Macbeth

By William Shakespeare
June 1 2008
directed by Lynne Collins

Date Time
Sunday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Blood Will Have Blood One of Shakespeare's most powerful rhetorical tools is antithesis, setting a position against its opposite to create contrast and conflict-think "To be or not to be." In Macbeth one of the most powerful uses of antithesis is expressed through the metaphor of blood. As the Macbeths stand together, covered in Duncan's blood, Lady Macbeth tells her husband "A little water will wash us of this deed." Later, as their lives begin to unravel, she still believes "what's done is done." But Macbeth always understands that his actions must have consequences. He struggles until the moment he kills Duncan to balance his desire for the crown with his knowledge that to take it will have enormous cost. Urged on by his wife and his own needs, which are given voice by the Witches, he abandons the social bonds that have made him a brave and respected soldier and leader. He becomes a child murderer and tyrant, who is "...in blood/ Stepp'd in so far, that should I wade no more, /Returning were as tedious as go o'er." This timeless metaphor that "blood will have blood" is central to our production. Has any king, general, or president engaged in a war without bumping into it? Once unleashed, violence simply and absolutely begets more violence. We may believe violence is justified; it may be. But it will exact its price. Lincoln understood this at Gettysburg, Brutus knew it as he plunged a knife into Caesar, and today we look to Iraq and Afghanistan and know it, too. Creation and Decay What all this blood is designed to guarantee is some kind of legacy, a permanence that will give meaning to life. In Macbeth, this desire is expressed in the murder of children. The Macbeths are childless, which affects many of their decisions. The essential instinct to reproduce is translated into a need for power. They attempt to create something together, which can endure by grasping a throne that belongs to the son of another. But the Macbeth's creation begins to decay even as they build it. Like Shelley's Ozymandias, who dared the world to "Look on my Works, ye Mighty and despair!" but left only "decay/Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare," Macbeth dies knowing "Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, /That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, /And then is heard no more." The Witches The essence of both of these ideas lives in Macbeth's relationship to the Weird Sisters. In our production, they are the stuff that nightmares are made on, born from this couple's "black and deep desires." They tell Macbeth that he will be king, but he chooses a road to the crown washed in blood. They mock him with his great fear, telling him that Banquo will leave a line of kings, but it is Macbeth alone who responds by murdering innocent children. These Witches can speak but not compel; only humans can turn desire into blood. - Lynne Collins Synopsis ACT I The Weird Sisters, three witches, plot to meet Macbeth, a general in the service of Duncan, King of Scotland. Learning that Macbeth has defeated the treacherous Thane of Cawdor, Duncan decides to award him the title and dispatches a messenger to summon "the worthy thane." As Macbeth and his friend Banquo return home from battle, they are met by the Weird Sisters. They call Macbeth "Thane of Cawdor," predicting that he will become king, and assure Banquo that his sons will be kings. When the messenger catches up with Macbeth and greets him as Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth wonders if the rest of the prophecy will come true. King Duncan welcomes Macbeth and Banquo in his palace, praising them for their valor and thanking them for preserving the kingdom. Duncan then names his son, Malcolm, as successor to the throne. Hearing of the Sisters' prophecy, Lady Macbeth determines that she must help her husband kill Duncan if Macbeth is to become king. King Duncan visits Inverness Castle, the home of the Macbeths. Lady Macbeth receives him warmly, giving no indication of her malicious plans. Macbeth, plagued by his conscience, resolves not to murder the king. His wife accuses him of cowardice, convincing him that they will be successful. ACT II Macbeth has a vision of a bloody dagger just before going upstairs to murder King Duncan. After the murder, Lady Macbeth takes the bloody daggers from her husband and plants them on the King's sleeping guards. In the morning, Duncan is found dead. Fearing for their lives, Duncan's sons flee, leaving Macbeth to take the throne. ACT III Banquo becomes suspicious of Macbeth and abruptly leaves the palace. Afraid of the Sisters' prophecy that Banquo's children will be kings, Macbeth arranges for Banquo and his son to be murdered. Lady Macbeth encourages her husband not to dwell on what they've done, but Macbeth insists he cannot rest until Banquo and his son are dead. The murderers kill Banquo, though his son, Fleance, manages to escape. During a banquet, Macbeth is haunted by a vision of Banquo, who points an accusing finger at him. ACT IV Macbeth returns to the Weird Sisters. They reassure him that he cannot be defeated by any man born of woman nor will he be vanquished until Birnam Wood comes to the royal seat of Dunsinane Castle. Macduff, another thane, goes to England and convinces Malcolm, the rightful king of Scotland, to return and overthrow Macbeth. While he is away, Macbeth has Macduff's family murdered as punishment for his treachery. Macduff and Malcolm prepare an army to attack Dunsinane. When Macduff hears that Macbeth has killed his wife and son, he vows to slay the usurper himself. A doctor is summoned by Lady Macbeth's servants because she is unwell. He observes her sleepwalking, trying to wash invisible blood from her hands. ACT V Macduff and Malcolm are in place to attack Dunsinane Castle, but Macbeth is confident that he cannot be defeated. To disguise their numbers, the advancing soldiers carry tree branches in front of them as they near the castle. Macbeth learns that Lady Macbeth has died. His servants then tell him that it looks as if Birnam Wood is approaching, and Macbeth realizes the truth of the Sisters' prophecy. Cornered at last by Macduff, the desperate king boasts that he cannot be killed by any man born of woman. Macduff reveals that he was cut from his mother's womb and then kills Macbeth. The soldiers hail Malcolm as their new King, and he vows to restore their country. Production Notes For director Lynne Collins, one of the crucial concepts in Macbeth is the idea of releasing a force that you believe you can manage but that ultimately escapes your control. At the end of the first act in this production, Macbeth reflects on how the single murder he intended to commit has led him to kill again. "I am in blood," he says, "Stepp'd in so far, that should I wade no more / Returning were as tedious as go o'er." By killing Duncan to become king, Macbeth has unintentionally initiated a violent chain-reaction that leads him to do things he never had thought possible. Collins believes this idea is relevant to current situations in our increasingly globalized world where the aggressive actions of one nation can have serious, unforeseen consequences for many nations. To realize this concept onstage, Collins has worked with the production design team to create a world where violence is a constant, barely-contained threat. Scenic designer Andrea Bechert has created a set that emphasizes a delicate balance between organized society and primitive violence by combining images of nature and civilization. Blood is also a major image in this production's design, serving as an ever-present visual reminder of the violence that characterizes the play from beginning to end. Pieces of ancient statues, such as the giant stone hand that lies onstage, represent the tenuous hold that civilization has over chaos and the primal as well as the physical (and moral) frailty of lords and kings. The visual landscape for this production evokes a sense of danger, of a world caught in the balance between order and violence, creating an environment where violence and bloodshed are unstoppable once released. CHILDREN IN SHAKESPEARE AND MACBETH Children are crucial to the story of Macbeth: this production emphasizes how they--or their absence--affect the principal characters. Young Macduff, who has a small but significant role in the play, is one of only thirty child characters out of the one thousand characters created by Shakespeare. While some scholars say that Shakespeare used children to manipulate his audience's emotions, others argue that he created more complex child characters than his contemporaries and depicted a surprisingly wide variety of them. Child actors were familiar to the Elizabethan playgoer. Boys played adult female roles because women were not permitted on the stage and, in the early years of the seventeenth century, "boy companies" such as the Children of St. Paul became so popular that they competed with adult companies for audiences. In the 1601 Hamlet, Shakespeare suggests that such competition has driven the first player and his troupe out into the provinces, and he disparages the boy company players as "little eyases" (a term that literally meant "unfledged hawks" but suggested something else). Given audience fascination with young actors, it makes sense that Shakespeare wrote parts for children into his plays. Nor were these parts mere gimmicks or novelties: Shakespeare's children are fully fleshed out characters. Scholars speculate that some of Shakespeare's young male roles were modeled after his own son, Hamnet, who like many of the children in his plays died very young. From the Comedy of Errors to the gory Titus Andronicus, child characters in Shakespeare have a significant effect on the events of their plays and the adult characters that surround them. Child characters such as Mamillius in A Winter's Tale bring out the nurturing traits in their fathers and reveal non-maternal traits in their mothers. Other children, such as the princes in Richard III or Arthur in King John, die at the hands of the play's protagonists, creating a turning-point in these characters' relationships with the audience. Though they serve similar dramatic purposes, children who are killed in Shakespeare's plays elicit audience sympathy for different reasons: the princes in Richard III are intelligent, precocious, and admirably brave while Arthur in King John is unfailingly gentle and compassionate. There are several child characters in Shakespeare similar to Arthur who are keenly aware of and sympathetic towards the suffering of the adults. Though some have attempted to categorize Shakespeare's children under two broad stereotypes -precocious and brave versus vulnerable and innocent. A closer look reveals that each is an individual with unique traits, purpose and meaning to the play, regardless of how much stage time the playwright gives them. During Shakespeare's life, the concept of "family" changed from an extended network of relatives to a nuclear family, suggesting that the relationship between parents and offspring became more significant. A deepened understanding of children was the result. This is evident in the case of Macbeth's young Macduff. Like the ideal child of the age, he is brave, intelligent, and witty, but he also demonstrates touching emotional vulnerability: this combination of characteristics makes him, like each of Shakespeare's children, a vital part of the play. - Sarah Crockarell, dramaturg