonard Maltin found it "pretentious" and "unintentionally comic" and Daniel Rosenthal describes it as "providing the most risible chunks of modernised Shakespeare in screen history."[142] In 1992 S4C produced a cel-animated Macbeth for the series Shakespeare: The Animated Tales,[143] and in 1997 Jeremy Freeston directed Jason Connery and Helen Baxendale in a low budget, fairly full-text, version.[144]

In Shakespeare's script, the actor playing Banquo must enter the stage as a ghost. The major film versions have usually taken the opportunity to provide a double perspective: Banquo visible to the audience from Macbeth's perspective, but invisible from the perspective of other characters. Television versions, however, have often taken the third approach of leaving Banquo invisible to viewers, thereby portraying Banquo's ghost as merely Macbeth's delusion. This approach is taken in the 1978 Thames TV production, Jack Gold's 1983 version for BBC Television Shakespeare, and in Penny Woolcock's 1997 Macbeth on the Estate.[145] Macbeth on the Estate largely dispensed with the supernatural in favour of the drug-crime driven realism of characters living on a Birmingham housing estate: except for the three "weird" (in the modern sense of the word) children who prophesy Macbeth's fate.[145] This production used Shakespeare's language, but encouraged the actors – many of whom were locals, not professionals – to speak it naturalistically.[146]

Twenty-first century

Twenty-first-century cinema has re-interpreted Macbeth, relocating "Scotland" elsewhere: Maqbool to Mumbai, Scotland, PA to Pennsylvania, Geoffrey Wright's Macbeth to Melbourne, and Allison L. LiCalsi's 2001 Macbeth: The Comedy to a location only differentiated from the reality of New Jersey, where it was filmed, through signifiers such as tartan, Scottish flags and bagpipes.[147] Alexander Abela's 2000 Makibefo was set among, and starred, residents of Faux Cap, a remote fishing community in Madagascar.[148] Leonardo Henriquez' 2000 Sangrador (in English: Bleeder) set the story among Venezuelan bandits and presented a shockingly visualised horror version.[149]

Billy Morrissette's Scotland, PA reframes the Macbeth story as a comedy-thriller set in a 1975 fast-food restaurant, and features James LeGros in the Macbeth role and Maura Tierney as Pat, the Lady Macbeth character: "We're not bad people, Mac. We're just under-achievers who have to make up for lost time." Christopher Walken plays vegetarian detective Ernie McDuff who (in the words of Daniel Rosenthal) "[applies] his uniquely offbeat menacing delivery to innocuous lines."[150] Scotland, PA's conceit of resetting the Macbeth story at a restaurant was followed in BBC Television's 2005 ShakespeaRe-Told adaptation.[151]

Vishal Bhardwaj's 2003 Maqbool, filmed in Hindi and Urdu and set in the Mumbai underworld, was produced in the Bollywood tradition, but heavily influenced by Macbeth, by Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 The Godfather and by Luc Besson's 1994 Léon.[152] It deviates from the Macbeth story in making the Macbeth character (Miyan Maqbool, played by Irfan Khan) a single man, lusting after the mistress (Nimmi, played by Tabbu) of the Duncan character (Jahangir Khan, known as Abbaji, played by Pankaj Kapoor).[124] Another deviation is the comparative delay in the murder: Shakespeare's protagonists murder Duncan early in the play, but more than half of the film has passed by the time Nimmi and Miyan kill Abbaji.[153]

In 2004 an "eccentric" Swedish/Norwegian film, based on Alex Scherpf's Ice Globe Theatre production of Macbeth, was said by critic Daniel Rosenthal to owe "more to co-director Bo Landin's background in natural history documentaries than to Shakespeare."[154] More conventional adaptations of 21st-century stage productions to television include Greg Doran's RSC production filmed in 2001 with Antony Sher and Harriet Walter in the central roles,[155] and Rupert Goold's Chichester Festival Theatre Macbeth televised in 2010 with Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as the tragic couple. The cast of the latter felt that the history of their stage performance (moving from a small space at Chichester to a large proscenium arch stage in London to a huge auditorium in Brooklyn) made it easier for them to "re-scale", yet again, their performances for the cameras.[156]

In 2006, Geoffrey Wright directed a Shakespearean-language, extremely violent Macbeth set in the Melbourne underworld. Sam Worthington played Macbeth. Victoria Hill played Lady Macbeth and shared the screenplay credits with Wright.[125] The director considered her portrayal of Lady Macbeth to be the most sympathetic he had ever seen.[157] In spite of the high level of violence and nudity (Macbeth has sex with the three naked schoolgirl witches as they prophesy his fate), intended to appeal to the young audiences that had flocked to Romeo + Juliet, the film flopped at the box office.[158]

In 2014, Classic Alice wove a 10 episode arc placing its characters in the world of Macbeth. The adaptation uses students and a modern day setting to loosely parallel Shakespeare's play. It starred Kate Hackett, Chris O'Brien, Elise Cantu and Tony Noto and embarked on a LGBTQ plotline.

Justin Kurzel's feature-length authentic Shakespeare adaptation Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, is set to be released on October 2015.

Other media


There have been numerous literary adaptations and spin-offs from Macbeth. Russian Novelist Nikolay Leskov told a variation of the story from Lady Macbeth's point of view in Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which itself became a number of films[159] and an opera by Shostakovich.[160] Maurice Baring's 1911 The Rehearsal fictionalises Shakespeare's company's inept rehearsals for Macbeth's premiere.[161] Gu Wuwei's 1916 play The Usurper of State Power adapted both Macbeth and Hamlet as a parody of contemporary events in China.[162] The play has been used as a background for detective fiction (as in Marvin Kaye's 1976 Bullets for Macbeth)[163] and, in the case of Ngaio Marsh's last detective novel Light Thickens, the play takes centre stage as the rehearsal, production and run of a 'flawless' production is described in absorbing detail (so much so that her biographer describes the novel as effectively Marsh's third production of the play).[164] But the play was also used as the basis of James Thurber's parody of the whodunit genre The Macbeth Murder Mystery, in which the protagonist reads Macbeth applying the conventions of detective stories, and concludes that it must have been Macduff who murdered Duncan.[165] Comics and graphic novels have utilised the play, or have dramatised the circumstances of its inception: Superman himself wrote the play for Shakespeare in the course of one night, in the 1947 Shakespeare's Ghost Writer.[166] A cyberpunk version of MacBeth titled Mac appears in the collection Sound & Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk. [167]

Macbeth has been adapted into plays dealing with the political and cultural concerns of many nations. Eugène Ionesco's Macbett satirised Macbeth as a meaningless succession of treachery and slaughter.[168] Wale Ogunyemi's A'are Akogun, first performed in Nigeria in 1968, mixed the English and Yoruba languages.[169] Welcome Msomi's 1970 play Umabatha adapts Macbeth to Zulu culture, and was said by The Independent to be "more authentic than any modern Macbeth" in presenting a world in which a man's fighting ability is central to his identity.[170] Joe de Graft adapted Macbeth as a battle to take over a powerful corporation in Ghana in his 1972 Mambo or Let's Play Games, My Husband.[171] Dev Virahsawmy's Zeneral Macbeff, first performed in 1982, adapted the story to the local Creole and to the Mauritian political situation.[172] (The same author later translated Macbeth itself into Mauritian creole, as Trazedji Makbess.)[173] And in 2000, Chuck Mike and the Nigerian Performance Studio Workshop produced Mukbutu as a direct commentary on the fragile nature of Nigerian democracy at the time.[174]

Music and audio

Macbeth is, with The Tempest, one of the two most-performed Shakespeare plays on BBC Radio, with 20 productions between 1923 and 2005.[175]

The extant version of Macbeth, in the First Folio, contains dancing and music, including the song "Come Away Hecate" which exists in two collections of lute music (both c.1630, one of them being Drexel 4175) arranged by Robert Johnson.[176] And, from the Restoration onwards, incidental music has frequently been composed for the play: including works by William Boyce in the eighteenth century.[177] Davenant's use of dance in the witches' scenes was inherited by Garrick, which in turn influenced Giuseppe Verdi to incorporate a ballet around the witches' cauldron into his opera Macbeth.[178] Verdi's first Shakespeare-influenced opera, with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, incorporated a number of striking arias for Lady Macbeth, giving her a prominence in the early part of the play which contrasts with the character's increasing isolation as the action continues: she ceases to sing duets and her sleepwalking confession is starkly contrasted with the "supported grief" of Macduff in the preceding scene.[179] Other music influenced by the play includes Richard Strauss's 1890 symphonic poem Macbeth.[180] Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn incorporated themes depicting the female characters from Macbeth in the 1957 Shakespearean jazz suite Such Sweet Thunder: the weird sisters juxtaposed with Iago (from Othello), and Lady Mac represented by ragtime piano because, as Ellington put it, "we suspect there was a little ragtime in her soul".[181] Another Jazz collaboration to create hybrids of Shakespeare plays was that of Cleo Laine with Johnny Dankworth, who in Laine's 1964 Shakespeare and All That Jazz juxtaposed Titania's instructions to her fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream with the witches' chant from Macbeth.[182] In 2000, Jag Panzer produced their heavy metal concept-album retelling Thane to the Throne.[183]

Visual arts

The play has inspired numerous works of art. The scene in which Lady Macbeth seizes the daggers, as performed by Garrick and Mrs. Pritchard, was a touchstone throughout Henry Fuseli's career, including works in 1766, 1774 and 1812.[184] The same performance was the subject of Johann Zoffany's painting of the Macbeths in 1768.[185] In 1786, John Boydell announced his intention to found his Shakespeare Gallery. His chief innovation was to see the works of Shakespeare as history, rather than contemporary, so instead of including the (then fashionable) works depicting the great actors of the day on stage in modern dress, he commissioned works depicting the action of the plays.[186] However the most notable works in the collection disregard this historicising principle: such as Fuseli's depiction of the naked and heroic Macbeth encountering the witches.[187] William Blake's paintings were also influenced by Shakespeare, including his Pity, inspired by Macbeth's "Pity, like a naked new-born babe, striding the blast."[188] Sarah Siddons' triumph in the role of Lady Macbeth led Joshua Reynolds to depict her as The Muse of Tragedy.[66]

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