(My A. L. Rowse battered mammoth edition; too bad I can't take it along with me everywhere I go...)
Macbeth has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays (along with Hamlet). What has always fascinated me, however, is the fact that I have never seen a production of it that comes anywhere near invoking the terrors that you feel when you're reading it. I have seen it played by wonderful actors, such as Welles, Sher, Olivier, and many, many more, but they all failed horribly, and they knew, as actors, that they had failed. I think the reason that it is impossible to play the role convincingly, at least in this day and age, is the fact that every generation or so, we get a remarkable Hamlet, Lear or Othello, but unfortunately such a thing has never happened with Macbeth, because it is so much harder for an actor to really face up to the terrors that must invade the mind of a real murderer when he still possesses a conscience and a humanity within himself. The real tragedy of this play is that the actor (and the director) fixates everything upon the ordeal, not of the victim, but of the murderer himself. Macbeth is not the typical bad guy in the fashion of Iago, for example, but is actually a tragic figure who is undone by his faults.
(Ann Todd as Lady Macbeth, Old Vic Theatre, London, 1934; taken from my A. L. Rowse edition)
With Hamlet I can quite easily imagine the sense of revenge that Hamlet himself goes through when he hears about the murder of his own father, or the rage of Lear when he has to deal with the rudeness of his own children, or the jealousy of Othello when he imagines another man possessing the woman he loves, but it’s another thing altogether to be able to really relate to what Macbeth experiences. We all have a Hamlet in us, a Lear and an Othello, but do we have a Macbeth for a soul? That, as an inner life, is simply too horrifying for us to be able to personally relate to and convincingly depict on screen. Once someone has committed murder, not out of vengeance, or resentment, or grudge, or self-preservation, but because of an overwhelming yearning to do so, even when he is conscious that what he is doing is purely evil, he must then be plunged into the depths of such terrors of which the average human being can scarcely imagine. I’m curious to know how Kurzel and Fassbender were able to deal with this.
(Taken from my A. L. Rowse edition)
Suppose Shakespeare had gone to Oxford. Would we have Shakespeare's plays as they are, especially a text like Macbeth? I think we wouldn't, because I think the fact of not getting a very high level education kept Shakespeare grounded, kept him in touch with the voice of the ordinary person. In Shakespeare's time, the plays weren't for posh people - they were for everybody. He gave a voice to the common man even when that “common” man was a king. It's really interesting to find out that Shakespeare was an outsider and wasn't part of the academic elite, and that that gave him a better understanding of humanity. But today, his 400-year-old language stops most of us being able to relate to his work which is a pity. But to me, Shakespeare's incredibly violent. Very violent. In Titus Andronicus, a man getting carved up and put in a pie and fed to his parents. Do you understand that I'm saying? Lady Macbeth was a gangster. Really, when you look at it, Lady Macbeth and that whole:
'Take my milk for gall.'
'Turn me into a man,'
She's really saying:
'I wanna be bad.' And for me to be bad, is 'Unsex me here', i.e., 'I don't want to be a woman no more.’ Meaning, take all this female love and energy out of me and let me be a gangster. That's what Lady Macbeth's saying.
(The Weird Sisters, Engraving by Richard Westall; taken from my A. L. Rowse edition)
Everybody deserves to have some Shakespeare in their lives. It's for you.
NB: Prior to watching Kurzel’s version with Fassbender in the lead role, I needed to get myself reacquainted with the text. That’s the main reason for this re-reading. I’ve been finding myself reading my favourite Shakespeare plays over and over again. I must come out of this “vicious” cycle, otherwise I’ll never complete my Shakespeare project (here, here, and here)…
(Taken from my A. L. Rowse edition)