The Film Versions of Macbeth

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It is crucial to understand that in all Shakespeare’s productions whether it be in music dance or theatre that ideas and meaning are subtly outlined so that everyone should take out their own interpretation from the text and tailor it to suit their understanding.

It is also vital to understand that television is the most dominant sort of media there is to day and it is expanding rapidly. This is because television brings you action, drama and romance at any period of the day, it takes up little space in the house and you can watch in the comfort of your own home. Television is for mass audiences; millions of people around the globe are watching the very same programme and all in their own armchairs unlike theatre, which is directed to a small intimate group.

Television is “packaged” for you, the directors allow you to watch what he wants you to watch. For example in the Royal Shakespeare production video to which I will be referring to throughout my coursework, displays a scene where the video just pictures Macbeth’s eyes and ears in the foreground and people talking about him in the background. This is maybe because the director wanted to show you that Macbeth had spies everywhere and was listening to anything said in opposition to him. This idea at least keeps the viewer’s mind in motion. Whereas in theatre you would view the whole stage in general so you don’t feel that kind of intensity the producer was trying to capture.

Television is an intermediary of entertainment to anyone watching it. This also applies to the working classes who are not that wealthy so instead can watch a production of Macbeth on television. Theatre is generally for people who are more educated and the higher faction of society who can afford to pay the fee required. But if every one watches television then theatre would cease to exist, or if everyone attends the theatre, television will terminate due to high prices in advertising so there has to be an equal balance of both. But this was different in Shakespeare’s time, as the play was directed for everyone. Not just foe a wealthy audience, a lack of money did not stop people attending the theatre. It was a luxury, which cost little.

Drama blood and romance is what appeals to most human beings, so film producers have a hard time encompassing all these factors into one movie. People like to compare their emotions or personalities with those people in the films. That is why Shakespeare is the all time best, he provided a good source of entertainment for 400 years yet having a serious meaning behind the plot for people to hold up a mirror against.

When Shakespeare wrote these plays there were two main sources of public entertainment. They were theatre and Bearbating. Bearbaiting was always considered globally incorrect and unappealing to most, either way they were only available to intimate groups of people. The concept of a global audience such as television was only introduced many years later.

Now days you can interact with you television sets or watch countless dramas, action, soaps…anything by the flick of a switch. Theatre can only survive with the participation of audiences attending paying a fee! There is more of an effort on behalf of the viewer. Conclusively it would be much easier and beneficial staying at home and watching the production on television. It is much more entertaining watching a prepared production, than sitting in a confined enclosure such as theatre.

The use of Shakespeare’s diversity of dramatic devices and retribution of sin and guilt is easily comparable to the average human being, yet the extraordinary thing is…. It’s entertaining!

When music is heard on the television it is in a variety of ways. It is played with an organ, which is an instrument that integrates a double sound, and in fact the whole play has a double meaning (i.e. most people like to compare what they would do in Macbeths position.). When Duncan first appears on the stage there is a refined melody to it, identifying Duncan as a prestigious man. A very similar kind of tune is used in the coronation of the Macbeths but it is played on a lower key. It is as if they did not deserve it.

A sinister tune is played at the murder of Banquo, and it is hard to discern whether it is a modern style of music or old. This struggle between what is modern and what is old is apparent various times throughout this production. But I think this particular struggle of sound signifies the struggle of what is right and what is wrong.

Costume is another prime example for my idea, the clothes the actors wear are hard to tell whether they or old or knew. The first scene we viewed was Macbeth walking with Banquo his clothes are black yet they have light reflecting off them. It is hard to visualise, he is wearing black clothes showing him as evil, yet he has light shining off them indicating integrity so what is he? Incredibly he is both, he started off as good, but progressively turns evil. But in the Ian McKellen version Lady Macbeth (Judi Dench) wears constantly black clothing, showing her as a suspicious, evil character (when she conjures up the evil spirits) and in one scene she actually emerges out of the backdrop and that is the way she acted throughout the play. Lady Macbeth uses words to create darkness and it does not matter whether it is on a stage, without any scenery, the words themselves create a meaning of their own.

Lighting is a significant medium in this film more so is the camera movement. The light which is shining on Duncan appears to look as though he himself is generating the light, whenever we see Duncan he has the appearance of being a godly figure as everyone around him is lit up in his ominous reflection. It is very hard to use many special devices on a stage in this production, but the only place we actually see a lot of light is in the parts Duncan plays in.

The first glimpse of Glamys is in darkness as in the very next scene we see Lady Macbeth conjuring up these dark spirits. This can be proven in the later scene from the phrase “It is day but dark night strangles it.”

The camera movements and the close ups (zooms) are also used originally. The director concentrates more on the faces than the whole picture. This is a clever way of portraying Macbeth’s fears and concerns when it is mixed with lighting. In the very first scene we see a close up of each face, which sets us in trepidation for what is to come. Then we see at the beginning when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are in love, both their faces fill the screen in an affectionate manner, but as the play goes on their love for each other deteriorates and we see them less we on the stage together until the point where we even see that Macbeth doesn’t care that she is dead, “She should of died earlier.”

There are many close ups of Macbeth’s face alone talking to the camera, to us about his emotions and feelings. And in one distressing scene where we see Macbeth afraid we get a close up of his face we see himself starting to sweat which is a great piece of acting, The dark surrounding fades out colour from his face making him look mad. His eyes have a streak of light through them making him look like the devil himself. This is just the picture the director wanted to achieve and he did it simply by the movement of the camera.

I would like to suggest now why exactly this is such a notable production of Shakespeare’s play… Macbeth.

It stars two very contemporary actors in English culture. Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, which already sets a high standard of expectation.

Firstly it is much more interesting to notice that our version is set on one stage and all the other versions make it seem like a proper movie with real backdrops such as the Anthony Sher production. It is noticeably better because of the superior acting of Ian Mckellen. He makes him self sweat when he needs to and even in a violent or dramatic scene his wording is very articulate and easy to understand. But in the very same scene in the Anthony Sher production you see him running around in a manic rush and you can’t even tell what he is saying. The Anthony Sher production is set out in a movie format with much more advantages with it’s lighting and the backdrops, but what is not understandable is no other productions exploit these bonuses.

Polanski’s productions take liberties on the interpretation of the texts when they have no right to, and in doing so it spoils the whole concept of what Shakespeare was trying to achieve. For example we even saw in one Hollywood production a knife directing Macbeth to kill Duncan, it is absurd. To tell the truth even in the Ian Mckellen version words are added in when they weren’t really there, for example we see Duncan whispering the words “Mea Culpa.”

Meaning he takes the blame for the loss of lives. He caused fighting in the war, but Shakespeare never wrote that. My only reasonable answer is that the director does not think we have the real understanding similar to Shakespeare’s and must steer us through, but later on the director keeps the text strictly formal. Whereas the Polanski version veers away from the text altogether, but at least the R.S.C keeps the wording balanced. The ghost is a very good example to prove this by, in the R.S.C we are guided by Mckellen’s body language to make it seem as there is a ghost there, whereas in another production you actually see the ghost or you are distracted by the blurred words and manic rushing about.

Modern directors have the harder task of allowing only an hour and a half to make their film in, and in that time they have to include areas like romance, drama and blood. Or all other major movie productions like the Gladiator that deals solely on this topic and sensationalism entices people to watch, and Macbeth would not have even been given a second glance.

I would like to finish off to see how watching Macbeth in the theatre differs from that than on television. First of all the production of Macbeth 400 years ago was very different to nowadays as it was played in an open aired theatre and the audiences watch it in the day time removing all the dramatics of darkness Shakespeare was trying to achieve. It is interesting to watch Macbeth in the theatre, the actors converse with the audience personally they look in their eyes whilst speaking. But what I don’t like in the theatre is that it loses any dramatics an author would try to achieve. On the television you could watch just the face of the actor or you could change scenes in different places instantly, in the theatre you would watch the theatre stage in its entirety and the actors bodies on a whole which loses any drama trying to be created. If the director wants the actor to speak softly to express an emotion it will have a bad effect and even look quaint.

We see this adaptation of Macbeth through the eyes of the director, what he wants us to see. For example the director is trying to point out that we see evil as darkness in this production which the ordinary viewer might not have noticed on his own. We see the struggle between what is good and evil, modern and old. This production expresses that point beautifully.

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