When I was fourteen or fifteen, my English teacher introduced me to Macbeth. I was a young and eager student; I loved English literature and drama, and I loved her. She let us stand on the classroom furniture to "perform" Macbeth in class, and she made us all feel that Shakespeare was really about us, about humanity. She told us Shakespeare's gorgeous language could bring us joy all our lives. Granted we were New York, suburban, private school girls, what did we know? Thank God I listened to her, for my English teacher's invaluable lessons about the language of Shakespeare have stayed with me over some twenty years of teaching The Bard to my English students. To her inspirational role in my work, I must now add the Macbeth currently running on the West End.
Edward Hall's exquisite production of Macbeth reminds me why I fell in love with Shakespeare in the first place. Fast, furious, dark, and funny - "Twas a rough night" is a darkly clever line when articulated with just the right deadpan - this production showcases the brilliance of Shakespeare's writing. The playwright wastes not one word in this play and when we watch Hall's excellent cast at the Albery, we feel that we have entered into the middle of some very bad business.
We are swept along with Macbeth because Sean Bean commands us to do so. His Macbeth is at once fearful, passionate, and sorrowful; we have no choice but to respond to his every emotion, whether it is his desire for his wife upon returning victorious from battle, his remorse and hysteria over not being able to say "Amen" when killing Duncan, or his ironic and cruel question about whether or not Banquo "rides tonight" and if Fleance goes too.
Whatever the scene, Bean's relentless energy and passion, like all truly fine theatre, removes us for awhile from our own thoughts and cares, only to remind us that this story is about us and about right now, and about thousands of years ago.
Bean's performance teaches us that Macbeth could be our neighbour, a president, or a king of long ago. Bean achieves this not just through his magnificent acting - sometimes he really scared me out of my seat with the way he commands the entire stage and seems to almost leap into our laps - but through the ways in which he delivers the lines.
The musicality in his voice, those warm and broad vowels gather you into the story in ways that the clipped RP accents never do. The King's English never makes me feel that I am part of the play, part of what's going on, rather it can distance me and can be so hard to understand, but Bean's lovely, natural and real dialect impels us join him, even makes us want to hop up on stage.
I've never really cared about all that hoopla about dialects and class in England - as an American it isn't important to me. I know that William wrote his plays for everyone, and everyone went to see them, groundling or not.
Bottom line is if the actor can deliver
the lines so that I believe him, if he makes my hair stand on
end, if he makes me cry, or laugh; if I know that in ten years
I'll still be hearing him deliver those lines, then I feel that
I have been a part of something mysterious and majestic, something
what it is to be human. And that is how it is when Sean Bean speaks
those gorgeous lines my old English teacher taught me to love.
Barbara K is an English teacher and poet. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
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