80: Macbeth And Its Curse
June 20, 2016 6 a.m.
Episode 80: 'Macbeth' and the Curse of the Scottish Play
An exploration of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' and the curse of The Scottish Play. Cinema Junkie looks to the best film Macbeths as well as to the new Old Globe production.
Beth Accomando: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junky Broadcast I’m Beth Accomando.
I have to confess Macbeth is my favorite Shakespeare play and I’ll take advantage of any opportunity I have to talk about it. My justification this time, is that the first folios in San Diego all this month and the Old GlobeTheater’s is mounting a new production for its summer season. Macbeth, is one of the eighteen plays that would likely not exist if it had not been placed in the first folio and what a tragedy that would have been. Macbeth is Shakespeare’s swiftest and possibly bloodiest play. Although Titus Andronicusgives it a run for its money. Macbeth moves with ferocious energy as it follows Macbeth’s descent into multiple murders. I’ll be talking about some of the best film versions of Macbeth as well as the new globe production that runs through July 24th on the outdoor Lowell Davies FestivalStage. I also want to focus the first part of the podcast, on the infamous curse the play bears.
Many in the theater world are so superstitious that they refused to mention the play’s name inside a theater and instead refer to it as the Scottish Play. It’s been rumored to contain real witches’ spells which may account for the curse.
Lines from Macbeth: [indiscernible] [00:01:25] “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning or in rain. When the hurly burly’s done. When the battle’s lost and won. That will be ere the set of sun. Where the place? Upon the heath. There to meet with Macbeth.”
Beth Accomando: That was the opening scene ofRollin Polanski’s Macbeth from 1971 and the weird sisters are burying a hand with a dagger, a harbinger of things to come. Polanski focuses his film on intimacy between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth with part of the tragedy being Macbeth’s growing isolation from the person he had been closest to. Macbeth was also Polanski’s first film after the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate by the Manson family in 1969. Perhaps his real life horrors led to this being his bloodiest film. Polanski’s Macbeth is also one of the best film adaptations of the play. The witches in Polanski’s film even force Macbeth to drink blood before they’ll answer his questions about what the future holds for him.
Shakespeare included the witches in part to please King James I. Who had written a book on the subject. The globe production afforded me an opportunity to speak with some Shakespeare scholars about both the infamous curse connected with the play as well as the approach the current production would be taking. Danielle Mages Amato is the literarymanager and Dramaturg at the Old Globeand what you may ask is a Dramaturg?
Beth Accomando: So, I don’t think most people know what a Dramaturg is? So can you tell us what you do?
Danielle Mages Amato: A Dramaturgis the job title without a description. My father used to say, can you please just write what it is that you do on an index card and so when someone asks me what does your daughter do? I can just pull that out and hand it to them instead of having to try and explain it. A Dramaturg plays a lot of roles depending on the theater company depending on the production. Usually they are a person who has a background in dramatic literature, theater history. They apply that knowledge to the production so that might mean anything from writing production program contents for the production to doing background research for the production for the director, or designers or the actors, to working with a playwrighton a new play to help them structure and shape the show in the way that they want. At a theater company usually the Dramaturg helps with season selection, works to create through the narrative for the TheaterCompany, often a lot of writing, so, lot of different hats.
Beth Accomando: And this summer one of the Plays that the Globe is doing is the Scottish Play. We are not inside a theater right now but how far away do we have to be from a Theater venue, before you’ll mention the name of this play.
Danielle Mages Amato: I don’t really ever say it myself. I’ll forgive myself if I’m outdoors but we’re sort of under the roof with a theater. I mean there is a theater beneath our feet right now, so, I myself, personally don’t say it. I don’t like to say it anywhere but certainly not under the same roof as a theater.
Beth Accomando: So what can you tell me about the origin of this curse of the Scottish Play?
Danielle Mages Amato: The curse of the Scottish Play goes back I think as far as the Scottish Play itself. There are anapocryphal stories that the actor who played Lady M in the original production of the play got ill and that Shakespeare himself had to step in and play that role. Now there’s no real evidence that, that happened. But I think that people date the curse back as far as that first production. I mean there’s a lot of stories about the origin of the curse. Some people say that Shakespeare put actual curses, actual witches spells from a witch’s spell book that he found somewhere was in London under a bush or something. I don’t know where he’s supposedly found this witch spell book but that he actually used real curses and real spells in the play and so that when you do it, you bring back those you kind of course the evil spirits that are being conjured by the play.
Lines of Macbeth:“By the pricking of my thumbs,something wicked this way comes.How now, you secret, black and midnight hags!What is’t you do? A deed without a name. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. Toad, that under cold stone,days and nights has thirty-one. Swelter’d venom sleeping got, Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot. Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog.”
Beth Accomando: I think it’s no secret that James,King James was a big believer and which is and he wrote that famous manuscript demonology so there is some sense that the witches are in the play to placate him because they were something that he was interested in but I think that,that’s what people date the curse from, from the very earliest. There’s also a lot of stories apocryphal and well documented about productions of the play just going wrong. Cast members and crew people being injured. Laurence Olivier having a weight almost crush him while he was on stage and Charlton Heston had his tights soaked in kerosene so that his, he had terrible burns when he was playing the part and people you know falling off the stage and being injured and people committing suicide who worked on the show. I mean they are just lots and lots of horrible stories of the,Astor Place Riots which of course were associated with the productions more in productions of the Scottish Play. So, you know there are just a lot of stories that have come down passed down about the Scottish Play and the curse attached to it.
Beth Accomando: Do you have a favorite story or an incident that really kind of made got you going?
Danielle Mages Amato: No. I mean I did a little research recently and wrote down just a sort of really amusing list of all of the things I could possibly find that had happened inproductions and then you can’t really beat Charlton Heston’s tights getting soaked in kerosene and having groin injuries. While playing the part but I mean it’s like sprains, shingles, lightning striking the theater, pieces of swords flying off and hitting audience members. I mean they are just, I think what’s really entertaining is not specifically any incident but when you stack them all together and you have like a list of the horsemen of the Apocalypse or something it’s entertaining.
Beth Accomando: Other plays have had bad luck or accidents happenor things like this. Do you think that the reason, the curse kind of sticks to this play is also because the play itself has witches in it that you know this was just I don’t know comedy of errors and you know things went wrong at five or six different productions that nobody would really link it to a curse because that’s kind of not on your mind but here it’s like they’re those witches and things are going bad, it must be a curse.
Danielle Mages Amato: I mean the play itself is very spooky. I think that certainly being around it puts you in that uncanny place. I mean it’s a play that has a very realistic psychological story about a man and his wife and ambition and a desire to be king. But it also has this incredibly fascinating supernatural story and I think productions of it are scary and I think of the Globe’s production this summer is spooky and scary and I think once you get into that mind set you know there is a little you get the goose bumps on your arms and yeah I think that there is something associated with the fact that just as you in the mind of supernatural things you wonder what you’re bringing to life. I think that theaters kind of a haunted art anyway, because you’re channeling these voices from thousands of years ago sometimes hundreds of years ago in this case. You know you’re bringing things back to life that once lived long ago and so there is I think with the Scottish Play the question of what is coming back to life with this play. We’re always conjuring a little bit.
Beth Accomando: And also isn’t there a tradition in theater of the ghost light?
Danielle Mages Amato: Yeah. I mean Theater people are just a superstitious bunch. I mean there is hundreds maybe dozens of theater superstitions you don’t whistle in the theater right, you don’t say good luck, you say break a leg, you don’t say the name of the Scottish Play, there’s some colors that you’re not supposed to wear, certain kinds of feathers or flowers and there is no end to theater superstition and I think that I mean in my mind that superstitions come from a feeling being out of control or from a desire to control something that’s not controllable and I think that any time you’re in the theater and you walk on to a stage like really anything can happen. Somebody could forget their lines, or something could malfunction or somebody could be crushed by a falling light and you don’t really know what’s going to happen and so, I think we do a lot of things as theater people too, try to control the uncontrollable I mean, not only rehearsing for weeks and doing a fight call every night to make sure that you have you know the best chance of getting through the show in one piece but you know, we don’t whistle and we don’t say the Scottish Play. I think there is a lot of things that you do because you want some sense that, you can control and keep the bad things at bay and have the best show you can have.
Beth Accomando: And tell me what is this tradition of the ghost light though?
Danielle Mages Amato: The ghost light is usually a barebulb that’s wheeled out on to the stage and it’s got a lot of stories attached to it. I’m kind of obsessed with ghost lights like a little bit, like I feel like my Instagram feed its pretty much all odd globe ghost lights. I think I have every ghost light from every production we’ve done here for the last couple of years if you want to be prosaic and boring about it the ghost light is there so that you don’t fall off the stage. I mean it’s when the theater is dark if you walk on to a stage, in the dark, you’regoing to hurt yourself. So, I mean it does provide a certain level of safety for people who are working in the theaterwho might pass through its space, but I mean there is a lot of traditions of the ghost light. There isa sense that the ghost light keeps the ghosts at bay just like theaters are a haunted art, theaters are haunted spaces, I mean if so many tears, so much laughter so much drama in that space, that’s not like a regular space, right, we don’t use that space, we don’t feel things in that space, that’s not a normal space and I think if you walk into an empty theater, you feel that.
Even when there’s no one there, there’s a vibration, it’s got an energy and I think it’s partly from all the things that have been lived in that one room and so the ghost light, I think is there a little bit to keep the ghosts at bay? To keep a little safe space in there but also some people say it’s there so the ghosts can put on their own shows at night. After all the other actors are gone, so you know it’s a little bit of both maybe.
Beth Accomando: I like that latter one. It’s an invitation. Just giving them some space too. The notion of the curse of the Scottish play has inspired you to write something outside of your theater world.
Danielle Mages Amato: I. Yeah. I’m ayoung adult novelist as well as aDramaturg, my first young adult novel is coming out next March, 2017. It’s called the Hidden Memory of Objects. It’s about a girl who can see memories attached to objects and she uses that ability to sort of investigate the death of her brother and I’m working on a novel right now, that’s about the curse of the Scottish Play. So we’ll see yeah, if anything happens with that. It’s about a small town in Kansas and production of the Scottish Play that goes terribly awry and lets these young people discover something about the history of their own town and theimportance of Shakespeare, I think too. Our history.
Beth Accomando: And is that also a young adult novel, or…
Danielle Mages Amato: Yeah. That’s a young adult novel too. So…
Beth Accomando: And what kind of drove you to focus on that curse? Is it something that’s just always fascinated you?
Danielle Mages Amato: It definitely fascinates me. I think that I wouldn’t be in the theater if I didn’t believe in magic words. I think that we are all theater artists because we think that words have the power to transform us and to change us and to change the world and so I think there’s something in it that speaks to the power of theater as an art also I think in a way, there’s you know, what is a play but a spell itself and actors as conjurers who create entire worlds for us. So, yeah, if somebody tells me that, that “M” word has the power to change my fortunes then I believe it, because I don’t think I’d be here if I didn’t believe that words have the power to change my fortune.
Beth Accomando: And do you have a favorite production of Macbeth or film version of Macbeth.
Danielle Mages Amato: Oh gosh!
Beth Accomando: Or a version that you really like the witches?
Danielle Mages Amato: I really like the witches in this production actually, quite a bit. So, I was in a production of unexpectedly, inner production of the Scottish play,at UCS[indiscernible] [00:14:18]when I was a graduate student there, directed by David Esbjornson [phonetics] [00:14:22] who was at that time, Director of the Classical Stage Company and you know he actually had me just sort of sit in, in a scene and then he was like no, you’re in the show, I was one of the McDuff’s children, and I was murdered, so I wasn’t sure of murdering the Dramaturg was really, I like. Symbolic act, that was happening there but unfortunately I did get murdered in production of the Scottish play. But I think that the witches in this production are really intriguing because they aren’t necessarily completely specific to the three actors playing them, they are a little bit diffused among other characters on stage, so it is more of a sense of a world creating this prophesy as much as it is of these three women which is really a fascinating approach to it.
I usually hate the witches. I usually, it’s very hard for me to find a production that I like the witches in, I mean the Patrick Stewart, Scottish Play with the nurses as the witches was really effective.
Lines from Macbeth: “Round about the cauldron go; In the poison’d entrails throw. Toad, that under cold stone, days and nights has thirty-one,swelter’d venom sleeping got, boil thou first i’ the charmed pot. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog, adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, witches’ mummy, maw and gulf of the ravin’d salt-sea shark, root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark, liver of blaspheming Jew, gall of goat, and slips of yew silver’d in the moon’s eclipse, nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips, finger of birth-strangled babe ditch-deliver’d by a drab, make the gruel thick and slab: Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron, for the ingredients of our cauldron. Double, double boil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble. Cool it with a baboon’s blood, then the charm is firm and good. O well done! I commend your pains; And every one shall share i’ the gains; And now about the cauldron sing, live elves and fairies in a ring, Enchanting all that you put in. By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. Open, locks, whoever knocks!”
Beth Accomando: It’s hard to create witches that aren’t laughable. I think there’s a thin line between scary and funny. It can be hard to not cross that line. Could that also be part of the curse? How hard it is to do the witches?
Danielle Mages Amato: Maybe, yeah. I think the whole play is really hard to do. It’s really hard to get the balance right. I mean the different types of stories that it’s trying to tell. It’s a hard play to stage, there’s sword fights, and there’s a severed head, and there’s violence, and there’s jokes and there’s witches. I think something like Twelfth Night, it’s the same where you have so many different types of comedy, tragedy, slapstick all in one show. I think it can be really hard to get that balance right. Forget just physically get through it, it could be physically exhausting show to get through. And yeah, I think it’s really hard to capture the supernatural, especially in this day and age. We’re a little bit more inured to scary things. We’ve all seen enough horror films at this point. But to genuinely scare someone. It’s a hard thing to do.
Beth Accomando: All right. Well thank you very much. [laughter] [00:18:12] And I will obey the rules and continue to refer to it as the Scottish Play while I’m within this space.
Danielle Mages Amato: You can go outside and then just yell, then say the real thing. I think it’s fun. I think there’s something about it that is not just superstition. Even if you don’t actually believe, that something bad is going to happen if you say the word. It’s also tradition. It’s also honoring this history and being a part of a long history of people doing this and practicing these practices. I think that theater people also have that, that really sense of history and I think when you participate in these rituals, it’s part of a historical way of, it’s part of being a theater person. You sort of claim your identity as a theater person by participating in the traditions too, a little bit. So there’s some of that as well. Even if you don’t believe it. You still do it, because that’s what you do, you’re a theater person and you participate in the theater traditions.
Beth Accomando: Well thank you very much. That was Old Globe Dramaturg, Danielle Mages Amato. The production of Macbeth that is currently at the Globe is directed by Brian Kulick. He and Globe artistic director Barry Edelstein had a panel at the Central Library the night before my interview. During their panel, they discussed in broad terms how a modern American director should tackle Shakespeare and they spoke specifically about Macbeth. I spoke to Kulick right before he was heading into his first technical rehearsal for the play. Last night you were at the library, talking about Macbeth, which actually, I wanted to ask you, how far away from a theater do we have to be to safely say the title of that…
Brian Kulick: We’re good. We’re golden. We just have to be outside of the theater, we just can’t be inside the theater and say that word.
Beth Accomando: So being above the theater is safe.
Brian Kulick: Yes. [laughter] [00:19:56]
Beth Accomando: One of the things I did want to talk about was the curse of the Scottish Play. Tell me a little bit about your knowledge of the curse and what it means to you.
Brian Kulick: I have a friend, dear friend, David Greenspan, his theory about the curse is look, it’s very easy. With Macbeth you have lots of blood and lots of dry ice. The combination is a recipe for disaster. So his theory it is just slippage, it is just purely slippage that causes all the history of this. There is a belief that Thomas Middleton when he was sort of aiding Shakespeare in the re-write of the play. Added a part to the witches curse in the middle of the play that is believed to be an actual curse. So a lot of productions take those lines out as a form of self-protection. We have done that, because even though I don’t believe in evil, I’m very superstitious. Though I try to do our best to mitigate this issue from happening.
Beth Accomando: Have you, yourself, personally felt any kind of repercussions of the curse?
Brian Kulick: You know I don’t have any scientific proof about this, I was thinking about this the other day, my only experience with saying Macbeth in the theater is I was working on a show and of course I’m very bias. So you have to put this in perspective. As we show and everyone thought the show was spectacular, it was fantastic and previews people are saying this show is going to have such a life, it’s so great, it’s got a transfer. It’s going to do all this stuff. And the night of critics a funder came and was talking. And he said, oh this reminds me of Macbeth and I was just mortified that he actually said Macbeth in…now when you do that, you are supposed to spin around in a circle and spin three times and spit, that’s the way to undo it. So I turned to my colleague and said, he just said Macbeth, I think we need to get him to spin around three times and spit. And my colleague said this is one of the biggest funders in New York, you cannot ask this man to spin around and spit. We’ll never get another cent from him. So I didn’t say anything. Press night panned. The show got panned, completely panned. So I blame that on the mentioning of Macbeth. That’s the only time I’ve experienced anything in the realm of oogah boogah in the terms of the Scottish Play.
Beth Accomando: And nothing strange has happened to you coming here.
Brian Kulick: Well let’s see, there was a fire in our apartment the first day I arrived and I’ve been besieged by cockroaches. But other than that, things are good. Things are good.
Beth Accomando: What do you know of the curse in terms of, I’m curious, things go wrong on plays other times. Comedy of errors, I’m sure there’s been an incident where people has gotten hurt or bad luck has happened. But the play is this light hearted comedy so if something bad happens, you may toss it up. If anything goes wrong on a play that deals with the supernatural with witches, you tend to remember that and it sticks. Do you think that is part of the myth of the curse or the mystery of the curse?
Brian Kulick: Yes. I think so. I think that, there is a lot of, the times that I have assisted or watched other people put together production of Macbeth. There’s a lot of laughter. There’s a lot of, you know you have to laugh. Because there is so much carnage and ill will. Sort of growing out of that language. But it does, the language works on you and you spend a month in that world. And Shakespeare is very incantational to begin with and if you ask most of the people in the cast. I would say if you polled them, probably eight out of ten would tell you that they aren’t sleeping well. There sleep has been disrupted since they started the process. I think the play works on artists in a very unconscious, subliminal way where people are developed back aches and their knees are bothering them in ways that they haven’t before. I think that is attributable to the power of Shakespeare’s language. It’s like a seed that gets planted in your mind or imagination to grow this fantastical garden or jungle, forest as the case may be.
Beth Accomando: Could there also be this practical element to it too in the sense that those witches are tough to do. Does the director or somebody putting on this play feel a little bit cursed in the sense that this is a tough play to put on. And that hurdle itself is a bit of a curse.
Brian Kulick: Every director I’ve ever met who’s worked on the Scottish play, the first thing they say is, I’m not going to do those witches, like little old hags around a caldron. That’s so cliché. And you show up for the performance and you’ve got three old witches around a caldron. There’s something that is so iconic about those weird sisters, who interestingly enough are never called witches. They are called the weird sisters which means that they actually traffic more in prophecy than they do in actual witchcraft. At least what we know of what Shakespeare might have intended. And then the play was sort of redone by Middleton, the witches were so popular they said just put more in, put more stuff in. It is an interesting question about what to do with them and what they represent. They are hard, there is no two ways about it. They are a walking, potential cliché, waiting to hit you in the face if you’re not careful.
Beth Accomando: And how have you decided to tackle the witches?
Brian Kulick: I think when you ask yourself who are the witches, what you’re really asking is what is evil mean to me or to my society. For some people, evil is something metaphysical for some other people, evil is something biological, something in our genetic code or a mistake in our genetic code. For other people, it’s situational, it’s structural. It’s something that society can cause to happen, through unfortunate circumstance. I tend to be in the latter category. I think evil is socially constructed. So in sort of approaching the witches, I want to find a world where evil is made manifest through circumstance. And for me, the easiest, and Shakespeare gives you the prompt by being at war, Macbeth being at war here. So the question is if this were a modern warrior here and coming back at a veteran’s hospital could those witches be patients that have experienced the terror of war and are struggling to return to the world as they knew it. So that’s the zip code that we sort of placed our play.
Beth Accomando: Elaborate a little bit on this setting that you’ve chosen for the play. It’s between World War I and World War II.
Brian Kulick: The technical I think way of characterizing would be circa World War I ‘ish. We landed on World War I because it’s the war that changed people’s perception of what happens, what can happen to the mind during warfare. We know from the Greeks from the time of Ajax about what war can do to a mind, how it can mangle a mind. But it wasn’t until World War I until we started to think about it clinically, to think about it in terms of something real, not something that is being faked. Or something that is metaphysical. Something that is happening, a trauma. So it seemed like that was a rich world to plant this play in.
Beth Accomando: The setting that you said was in a psychiatric hospital or part of it?
Brian Kulick: Yes, a veteran’s hospital which there are patients and some of them are straight jacketed.
Beth Accomando: I haven’t seen the play yet, you’re entering tech rehearsals as we speak.
Brian Kulick: I haven’t seen the play either. [laughter] [00:28:16]
Beth Accomando: So, is it a setting of a veteran’s hospital?
Brian Kulick: Yes.
Beth Accomando: Where these characters are in or is it a veteran’s hospital where in [indiscernible] [00:28:26] it’s the people in the place, but being on the play.
Brian Kulick: This is a hospital with beds and doctors and nurses and patients and it’s slowly begins there and then the question that this production poses did it every leave the hospital. Is this actually happening or is this something that is just happening in Macbeth’s mind.
Beth Accomando: You talked last night about language, in the play. And how do you see language functioning in the context of this play in terms of where Macbeth is a play where the language is very formal at the beginning and at the end, but in the middle it kind of loses some of the usual structure and meter and stuff that Shakespeare uses. So how are you seeing language functioning?
Brian Kulick: The interesting thing about I find about the language of this play is no one really understands one another. Everyone can take what someone is saying in at least two possible ways. And that’s this world. That’s the very particular, interesting world where no one says what they really think or what they really feel. The only people who actually do that, interestingly enough, are the Macbeths. In the very first scene when you meet them, they are so attuned to one another that they can complete each other’s thoughts, they complete each other’s sentences. And the tragedy of the Macbeth’s is you watch this couple that’s really has this amazing bond and you watch that bond through this act of killing, disintegrate to the point that they might be from other planets. They might be two different species trying to speak to one another. They lose this ability to communicate. And I think that is very much at the heart of what Shakespeare’s saying is that a certain world, when language erodes to that level, it’s not just language that starts to disintegrate, but society, social bonds. How and what we say and the gold standard of what we say is backed up by what we do. The further distance there is between what we say and what we actually do, the more potential damage there is to a society because society is founded on trust, and the currency, the coin of trust. I think Shakespeare in this play is very concerned with how governments, how rulers use language and abuse language and what it does to the populace as a result.
Beth Accomando: You mentioned the relationship the Macbeth’s and it’s always struck me that this play is a very intimate in terms of their relationship. And sometimes that gets lost.
Brian Kulick: Harold Bloom provocatively and he’s always provocative, but this time he’s correct, he’s provocative and correct, he says that the Macbeth’s are the happiest married couple in all of Shakespeare. I think it’s true until they murder Duncan and it goes south. Up until that point, they are an amazing couple. They are very special and they are a team, it is a great example, where one human being might have a limit the other person could step in and help that human being. They help each other in beautiful ways. And the destruction of their relationship, happens when Macbeth, he thinks he’s protecting his wife by saying I don’t want you to share in this anymore. I want you not to know what is going on. He thinks he’s protecting her, but it is really the beginning of the end of their relationship of their team of their working together as a power couple.
Beth Accomando: You mentioned the notion of evil, Lady Macbeth is often or has been depicted as this almost caricature of evil at times. How do you see her?
Brian Kulick: I think she’s, well first of all you have to put Lady Macbeth in context. The real Lady Macbeth lost her first husband and her children were murdered because they were in line for the kingship. So she is a survivor and she lives in a world where that is the way that things are done. So the first thing is think about with her is that she’s lived in a world where killing is permissible and has experienced it on the most intimate level with her husband and her children. Secondly, when Lady Macbeth does her invocation, I always feel that she needs to do that because that’s not her natural disposition. Her natural disposition is not towards doing terrible deeds. I think she conjures dark forces because she needs them to actually follow through with this terrible idea. We know that she can’t kill Duncan herself because she says that he reminds her of her father. She faints when she hears that the two grooms were killed. That’s not part of the plan. The plan was to just kill Duncan and Macbeth went ahead and killed the two grooms. So we see and we realize that what we believe and what causes Lady Macbeth’s fall into insanity is the murder of the McDuff family. So actually this is a woman who is very sensitive to death and murder and wrong doing and is undone by that. I think it’s not her, the fault place to be if that makes any sense.
Beth Accomando: To return to the notion of language again, I did get to see a short scene of the play when you, the…
Brian Kulick: Oh yes, right.
Beth Accomando: Shakespeare in America was done here on the Festival Stage. And one of the things that struck my ear in hearing them deliver their lines, there is almost like a nursery rhyme quality to some of the language that they use. I was wondering if that was something that you heard and you played up, or what you saw the role of that.
Brian Kulick: Oh that’s fascinating. I think there’s tremendous musicality obviously in a Shakespeare piece and that there, I think that both Jonathan and Marsha Stephanie are very sensitive to the [indiscernible] [00:34:40] the pentameter, how it moves and how it almost comes very close to a song like quality. I think that’s something that they both naturally gravitate towards and it’s been very revelatory for us since we’ve been working on the material because there is an incantational, fairy tale like childlike quality. Jonathan has two young children and Marsha Stephanie as well. And my son when he was little, if you would do Macbeth you know, the only speeches they want are the witches. It’s like Double, double, toil and trouble. Oh, my son just loved that, run around the house and just saying that over and over again. There’s something with language here where fair is foul and foul is fair. It just sort of sings off the page and it goes right into your imagination.
Beth Accomando: Last night you also spoke about how there are contrasts in Shakespeare and one scene that sometimes gets cut, which I love, is the porter scene.
Brian Kulick: Oh yeah.
Beth Accomando: Because there is this level of humor to it after something very tragic. Are you keeping this scene?
Brian Kulick: Oh no, of course.
Beth Accomando: What does, talk a little bit about that contrast and why that’s important.
Brian Kulick: Well I think life refuses to play by the rules. We could be in a moment and be very, very serious and then something very silly could happen. So silliness and seriousness in our day to day life live right next door to each other. There’s not even a fence between the two of them. And I think one of the things that make Shakespeare tremendous is that he understands that reality is continually surprising. When you look at the imagery of the castle where the Macbeth murders are happening. They are talking about how wonderful the air smells. How these two little birds have built a cute little nest up in the masonry. It’s the last place you would expect somebody to get murdered. I think Shakespeare understands something intuitively that is that reality doesn’t conform to tone or style. Reality is just a series of surprises. So the greatness of Shakespeare is that he’s not afraid to put contraries next to each other. Because that is what life is.
Beth Accomando: And that scene is a great contrast.
Brian Kulick: You couldn’t find more of a contrast. Also I think what is beautiful about the comic scenes, is Shakespeare is playing to a very broad audience, very wide audience, very elite to condescendingly called the groundlings. Average, common everyday people. What I love is a lot times the deep thematic of the play are smuggled into the comedy of these scenes. So even the person with the least education can understand the thematic that the highly educated person can. So that everyone leave with the keys to the understanding of the secret of the play. And embedded in this very funny scene of the porter is this whole mystery of language and equivocation and the danger of language that is used for the wrong means.
Beth Accomando: Another key element in Macbeth is this image of blood. How bloody does your [indiscernible] [00:38:10].
Brian Kulick: I don’t know yet, because today is the first day of tech. So we’ve ordered blood, we haven’t worked with the blood yet. I’m a big believer in letting language do the job and invoking it is sometimes stronger than actually seeing it. So my hope is that, that will be the case and our blood usage will be minimal. On daggers, on hands, that sort of thing.
Beth Accomando: That also avoids the slippage.
Brian Kulick: Yes, yes, there is no dry ice, there is not a lot of blood.
Beth Accomando: In addition to the witches, there’s also the supernatural element of Banquo’s ghost.
Brian Kulick: Sure.
Beth Accomando: Are you playing that up as a supernatural element? Or is that going to have a slightly different tone considering the context of your play.
Brian Kulick: Banquo appears in our production. Sometimes the big decision is do you actually show him or do you just have Macbeth imagine him there and he’s responding to an empty chair that is never filled by the actor that played Banquo. Our actors, Banquo is so fabulous, the thought of losing him for any possible moment, it breaks my heart. So we had to keep him in. Again, for us the question is, is he really there or is he a figment of Macbeth’s fevered mind?
Beth Accomando: I’ve heard your production being described as bold and very different from what people might expect from a production. Is there anything that you would like to tell the audience coming in, in terms of their expectations or anything that they might want to kind of have as their preset coming in?
Brian Kulick: You know that’s a great question. Do you know Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe? That little booklet, it says don’t panic. That’s the buy line of the book. I think the big thing of directing Shakespeare is I think that every audience that comes in to even the greatest production of Shakespeare, there’s this momentary panic where you go, I don’t understand the language, I don’t know what’s going on, are they going to talk like that all night long because I can’t, and then this magical thing happens, your mind relaxes, it doesn’t try to understand every single word. It tries to understand the gist, which means understand the music, the inflection, the intonation, and suddenly you are released into this glorious world of Shakespeare. I think a modern director’s job is to alleviate the panic as much as humanly possible. By moving it closer to our modern world, all the things that we have tried to do are ways of erasing some of the distance that might keep an audience from enfolding into the event. That’s the hope. The wish of the production. The irony is people sometimes go, modern dress, this is so not Shakespeare, but all of Shakespeare’s plays were modern dress. When he would do a Roman play, they would wear Elizabethan costumes and they’d wear a white sheet draped over those costumes. So there is a paradox in that to dress them historically is not what the Elizabethan audience would have experienced. They would have experienced all of these plays as being not only contemporary but the height of fashion because they would get the clothes donated from the court because the court wanted to show off what it wore last year. So people would sometimes come to a Shakespeare play they couldn’t care less about the play, they just wanted to see what the court wore last year, during the winter. So I always feel by doing a modern dress production, you are actually being paradoxically closer to Shakespeare than putting them in pumpkin pants. Although I love pumpkin pants. I can’t wear them, I can’t carry them off, but they’re fun.
Beth Accomando: Well also by setting it in a veteran’s hospital and bringing more of the war more to the forefront and at a time when we’re very conscious of what war has done to a lot of veterans. Is that another way that you are hoping that audiences may connect more with the character?
Brian Kulick: I think, again, I think the play is talking about something more than supernatural elements. It’s talking about when a society goes wrong and what are the causes of that. I feel that the play is more than a cauldron with witches’incanting. It’s a play about the culture of warfare. And a way of being that can’t switch itself off. The war is over but this energy to do damage to another human being still is living in the bodies of these people. In the ability to switch off, I think is a big part of what the play is about.
Beth Accomando: Can I ask if you have a favorite film version of Macbeth?
Brian Kulick: There is so many wonderful ones. I think I love the Orson Wells. I love the Orson Wells, I love it. I think the Polanski film is very unnerving in a fantastic way. There is a brilliant BBC production of the, Judi Dench in the McCellan Trevor Nunn production was done in the 70s. It’s glorious.
Lines from Macbeth: “My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white. I hear knocking at the south entry: retire we to our chamber; a little water clears us of this deed: How easy is it, then! Your constancy hath left you unattended. Hark! More knocking. Get on your nightgown, lest occasion call us, and show us to be watchers. Be not lost so poorly in your thoughts. To know my deed, ‘twere best not know myself. Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!”
Brian Kulick: And I loved Rupert Goold’s film version of his version of Macbeth with Patrick Stewart.
Lines from Macbeth: “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags! What is’t you do? A deed without a name. I conjure you, by that which you profess, howe’er you come to know it, answer me: Though you untie the windes and let them fight against the churches; though the yesty waves confound and swallow navigation up; though palaces and pyramids stoop their heads to their foundations; answer me to what I am. Speak. Demand. We’ll answer. Say, if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths, or from our masters?”
Brian Kulick: So there’s an amazing compendium of great I think in some ways, oh and how could you forget Throne of Blood, [overlapping conversation] [00:45:54]. [indiscernible] [00:46:01] the best to a certain sematic representation.
Beth Accomando: All right. Thank you very much for your time.
Brian Kulick: My pleasure, my pleasure.
Beth Accomando: That was Brian Kulick. Who’s directing the production of Macbeth that runs at the Globe through July 24th. To close out the podcast. I speak with Barry Edelstein, and I began by asking him how far do I needed to be from the theater before I could safely say Macbeth.
Barry Edelstein: Well that’s a really interesting question. Now there’s so many variations on it, right? Some say if you’re actually working on the play, then you can say the name of it. I have appropriated for myself special dispensation to absolve anybody who makes a mistake. I just put my hand on their forehead and say I pardon thee. And then it all goes away.
Beth Accomando: Danielle said you had to be in another zip code.
Barry Edelstein: Yeah, I know. Everybody’s got their own variation on it. Yeah. I did one once, my first professional gig at the public theater in New York out of school. I Dramaturg the production of the Scottish Play and a guy broke his ankle during rehearsal. And this was after one of the actor’s who’s a Buddhist, brought in a Tibetan priest to exercise the spirits in the theater. And it still didn’t stop the guy from breaking his ankle. I don’t know.
Beth Accomando: Maybe Tibetan priest isn’t the right kind.
Barry Edelstein: Maybe that’s true. You may need some sort of Scottish figure, right? To come in and do that. Yeah, I don’t know.
Beth Accomando: If you do accidentally mention the name is there a remedy?
Barry Edelstein: Again, many variations. I’ve heard you have to go outside to outdoors and turn around in a circle three times and whistle, that’s one. Everybody’s got their own variation of it. I’ve heard run around the building. Which here could be a big one, big campus in the middle of Balboa Park. Yeah, everybody has their own variation on it.
Beth Accomando: What do you think the root of this is? Is it because of the play itself deals with witches? Is that part of it?
Barry Edelstein: Well there’s a couple of theories. One is that the witch material in the play is real and therefore there are real spells being incanted. And that causes trouble. That’s one. One though that I think and this is the one to me that really resonates, it’s just a very hard play to get right. In particularly the second half of the play is very, very tough to make it work. Because once Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have done what they set out to do and are now King and Queen. The rest of the play is about waiting for them to get their comeuppance. It’s less obviously dramatic. It’s a deeper psychological drama that is taking place. But it doesn’t have the fireworks and the bells and whistles for the first half of the play. It’s just been tricky for people to make it work and I think that has attached it to it. This strange sense of curse.
Beth Accomando: So you can kind of absolve yourself of guilt if your production isn’t working quite right, you can say it’s the curse.
Barry Edelstein: Weirdly, JuliusCaesar and Macbeth are very, very similar plays. The plot is the same. A couple of people get together and assassinate the ruler, in that case, Julius Caesar and in this case, King Duncan. And after that is done, the rest of it is waiting for them to be punished for having committing this murder. And yet, there is no curse attached to Julius Caesar, it’s a harder play to make work. So I don’t know. I think that the supernatural aspect of it is probably is what unnerves people.
Beth Accomando: Do you have any personal favorite stories about the curse?
Barry Edelstein: No, but one of my favorites we’re running in our program, very good friend of mine, he’s a New York Times reporter and used to be with the Washington Post and when he was, he wrote a story about the Macbeth curse. And so he called a bunch of Shakespeare theaters around the country to see if anybody had a story. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, one of the great Shakespeare theaters in the country said well yes, we actually had a lighting guy fall from a ladder and die working on a show way back in the 40s or something, and his name was Joe Macbeth.
Beth Accomando: He was cursed from the start.
Barry Edelstein: You can’t make that stuff up. Tough name to have. Joe Macbeth.
Beth Accomando: This particular production of Macbeth, I realize that it is just as we speak entering tech rehearsal. But how are the supernatural elements playing out in this particular production?
Barry Edelstein: I like this particular production a lot. We have one of the country’s leading Shakespeare directors in town, a man named Brian Kulick, who runs a theater in New York called Classic Stage Company, and has done so much Shakespeare all over the country. In New York, Central Park, Shakespeare in the park. I’ve been following his Shakespeare work for two decades. He is just really, really special and smart. He’s got a wonderful idea about this. Which he’s investigating the nature of evil. Which is of course one of the great subjects of this play. And one of Shakespeare’s great preoccupations and the question is, is evil a supernatural force that these witches bring to earth through their chants, and through their spells, and through their communication with devils and stuff like that. Or is evil a human force that we take actions and those actions are what are evil as sadly this weekend we’re all coping with in this country. An individual doing something just horribly, horribly evil. Is that what the nature of evil is? Somebody making decisions to do things that traduce every norm. Or is there some cloud floating around that every once in a while, descends earth and that’s the nature of evil. That’s the question being asked by this production and what Brian Kulick has done, he’s looked at World War I as a period where the nature of warfare took a gigantic leap in the direction of terrible. And the injuries to soldiers became horrendous in their psychological ferociousness. So the metaphor that is governing this production is psychological trauma ward of a veteran’s hospital in World War I. It sounds very complicated, but in fact what it ends up doing is making sense of all the warfare. The play opens with a wounded soldier giving this extraordinary speech. Macbeth talks about his heat-oppress’d brain and so what Brian’s figured out in the play is that it is really investigating evil from a psychological point of view. So the witches become these nurses on this psychiatric ward, they become some of the wounded soldiers themselves. And what we’re dealing with, at that time is called Shell Shock and what today we call PTSD. It’s a very, very evocative approach of what Shakespeare writes as kind of an oogah, boogah, supernatural thing. But that Brian and this very talented company are investigating from a more human point of view.
Beth Accomando: Well putting it in that context, makes a lot of imagery of blood, the way that Macbeth talks about being steeped in blood so far and having to cross this ocean of blood. Sets it off in a slightly different context than I’ve thought of it before. Because now, you think of it in the context of a soldier and war, which is slightly different.
Barry Edelstein: The very first thing we hear about Macbeth, the very first thing, anybody tells us about him. He killed an enemy soldier in an unbelievably graphic, terrible way. It un-seamed him from the nave to the jocks. Which basically means he disemboweled him with a sword from his belly button to his jaw. That’s the first thing we know about the guy, is that his warfare skills, hand-to-hand combat skills are murderous, he’s a butcher in war. That’s what his decorations as a soldier have to do with. His willingness to commit these acts that are just harrowing and so it’s interesting that, that is the first thing that Shakespeare tells us about. So this company is asking, well what does that mean? What would that do to somebody if they’d done that so many times? What is the effect of perpetrating that violence on the psyche of the soldier who has done it? It is an unbelievable provocative question, it is a contemporary question. It is an open question that goes in all sorts of different directions. So yes, there is so much language about blood in the play and there’s a famous image of blood being on a murderer’s hands. Enough blood is on his hands to turn the ocean red. That’s a mind blowing idea. And once you start to ask what happens to a guy whose profession is to cause people to bleed in a military context, what happens to him in long term. That’s the territory that Shakespeare’s in.
Beth Accomando: And this is also a more contemporary setting than the play is traditionally performed in. And how does that color it?
Barry Edelstein: Well I think what we know about World War I historically was absolutely ferocious. It was the first mechanized war with tanks and chemical weapons and automatic gun fire for the very first time. We know also that it was also apparently the noisiest war. There was noises made by these machines that human beings had never heard before. Loud, terrible, explosions, machine created noises. So it’s a very interesting metaphor for how to look at this play. The good thing though, about Shakespeare in that era, you still have kings, you still have lords and dukes, you still have people fighting on horseback, you still have people with swords. It doesn’t introduce cell phones and computers and stuff like that. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I love those productions too. But interestingly, honors of kind of European hierarchy of social and political organization while also not requiring you to change any of Shakespeare’s language because you can still talk about a sword and you can still talk about a duke and an earl and whatever it is. While at the same time, for example, having a guy in a pair of pants and a jacket instead of in doublet and hose which can be foreign looking or alienated looking to some. But the great thing about The Globe is we do so much Shakespeare that we do a lot of different approaches to it and I’m really happy to introduce our audience to Brian’s work, because he’s a deep, deep thinker and he’s got a wonderful way of creating a stage picture that is eloquent and communicates as much as Shakespeare’s text itself. So I think it’s a different flavor than audiences who’ve come here regularly might see, but still you get tremendously good realistic psychological acting, you get the text as Shakespeare wrote it and a wonderful directorial imagination too.
Beth Accomando: And because this is theater, not everybody is going to get a chance to see this production. So I’m wondering if you would recommend a film version or two of Macbeth that you think is…
Barry Edelstein: Yes. Macbeth has been frequently filmed. The Roman Polanski film is wonderful, really gripping and vivid and fast and really interesting. I’m a big patrician of the Orson Wells film of it. I’m a party to all of Orson Wells Shakespeare, he’s got Macbeth, he’s got Othello, he’s got Henry IV plays, he’s the best and it’s always fun to watch them and he’s very, very good at it. I didn’t see the recent one, that just last year’s Macbeth.
Beth Accomando: The one with Michael Fassbender.
Barry Edelstein: Yeah, I just haven’t seen it. Shame on me. But I understand that’s good too. There is and you can see bits of it, maybe even the whole thing on YouTube. A wonderful production from the Royal Shakespeare Company in the late 70s. With Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. And our late and much lamented friend Roger Rees playing Malcolm, playing the son of the murdered king.
Lines from Macbeth: “Macduff, this noble passion, child of integrity, hath from my soul wiped the black scruples, reconciled my thoughts to thy good truth and honour. Devilish Macbeth by many of these trains hath sought to win me into his power, and modest wisdom plucks me from over-credulous haste: but God above deal between thee and me! For even now I put myself to thy direction, and unspeak mine own detraction, her abjure the taints and blames I laid upon myself, for strangers to my nature.”
Barry Edelstein: It’s a film of the theater production directed by Trevor Nunn. So it’s not a cinematic treatment of it, but it is a filmed version of the play. And I think it’s all or mostly on YouTube and phenomenal. It was done in a tiny little theater and it has such an intensity to it. I love that one.
Beth Accomando: Throne of Blood?
Barry Edelstein: Throne of Blood. Yeah, that’s a good one. I forgot that one, sorry I was thinking English language. I didn’t go to foreign language, but of course, yes, that one’s wonderful.
Beth Accomando: The Globe has run a Shakespeare on film series. Are there any other films of Shakespeare that you would highly recommend to an audience, where maybe this will kind of be the icebreaker to help if they have any fear or trepidation of going to a first Shakespeare play?
Barry Edelstein: How long do you got? There are a lot, there are many.
Beth Accomando: Pick three.
Barry Edelstein: Let me try and pick three contrasting ones. There are the Olivier films, which I suppose you could group together, Henry IV, Richard III, Hamlet, Othello. These are straight ahead, really sort of simple productions of the plays and they are very traditional in their orientation. Tell the story in a streamlined way that really is a kind of traditional, straight-edged, Shakespeare. You can’t go wrong starting with any of the Olivier’s. If you are willing to watch a subtitled foreign language film there was a Soviet era director named Kozintsev who did a Hamlet and a King Lear. Both of them are absolutely magnificent, the Hamlet in particular black and white, very, very stark. But of course it’s in Russian and you’ve got to read the subtitles. My two favorites are the Peter Brook King Lear with Paul Scofield, maybe one of the truly great Shakespeare movies ever made of a truly great production of King Lear and Paul Scofield is a giant and a fun great one to watch. And Well’s film, Chimes at Midnight. Which you might agree with me that it is the greatest Shakespeare film ever made. We did a screening of it here at The Globe last year, I feel it should be an annual event because it is such a masterpiece. Then there are really aggressively contemporary ones like Ethan Hawke Hamlet, of which I’m a fan. I like the Joss Whedon Much Ado About Nothing, of which I’m a fan which sets the plays today in modern clothing and cut the text pretty radically but also managed to tell the story. As an entry way thing. It depends on your tolerance for what door you want to enter. You know you can enter the Olivier door and get a pretty good traditional introduction to those small number of plays. You can enter through the foreign language whether it’s going to be Chris [indiscernible] [01:01:27] or Kozintsev or somebody like that. Or you can enter through the lens of a director, an innovator in the universe of Brian Kulick who’s doing our production this summer. But a strong interpretive point of view, like Peter Brook, like Orson Wells, like the Hawke, Hamlet. That’s just a question of where you want to start.
Beth Accomando: I appreciated when you did Shakespeare in America first folio kind of celebration and you had the review that Pauline Kale had written of transit midnight, which was a great review because she starts out with the point of it’s a disaster and finally evolves to say that there’s that moment where you suddenly realize this is the greatest film.
Barry Edelstein: It really is. The story behind the making of it is so rich and complicated. He is magnificent in it, Wells. And somehow just managed to transform this mish mosh, he had all these problems, didn’t have any money, didn’t have all the people available all the time, was constantly shooting around people who were missing. About 45 minutes in, you suddenly realize, my God, this thing is a complete masterpiece. Yes, it’s a must see. I can’t wait until my children are old enough so I can force them to sit down in front of the TV and watch Chimes at Midnight. Greatest gift I can give them in the world of Shakespeare, I think.
Beth Accomando: All right, well thank you very much.
Barry Edelstein: Thanks Beth.
Beth Accomando: To go out, let me run through a few of the more noteworthy Macbeth’s on film. As I mentioned, my personal favorite is Polanski’s 1971 film featuring Jon Finch and Francesca Annis as the loving young couplewhose ambition spurs them on to plan a murder.
Lines from Macbeth: “Great glamis! Worthy cawdor! Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter! Thy letters have transported me beyond this ignorant present, and I feel now the future in the instant. My dearest lost, Duncan comes here to-night. And when goes hence? To-morrow, as he purposes. O, never shall sun that morrow see! Your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters. He that’s coming must be provided for: and you shall put this night’s great business into my dispatch; we will speak further. Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t. Leave all the rest to me.”
Beth Accomando: Great performances showcased Patrick Stewart in Macbeth in 2010. Here’s his take on the famous tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow soliloquy.
Lines from Macbeth: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day. To the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Beth Accomando: There’s also a recording of Ian McKellen and Judi Dench doing a version of Macbeth that was conceived for TV by Trevor Nunn it features one of the most poignant out damn spot scenes with Lady Macbeth.
Lines from Macbeth: “Yet, here’s a spot. Out, damned spot! Out, I say!—One: two: why, then, ‘tis time to do’t. –Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeared? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? – Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him. Do you mark that? The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she no? – What, will these hands ne’er be clean? Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh! The heart is sorely charged. I would not have such a heart in my bosom for the dignity of the whole body.”
Beth Accomando: McKellen’s take on the tomorrow is also worth noting.
Lines from Macbeth: “Wherefore was that cry? The queen, my lord, is dead. She should have died herafter; there would have been a time for such a word. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts andfrets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Beth Accomando: Orson Wells’ Macbeth is hard to find and his budget limitations show through, but it is still a powerful adaptation. Here’s a taste.
Lines from Macbeth: “Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn, and cauldron bubble. Pour in sow’s blood that hath eaten her nine farrow; from the murderer’s gibbet throw into the flame. Finger of birth-strangled babe ditch-deliver’d by a drab. Make the gruel thick and slab: For a charm of powerful trouble, when shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning or in rain? When the hurly-burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won. That will be ere the set of sun. Where the place? Upon the heath.”
Beth Accomando: Akira Kurosawa’s, Throne of Blood serves up a bold Samurai take on Macbeth. It’s a stunning adaptation set in Medieval Japan set in a period of feudal strife. But is an adaptation that doesn’t use a single line from Shakespeare, still a Shakespearean adaptation. The answer for me is absolutely, the film shows how Shakespeare understood human nature and the human condition so well that he can be translated to any time or culture. Kurosawa uses imagery and sound other than Shakespeare’s lines to tell the story, but his film captures the themes and essence of the play. The ending of the film changes Macbeth’s fate, he is no longer beheaded, because in Japan that would be an honorable way to die. So instead, Kurosawa has his character killed by his own men with arrows. And those are real arrows being shot at actor Toshiro Mifune.
Loud noises and screaming from Throne of Blood
Beth Accomando: But the most radical re-imaging of the play is Scotland PA, which places the ambitious couple of the Macbeths in the burgeoning world of fast food restaurants in the 1970s. Directed by Billy Morrissette the witches become a trio of dippy hippies.
Lines from Scotland P
Beth Accomando: In 1961 a very young and pre-James Bond, Sean Connery played Macbeth in a film version of the play. If you listen to his delivery, he sounds like he’s making Macbeth into a man of action.
Lines from Scotland P
Beth Accomando: Last year’s Macbeth with Michael Fassbender was a bit disappointing. It was a visual innovative film but it failed to make the text of the play come to vivid life. Here is a typical example. It is inspired to have Fassbender do his tomorrow speech to the dead queen as she lies on the bed. But the reading is somewhat flat.
Lines from Macbeth: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day. To the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”
Beth Accomando: Director Justin Kurzel presents Macbeth as suffering from PTSD and while he has a vision for how the film should look, he seems to lack the same insight and inspiration into how to bring the text to life. Hopefully this list of films will inspire even those who don’t think they like Shakespeare to at least check out one of the movies.
Beth Accomando: Thanks for listening to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast. Sorry for the delay this week but to make up for it, I’ll have the next podcast up on Wednesday, because June 22nd is Bruce Campbell’s birthday and I’ll have a hail to the king podcast in his honor. You can subscribe to Cinema Junkie on iTunes or check out the archives at kpbs.org/junkiepodcast. I’m Beth Accom