Macbeth (full title The Tragedy of Macbeth) is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare, and is considered one of his darkest and most powerful works. Set in Scotland, the play dramatizes the corrosive psychological and political effects produced when evil is chosen as a way to fulfil the ambition for power.
The play is believed to have been written between 1599 and 1606, and is most commonly dated 1606. The earliest account of a performance of what was probably Shakespeare's play is the Summer of 1606, when Simon Forman recorded seeing such a play at the Globe Theatre. It was first published in the Folio of 1623, possibly from a prompt book. It was most likely written during the reign of James I, who had been James VI of Scotland before he succeeded to the English throne in 1603. James was a patron of Shakespeare's acting company, and of all the plays Shakespeare wrote during James's reign, Macbeth most clearly reflects the playwright's relationship with the sovereign.
Macbeth is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy, and tells the story of a brave Scottish general named Macbeth who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne for himself. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia, and he soon becomes a tyrannical ruler as he is forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion. The bloodbath and consequent civil war swiftly take Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into the realms of arrogance, madness, and death.
Shakespeare's source for the tragedy is the account of Macbeth, King of Scotland, Macduff, and Duncan in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), a history of England, Scotland, and Ireland familiar to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, although the events in the play differ extensively from the history of the real Macbeth. In recent scholarship, the events of the tragedy are usually associated more closely with the execution of Henry Garnett for complicity in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
In the backstage world of theatre, some believe that the play is cursed, and will not mention its title aloud, referring to it instead as "the Scottish play". Over the course of many centuries, the play has attracted some of the most renowned actors to the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. It has been adapted to film, television, opera, novels, comic books, and other media.
- 1 Characters
- 2 Plot
- 3 Sources
- 4 Date and text
- 5 Themes and motifs
- 6 Analysis
- 7 Superstition and "The Scottish Play"
- 8 Legacy
- 8.1 Performance history
- 8.2 Screen
- 8.3 Other media
- 9 Notes
- 10 External links
- Duncan – King of Scotland
- Macbeth – a general in the army of King Duncan; originally Thane of Glamis, then Thane of Cawdor, and later King of Scotland
- Lady Macbeth – Macbeth's wife, and later Queen of Scotland
- Banquo – Macbeth's friend and a general in the army of King Duncan
- Fleance – Banquo's son
- Macduff – Thane of Fife
- Ross, Lennox, Angus, Menteith, Caithness – Scottish Thanes
- Siward – general of the English forces
- Young Siward – Siward's son
- Seyton – Macbeth's armourer
- Hecate – Queen of the witches
- Three Witches
- Captain – in the Scottish army
- Three Murderers – employed by Macbeth
- Two Murderers – attack Lady Macduff
- Porter – gatekeeper at Macbeth's home
- Doctor – Lady Macbeth's doctor
- Doctor – at the English court
- Gentlewoman – Lady Macbeth's caretaker
- Lord – opposed to Macbeth
- First Apparition – armed head
- Second Apparition – bloody child
- Third Apparition – crowned child
- Attendants, Messengers, Servants, Soldiers
The play opens amidst thunder and lightning, and the Three Witches decide that their next meeting shall be with Macbeth. In the following scene, a wounded sergeant reports to King Duncan of Scotland that his generals—Macbeth, who is the Thane of Glamis, and Banquo—have just defeated the allied forces of Norway and Ireland, who were led by the traitorous Macdonwald and the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth, the King's kinsman, is praised for his bravery and fighting prowess.
In the following scene, Macbeth and Banquo discuss the weather and their victory. As they wander onto a heath, the Three Witches enter and greet them with prophecies. Though Banquo challenges them first, they address Macbeth, hailing him as "Thane of Glamis," "Thane of Cawdor," and that he shall "be King hereafter." Macbeth appears to be stunned to silence. When Banquo asks of his own fortunes, the witches inform him that he will father a line of kings, though he himself will not be one. While the two men wonder at these pronouncements, the witches vanish, and another thane, Ross, arrives and informs Macbeth of his newly bestowed title: Thane of Cawdor, as the previous Thane of Cawdor shall be put to death for his traitorous activities. The first prophecy is thus fulfilled, and Macbeth immediately begins to harbour ambitions of becoming king.
King Duncan welcomes and praises Macbeth and Banquo, and declares that he will spend the night at Macbeth's castle at Inverness; he also names his son Malcolm as his heir. Macbeth sends a message ahead to his wife, Lady Macbeth, telling her about the witches' prophecies. Lady Macbeth suffers none of her husband's uncertainty, and wishes him to murder Duncan in order to obtain kingship. When Macbeth arrives at Inverness, she overrides all of her husband's objections by challenging his manhood, and successfully persuades him to kill the king that very night. He and Lady Macbeth plan to get Duncan's two chamberlains drunk so that they will black out; the next morning they will blame the chamberlains for the murder. They will be defenseless, as they will remember nothing.
While Duncan is asleep, Macbeth stabs him, despite his doubts and a number of supernatural portents, including a hallucination of a bloody dagger. He is so shaken that Lady Macbeth has to take charge. In accordance with her plan, she frames Duncan's sleeping servants for the murder by placing bloody daggers on them. Early the next morning, Lennox, a Scottish nobleman, and Macduff, the loyal Thane of Fife, arrive. A porter opens the gate and Macbeth leads them to the king's chamber, where Macduff discovers Duncan's body. Macbeth murders the guards to prevent them from professing their innocence, but claims he did so in a fit of anger over their misdeeds. Duncan's sons Malcolm and Donalbain flee to England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that whoever killed Duncan desires their demise as well. The rightful heirs' flight makes them suspects and Macbeth assumes the throne as the new King of Scotland as a kinsman of the dead king. Banquo reveals this to the audience, and while sceptical of the new King Macbeth, remembers the witches' prophecy about how his own descendants would inherit the throne.
Despite his success, Macbeth, also aware of this part of the prophecy, remains uneasy. Macbeth invites Banquo to a royal banquet, where he discovers that Banquo and his young son, Fleance, will be riding out that night. Macbeth hires men to kill them. The assassins succeed in killing Banquo, but Fleance escapes. Macbeth becomes furious: he fears that his power remains insecure as long as an heir of Banquo remains alive. At the banquet, Macbeth invites his lords and Lady Macbeth to a night of drinking and merriment. Banquo's ghost enters and sits in Macbeth's place. Macbeth raves fearfully, startling his guests, as the ghost is only visible to himself. The others panic at the sight of Macbeth raging at an empty chair, until a desperate Lady Macbeth tells them that her husband is merely afflicted with a familiar and harmless malady. The ghost departs and returns once more, causing the same riotous anger and fear in Macbeth. This time, Lady Macbeth tells the lords to leave, and they do so.
Macbeth, disturbed, visits the three witches once more and asks them to reveal the truth of their prophecies to him. To answer his questions, they summon horrible apparitions, each of which offers predictions and further prophecies to allay Macbeth's fears. First, they conjure an armoured head, which tells him to beware of Macduff (4.1.72). Second, a bloody child tells him that no one born of a woman shall be able to harm him. Thirdly, a crowned child holding a tree states that Macbeth will be safe until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Hill. Macbeth is relieved and feels secure, because he knows that all men are born of women and forests cannot move. Macbeth also asks if Banquo's sons will ever reign in Scotland: the witches conjure a procession of eight crowned kings, all similar in appearance to Banquo, and the last carrying a mirror that reflects even more kings. Macbeth realises that these are all Banquo's descendants having acquired kingship in numerous countries. After the witches perform a mad dance and leave, Lennox enters and tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth orders Macduff's castle be seized, and, most cruelly, sends murderers to slaughter Macduff's wife and children. Everyone in Macduff's castle is put to death, including Lady Macduff and their young son.
Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth becomes wracked with guilt from the crimes she and her husband have committed. At night, in the king's palace at Dunsinane, a doctor and a gentlewoman discuss Lady Macbeth's strange habit of sleepwalking. Suddenly, Lady Macbeth enters in a trance with a candle in her hand. Bemoaning the murders of Duncan, Lady Macduff, and Banquo, she tries to wash off imaginary bloodstains from her hands, all the while speaking of the terrible things she knows she pressed her husband to do. She leaves, and the doctor and gentlewoman marvel at her descent into madness. Her belief that nothing can wash away the blood on her hands is an ironic reversal of her earlier claim to Macbeth that "[a] little water clears us of this deed" (2.2.66).
In England, Macduff is informed by Ross that his "castle is surprised; [his] wife and babes / Savagely slaughter'd" (4.3.204–5). When this news of his family's execution reaches him, Macduff is stricken with grief and vows revenge. Prince Malcolm, Duncan's son, has succeeded in raising an army in England, and Macduff joins him as he rides to Scotland to challenge Macbeth's forces. The invasion has the support of the Scottish nobles, who are appalled and frightened by Macbeth's tyrannical and murderous behaviour. Malcolm leads an army, along with Macduff and Englishmen Siward (the Elder), the Earl of Northumberland, against Dunsinane Castle. While encamped in Birnam Wood, the soldiers are ordered to cut down and carry tree limbs to camouflage their numbers.
Before Macbeth's opponents arrive, he receives news that Lady Macbeth has killed herself, causing him to sink into a deep and pessimistic despair and deliver his "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" soliloquy (5.5.17–28). Though he reflects on the brevity and meaninglessness of life, he nevertheless awaits the English and fortifies Dunsinane. He is certain that the witches' prophecies guarantee his invincibility, but is struck with fear when he learns that the English army is advancing on Dunsinane shielded with boughs cut from Birnam Wood, in apparent fulfillment of one of the prophecies.
A battle culminates in Macduff's confrontation with Macbeth as the English forces overwhelm his army and castle. Macbeth boasts that he has no reason to fear Macduff, for he cannot be killed by any man born of woman. Macduff declares that he was "from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd" (5.8.15–16), (i.e., born by Caesarean section) and is not "of woman born" (an example of a literary quibble), fulfilling the second prophecy. Macbeth realises too late that he has misinterpreted the witches' words. Though he realises that he is doomed, he continues to fight. Macduff kills and beheads him, thus fulfilling the remaining prophecy.
Macduff carries Macbeth's head onstage and Malcolm discusses how order has been restored. His last reference to Lady Macbeth, however, reveals "'tis thought, by self and violent hands / Took off her life" (5.9.71–72), but the method of her suicide is undisclosed. Malcolm, now the King of Scotland, declares his benevolent intentions for the country and invites all to see him crowned at Scone.
Although Malcolm, and not Fleance, is placed on the throne, the witches' prophecy concerning Banquo ("Thou shalt get kings") was known to the audience of Shakespeare's time to be true: James VI of Scotland (later also James I of England) was supposedly a descendant of Banquo.
Macbeth has been compared to Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Both Antony and Macbeth as characters seek a new world, even at the cost of the old one. Both are fighting for a throne and have a 'nemesis' to face to achieve that throne. For Antony, the nemesis is Octavius; for Macbeth, it is Banquo. At one point Macbeth even compares himself to Antony, saying "under Banquo / My Genius is rebuk'd, as it is said / Mark Antony's was by Caesar." Lastly, both plays contain powerful and manipulative female figures: Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth.
Shakespeare borrowed the story from several tales in Holinshed's Chronicles, a popular history of the British Isles known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In Chronicles, a man named Donwald finds several of his family put to death by his king, King Duff, for dealing with witches. After being pressured by his wife, he and four of his servants kill the King in his own house. In Chronicles, Macbeth is portrayed as struggling to support the kingdom in the face of King Duncan's ineptitude. He and Banquo meet the three witches, who make exactly the same prophecies as in Shakespeare's version. Macbeth and Banquo then together plot the murder of Duncan, at Lady Macbeth's urging. Macbeth has a long, ten-year reign before eventually being overthrown by Macduff and Malcolm. The parallels between the two versions are clear. However, some scholars think that George Buchanan's Rerum Scoticarum Historia matches Shakespeare's version more closely. Buchanan's work was available in Latin in Shakespeare's day.
No other version of the story has Macbeth kill the king in Macbeth's own castle. Scholars have seen this change of Shakespeare's as adding to the darkness of Macbeth's crime as the worst violation of hospitality. Versions of the story that were common at the time had Duncan being killed in an ambush at Inverness, not in a castle. Shakespeare conflated the story of Donwald and King Duff in what was a significant change to the story.
Shakespeare made another revealing change. In Chronicles, Banquo is an accomplice in Macbeth's murder of King Duncan. He also plays an important part in ensuring that Macbeth, not Malcolm, takes the throne in the coup that follows. In Shakespeare's day, Banquo was thought to be a direct ancestor of the Stuart King James I (Banquo's Stuart descent was disproven in the 19th century, when it was discovered that the Fitzalans actually descended from a Breton family). The Banquo portrayed in historical sources is significantly different from the Banquo created by Shakespeare. Critics have proposed several reasons for this change. First, to portray the king's ancestor as a murderer would have been risky. Other authors of the time who wrote about Banquo, such as Jean de Schelandre in his Stuartide, also changed history by portraying Banquo as a noble man, not a murderer, probably for the same reasons. Second, Shakespeare may have altered Banquo's character simply because there was no dramatic need for another accomplice to the murder; there was, however, a need to give a dramatic contrast to Macbeth—a role which many scholars argue is filled by Banquo.
Other scholars maintain that a strong argument can be made for associating the tragedy with the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. As presented by Harold Bloom in 2008: "[S]cholars cite the existence of several topical references in Macbeth to the events of that year, namely the execution of the Rev. Henry Garnett for his alleged complicity in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, as referenced in the porter's scene."
Date and text
Macbeth was the first play Shakespeare wrote for a monarch other than Elizabeth I, the Protestant Queen of England from 1558 until her death in 1603. Following Elizabeth's death, James VI of Scotland took the English throne, becoming James I of England. For Englishmen, there were many concerns with James assuming the throne; for example that he would be more tolerant towards Catholics because, although he himself was a Protestant, his mother was the devoutly Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots (who had been executed by Elizabeth), and because his wife, Anne of Denmark, was also rumored to be Catholic. This concern over religion caused much turmoil in England during James's reign. Shakespeare subtly incorporates this turmoil into Macbeth, while still praising the new King of England.
Macbeth, then, is both a laudatory and cautionary tale for James. It is laudatory in that James is meant to be descended from Banquo, one of the good characters of the play; it also incorporates many themes that James would have been interested in, including witchcraft, the dangers of regicide (the deliberate murder of a monarch), and the royal Scottish family tree. However, the play has cautionary undertones for James: Macbeth's undoing begins with letting his wife corrupt his mind with ideas of wealth and power. The implication for James, then, is that while he needs to be listening to his Catholic wife—he must not let her corrupt him the way Lady Macbeth corrupts her husband (in other words, he must remain Protestant).
Macbeth cannot be dated precisely, owing to significant evidence of later revisions. As the play may celebrate King James' ancestors and the Stuart accession to the throne in 1603 (James believed himself to be descended from Banquo), scholars believe that the play is unlikely to have been composed earlier than 1603 and suggest that the parade of eight kings—which the witches show Macbeth in a vision in Act IV—is a compliment to King James. Many critics think the play was written in 1606 in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot because of possible internal allusions to the 1605 plot and its ensuing trials. In 1605, to commemorate King James' escape, a medal was struck picturing a serpent hiding among lilies and roses. Shakespeare, or one of the plays revisers, may allude to the image when Lady Macbeth says to her husband, "Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under't" (1.5.74–5). Others have placed the origin of the writing of the play as early as 1599.
Particularly, the Porter's speech (2.3.1–21) in which he welcomes an "equivocator", a farmer, and a tailor to hell (2.3.8–13), has been argued to be an allusion to the trial of the Jesuit Henry Garnet on 28 March 1606 and his execution on 3 May 1606, with "equivocator" referring to Garnet's defence of "equivocation". However, equivocation was also the subject of a 1583 tract by Queen Elizabeth's chief councillor Lord Burghley, and of the 1584 Doctrine of Equivocation by the Spanish prelate Martín de Azpilcueta, which was disseminated across Europe and into England in the 1590s. But the porter says that the equivocator "committed treason enough for God's sake" (2.3.9–10), which specifically connects equivocation and treason and ties it to the Jesuit belief that equivocation was only lawful when used "for God's sake", strengthening the allusion to Garnet. The porter goes on to say that the equivocator "yet could not equivocate to heaven" (2.3.10–11), echoing grim jokes that were current on the eve of Garnet's execution: i.e. that Garnet would be "hanged without equivocation" and at his execution he was asked "not to equivocate with his last breath." The porter's mention of a farmer could be another allusion to Garnet, who used "Farmer" as an alias. The "English tailor" the porter admits to hell (2.3.13), has been seen as an allusion to Hugh Griffin, a tailor who was questioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 27 November and 3 December 1607 for the part he played in Garnet's "miraculous straw", an infamous head of straw that was stained with Garnet's blood that had congealed into a form resembling Garnet's portrait, which was hailed by Catholics as a miracle. The tailor Griffin became notorious and the subject of verses published with his portrait on the title page.
Scholars also cite an entertainment seen by King James at Oxford in the summer of 1605 that featured three "sibyls" like the weird sisters; Kermode surmises that Shakespeare could have heard about this and alluded to it with the weird sisters. However, A. R. Braunmuller in the New Cambridge edition finds the 1605–6 arguments inconclusive, and argues only for an earliest date of 1603. The play is not considered to have been written any later than 1607, since, as Kermode notes, there are "fairly clear allusions to the play in 1607."
In addition, one suggested allusion supporting a date in late 1606 is the first witch's dialogue about a sailor's wife: "'Aroint thee, witch!' the rump-fed ronyon cries./Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger" (1.6–7). This has been thought to allude to the Tiger, a ship that returned to England 27 June 1606 after a disastrous voyage in which many of the crew were killed by pirates. A few lines later the witch speaks of the sailor, "He shall live a man forbid:/Weary se'nnights nine times nine" (1.21–2). The real ship was at sea 567 days, the product of 7x9x9, which has been taken as a confirmation of the allusion, which if correct, confirms that the witch scenes were either written or amended earlier than July 1606.
Macbeth was first printed in the First Folio of 1623 and the Folio is the only source for the text. The text that survives had been plainly altered by later hands. Most notable is the inclusion of two songs from Thomas Middleton's play The Witch (1615); Middleton is conjectured to have inserted an extra scene involving the witches and Hecate, for these scenes had proven highly popular with audiences. These revisions, which since the Clarendon edition of 1869 have been assumed to include all of Act III, scene v, and a portion of Act IV, scene I, are often indicated in modern texts. On this basis, many scholars reject all three of the interludes with the goddess Hecate as inauthentic. Even with the Hecate material, the play is conspicuously short, and so the Folio text may derive from a prompt book that had been substantially cut for performance, or an adapter cut the text himself. In contemporary performances the "Hecate" scene serves as both comic relief as the witches try to escape the wrath and company of Hecate as she dances and a practical transition between scenes after Macbeth's violent reaction towards the bloody Banquo during the dinner party.
Themes and motifs
A main theme within Macbeth is the destruction that follows when ambition goes beyond moral constraints. Macbeth is a brave general who is not naturally inclined to commit evil, yet he is deeply ambitious and desires power. He murders King Duncan against his better judgement and then wallows in guilt and paranoia. Toward the play's end, he is in a kind of boastful madness. Lady Macbeth pursues her goals with greater determination, yet is less capable of dealing with the guilt from her immorality. One of Shakespeare's most forceful female characters, she spurs her husband mercilessly to kill Duncan and urges him to be strong afterward, yet is herself eventually driven to death by the effect of Macbeth's murders on her conscience. In each case, ambition, spurred by the prophecies of the witches, is what drives the couple to commit their atrocities. An issue that the play raises is that once one decides to use violence to further one's quest for power, it is difficult to stop. Macbeth finds that there are always potential threats to the throne – such as Banquo, Fleance, and Macduff – and he is tempted to use violent means to dispose of them.
Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband by questioning his manhood, wishing herself to be "unsexed," and does not contradict Macbeth when he says that a woman like her should give birth only to boys. In the same manner that Lady Macbeth goads her husband on to murder, Macbeth provokes the assassins he hires to murder Banquo by questioning their manhood. Such acts show that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth equate masculinity with naked aggression; whenever they discuss manhood, violence follows. Their understanding of manhood allows the political order depicted in the play to descend into chaos.
However, in "Macbeth", women are prone to contain violence and evil intentions. The witches' prophecies spark Macbeth's ambitions and then encourage his violent behaviour, while Lady Macbeth provides the drive and the will behind her husband's plotting. After reading the letter her husband has sent telling of the witches' prophecies about him, Lady Macbeth believes:
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it—Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, Act I, Scene V
Furthermore, the only divine being to appear is Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. Because "Macbeth" traces the root of chaos and evil to women, some critics argue that it is Shakespeare's most misogynistic play. The male characters are similarly brutal and prone to evil as the women, but the aggression of the female characters is more striking because it contradicts expectations of how women ought to behave. Lady Macbeth's behaviour certainly shows that women can be just as ambitious and ruthless as men. Whether it is the gender constraints of her society or because she is not fearless enough to kill, Lady Macbeth relies on manipulation of her husband rather than violence to achieve her ends.
The play does put forth less destructive definition of manhood towards the end. When Macduff learns of the murders of his wife and child, Malcolm consoles him unsympathetically with encouragement to take the news in "manly" fashion and use it to fuel his hatred of Macbeth. Macduff tells the young heir apparent that he has a mistaken understanding of masculinity. To Malcolm's suggestion, "Dispute it like a man," Macduff replies, "I shall do so. But I must also feel it as a man" (4.3.221–223). After hearing the news of his son's death at the hands of Macbeth, Siward receives this fact somewhat complacently. Malcolm responds: "He's worth more sorrow [than you have expressed] / And that I'll spend for him" (5.11.16–17). Malcolm's comment shows that he has learned the lesson Macduff gave him on the feeling nature of true masculinity. It also suggests that, with Malcolm's coronation, order will be restored to the Kingdom of Scotland.
Macbeth is an anomaly among Shakespeare's tragedies in certain critical ways. It is short: more than a thousand lines shorter than Othello and King Lear, and only slightly more than half as long as Hamlet. This brevity has suggested to many critics that the received version is based on a heavily cut source, perhaps a prompt-book for a particular performance. That brevity has also been connected to other unusual features: the fast pace of the first act, which has seemed to be "stripped for action"; the comparative flatness of the characters other than Macbeth; and the oddness of Macbeth himself compared with other Shakespearean tragic heroes.[clarification needed]
As a tragedy of character
At least since the days of Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson analysis of the play has centred on the question of Macbeth's ambition, commonly seen as so dominant a trait that it defines the character. Johnson asserted that Macbeth, though esteemed for his military bravery, is wholly reviled. This opinion recurs in critical literature, and, according to Caroline Spurgeon, is supported by Shakespeare himself, who apparently intended to degrade his hero by vesting him with clothes unsuited to him and to make Macbeth look ridiculous by several nimisms he applies: His garments seem either too big or too small for him – as his ambition is too big and his character too small for his new and unrightful role as king. When he feels as if "dressed in borrowed robes", after his new title as Thane of Cawdor, prophesied by the witches, has been confirmed by Ross (I, 3, ll. 108–109), Banquo comments: "New honours come upon him, / Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould, / But with the aid of use" (I, 3, ll. 145–146). And, at the end, when the tyrant is at bay at Dunsinane, Caithness sees him as a man trying in vain to fasten a large garment on him with too small a belt: "He cannot buckle his distemper'd cause / Within the belt of rule" (V, 2, ll. 14–15), while Angus, in a similar nimism, sums up what everybody thinks ever since Macbeth's accession to power: "now does he feel his title / Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe / upon a dwarfish thief" (V, 2, ll. 18–20).
Like Richard III, but without that character's perversely appealing exuberance, Macbeth wades through blood until his inevitable fall. As Kenneth Muir writes, "Macbeth has not a predisposition to murder; he has merely an inordinate ambition that makes murder itself seem to be a lesser evil than failure to achieve the crown." Some critics, such as E. E. Stoll, explain this characterisation as a holdover from Senecan or medieval tradition. Shakespeare's audience, in this view, expected villains to be wholly bad, and Senecan style, far from prohibiting a villainous protagonist, all but demanded it.
Yet for other critics, it has not been so easy to resolve the question of Macbeth's motivation. Robert Bridges, for instance, perceived a paradox: a character able to express such convincing horror before Duncan's murder would likely be incapable of committing the crime. For many critics, Macbeth's motivations in the first act appear vague and insufficient. John Dover Wilson hypothesised that Shakespeare's original text had an extra scene or scenes where husband and wife discussed their plans. This interpretation is not fully provable; however, the motivating role of ambition for Macbeth is universally recognised. The evil actions motivated by his ambition seem to trap him in a cycle of increasing evil, as Macbeth himself recognises: "I am in blood/Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go o'er."
As a tragedy of moral order
The disastrous consequences of Macbeth's ambition are not limited to him. Almost from the moment of the murder, the play depicts Scotland as a land shaken by inversions of the natural order. Shakespeare may have intended a reference to the great chain of being, although the play's images of disorder are mostly not specific enough to support detailed intellectual readings. He may also have intended an elaborate compliment to James's belief in the divine right of kings, although this hypothesis, outlined at greatest length by Henry N. Paul, is not universally accepted. As in Julius Caesar, though, perturbations in the political sphere are echoed and even amplified by events in the material world. Among the most often depicted of the inversions of the natural order is sleep. Macbeth's announcement that he has "murdered sleep" is figuratively mirrored in Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking.
Macbeth's generally accepted indebtedness to medieval tragedy is often seen as significant in the play's treatment of moral order. Glynne Wickham connects the play, through the Porter, to a mystery play on the harrowing of hell. Howard Felperin argues that the play has a more complex attitude toward "orthodox Christian tragedy" than is often admitted; he sees a kinship between the play and the tyrant plays within the medieval liturgical drama.
The theme of androgyny is often seen as a special aspect of the theme of disorder. Inversion of normative gender roles is most famously associated with the witches and with Lady Macbeth as she appears in the first act. Whatever Shakespeare's degree of sympathy with such inversions, the play ends with a thorough return to normative gender values. Some feminist psychoanalytic critics, such as Janet Adelman, have connected the play's treatment of gender roles to its larger theme of inverted natural order. In this light, Macbeth is punished for his violation of the moral order by being removed from the cycles of nature (which are figured as female); nature itself (as embodied in the movement of Birnam Wood) is part of the restoration of moral order.
As a poetic tragedy
Critics in the early twentieth century reacted against what they saw as an excessive dependence on the study of character in criticism of the play. This dependence, though most closely associated with Andrew Cecil Bradley, is clear as early as the time of Mary Cowden Clarke, who offered precise, if fanciful, accounts of the predramatic lives of Shakespeare's female leads. She suggested, for instance, that the child Lady Macbeth refers to in the first act died during a foolish military action.
Witchcraft and evil
In the play, the Three Witches represent darkness, chaos, and conflict, while their role is as agents and witnesses. Their presence communicates treason and impending doom. During Shakespeare's day, witches were seen as worse than rebels, "the most notorious traytor and rebell that can be." They were not only political traitors, but spiritual traitors as well. Much of the confusion that springs from them comes from their ability to straddle the play's borders between reality and the supernatural. They are so deeply entrenched in both worlds that it is unclear whether they control fate, or whether they are merely its agents. They defy logic, not being subject to the rules of the real world. The witches' lines in the first act: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air" are often said to set the tone for the rest of the play by establishing a sense of confusion. Indeed, the play is filled with situations where evil is depicted as good, while good is rendered evil. The line "Double, double toil and trouble," communicates the witches' intent clearly: they seek only trouble for the mortals around them. The witches' spells are remarkably similar to the spells of the witch Medusa in Anthony Munday's play Fidele and Fortunio published in 1584, and Shakespeare may have been influenced by these.
While the witches do not tell Macbeth directly to kill King Duncan, they use a subtle form of temptation when they tell Macbeth that he is destined to be king. By placing this thought in his mind, they effectively guide him on the path to his own destruction. This follows the pattern of temptation used at the time of Shakespeare. First, they argued, a thought is put in a man's mind, then the person may either indulge in the thought or reject it. Macbeth indulges in it, while Banquo rejects.
According to J. A. Bryant Jr., Macbeth also makes use of Biblical parallels, notably between King Duncan's murder and the murder of Christ:
No matter how one looks at it, whether as history or as tragedy, Macbeth is distinctively Christian. One may simply count the Biblical allusions as Richmond Noble has done; one may go further and study the parallels between Shakespeare's story and the Old Testament stories of Saul and Jezebel as Miss Jane H. Jack has done; or one may examine with W. C. Curry the progressive degeneration of Macbeth from the point of view of medieval theology.
Superstition and "The Scottish Play"
While many today would say that any misfortune surrounding a production is mere coincidence, actors and other theatre people often consider it bad luck to mention Macbeth by name while inside a theatre, and sometimes refer to it indirectly, for example as "the Scottish play", or "MacBee", or when referring to the character and not the play, "Mr. and Mrs. M", or "The Scottish King".
This is because Shakespeare (or the play's revisers) are said to have used the spells of real witches in his text, purportedly angering the witches and causing them to curse the play. Thus, to say the name of the play inside a theatre is believed to doom the production to failure, and perhaps cause physical injury or death to cast members. There are stories of accidents, misfortunes and even deaths taking place during runs of Macbeth.
contrary to popular myth, Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth is not the unluckiest play as superstition likes to portray it. Exactly the opposite! The origin of the unfortunate moniker dates back to repertory theatre days when each town and village had at least one theatre to entertain the public. If a play was not doing well, it would invariably get 'pulled' and replaced with a sure-fire audience pleaser – Macbeth guaranteed full-houses. So when the weekly theatre newspaper, The Stage was published, listing what was on in each theatre in the country, it was instantly noticed what shows had NOT worked the previous week, as they had been replaced by a definite crowd-pleaser. More actors have died during performances of Hamlet than in the "Scottish play" as the profession still calls it. It is forbidden to quote from it backstage as this could cause the current play to collapse and have to be replaced, causing possible unemployment.
One particular incident that lent itself to the superstition was the Astor Place Riot. The cause of the riots was based on a conflict over two performances of Macbeth, and is usually ascribed to the curse.
Several methods exist to dispel the curse, depending on the actor. One, attributed to Michael York, is to immediately leave the building the stage is in with the person who uttered the name, walk around it three times, spit over their left shoulders, say an obscenity then wait to be invited back into the building. A related practice is to spin around three times as fast as possible on the spot, sometimes accompanied by spitting over their shoulder, and uttering an obscenity. Another popular "ritual" is to leave the room, knock three times, be invited in, and then quote a line from Hamlet. Yet another is to recite lines from The Merchant of Venice, thought to be a lucky play.
Shakespeare's day to the Interregnum
The first actor to play Macbeth may have been Richard Burbage, chief tragedian of Shakespeare's company, The King's Men. The play required an effigy of his head, for its closing scene. The only eyewitness account of Macbeth in Shakespeare's lifetime was recorded by Simon Forman, who saw a performance at the Globe in 1610 or 1611. Scholars have struggled to explain the differences between his account and the play as it appears in the Folio; for example, the following does not accord with anything in the Folio text:
And when MackBeth had murdred the kinge, the blod on his hands could not be washed of by Any means, nor from his wiues handes, which handled the bloddi daggers in hiding them, By which means they became moch amazed and Affronted.
Conversely, he makes no mention of the apparition scene, or of Hecate, of the man not of woman born, or of Birnam Wood. As mentioned above, the Folio text is clearly a revision of the original play, probably adapted by Thomas Middleton (and unquestionably using Middleton's material), and is very short by Shakespeare's standards, suggesting abridgement. This has led to the conclusion that the play as we know it from the Folio was an adaptation for indoor performance at the Blackfriars Theatre (which was operated by the King's Men from 1608) – and even speculation that it represents a specific performance before King James. The play contains more musical cues than any other play in the canon as well as a significant use of sound effects.
Restoration and Eighteenth century
All theatres were closed down by the Puritan government on 6 September 1642. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, two patent companies (the King's Company and the Duke's Company) were established, and the existing theatrical repertoire divided between them. Sir William Davenant, founder of the Duke's Company, adapted Shakespeare's play to the tastes of the new era, and his version would dominate on stage for around eighty years. Among the changes he made were the expansion of the role of the witches, introducing new songs, dances and 'flying', and the expansion of the role of Lady Macduff as a foil to Lady Macbeth. There were, however, performances outside the patent companies: among the evasions of the Duke's Company's monopoly was a puppet version of Macbeth.
Macbeth was a favourite of the seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys, who saw the play on 5 November 1664 ("admirably acted"), 28 December 1666 ("most excellently acted"), ten days later on 7 January 1667 ("though I saw it lately, yet [it] appears a most excellent play in all respects"), on 19 April 1667 ("one of the best plays for a stage ... that ever I saw"), again on 16 October 1667 ("was vexed to see Young, who is but a bad actor at best, act Macbeth in the room of Betterton, who, poor man! is sick"), and again three weeks later on 6 November 1667 ("[at] Macbeth, which we still like mightily"), yet again on 12 August 1668 ("saw Macbeth, to our great content"), and finally on 21 December 1668, on which date the king and court were also present in the audience.
In 1744, David Garrick revived the play, abandoning Davenant's version and instead advertising it "as written by Shakespeare". In fact this claim was largely false: he retained much of Davenant's more popular business for the witches, and himself wrote a lengthy death speech for Macbeth. And he cut more than 10% of Shakespeare's play, including the drunken porter, the murder of Lady Macduff's son, and Malcolm's testing of Macduff. Hannah Pritchard was his greatest stage partner, having her premiere as his Lady Macbeth in 1747. He would later drop the play from his repertoire upon her retirement from the stage. Mrs. Pritchard was the first actress to achieve acclaim in the role of Lady Macbeth – at least partly due to the removal of Davenant's material, which made irrelevant moral contrasts with Lady Macduff. Garrick's portrayal focused on the inner life of the character, endowing him with an innocence vacillating between good and evil, and betrayed by outside influences. He portrayed a man capable of observing himself, as if a part of him remained untouched by what he had done, the play moulding him into a man of sensibility, rather than him descending into a tyrant.
John Philip Kemble first played Macbeth in 1778. Although usually regarded as the antithesis of Garrick, Kemble nevertheless refined aspects of Garrick's portrayal into his own. However it was the "towering and majestic" Sarah Siddons (Kemble's sister) who became a legend in the role of Lady Macbeth. In contrast to Hannah Pritchard's savage, demonic portrayal, Siddons' Lady Macbeth, while terrifying, was nevertheless – in the scenes in which she expresses her regret and remorse – tenderly human. And in portraying her actions as done out of love for her husband, Siddons deflected from him some of the moral responsibility for the play's carnage. Audiences seem to have found the sleepwalking scene particularly mesmerising: Hazlitt said of it that "all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical ... She glided on and off the stage almost like an apparition."
In 1794, Kemble dispensed with the ghost of Banquo altogether, allowing the audience to see Macbeth's reaction as his wife and guests see it, and relying upon the fact that the play was so well known that his audience would already be aware that a ghost enters at that point.
Ferdinand Fleck, notable as the first German actor to present Shakespeare's tragic roles in their fullness, played Macbeth at the Berlin National Theatre from 1787. Unlike his English counterparts, he portrayed the character as achieving his stature after the murder of Duncan, growing in presence and confidence: thereby enabling stark contrasts, such as in the banquet scene, which he ended babbling like a child.
Performances outside the patent theatres were instrumental in bringing the monopoly to an end. Robert Elliston, for example, produced a popular adaptation of Macbeth in 1809 at the Royal Circus described in its publicity as "this matchless piece of pantomimic and choral performance", which circumvented the illegality of speaking Shakespeare's words through mimed action, singing, and doggerel verse written by J. C. Cross.
In 1809, in an unsuccessful attempt to take Covent Garden upmarket, Kemble installed private boxes, increasing admission prices to pay for the improvements. The inaugural run at the newly renovated theatre was Macbeth, which was disrupted for over two months with cries of "Old prices!" and "No private boxes!" until Kemble capitulated to the protestors' demands.
Edmund Kean at Drury Lane gave a psychological portrayal of the central character, with a common touch, but was ultimately unsuccessful in the role. However he did pave the way for the most acclaimed performance of the nineteenth century, that of William Charles Macready. Macready played the role over a 30-year period, firstly at Covent Garden in 1820 and finally in his retirement performance. Although his playing evolved over the years, it was noted throughout for the tension between the idealistic aspects and the weaker, venal aspects of Macbeth's character. His staging was full of spectacle, including several elaborate royal processions.
In 1843 the Theatres Regulation Act finally brought the patent companies' monopoly to an end. From that time until the end of the Victorian era, London theatre was dominated by the actor-managers, and the style of presentation was "pictorial" – proscenium stages filled with spectacular stage-pictures, often featuring complex scenery, large casts in elaborate costumes, and frequent use of tableaux vivant. Charles Kean (son of Edmund), at London's Princess's Theatre from 1850 to 1859, took an antiquarian view of Shakespeare performance, setting his Macbeth in a historically accurate eleventh-century Scotland. His leading lady, Ellen Tree, created a sense of the character's inner life: The Times critic saying "The countenance which she assumed ... when luring on Macbeth in his course of crime, was actually appalling in intensity, as if it denoted a hunger after guilt." At the same time, special effects were becoming popular: for example in Samuel Phelps' Macbeth the witches performed behind green gauze, enabling them to appear and disappear using stage lighting.
In 1849, rival performances of the play sparked the Astor Place Riot in Manhattan. The popular American actor Edwin Forrest, whose Macbeth was said to be like "the ferocious chief of a barbarous tribe" played the central role at the Broadway Theatre to popular acclaim, while the "cerebral and patrician" English actor Macready, playing the same role at the Astor Place Opera House, suffered constant heckling. The existing enmity between the two men (Forrest had openly hissed Macready at a recent performance of Hamlet in Britain) was taken up by Forrest's supporters – formed from the working class and lower middle class and anti-British agitators, keen to attack the upper-class pro-British patrons of the Opera House and the colonially-minded Macready. Nevertheless, Macready performed the role again three days later to a packed house while an angry mob gathered outside. The militia tasked with controlling the situation fired into the mob. In total, 31 rioters were killed and over 100 injured.
Charlotte Cushman is unique among nineteenth century interpreters of Shakespeare in achieving stardom in roles of both genders. Her New York debut was as Lady Macbeth in 1836, and she would later be admired in London in the same role in the mid-1840s. Helen Faucit was considered the embodiment of early-Victorian notions of femininity. But for this reason she largely failed when she eventually played Lady Macbeth in 1864: her serious attempt to embody the coarser aspects of Lady Macbeth's character jarred harshly with her public image. Adelaide Ristori, the great Italian actress, brought her Lady Macbeth to London in 1863 in Italian, and again in 1873 in an English translation cut in such a way as to be, in effect, Lady Macbeth's tragedy.
Henry Irving was the most successful of the late-Victorian actor-managers, but his Macbeth failed to curry favour with audiences. His desire for psychological credibility reduced certain aspects of the role: He described Macbeth as a brave soldier but a moral coward, and played him untroubled by conscience – clearly already contemplating the murder of Duncan before his encounter with the witches. (Similar criticisms were made of Friedrich Mitterwurzer in Germany, whose performances of Macbeth had many unintentional parallels with Irving's.) Irving's leading lady was Ellen Terry, but her Lady Macbeth was unsuccessful with the public, for whom a century of performances influenced by Sarah Siddons had created expectations at odds with Terry's conception of the role.
Late nineteenth-century European Macbeths aimed for heroic stature, but at the expense of subtlety: Tommaso Salvini in Italy and Adalbert Matkowsky in Germany were said to inspire awe, but elicited little pity.
Twentieth century to present
Two developments changed the nature of Macbeth performance in the twentieth century: firstly developments in the craft of acting itself, especially the ideas of Stanislavski and Brecht, and secondly the rise of the dictator as a political icon. The latter has not always assisted the performance: it is difficult to sympathise with a Macbeth based on Hitler, Stalin or Idi Amin.
In 1936, a decade before his film adaptation of the play, Orson Welles directed Macbeth for the Negro Theatre Project at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, using black actors and setting the action in Haiti: with drums and Voodoo rituals to establish the Witches scenes. The performance, dubbed The Voodoo Macbeth, proved inflammatory in the aftermath of the Harlem riots, accused of making fun of black culture and as "a campaign to burlesque negroes" until Welles persuaded crowds that his use of black actors and voodoo made important cultural statements.
The 'reconstructive movement' was concerned with the recreation of Elizabethan acting conditions, and would eventually lead to the creation of Shakespeare's Globe and similar replicas. One of the movement's offshoots was in the reconstruction of Elizabethan pronunciation: for example Bernard Miles' 1951 Macbeth, for which linguists from University College London were employed to create a transcript of the play in Elizabethan English, then an audio recording of that transcription, from which the actors, in turn, learned their lines.
A performance which is frequently referenced as an example of the play's curse was the outdoor production directed by Burgess Meredith in 1953 in the British colony of Bermuda, and starring Charlton Heston. Using the imposing spectacle of Fort St. Catherine's as a key element of the set, the production was plagued by a host of mishaps, including Charlton Heston being burned when his tights caught fire. 
The critical consensus is that there have been three great Macbeths on the English-speaking stage in the twentieth century, all of them commencing at Stratford-upon-Avon: Laurence Olivier in 1955, Ian McKellen in 1976 and Antony Sher in 1999. Olivier's portrayal (directed by Glen Byam Shaw, with Vivien Leigh as Lady Macbeth) was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. Kenneth Tynan expressed the view that it succeeded because Olivier built the role to a climax at the end of the play, whereas most actors spend all they have in the first two acts.
The play caused grave difficulties for the Royal Shakespeare Company, especially at the (then) Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Peter Hall's 1967 production was (in Michael Billington's words) "an acknowledged disaster" with the use of real leaves from Birnham Wood getting unsolicited first-night laughs, and Trevor Nunn's 1974 production was (Billington again) "an over-elaborate religious spectacle". But Nunn achieved success for the RSC in his 1976 production at the intimate Other Place, with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in the central roles. A small cast worked within a simple circle, and McKellen's Macbeth had nothing noble or likeable about him, being a manipulator in a world of manipulative characters. They were a young couple, physically passionate, "not monsters but recognisable human beings," but their relationship atrophied as the action progressed.
In Soviet-controlled Prague in 1977, faced with the illegality of working in theatres, Pavel Kohout adapted Macbeth into a 75-minute abridgement for five actors, suitable for "bringing a show in a suitcase to people's homes."
Spectacle became unfashionable in Western theatre throughout the twentieth century. In East Asia, however, spectacular productions have achieved great success, including Yukio Ninagawa's 1980 production with Masane Tsukayama as Macbeth, set in the sixteenth century Japanese Civil War. The same director's tour of London in 1987 was widely praised by critics, even though (like most of their audience) they were unable to understand the significance of Macbeth's gestures, the huge Buddhist altar dominating the set, or the petals falling from the cherry trees. Xu Xiaozhong's 1980 Central Academy of Drama production in Beijing made every effort to be unpolitical (necessary in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution): yet audiences still perceived correspondences between the central character (who the director had actually modelled on Louis Napoleon) and Mao Zedong. Shakespeare has often been adapted to indigenous theatre traditions, for example the Kunju Macbeth of Huang Zuolin performed at the inaugural Chinese Shakespeare Festival of 1986. Similarly, B. V. Karanth's Barnam Vana of 1979 had adapted Macbeth to the Yakshagana tradition of Karnataka, India. In 1997, Lokendra Arambam created Stage of Blood merging a range of martial arts, dance and gymnastic styles from Manipur, performed in Imphal and in England. The stage was literally a raft on a lake.
The RSC again achieved critical success in Gregory Doran's 1999 production at The Swan, with Antony Sher and Harriet Walter in the central roles, once again demonstrating the suitability of the play to smaller venues. Doran's witches spoke their lines to a theatre in absolute darkness and the opening visual image was the entrance of Macbeth and Banquo in the berets and fatigues of modern warfare, carried on the shoulders of triumphant troops. In contrast to Nunn, Doran presented a world in which king Duncan and his soldiers were ultimately benign and honest, heightening the deviance of Macbeth (who seems genuinely surprised by the witches' prophesies) and Lady Macbeth, in plotting to kill the king. The play said little about politics, instead powerfully presenting its central characters' psychological collapse.
While the play has been translated and performed in various languages in different parts of the world, Media Artists was the first to stage its Punjabi adaptation in India. The adaptation by Balram and the play directed by Samuel John have been universally acknowledged as a milestone in Punjabi theatre. The unique attempt involved trained theatre experts and the actors taken from rural background in Punjab, India. Punjabi folk music imbued the play with the native ethos as the English setting of the Shakespeare's play was transposed into Punjabi milieu.
The earliest known film Macbeth was 1905's American short Death Scene From Macbeth, and short versions were produced in Italy in 1909 and France in 1910. Two notable early versions are lost: Ludwig Landmann produced a 47-minute version in Germany in 1913, and D. W. Griffith produced a 1916 version in America featuring the noted stage actor Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Tree is said to have had great difficulties adapting to the new medium, and especially in confining himself to the small number of lines in the (silent) screenplay, until an ingenious cameraman allowed him to play his entire part to an empty camera, after which a real camera shot the film.
In 1947, David Bradley produced an independent film of Macbeth, intended for distribution to schools, most notable for the designer of its eighty-three costumes: the soon-to-be-famous Charlton Heston.
Orson Welles' 1948 Macbeth, in the director's words a "violently sketched charcoal drawing of a great play," was filmed in only 23 days and on a budget of just $700,000. These filming conditions allowed only a single abstract set, and eclectic costumes. Dialogue was pre-recorded, enabling the actors to perform very long individual takes, including one of over ten minutes surrounding the death of Duncan. Welles himself played the central character, who dominates the film, measured both by his time on screen, and by physical presence: high-angle and low-angle shots and deep-focus close-ups are used to distort his size in comparison to other characters. Welles retained from his own 1936 stage production the image of a Voodoo doll controlling the fate of the central character: and at the end it is the doll we see beheaded. The film's allegorical aspect is heightened by Welles' introduction of a non-Shakespearean character, the Holy Father (played by Alan Napier), in opposition to the witches, speaking lines taken from Shakespeare's Ross, Angus and the Old Man. Contemporary reviews were largely negative, particularly criticising Welles' unsympathetic portrayal of the central character. Newsweek commented: "His Macbeth is a static, two-dimensional creature as capable of evil in the first scene as in the final hours of his bloody reign."
Joe MacBeth (Ken Hughes, 1955) established the tradition of resetting the Macbeth story among 20th-century gangsters. Others to do so include Men of Respect (William Reilly, 1991), Maqbool (Vishal Bhardwaj, 2003) and Geoffrey Wright's Australian 2006 Macbeth.
In 1957, Akira Kurosawa used the Macbeth story as the basis for the "universally acclaimed" Kumunosu-jo (in English known as Throne of Blood or (the literal translation of its title) Cobweb Castle). The film is a Japanese period-piece (jidai-geki), drawing upon elements of Noh theatre, especially in its depiction of the evil spirit who takes the part of Shakespeare's witches, and of Asaji, the Lady Macbeth character, played by Isuzu Yamada, and upon Kabuki Theatre in its depiction of Washizu, the Macbeth character, played by Toshiro Mifune. In a twist on Shakespeare's ending, the tyrant (having witnessed Cobweb Forest come to Cobweb Castle) is killed by volleys of arrows from his own archers.
George Schaefer directed Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson in a 1960 made-for-TV film which later had a limited European theatrical release. (The three had also worked together on the earlier Hallmark Hall of Fame 1954 TV version of the play.) Neither of the central couple was able to adapt their stage acting style to the screen successfully, leading to their roles being described by critics as "recited" rather than "acted".
Roman Polanski's 1971 Macbeth was the director's first film after the brutal murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, and reflected his determination to "show [Macbeth's] violence the way it is ... [because] if you don't show it realistically then that's immoral and harmful." His film showed deaths only reported in the play, including the execution of Cawdor, and Macbeth stabbing Duncan, and its violence was "intense and incessant." Made in the aftermath of Zeffirelli's youthful Romeo and Juliet, and financed by Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner, Polanski's film featured a young sexy lead couple, played by Jon Finch (28) and by Francesca Annis (25), who controversially performed the sleepwalking scene nude. The unsettling film score, provided by the Third Ear Band, invoked "discord and dissonance." While using Shakespeare's words, Polanski alters aspects of Shakespeare's story, turning the minor character Ross into a ruthless Machiavellian, and adding an epilogue to the play in which Donalbain (younger son of Duncan) arrives at the witches' lair, indicating that the cycle of violence will begin again.
William Reilly's 1991 Men of Respect, another film to set the Macbeth story among gangsters, has been praised for its accuracy in depicting Mafia rituals, said to be more authentic than those in The Godfather or GoodFellas. However the film failed to please audiences or critics: Leonard Maltin found it "pretentious" and "unintentionally comic" and Daniel Rosenthal describes it as "providing the most risible chunks of modernised Shakespeare in screen history." In 1992 S4C produced a cel-animated Macbeth for the series Shakespeare: The Animated Tales, and in 1997 Jeremy Freeston directed Jason Connery and Helen Baxendale in a low budget, fairly full-text, version.
In Shakespeare's script, the actor playing Banquo must enter the stage as a ghost. The major film versions have usually taken the opportunity to provide a double perspective: Banquo visible to the audience from Macbeth's perspective, but invisible from the perspective of other characters. Television versions, however, have often taken the third approach of leaving Banquo invisible to viewers, thereby portraying Banquo's ghost as merely Macbeth's delusion. This approach is taken in the 1978 Thames TV production, Jack Gold's 1983 version for BBC Television Shakespeare, and in Penny Woolcock's 1997 Macbeth on the Estate. Macbeth on the Estate largely dispensed with the supernatural in favour of the drug-crime driven realism of characters living on a Birmingham housing estate: except for the three "weird" (in the modern sense of the word) children who prophesy Macbeth's fate. This production used Shakespeare's language, but encouraged the actors – many of whom were locals, not professionals – to speak it naturalistically.
Twenty-first-century cinema has re-interpreted Macbeth, relocating "Scotland" elsewhere: Maqbool to Mumbai, Scotland, PA to Pennsylvania, Geoffrey Wright's Macbeth to Melbourne, and Allison L. LiCalsi's 2001 Macbeth: The Comedy to a location only differentiated from the reality of New Jersey, where it was filmed, through signifiers such as tartan, Scottish flags and bagpipes. Alexander Abela's 2000 Makibefo was set among, and starred, residents of Faux Cap, a remote fishing community in Madagascar. Leonardo Henriquez' 2000 Sangrador (in English: Bleeder) set the story among Venezuelan bandits and presented a shockingly visualised horror version.
Billy Morrissette's Scotland, PA reframes the Macbeth story as a comedy-thriller set in a 1975 fast-food restaurant, and features James LeGros in the Macbeth role and Maura Tierney as Pat, the Lady Macbeth character: "We're not bad people, Mac. We're just under-achievers who have to make up for lost time." Christopher Walken plays vegetarian detective Ernie McDuff who (in the words of Daniel Rosenthal) "[applies] his uniquely offbeat menacing delivery to innocuous lines." Scotland, PA's conceit of resetting the Macbeth story at a restaurant was followed in BBC Television's 2005 ShakespeaRe-Told adaptation.
Vishal Bhardwaj's 2003 Maqbool, filmed in Hindi and Urdu and set in the Mumbai underworld, was produced in the Bollywood tradition, but heavily influenced by Macbeth, by Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 The Godfather and by Luc Besson's 1994 Léon. It deviates from the Macbeth story in making the Macbeth character (Miyan Maqbool, played by Irfan Khan) a single man, lusting after the mistress (Nimmi, played by Tabbu) of the Duncan character (Jahangir Khan, known as Abbaji, played by Pankaj Kapoor). Another deviation is the comparative delay in the murder: Shakespeare's protagonists murder Duncan early in the play, but more than half of the film has passed by the time Nimmi and Miyan kill Abbaji.
In 2004 an "eccentric" Swedish/Norwegian film, based on Alex Scherpf's Ice Globe Theatre production of Macbeth, was said by critic Daniel Rosenthal to owe "more to co-director Bo Landin's background in natural history documentaries than to Shakespeare." More conventional adaptations of 21st-century stage productions to television include Greg Doran's RSC production filmed in 2001 with Antony Sher and Harriet Walter in the central roles, and Rupert Goold's Chichester Festival Theatre Macbeth televised in 2010 with Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as the tragic couple. The cast of the latter felt that the history of their stage performance (moving from a small space at Chichester to a large pros-arch stage in London to a huge auditorium in Brooklyn) made it easier for them to "re-scale", yet again, their performances for the cameras.
In 2006, Geoffrey Wright directed a Shakespearean-language, extremely violent Macbeth set in the Melbourne underworld. Sam Worthington played Macbeth. Victoria Hill played Lady Macbeth and shared the screenplay credits with Wright. The director considered her portrayal of Lady Macbeth to be the most sympathetic he had ever seen. In spite of the high level of violence and nudity (Macbeth has sex with the three naked schoolgirl witches as they prophesy his fate), intended to appeal to the young audiences that had flocked to Romeo + Juliet, the film flopped at the box office.
There have been numerous literary adaptations and spin-offs from Macbeth. Russian Novelist Nikolay Leskov told a variation of the story from Lady Macbeth's point of view in Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which itself became a number of films and an opera by Shostakovich. Maurice Baring's 1911 The Rehearsal fictionalises Shakespeare's company's inept rehearsals for Macbeth's premiere. Gu Wuwei's 1916 play The Usurper of State Power adapted both Macbeth and Hamlet as a parody of contemporary events in China. The play has been used as a background for detective fiction (as in Marvin Kaye's 1976 Bullets for Macbeth) but was also used as the basis of James Thurber's parody of the whodunit genre The Macbeth Murder Mystery, in which the protagonist reads Macbeth applying the conventions of detective stories, and concludes that it must have been Macduff who murdered Duncan. Comics and graphic novels have utilised the play, or have dramatised the circumstances of its inception: Superman himself wrote the play for Shakespeare in the course of one night, in the 1947 Shakespeare's Ghost Writer.
Macbeth has been adapted into plays dealing with the political and cultural concerns of many nations. Eugène Ionesco's Macbett satirised Macbeth as a meaningless succession of treachery and slaughter. Wale Ogunyemi's A'are Akogun, first performed in Nigeria in 1968, mixed the English and Yoruba languages. Welcome Msomi's 1970 play Umabatha adapts Macbeth to Zulu culture, and was said by The Independent to be "more authentic than any modern Macbeth" in presenting a world in which a man's fighting ability is central to his identity. Joe de Graft adapted Macbeth as a battle to take over a powerful corporation in Ghana in his 1972 Mambo or Let's Play Games, My Husband. Dev Virahsawmy's Zeneral Macbeff, first performed in 1982, adapted the story to the local Creole and to the Mauritian political situation. (The same author later translated Macbeth itself into Mauritian creole, as Trazedji Makbess.) And in 2000, Chuck Mike and the Nigerian Performance Studio Workshop produced Mukbutu as a direct commentary on the fragile nature of Nigerian democracy at the time.
Music and audio
The extant version of Macbeth, in the First Folio, contains dancing and music, including the song "Come Away Hecate" which exists in two collections of lute music (both c.1630, one of them being Drexel 4175) arranged by Robert Johnson. And, from the Restoration onwards, incidental music has frequently been composed for the play: including works by William Boyce in the eighteenth century. Davenant's use of dance in the witches' scenes was inherited by Garrick, which in turn influenced Giuseppe Verdi to incorporate a ballet around the witches' cauldron into his opera Macbeth. Verdi's first Shakespeare-influenced opera, with libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, incorporated a number of striking arias for Lady Macbeth, giving her a prominence in the early part of the play which contrasts with the character's increasing isolation as the action continues: she ceases to sing duets and her sleepwalking confession is starkly contrasted with the "supported grief" of Macduff in the preceding scene. Other music influenced by the play includes Richard Strauss's 1890 symphonic poem Macbeth. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn incorporated themes depicting the female characters from Macbeth in the 1957 Shakespearean jazz suite Such Sweet Thunder: the weird sisters juxtaposed with Iago (from Othello), and Lady Mac represented by ragtime piano because, as Ellington put it, "we suspect there was a little ragtime in her soul". Another Jazz collaboration to create hybrids of Shakespeare plays was that of Cleo Laine with Johnny Dankworth, who in Laine's 1964 Shakespeare and All That Jazz juxtaposed Titania's instructions to her fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream with the witches' chant from Macbeth. In 2000, Jag Panzer produced their heavy metal concept-album retelling Thane to the Throne.
The play has inspired numerous works of art. The scene in which Lady Macbeth seizes the daggers, as performed by Garrick and Mrs. Pritchard, was a touchstone throughout Henry Fuseli's career, including works in 1766, 1774 and 1812. The same performance was the subject of Johann Zoffany's painting of the Macbeths in 1768. In 1786, John Boydell announced his intention to found his Shakespeare Gallery. His chief innovation was to see the works of Shakespeare as history, rather than contemporary, so instead of including the (then fashionable) works depicting the great actors of the day on stage in modern dress, he commissioned works depicting the action of the plays. However the most notable works in the collection disregard this historicising principle: such as Fuseli's depiction of the naked and heroic Macbeth encountering the witches. William Blake's paintings were also influenced by Shakespeare, including his Pity, inspired by Macbeth's "Pity, like a naked new-born babe, striding the blast." Sarah Siddons' triumph in the role of Lady Macbeth led Joshua Reynolds to depict her as The Muse of Tragedy.
Unless otherwise specified, all citations of Macbeth refer to Muir (1984), and of other works of Shakespeare refer to Wells and Taylor (2005).
- Harold Bloom. Bloom's Shakespeare Through the Ages: Macbeth, Infobase Publishing, New York, New York, 2008.
- Harold Bloom. Bloom's Shakespeare Through the Ages: Macbeth, p. 41, Infobase Publishing, New York, New York, 2008.
- Muir, Kenneth, ed. (1984)  Macbeth. The Arden Shakespeare, Second Series, 11th ed., p. xxxvi.
- Orgel (2002, 33)
- Coursen (1997, 11–13)
- Coursen (1997, 15–21)
- Coursen (1997, 17)
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- Gay (2002, 164)
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- Michael Billington, cited by Gay (2002, 169)
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- Holland (2007, 40) and see also Tom Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth.
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- Holland (2002, 207)
- Gillies (2002, 268)
- Gillies (2002, 270)
- Gillies (2002, 276–278)
- Gillies (2002, 278–279)
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- Rosenthal (2007, 98–99)
- Guntner (2000, 124)
- Forsyth (2000, 284–285)
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- Rosenthal (2007, 100–102)
- Rosenthal (2007, 110–111)
- Rosenthal (2007, 123–124)
- Rosenthal (2007, 127–128)
- Guntner (2000, 125)
- Rosenthal (2007, 103)
- Rosenthal (2007, 103–104)
- Howard (2003, 617)
- Rosenthal (2007, 105)
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- Rosenthal (2007, 107–108)
- Rosenthal (2007, 108)
- Brode (2001, 189)
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- Rosenthal (2007, 122)
- Jess-Cooke (2006, 177–178)
- Rosenthal (2007, 124)
- Rosenthal (2007, 125–126)
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- Interview with Kate Fleetwood on DVD of Macbeth (2010 film)
- Interview with Geoffrey Wright in "Making of Documentary" on DVD of Macbeth (2006 film)
- Rosenthal (2007, 127)
- Brode (2001, 192)
- Sanders (2007, 156)
- Lanier (2002, 119)
- Gillies (2002, 267)
- Osborne (2007, 129)
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- Sanders (2007, 60)
- Sanders (2007, 83 & 112–116)
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