“And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
In deepest consequence.”
— Banquo, Macbeth, I,3
“Wow” is not all I have to say about the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Macbeth, but it is a start! Two years ago we were wowed by King Lear in this theater. In July we were back to see “the Scottish play,” and loved it!
This production was arty rather than classic, but by adding music, lighting, and other special effects, they heightened the surreal implications of the prophecies and characters’ responses. The stage was altered to provide some special effects. Metal staging with trap doors was extended forward and additional grating and lighting were added around the columns.
The witches’ lines were cut back. We had no “Eye of newt and toe of frog” cooking scene over a cauldron, and they did not come across as typical Halloween witches at all. Instead they were sleek, dark seers and tempters whose beguiling predictions were enough to turn Macbeth’s world upside down.
When the ghost of Banquo (recently murdered at Macbeth’s command) appears at Macbeth’s celebratory banquet, he usually is sitting in Macbeth’s chair – though no one but Macbeth sees him. In the Globe’s production the ghost rose up under a stretchy black cloth in the center of the stage. The figure was completely masked this way, making it clear that only guilty Macbeth could see and recognize who it really was.
A constant theme in the play is moral confusion. The witches say “Fair is foul and foul is fair” in the opening scene. One minute later, just before meeting the weird sisters Macbeth says, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” (Then it does get muddled!) Throughout the play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth intermingle treason and murder to make them into reasonable deeds because the ‘good’ result has been prophesied. Listening to later prophecies with a critical ear, and knowing how the story will turn out, we can hear the gaps in those predictions. Macbeth A) should fear Macduff, but also B) need not fear any man of woman born. Macbeth takes B to mean he is home free and immediately discounts A. But when C happens (Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane) he knows the jig is up. All predictions have come true and he is doomed.
Are the witches predicting things that will happen regardless, or just devilishly planting seeds to tempt ambition and see what might happen? Macbeth and Lady Macbeth take the bait and brings about their own destruction.
As often happens with a good story of any age, connections between Macbeth’s situation and ours today kept bubbling up. Seeing this play in the weekend between our national party conventions left me wondering how much of what politicians say is entirely – or even partly true. Which claims and predictions are hoped to be self-fulfilling prophecies? How many of us will fall for half-truths we want to hear? Will we confuse an evil for apparent good, or be convinced a good thing is actually very bad?
Temptation and ambition abound in the political arena these days. And guilt can inspire many further missteps once those two have been put in motion. There is real danger lurking in the too quick acceptance of any prediction.
The three evils of Macbeth are still very much with us!
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
11 August 2016