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Tag: Macbeth

Halloween: The evening of the witch

Monday, 31 October, 2016 0 Comments

The Three Witches are characters in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth and they first appear in Act 1.1, where they greet the brave Scottish general with the grim prophecy that he shall be king. Together, they represent chaos, conflict and impending doom, and the spell they cast on Elizabethan Era audiences continues to echo down the centuries as young readers of J.K. Rowling’s popular witchcraft books will know.

Much of our fascination with witches comes from the belief in their ability to bestride the borders between the natural and the supernatural, which is part of the aura of Halloween. It’s not all that long ago when homes and barns were blessed on All Hallows’ Eve to protect people and livestock from witches, who were believed to accompany malignant spirits as they wandered the earth this night.


Film of the Year

Sunday, 20 December, 2015 0 Comments

On the outer edge of desolate Highland battlefield, a trio of witches predict that the Thane of Glamis will one day become the King of Scotland. Inspired by their prophecy and goaded into action by his wife, Macbeth murders the monarch and takes the crown for himself. What follows is classic Shakespearean tragedy.

This year’s screen adaptation by Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel of the 400-year-old work wins the Rainy Day Film of the Year award. Kurzel’s interpretation revolves around a pair of truly powerful performances by Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Her fair is an ideal match for his foul and the film captures perfectly their intimate treachery as they plot to take the throne and keep it.

Justin Kurzel is equally good at depicting the psychological consequences of their crimes. When Macbeth confesses to his wife, after the murder of King Duncan, that his mind is “full of scorpions,” one can empathize with the director’s theory that this Macbeth is suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. Were those witches a hallucination? What about the fact that he can’t get any sleep? When he begins to talk to Banquo’s ghost, Lady Macbeth tries to calm the frightened nobles at the feast: Don’t worry. He’s had these turns before, she says. It doesn’t work, though, and the guests depart.

Macbeth is about power and the evil that people will do to get it, keep it and bequeath it. But all the cruelty of Mr and Mrs Macbeth begs a critical question: What’s the point in brutally grabbing a crown if you’re going to lose it within a generation? Tragedy.

Macbeth

Tomorrow, here, the Rainy Day Post of the Year award.


Mary McCarthy’s Macbeth

Friday, 30 October, 2015 0 Comments

“The idea of Macbeth as a conscience-tormented man is a platitude as false as Macbeth himself. Macbeth has no conscience. His main concern throughout the play is that most selfish of all concerns: to get a good night’s sleep.” With those three sentences written in 1961, Mary McCarthy challenged the traditional reading of Macbeth, the man, the murderer, the monarch. He was your everyday bureaucrat, just doing his job, she declared in “General Macbeth” (PDF 108KB).

Two years after McCarthy’s essay was published, Hannah Arendt questioned the common belief that anti-Semitism was what motivated the key Nazi pen pushers. “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” proposed that conformism was at the heart of top-level Hitlerian wickedness. Maybe evil is simply a function of thoughtlessness, Arendt suggested. Mary McCarthy didn’t use the “banal” word in her meditation on evil, but we know Arendt admired the essay and her interpretation of the efficient SS-Obersturmbannführer is in keeping with McCarthy’s interpretation of the man who would be King of Scotland. Mary McCarthy is brilliant here:

“Macbeth has no feeling for others, except envy, a common middle-class trait. He envies the murdered Duncan his rest, which is a strange way of looking at your victim. What he suffers on his own account after the crimes is simple panic. He is never contrite or remorseful; it is not the deed but a shadow of it, Banquo’s spook, that appears to him. The ‘scruples’ that agitate him before Duncan’s murder are mere echoes of conventional opinion, of what might be said about his deed: that Duncan was his king, his cousin, and a guest under his roof. ‘I have bought golden opinions,’ he says to himself (note the verb), ‘from all sorts of people’; now these people may ask for their opinions back — a refund — if they suspect him of the murder. It is like a business firm’s being reluctant to part with its ‘good will.’ The fact that Duncan was such a good king bothers him, and why? Because there will be universal grief at his death.”

As Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are a perfect team in Justin Kurzel’s new filming of Shakespeare’s noir masterpiece. His big screen Macbeth is a physical, atmospheric work made all the more chilling by a Scotland of snow, sleet, biting wind, bitter frost and badness and madness.

Macbeth


From Nero to Macbeth

Wednesday, 26 June, 2013 0 Comments

Been reading the poems of Constantine P. Cavafy recently and they’re filled with ideas and images that make you want to keep coming back for more. One of the things about Nero’s Deadline is that it evokes thoughts of Macbeth and how power-obsessed leaders (mis)interpret forecasts and predictions. Because forests cannot move and all men are born of women, Macbeth dismisses the prophecies of the Three Witches, and the young Nero scoffs at the idea that he should “Beware the age of seventy-three.”

Nero’s Deadline

Nero wasn’t worried at all when he heard
the utterance of the Delphic Oracle:
“Beware the age of seventy-three.”
Plenty of time to enjoy himself still.
He’s thirty. The deadline
the god has given him is quite enough
to cope with future dangers.

Now, a little tired, he’ll return to Rome —
but wonderfully tired from that journey
devoted entirely to pleasure:
theatres, garden-parties, stadiums…
evenings in the cities of Achaia…
and, above all, the sensual delight of naked bodies…

So much for Nero. And in Spain Galba
secretly musters and drills his army —
Galba, the old man in his seventy-third year.

Constantine P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 — 29 April 1933)

Romans