|Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth|
A brief description of the background to this play is important and relevant. King James VI of Scotland became James I of England and Scotland when the two nations were united in 1603 and William Shakespeare's company of players wisely became known as The King's Men instead of the The Queen's Men. They depended upon a certain amount of Royal patronage so when Macbeth was written, probably in 1606, it was natural that he wanted to please the new King.
James was known to have been a believer in Witchcraft and had actually written a book on the subject. Our William was rather clever in making the witches central to the Macbeth's tragedy. You are probably aware of the famous opening scene with the three witches. Click here to view that opening scene. The witches occur at intervals throughout the play.
Here is a brief synopsis of the plot: At the outset of the play Macbeth and Banquo are shown as heroic generals who have bravely helped Scotland defeat two invading armies. When the witches predict that Macbeth will be King he is sceptical until the King promotes him to a high rank (Thane of Cawdor) so he begins to believe the prediction. The themes that develop are deception and the destructive power of unchecked ambition (through hallucinations and 'blood'). When King Duncan comes to stay at Macbeth's castle in Inverness Lady Macbeth (the original femme fatale?) persuades him to murder the King, which he does. He then decides that his friend Banquo is a rival so he kills him too.
However, at a feast hosted by the newly-crowned Macbeths, Banquo's ghost appears at the dinner table and Macbeth begins to loose his mind. He is eventually killed by MacDuff, whose family Macbeth has also had murdered.
Shakespeare's genius shows in his psychological insight (before psychology existed!) such as this scene where, on his way to murder King Duncan, Macbeth hallucinates about a dagger, "Is this a dagger I see before me?", brilliantly played by Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard of Star Trek if you prefer). This speech is a superb example of Shakespeare's craft and, in this clip, I especially love the menace evoked by the wonderful background music that hovers behind Macbeth's soliloquy.
It is often not appreciated how much the English language owes to the creations of William Shakespeare. Here are just a few quotes that originated in The Tragedy of Macbeth.
"Fair is foul and foul is fair"
- The witches indicating that all is not as it seems in life.
"Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it"
- Malcolm's description of Macbeth's slaying of the traitor Macdonwald.
"Yet I do fear thy nature; it is too full of the milk of human kindness"
- Lady Macbeth fearing that her husband isn't evil enough!
"Double,double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble."
"By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes."
- The witches awaiting the arrival of Macbeth.
"Out damned spot!, out I say!"
- Lady Macbeth referring to blood on her clothing, while she is sleep-walking.
"She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
- Macbeth on hearing of the death of his wife.
Macbeth: "If we should fail?"
Lady Macbeth: "We fail.But screw your courage to the sticking-place and we'll not fail."
Finally, my favourite part of the play (and there are many contenders) is this:
Macbeth has asked the witches if all of their predictions will come true, will no-one defeat him? and they tell him:
"Macbeth shall never vanquished be until
Great Burnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him."and
"No man of woman born shall harm Macbeth."
Burham Wood is a small forest about five miles from Dunsinane Hill where Macbeth's castle is situated.
Naturally Macbeth is pleased to hear this declaring that his overthrow "can never be"
However when an English army of 10,000 men advances on Macbeth in support of the legitimate Scottish King, their general tells them to cut branches from the trees in the wood to camouflage themselves.
So, when a servant informs Macbeth that Burnham Wood is advancing on the castle, Macbeth becomes even more unhinged (well, wouldn't you?)
And at the end of the play when Macbeth is fighting MacDuff, he still believes himself to be invincible because "no man of woman born" can harm him.
But he is then in informed by MacDuff that he was "ripped from his mother's womb" (ie: came into the world by Caesarean section).....oops!
MacDuff kills Macbeth
If you would like to see a BBC production of the play click here
Friday, 31 January 2014
Macbeth or, in Gaelic, Mac Bethad, was King of Alba (Scotland) from 1040 to 1057 so he died almost a thousand years ago. Although this post is about William Shakespeare's play it is important to know that (1) Macbeth was a real person and (2) the play is, historically, very inaccurate.
Thursday, 23 January 2014
Thursday, 16 January 2014
Pam Ayers is a quintessentially English writer of comic verse who, because she speaks with a lovely Oxfordshire accent and is sometimes thought of as a 'corny' comedienne is, to my mind, often under-rated. But I think that she is a gifted writer of comic verse. I don't know if she is much known outside of the UK which would be a pity. Here is one of her typical verses. You can hear her reading one of her poems in the link at the end of this post. I recommend it.
I'M GOING TO KILL MY HUSBAND by Pam Ayres
I am going to kill my husband, I have stuck all I can stick,
His constant criticising is getting on my wick.
He takes it all for granted, but tonight I can relax,
For the minute he complains, I shall whop him with the axe.
Yes, I’m going to kill my husband, I shall have him to be sure,
He’s never going to curse my navigation any more.
I drive him to distraction when I read a map, I know,
But tonight I’m going to drive him where he didn’t plan to go.
So when he starts haranguing me till I’m a nervous wreck,
Shouts and spits and rages till the veins swell in his neck.
As he grabs the map from me there’ll be no turning back,
I will calmly reach behind me and I’ll whop him with the jack.
I mean, he gets a cold and I’m supposed to sympathise,
And his sneezes shake the rafters and tears roll from his eyes.
He looks so woebegone, just like the back end of a bus,
And yet when I am ill he’ll tell me not to make a fuss.
It’s true, he’s got to go, you may not think I’ve got the right,
But he snores you see and I should know, I’m with him every night.
With a horrifying steady rhythm, whistle, snore and snort,
Well tonight he’s going to stay asleep for longer than he thought.
“Your honour, I confess, that with a satisfying thwack,
I hit him with the frying pan from seven paces back.”
The weapon was examined by the jury good and true,
It was all made up of women, and they all said,”After you!”
Click here for a wonderful, hilarious reading by Pam Ayres
Saturday, 11 January 2014
Saturday, 4 January 2014
The death last night of Phil Everly, the younger of the Everly Brothers duo, truly is the end of an era. The importance of their influence on the world of popular music is impossible to overstate. Pop, rock, folk and country music in general owe a huge debt to them and The Beach Boys and The Beatles in particular have both acknowledged the inspiration they received.
|Phil Everly: Born January 19th 1939, died January 3rd 2014|