Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Watching MacBeth in Modern Dress

Shakespeare’s play, MacBeth, is not historically accurate:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macbeth,_King_of_Scotland

MacBeth was a good king who ruled long and well.

That’s not relevant to watching the play – it’s just the sort of detail that adds to my enjoyment of the creativity that went into writing the drama.

Modern dress was not an interpretation that I expected.  Lady MacBeth’s speeches always seemed unnecessarily vague to me.  The portion she reads of her husband’s letter is wide open to interpretation.  Did he really say he had sworn to kill Duncan?  She clearly reads it that way, but the words aren’t there. Only later does she tell her husband that he had sworn to kill Duncan. I think in old-time dress I found such a statement credible because I didn’t see Lady MacBeth as a career woman. Rather I saw her as a traditional old-fashioned, if upper class wife.

I have lived through the assassination of President Kennedy, the attempted assassination of President Reagan, and even the assassinations of popular singers.  These crimes did not directly give the crowns to the assassins. MacBeth’s fictional stabbing Duncan seems more vicious than these very real murders. There’s something odd when we know more about fictional characters than we do about our leaders and entertainers.

This same director leant credibility to the witches by putting them on support wires so they could walk on walls and fly down from the 2nd story of the stage to magically appear in the MacBeth home.  Their agenda is never clear – what do they get out of their political maneuvering?

Still, they are magical creatures – maybe we aren’t supposed to understand them.  They seem to be tempters who like Captain Hook in the movie “Hook” said, “Lie? Me? Ha, ha, ha, ha… Never, the truth is far too much fun.”

But Lady MacBeth is supposed to be a human woman dealing with the stress of being married to a rising political star, in an era where being the king’s favorite can mean wealth and social advantage.

In old-time dress, I did not doubt her veracity.  I believed that she truly thought she was helping her husband, doing what he had asked, but balking at committing murder with her own hands. She was willing to take advantage of any benefits such a murder might accrue to her family, but that was the depth of her villainy.

This director put her in a slinky party dress, and suddenly she seemed powerful in her own right. The killings became her idea. MacBeth killed his benefactor and king just to please his wife. She didn’t go mad at the end – she was mad to begin with.

There are madder interpretations.  I absolutely love Thurber’s version: http://userhome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/anthro/jbeatty/COURSES/Macbeth/thurber.htm

But each director is entitled to retell the story. And each audience member is entitled to interpret that retelling.  So, I have to ask myself – Is it feminist to give the treacherous credit to Lady MacBeth?  Or is it anti-feminist? Or maybe we’ve gone beyond gender when Lady MacBeth says, “Unsex me here.”

The use of modern dress is a valid and valuable interpretation. Still, I find myself wondering why I did not mind seeing the men in suits, carrying brief cases, or seeing the soldiers in military fatigues. But that slinky purple party dress conveyed pure evil.

No comments:

Post a Comment