In preparation for seeing the Torch Theater production, I re-read Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As with Hamlet, I was struck by how many lines continue to be quoted (sometimes incorrectly) hundreds of years later. The plot is familiar to most, even those who have never read the play. The particulars, though, drew me through the story. I noted Macbeth’s vacillation, so like Hamlet’s in that earlier, and IMO better, tragedy. I appreciated the crowd-pleasing breather of the drunken porter scene, and was annoyed by my edition; it debates the provenance of almost every passage in “Macbeth”, but doesn’t bother to speculate on “nose painting.” Overall, though, I appreciated the notes detailing the centuries-long debate over what parts of the play Shakespeare wrote, what he didn’t, etc.
As for the story as a whole, I contrast Macbeth’s change over the play, from hero to doubter to outward embracer of his role as villain, with that of Lady Macbeth, who is constant from first learning of the prophecy, yet shatters on the interior from the stress of her misdeeds in the service of her ambition. Macbeth and his lady balance one another, even as they plunge down a slippery slope of morality to their demises.
Macbeth and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I’ve noted some similarities of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Shakespeare before, in my reading of Titus Andronicus. G. Grod and I were watching BtVS Season 2* on DVD while I read Macbeth. Creator Joss Whedon, in his commentary on the season’s (and perhaps the series’) pivotal two episodes, “Surprise” and “Innocence,” states his preference for psychology in the service of a tale. He wants to add realistic touches to supernatural elements to create a fantastic yet believable story. He offered as examples the star-crossed lovers Angel, the vampire with a soul, and Buffy, the slayer who’s in love with a vampire.
I find an echo in Whedon’s comments to those of Kenneth Muir in the Macbeth Introduction:
Shakespeare was not so much concerned with the creation of real human beings, but with theatrical or poetical effect. He was fascinated by the very difficulty of making the psychologically improbable, by sheer virtuosity, appear possible. Shakespeare made ‘the bold experiment of a character with a strongly marked mixture of qualities of which the one seems almost to preclude the other’–a brave warrior who is a moral coward, a brutal murderer who is racked by feelings of guilt, and so on. (Intro, xlvii)
Macbeth, Torch Theater, 1 November 2008: The irony of seeing Macbeth on All Saints Day amused me. This production was on a small scale, but with two locally renowned actors, Stacia Rice and Sean Haberle, in the lead roles. The supporting roles were filled with actors of varying skill. Macduff was effective, I found, while Malcolm was not. Still, the power of the story combined with its strong actors made for an stirring show.** Star Tribune review here, City Pages review here.
*Query: is Buffy Season 2 one of the best seasons of TV ever? Discuss.
**My favorable impression of the play may have been enhanced by the kind usher who told me my outfit was really working for me (I wore these shoes), and because I was basking in the aftermath of a fabulous meal from Nick and Eddie’s.