After reading Macbeth, I watched videos of two very different adaptations of Shakespeare’s play, a BBC theatre production and a low budget movie. The BBC production was filmed on stage, was traditional and true to the play, the movie, “Macbeth on the Estate” was a modern interpretation along the lines of the recent film “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet”. It was set, not in Scotland, but on Birmingham’s Ladywood estate; The characters were all members of street gangs, drug dealers and criminals, not Scottish nobility;
The weird sisters became weird children; Although most of the principal characters were played by professional actors, over a hundred local people from the estate took part, some in speaking roles; The director was a documentary film-maker, not a theatre or even a TV drama director ant the play was cut to an hour and twenty minutes in length. Although I enjoyed the BBC version I preferred the modern film. I thought that its setting in an urban estate worked very well and helped me to understand the play and the roles of the characters more easily.
The two scenes I have to compare are Duncan’s Murder and the Banquet scene.
In the traditional play, we find Macbeth and his wife plotting to kill the king. Macbeth is obviously scared of committing murder and it is Lady Macbeth who proves to be stronger, persuading him to hide his fear,
“Your hand, your tongue, look like the’ innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t, and take Duncan’s life”.
When Duncan and the other thanes arrive Macbeth provides a feast in their honour. Duncan is a nice old man but is naive in believing that Macbeth will protect him. This contrasts with the wicked plotting of Macbeth and his wife.
Duncan goes to bed shortly after the feast is over. Macbeth starts to doubt about whether killing Duncan is the right thing; and wrestles with his conscience:
“Bloody instruction which being taught return to plague the inventor”.
Macbeth thinks if he kills Duncan his mind will be tortured by guilt. By the time lady Macbeth comes to find him, Macbeth has changed his mind.
“We will proceed no further in this business”.
Lady Macbeth is scornful of her husband. She accuses him of cowardice and a lack of love for her.
“When you durst do it, then you were a man; And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more than man”.
Macbeth begins to waver, Lady Macbeth explains her plan. Macbeth is impressed by her callousness.
Macbeth proceeds with the plan, to get the guards drunk and to wipe the blood on them, implicating them in the murder. He imagines the knife he is to use
“Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?” before disappearing down a flight of stairs. The stairwell is lit in red showing Macbeth’s descent into hell. He returns with blood on his hands, but has forgot to plant the daggers. Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth to pull himself together. She takes the daggers back. Macbeth’s mind is already in turmoil.
“Sleep no more!”
” Macbeth does murder sleep”.
Macbeth realises the evil he has done and knows he will not rest easy again.
In Macbeth on the estate, Duncan is an evil and creepy character. Duncan and the thanes show up at Macbeth’s council house. Lady Macbeth greets them and shows honour to him.
“All our service in every point twice done and then done double”. The party begins; they start dancing and drinking beer. Macbeth begins to the mirror; this shows that he is talking to his inner soul in a dilemma over the murder.
“Bloody instructions, which being taught return to plague th’ inventor”. Again Lady Macbeth questions Macbeth’s manhood and threatens that she will leave him if he does not carry out the murder. Duncan has had too much to drink and is carried to bed by Lady Macbeth. Macbeth imagines seeing a dagger, which is leading him up to Duncan’s room. Music provides a tense atmosphere as Macbeth goes to kill Duncan.
The murder is a quite gory and shows Macbeth sticking a knife in his neck and the blood gushing out of the wound. On his way out of the room he meets Lady Macbeth who tells Macbeth she could not have killed Duncan.
“Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t.”
They now know what they have done is wrong. Macbeth’s life is now ruined and so is Lady Macbeth’s.
In the traditional version this scene is particularly well acted as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth welcome the guests to the banquet. Then the first of Macbeth’s hired murderers reports (he is covered in blood) that Banquo has been killed but that Fleence escaped in the confusion. Macbeth’s face shows signs of disappointment but he is glad that Banquo is dead. Macbeth returns back to the banquet and holds a toast and pretends Banquo is bad mannered for not showing up.
In this scene the actor playing Macbeth is brilliant as he flies into a rage of madness as Banquo appears in his seat. His face is terrified and distorted. Although the audience cannot see Banquo you can tell from Macbeth’s expressions actions that he can see him. He shouts “Thou canst not say I did it; never shake thy gory locks at me”.
A drum roll creates a tense atmosphere. Lady Macbeth excuses Macbeth,
“My lord is often thus, and hath been from his youth”.
She brings him off to the side of the stage were she tries to get him to calm down by assuring him that he is just imagining Banquo,
“This is the very painting of your fear”.
Macbeth rejoins his guests, but the ghost of Banquo reappears and Macbeth’s fit of fear and rage returns. The thanes are bemused to witness another fit by Macbeth. He is now worse than before and slams his cup on to the table saying,
“What man dare, I dare approach thow like the rugged Russian Bear, the armed rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger, take any shape but that, and my firm nerves shall never tremble”.
To me this scene shows how much the murder has affected Macbeth. The thanes do not say anything they don’t understand because they do not know what Macbeth has done. Lady Macbeth dismisses the thanes, as she is scared Macbeth will confess the awful deed they have done.
The Banquet scene for Macbeth on the estate is set in a local bar. Before the banquet Macbeth takes cocaine. “We are Family” plays on the pub Juke Box symbolising that the whole gang are united as a family. One of Macbeth’s assasins turns up and goes out of the bar to hear the news. The assasin tells of Banquo’s death but that Fleance has escaped. Macduff is suspicious of his wife and another man so he leaves.
The writers have brilliantly adapted this part of the scene. Rather than Macbeth just imaging Banquo, his ghost could easily be the result of a hallucinations brought on by the drinking game played by Macbeth or the drugs he has taken.
In this scene the audience is able to see the ghost as Macbeth pictures one of his thanes to be Banquo. Banquo is bloody faced and is mocking Macbeth; it is quite a gory scene. Macbeth sees Banquo dancing and Macbeth is angered he says,
“If charnel houses and our graves must send those that we bury back, our monuments shall be the maws of kites”.
The thanes shake their heads at him thinking he has had too much to drink. Lady Macbeth brings Macbeth to the side of the bar and tries to calm him down. She says
“O these flaws and starts, Impostors to true fear, would well become a woman’s story at a winters fire”.
Macbeth returns and is about to make a toast but sees Banquo once again and collapses. He grabs a chair and chases one of his thanes who he believes is Banquo.
The traditional play is a very good interpretation of the original play and is very well acted. An orchestra provides music that creates a tense and an unnatural atmosphere.
I really liked the modern version and thought that it too was well acted. I preferred it to the original, as it was easier to understand the play and the relationship of the characters. The theme of gang warfare was very appropriate and helped demonstrated Macbeth’s motives for killing Duncan. I think this type of modern interpretation is very good and would get more people to see the movie and if they liked it they would be more likely to read the original.