Today I am here with a review of a recent classic read of mine: Macbeth by William Shakespeare. I am trying to focus on my Classics Club reading right now as I only have about 2.5 months until my September 1st deadline! I feel like it was far away until suddenly it’s coming up.
This was a quick reread for me of a great Shakespearean tragedy.
- I saw this play performed in Stratford upon Avon on my London Study Abroad nearly 10 years ago. It was an phenomenal performance! We were on the front row of the small theater in the round and my friend got fake blood on her arm during the performance. We thought that was so cool! Most compelling was the depiction of the 3 witches who were actually played by children and seemed more ghost than human–both haunting and compelling.
- I think it’s time to see another production!
According to Goodreads, “One night on the heath, the brave and respected general Macbeth encounters three witches who foretell that he will become king of Scotland. At first sceptical, he’s urged on by the ruthless, single-minded ambitions of Lady Macbeth, who suffers none of her husband’s doubt. But seeing the prophecy through to the bloody end leads them both spiralling into paranoia, tyranny, madness, and murder.
This shocking tragedy – a violent caution to those seeking power for its own sake – is, to this day, one of Shakespeare’s most popular and influential masterpieces.”
Macbeth is such an intriguing protagonist. He goes from defending the crown and fighting for freedom to being a tyrannical king without much of a reason for being king. But I didn’t hate him on this reread. I find his fall tragic and intriguing. It is very tied to fate but also to choice. I read a bit of the introduction to my copy of the play and it mentioned that Macbeth is such an interesting play because while Macbeth himself is the villain, the audience does not always think of him as evil. Yes, he commits many crimes and becomes engrossed in his power and in fate. Yet, he is not unlikable or irredeemable. I completely agree with that argument. Macbeth is a fascinating character. The play offers us his complex struggle between loyalty and power, right and wrong, strength and fear.
I forgot how fast paced this play is from start to finish. There is lots of action! From the first scene when the three witches are planning their first interaction with Macbeth to the final battle between Macbeth’s army and Malcolm’s followers, there really isn’t much let down in the plot. This is not Hamlet with long soliloquies. There is not much philosophy going on here. Macbeth doesn’t really question his decisions (I suppose Lady Macbeth does more of that). And we have lots of murder and the interesting witches prophecies coming true especially at the end. I think this all helped me stay invested in the story and read it quickly. The action makes this play an easier tragedy to read because it’s pretty straightforward.
The most interesting subplot in this play is the action focused on the three witches. Their role in what happens to Macbeth and others is quite intriguing. Themes such as witchcraft, fate, destiny, prophecy all interconnect as we see how characters react to the witches prophecies and how much fate determines their futures. Could Macbeth have become king through an honest means? Did he tip fate? Were the witches telling the already decided future or just what could be? Could Macbeth have reacted differently to their words? It’s fascinating to think through some of these questions. And I think these ideas give this play unique, mystical/metaphysical elements which I really enjoyed. Again, I am reminded of seeing it in Stratford upon Avon when the witches were played by children. Very creepy but kind of awesome. That production made the witches quite mystical with smoke and different lighting and magnified voices. It gave their scenes a different feel than the rest of the play. I still think about that performance years later!
General Thoughts about Shakespeare and his work:
- This is a great tragedy to start with if you aspire to read more Shakespeare. I think it’s very readable for both lovers of the bard and novices to his work. It’s not as difficult to read because there is less thinking and more action with the straightforward, intense plot.
- See this show! There are so many action sequences that are just a few lines in the script but are much more epic battles, fighting, intense moments etc when seen on stage.
- I’d recommend experiencing more than one genre of Shakespearean play. If you’re reading, then read a tragedy and a comedy or history. If you have opportunities to see a few shows, similarly vary your experience. It’s fascinating to see how some elements are in different types of plays while others are unique to his tragedies or comedies. I also recommend seeing more than one version of the same play. I think it’s fascinating to see how different productions depict the same words from the page.
I am glad I added Macbeth to my Classics Club list and was able to revisit this classic tragedy. I was surprised how quick I was able to read it. As always, I think Shakespeare is best seen performed but reading it does get me excited to see more productions in future.
What are your favorite Shakespeare tragedies?
Any favorite productions that inspired you or moved you?