Macbeth Staging & History
All’s Well That Ends Well‘s & Othello’s respective protagonist and anti-hero leave the audience guessing as to their motivation as the action unfolds.
King Lear does not have the complexity of the double plot.
In 1603 the death of Queen Elizabeth finally appointed a successor
– Advisers had hoped she’d pick someone sooner
Her pick was James III of Scotland
James became King James I. His transition to power was peaceful. He remained the monarch for the remainder of Shakespeare’s career (1603 – 1625).
Jacobean is a term often associated with James.
King James authorized his own version of The Bible. He did not directly contribute anything to the text. In 1611 the new version was adopted by the Church of England. Different versions of The Bible were floating around during this time period and so his version created a standardization.
William Tyndale produced translation in early 16th century. It is considered the greatest translation of The Bible. A large portion of James’s translation was used – 90 percent.
Accession of King James I was a boon to Shakespeare’s career. He changed the name of Shakespeare’s company from Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1594) to The King’s Men (1603-1638). He conferred a new and enhanced status on Shakespeare’s company.
From 1603-1604 the theaters were closed due the outbreak of the plague.
In 1599, “As You Like It ” was performed at Hampton Court (one of the King’s palaces). Several other plays including his dramas like Macbeth were performed there. Other palaces included White Hall and Greenwich. The performances at the palace were important because it was an indoor stage, unlike the open-air Globe Theater. Shakespeare wrote Macbeth with the indoor performance in-mind. Shakespeare’s night scenes are harder to stage at the Globe. With the indoor theater you can shutter the windows and dim or extinguish candles/lighting.
The sound effects were better in an enclosed theater as well. Reed instruments were used to impact the drama of the play – especially oboes (known as HAUTBOYS). Bell tolls were used to symbolize death. In Act 3 there was a trumpet call and music during the banquet scene.
Shakespeare’s company performed for King James I more than Queen Elizabeth – 187 times in all. This meant money and prestige for Shakespeare. Right-wing religious extremists – the Puritans – did not like the theater and eventually got it shutdown.
Macbeth was written with many of James’s beliefs in mind. James was convinced early on that there was a coup d’état against his life, but it was not politically motivated, but rather driven by supernatural forces – especially witches. He attended witch confessions/trials which only confirmed his suspicions and reaffirmed his notions of the power of witchcraft.
James I wrote The Daemonologie in 1599, which is about witchcraft. He fancied himself something of an amateur theologian. Witchcraft and female sexuality are invariably linked in the world of Macbeth.
James I was publicly “attached” to men and boys. He married only to produce an heir to the throne. He was a known homosexual.
In Act 4, around line 88 when Macbeth and the witches are on stage there is an apparition that says “Beware Mcduff.” The apparition descends which leads to ambiguity about the motivations of the supernatural forces that exist within the world of this play. The apparition ascended thru the trap door beneath the stage suggesting and evil element.
The second apparition, a bloody child, was meant to symbolize C-Section birth and the statement [not direct quote: “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”] in effect give Macbeth the impression he is invincible.
Around line 111, a show of eight kings, was an example of a convention of Shakespeare’s stage. This was part of what is known as a Dumb Show, a pantomime/silent action. This scene was used for dramatic effect in order to compress a larger concept into a single scene. It was also for symbolic purposes. There was a looking glass (mirror) on stage which may have been facing King James I so the eighth King would have been him and brought him “into the world of the play.”
The witches were costumed in wild attire because they represented gender ambiguity and supernatural forces. They “vanished… into thin air… into the wind,” which added to the mystery of the play. Their stage exits were unusual. Witches may have also had a prop resembling horses, something they are often associated with. They may have also used “flying machinery” to raise and lower them to the stage. The ceiling above the stage was typically where supernatural forces entered and exited. Witches and their horses could fly because they would perform a spell that included burning a baby’s fat.
The play wasn’t especially popular then. No paperback editions existed during Shakespeare’s lifetime. An account of the play by Simon Forman, an educated, wealthy and professional astrologer described the irony of the staging of the audience seeing the ghost of Banquo before Macbeth in April 1611.
Hecate was added to the play after it had already been performed without him. Psychological emphasis was the action and thoughts that took place in Macbeth’s mind. Costumer/playwright Thomas Middletonwho was the only dramatist to be invited to revise a work of Shakespeare’s. He wrote a play called “The Witch.”Macbeth was played by Richard Burbage who also played Othello and Hamlet. He was the senior actor in Shakespeare’s company and was the most revered during his time. Lady Macbeth and Lady Mcduff were played by boy actors. The role of the witches were enacted by MEN with beards to add to the unnaturalness and to add to the drama. During King James I’s reign there was approximately 11 performances per year at court, while there was only about three performances a year. Shakespeare wouldn’t have written Macbeth if James I wouldn’t have been named King.
In 1642 theaters (which were highly-regarded by the public) were closed by Puritans. The theater was closed for 18 years. Then civil war errupted and James I’s son was killed. Oliver Cromwell ruled briefly. In 1660 the monarchy was restored and the era was known as The Restoration. Theaters were new, actors were new and women were acting (in part due to a change in attitudes of theater).
William Davenant revived Shakespearean work. He claimed he was Shakespeare’s illegitimate son and also claimed to be the father of English Opera. Davenant cut characters of low standing. Diabolical effect of the characters and drama was down-played in his version. He also modified the language to make them more of a conversation style of gentleman. He introduced instrumental music. The witches danced and sung. Only version for next 80 years.
In 1681 Nahum Tate remade King Lear in the image of his day. There was a love match between Edgar and Cordelia. Persisted well into the 19th century.
Macbeth was played by David Garrick. He tried to honor both Shakespeare’s vision as well as Davenant’s updated edition. The play was often remade based on the Temper of the Times which means societal changes are reflected in the new editions.
John Philip Campbell was an actor in Macbeth. Sarah Sittens played Lady Macbeth. In 1840’s Verde made an (Italian) Macbeth, which was very different. It was opera themed.
In 1936Orson Wells made an American version. The Works Progress Administration was being initiated by Franklin Roosevelt. The play showed in New York for 12 weeks. His version incorporated voodoo and an all-black cast. The setting was the Caribbean in 19th century Haiti. It was the first time black actors portrayed classical drama. The interpretation of the drama was that violent men were manipulated by evil forces. In 1957 there was a film version made.
In 1960 Tushiro Mufoni played Macbeth in Throne of Blood in the Japanese Kurosawa version. The Japanese version was based on Koh dramatic style, which was very stylized and incorporated more stillness than action.
In 1971 Roman Polanski along with John Finch and Francesca Annis made a version of the play that emphasized sexuality.
Hecate: a vengeful goddess of death and the afterlife
The actor who played Hecate wore a wig, looked similar to dreadlocks or the snakes donned by Medusa. The actor would have also been carrying a torch and accompanied by the sound of barking dogs. The sight of her added to the drama of the play.
Quotes from King Lear
–> (Generalizations about characters’ experiences)
These characters stand back and make generalizations about their “natural” world.
Sheer diversity in generalizations are stark, not all “opinions” are not “right”
We as readers/theatre goers must make sense of these statements
People believed in stars’ power, God exerted his power through stars unto Earth. Not seen as much of a superstition back then.
All generalizations are made authoritatively.
Inconsistencies in generalization come from the varied experiences of life each character has had.
Each character has inconsistencies within their own views of life. Kent talks about fortune as a power that is always changing (“fortune”), but later he also talks about a fixed (determined) “fate.”
* Astral determinism – Astrology determines future/fate
* “Fortune” is not the same as “astral determinism”
• Fate is fixed and determined (stars fatality)
• Fortune is fickle and undetermined
Gloucester: As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, // They kill us for their sport. (4.1 26-37)
Albany: This shows you are above, // You justicers, that these our nether crimes // So speedily can venge. (4.2 78-80)
Edgar: The gods are just and of our pleasant [pleasurable] vices // Make instruments to plague us. (5.3 172-173)
Edmund: The wheel is come full circle (5.3 175-176)
Kent: It is the stars, // The stars above us, govern our conditions. (4.3, 33)
Gloucester: These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us. (1.2 111-113)
Kent: Fortune, good night; smile once more, turn they wheel. (2.2 175-176)
This play was written in 1605-1606 when there is an official Church of England. Everything in this play is out of sync with the political, religious, etc. beliefs of his day. He writes this play almost to challenge preconceived notions. Many consider this play to be his greatest tragedy. Most frequently performed in recent times (20-25 years). Hamlet was preformed more in the past. Why is this? WWI (1918 changed the world’s interest in entertainment).
The earlier version of King Lear (The True Chronicle History of King Lear) was set in a Judeo-Christian world, but Shakespeare rooted them out deliberately in his version. Cordelia does not die in earlier work of “King Lear,” NOT Shakespeare’s version.
Samuel Johnson, an academic authority on the subject, could not bare to re-read the play to edit the scene where Cordelia dies in Shakespeare’s version.