Macbeth - Reviews - Kathryn

Last Update: 17 December 2002

The advantage of revisiting this particular production of Macbeth (apart from the obvious one!) has been the opportunity to focus on the finer details that make up the whole.

As a play, Macbeth has been described as being "a tragedy of unchecked will," and while I wouldn't dispute the fact that Macbeth the character chooses to exercise the power of conscious decision and deliberate action, I don't necessarily believe that a modern audience with even a mild interest in psychoanalysis would be entirely satisfied with this definition, and would describe Macbeth as a tragedy of the fragility of the human psyche . Macbeth can also be viewed as a study in the disintegration of trust between comrades-in-arms, rulers and subjects, and husbands and wives, torn apart by one man's self-confessed "vaulting ambition."

Since much of the witchcraft aspect of the weird sisters has been played down, it seems more fitting to view their incantations as representing a "what if...?" scenario, in much the same way as the Titans of Greek legend manipulated the fate of their human playthings.

As the play opens, no one, least of all Macbeth, could imagine the effect that a chance meeting with these midnight hags will have on a bluff, popular and brave warrior; turning him into a murderous tyrant, estranged from his wife, haunted by the victims of his crimes, attended only by those who must. " way of life is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf, and that which must accompany old age, as honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have."

Temptation is put in the way of both Banquo and Macbeth; one will view the prophecies with scepticism and advise caution, while the other will see only the prize that is offered and not the price to be paid.

Banquo is first to note the change in Macbeth. He fears that the weird sisters predictions are worming their way into Macbeth's subconscious, despite his careless "I think not of them." Even so, Banquo mistakenly reminds Macbeth not only of the sisters vision of Macbeth's future kingship, but also Banquo's own role as "father to a line of kings."

Banquo's stiff acceptance of Macbeth's "invitation" to the banquet and his flippant response to the enquiry about his travel plans points up their faltering friendship, but it is the overly-casual "Goes Fleance with you?" which signals its end.

It is within the relationship between husband and wife that the true cost of Macbeth's desires are demonstrated most painfully. The Macbeths of the play's first half inhabit their own private universe; everything they say and do is for the benefit of the other. But this interdependency leads only to paranoia and madness - the consequences of Macbeth's actions being manifested in Lady Macbeth. The look they exchange at the end of Act One following their coronation suggests fear of the future rather than satisfaction at ambition achieved.

The banqueting scene, regarded chiefly as the point at which Macbeth's chickens start to come home to roost, has I think acquired a second level of meaning - that of the estrangement between Macbeth and his wife. The assembled Thanes see their king assaulted by an incomprehensible waking nightmare, while we also see a frightened woman, frantically covering for the insane behaviour of a man she can barely recognise as her husband.

Macbeth's apparent unconcern for the change in his nature and its cause "my strange and self-abuse is the initiate fear that wants hard use" and his "we are yet young in deed," a suggestion of more to come, is enough to shatter Lady Macbeth illusions, and sever the last threads of their relationship.

Macbeth is now a desolate figure. A slave to prophecy, the only creatures who come to him willingly are the weird sisters, figments of his imagination who fuel his addiction. Bolstered by their assurances of immortality, he turns his attention to Lady Macbeth's fragile state of mind, but it is too little, too late. Weary of the struggle, and with his soul set in darkness, Macbeth lurches between bravado and resignation, with any proper expression of grief for his wife's fate demanding more effort than he can muster.

The play comes full circle, ending as it began, with Macbeth once again embattled; previously hailed as a hero, now executed as a traitor.

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