Macbeth

This week, I chose to read Macbeth as a tie-in with the production I am actually in with Chicago’s New Rock Theater – running May 26 through June 25!  A shameless plug, I know, but it’s a creepy fun time and you can get your tickets at this link here. 

From the same awesome people that brought you Point Break Live!

We are in tech week right now, which is why this post has been so late coming, so it’s been on my mind a lot lately.  However, I am going to fight the impulse to simply talk about the show that I’m in – badass as it may be.  Instead, I will explore the terrifying thoughts inside my own head that arise when I read the text.  It is a play steeped in the supernatural, with the Ghost of murdered Banquo appearing at the dining table, a coven of Witches toying with mortal ambitions, and the dark goddess Hecate even makes her presence known.  So, in exploring the collapse of human goodness in a man-turned-tyrant, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch too add another supernatural creature to the mix.

As illustrated by Vlad Dracula, "The Impaler"

Yeah, it might seem like a bullshit move to just make Macbeth a vampire, but it also has a suprising amount of textual support. To start with, blood imagery is everywhere: “It will have blood. They say blood will have blood.” Both Lady Macbeth and her husband invoke evil spirits to aid them in their ambitions, but “you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts” are ambiguous, mysterious monsters. There are also numerous demonic references, like “porter of hell-gate,” and “that Which might appal the devil.” So when Macbeth says something crazy like, “Come, seeling night, Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day; And with thy bloody and invisible hand Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond which keeps me pale!” or “the time has been That, when the brains were out, the man would die, and there an end; but now they rise again,” my personal favorite, “I ‘gin to be a-weary of the sun,”all I’m really doing with this concept is proposing a certain specificity to those supernatural forces that are at work.  I wouldn’t have to change a word of text to justify vampirism as a foctor in Macbeth’s transformation into a monster – just give the Witches some vampiric physical traits, and then let the play run its course as they manipulate him towards a tragic end.

Which, to be clear, will come at the edge of a Bowie knife

I suppose this is also a good time to mention the fact that I am clearly not the first person to recognize the parallels there, since Bram Stoker himself makes frequent references to Macbeth in his infamous novel Dracula.  For example, the three female vampires that live in Dracula’s castle are referred to as the “Weird sisters” numerous times, same as Macbeth’s Witches.  And there seem to be eerie similarities between the stressed sleepwalking of Lady Macbeth, and the sleepwalking that plagues Lucy before she turns into a vampire herself.  In both cases, the Doctor tending to the sleepwalker is forced to admit “This disease is beyond my practice.” Though, by inferring that Lady M is turning into a vampire (the Doctor’s curious outburst of “Well, well, well, -” would come after a reveal of those incriminating bite marks on her neck), it actually gives a nobler motive to her death.  She could become an absolute monster like her husband, but she ends her part in the bloodshed.  I actually really like that turn, because it actually harnesses the strength of a fascinating character whose death is otherwise muted.  In some ways, she is as much at fault as the Witches for creating a monster from Macbeth – upon learning that Duncan, king of Scotland will spend the night at their castle, she immediately urges her husband to usurp the throne violently.  She mocks and immasculates her husband, trying to shame him into action.  She is the dominant person in that relationship, until the man she loves actually becomes the man she wanted, and the thing she has created is too terrible to love.

Which echoes the themes of another macabre classic, but I won't go into that.

I will return to the relationship between the Macbeths in a little bit, because it is absolutely fascinating and sexy, but first I want to wrap up the whole vampire trope.  Because really, at it’s core, this play is about a good man becoming inhuman through his evil.  MacVamp, as I will playfully call this project, can’t just be a gimmick: it has to be an elaboration on the existing and relevant theme of man into monster.  It is about the allure of monstrous power, juxtaposed with the realization that “Tis safer to be that which we destroy than, By destruction, dwell in doubtful joy.”  Or, as the Hecate so hauntingly states “security is mortals’ chiefest enemy.”  Macbeth is a man throughout most of this play, and he manipulates other men into joining the bloodshed.

Probably Gypsies.

Indeed, Macbeth realizes that he is “In blood stept so far, that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”  So he goes to the Witches again, to fully embrace the evil power that they teased him with.  It is here that I would stage them biting him, and passing the literal curse of vampirism.  We will not see the transformation, because after that scene he is notably absent from the play for a bit.  We visit Macduff in England, where he is meeting with the rightful heir to the throne in Scotland, Malcom.  It is there that Macduff learns his family has fallen victim to one of Macbeth’s violent purges, and we witness a really amusing dialogue between the men turned heartbreakingly tragic.  It’s one of the best scenes in Shakespeare; but I digress.  By the time we see Macbeth again, he is fully transformed, fully monstrous, and fully detached from the love of his wife.

And then relives the tragedy for eternity, or something.

It is actual love though, and a highly sexual one at that.  Their sex life is subtly referenced throughout the play, but as Macduff so bitterly states: “He has no children.”  Macbeth laments, “Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown, And put a barren sceptre in my gripe.” In addition to the sexuality in the Macbeths’ dialogue with each other, there is the textual suggestion that they are actively trying to produce an heir.  But there is one line from Lady Macbeth in particular that proves horrifically telling about their relationship: “I have given suck, and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.”  Seriously, holy shit, they had a kid together, and we have no idea what happened to it.  Presumably it died, but it’s such a horrific thing that they never speak of it except in that one speech, where Lady Macbeth weilds its memory like a lance to prod Macbeth into murdering the king.  She continues: “I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this.”  She’s talking about their dead kid like this.  Yet the tactic works, and soon Macbeth is holding her and saying “Bring forth men-children only.”  Their relationship is disturbing, but there are still genuine moments of love between them, and he even calls her “dear wife!”  Yet after the madness of the banquet scene, they are never on stage at the same time again, and the monstrous tyrant can’t even process her death when it comes.

It's the beginning of a long and noble tradition of screwed-up romances.

But eventually, the tyrant is moved into action.  He learns that his wife is dead, and shortly after that he learns that “Great Birnam wood to hight Dunsanine hill” has actually come against him, so he leaves the castle.  This was something I never really realized before – I apparently always envisioned the final fight taking place in rooms of the castle, until Macbeth was cornered and killed.  But according to the text he outright abandons the castle.  Malcom actually enters the unguarded castle without incident, and Macbeth is abandoned by every soldier in his army so he is alone in a field when MacDuff confronts him.  I don’t know exactly where that assumption came from, but I am going to blame Kurosawa’s samurai adaptation of the story for it.

If you haven't seen it yet, go watch it. Right now.

But since we’re at the end of the play, let me also take some time to discuss something that has always bugged me about this play.  Macduff, the Thane of Fife, was apparently born from a Caesarian section, “Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ript.”  Because of this, he fulfills the prophesy that “none of women born Shall harm Macbeth.”  But it just comes out of nowhere.  And I know, it’s sort of supposed to come out of nowhere, and Macbeth obviously thinks it’s bullshit too – there’s a huge pause in the meter after Macduff drops that information on him.  But it still seems like cheating to me.  I would almost prefer a real deus ex machina, like some vengeful Scottish god just kills him, or maybe the ghosts of Macbeths victims hount him as the castle burns down like at the end of Sword of Doom.

Another samurai classic about a good man consumed by evil.

But that’s just a small thing in an otherwise amazing play that I’ve always liked.  It is perhaps the best play ever written on the theme of a good man’s fall from grace, which resounds all the way from Biblical times through Star Wars.   That core theme allows you to plug the story into any reality you want, whether it’s samurai or vampires or even a plain Medieval Scottish warlord.  The play I’m in right now sticks to the latter, and it’s going up tomorrow.  See it, know it, love it.  It combines that traditional storytelling with some really cool multimedia special effects, and also I’m in it, so if you’re in Chicago during the next month then you should stop by.

The artist who made this poster, Adam Micheals, is also in it.

I’m actually going to take a break for a bit after this play.  I will return soon to this endeavor of reading an Act of Shakespeare every day, don’t worry.  But I want to dedicate some of my free time to cleaning up the site and streamlining some stuff, actually add some legit tags to the posts so hopefully more people can get interested in this project.  I also want to dedicate to writing my own play about a good man’s descent into evil, which I’m going to produce with Blunt Objects Theatre in October (at least that’s the plan).  Like Macbeth, Gilles de Rais is an obscure historical character, and also like Macbeth, he may or may not have been slandered by history.  In any case, a man who once fought alongside Joan of Arc  – and then becomes one of the most prolific serial killers in history – seems like an interesting story to me.  So while I’m on the subject of storytelling, I think I will part with this quote: “We’ll have thee, as our rarer monsters are, Painted upon a pole, and underwrit ‘Here may you see the tyrant'” 

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  1. […] the historical innaccuracies of the movie.  My counter-argument is this: Shakespeare’s Macbeth is one of the most slanderous  misrepresentations of a historical figure ever produced; […]

  2. […] than FOX News as a rule, due to various censorship laws and the general politics of the day.  Macbeth is the best example of this, since the historical Scottish monarch defeated an incompetent Duncan […]



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