“Macbeth, Arden 2nd series, ed. Kenneth Muir

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.

For a geeky variation on “Macbeth”, see Theresa and Patrick Nielson-Hayden’s excellent blog Making Light.

*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.

8 Responses to ““Macbeth, Arden 2nd series, ed. Kenneth Muir”

  1. Amy Says:

    re: season 2 of BTVS. Quite possibly. Although I also really, really liked season 3. And I wish the rest of season 6 had lived up to the musical episode. However, are we including some of the pay-cable channels in this comparison? Because I’d have to stick up for most of the Sopranos as well as season 1 of Dexter too.

  2. Steph Says:

    Buffy Season 2 is certainly up there as a strong contender for best season of television, although I am not 100% convinced that within the series of BtVS it is actually the best season. It has some truly standout episodes (Surprise/Innocence, Passion, Becoming Parts I & II), but it also has some pretty terrible ones as well (Go Fish, & Some Assembly Required, for example). I might actually say that overall, Season 3 is a stronger season. I wouldn’t stake my life on it (ha!), but for me it kind of changes daily whether I prefer S2 or S3 more.

    But other great single seasons of tv (even if after that things went to pot):
    Felicity Season 1 (I actually don’t think there is a single bad episode in this first season)
    Gilmore Girls Season 1
    and even if it’s a bit embarrassing to admit:
    The O.C. Season 1 (I freely confess that I loved the third episode of the season entitled “The Gamble”… interestingly, it was written by Buffy writer alumna, Jane Espenson)

  3. girldetective Says:

    Hmm. I’m not sure what it says about the level of discourse of this blog that the post is about Macbeth, and the discussion is about Buffy. I’m glad to see you’re both fans of season 3, as we’ll watch it when we get through S2. We bought it when it came out; it’s still wrapped in plastic.

    No need to apologize for OC; when that show was on it was great fun. I’ve not liked Espenson’s episodes of Battlestar Galactica, though, and I didn’t like S7 of Buffy, many of which were written by her, I think.

    I saw the actor who played Lady Macduff at my grocery coop tonight. It is a strange small world here in the Twin Cities.

  4. Steph Says:

    Well, to be fair, you were the one who first brought Buffy into it! ;)

    I consider Buffy to be one of my all time favorite shows, but be that as it may, I find most of it post-season 5 very difficult to watch. The show clearly peaks in Season 2 & 3, and then spirals downward from thereon out. Season 7 is fairly terrible given how fast and loose it plays with the rules of the universe and, I find many of the themes in both it and Season 6 fairly questionable and somewhat antithetical to the messages of earlier seasons… but I blame the loss of vision here on Marti Noxon rather than Espenson. Also, despite the fact that Buffy could be considered a “dramedy”, Espenson is clearly a comedic writer. Not having seen Battlestar Galactica, I can’t say whether it lends itself to jokes and the like, but that is certainly her milieu. (I would also like to state for the record that I’m not a Jane Espenson apologist! She’s written several very good and fun episodes of Buffy, but she has written some pretty terrible ones as well. But you know, even Joss Whedon does not have the Midas Touch - he did pen “Some Assembly Required” after all! Hmmm… maybe I am a bit of an apologist after all… ;) ).

    Macbeth-related, I studied the play in Grade 11 English, but we only spent about two weeks on it at the end of the year. Still, I always dug the themes of predestination (is it or is it not?) that it deals with, which I think would have resonated quite strongly with the Bard’s audience given views on religion at the time. One of my literary dreams is to get the complete works of Shakespeare in my library and to work my way through his entire oeuvre. Unfortunately, I can’t stand the “complete works” omnibus volumes, as I find them essentially unreadable and far too unwieldy.

  5. Fate Fortuna Says:

    Well, there’s Buffy season 2, there’s The OC season 1, there’s Angel season 1… the entire series of Firefly… and quite possibly one of the House seasons but I can’t decide which one.

    My best experience with Macbeth was an old movie/filmed play, starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench when they were younger. There weren’t very many actors and it was all done in a kind of monochrome grey, with the stage all filled with fog. It had me terrified and completely mesmerized for about three hours.

  6. Emily Says:

    You must must watch “Scotland, PA.” As a Shakespeare adaptation fan, myself, it is by far my favorite film version of “Macbeth” and possibly my favorite Shakespeare adaptation period. I show scenes from the Trevor Nunn (McKellen/Dench) version along with “Throne of Blood” and “Scotland, PA” to my students every semester after reading “Macbeth.”

  7. girldetective Says:

    I think we can see some common ground and kindred spirits here in the comments: Macbeth and its adaptations, and Buffy, Angel, OC, etc.

    I loved Scotland, PA! Such a clever, well-done movie. I will give Throne of Blood another try, when I’m feeling more awake. And my edition said that Judi Dench was one of only two actresses who really “got” Lady Macbeth–the other was Mrs. Siddons.

    Steph, I’ve done some research into editions. Based on the recommendation of my erudite English friend Thalia, I favor the Ardens, though they often have way more info than I need about the minutiae of the plays. And G. Grod has had some problems with their typeface. The new Folger series is very accessible, portable in the MMPB form, and seems to have improved its content. I’ve also heard the Oxford World’s Classics are good.

    As for omnibus editions, the Riverview edition is highly regarded. My husband likes his Penguin–it’s straightforward and easy to read, and if he needs more notes, he consults individual copies, like our Ardens.

  8. Emily Says:

    The Oxfords are a nice compromise between the Arden and something more mass market like the Folger. I used the Barnes and Noble Shakespeare last semester. They have a bit more information than the Folger, but aren’t as historically thorough as the Arden or Oxford. The Arden third series is much improved (in my opinion) from the second series. Now I teach with the Norton because this year they split the complete into two paperback editions comprising the early plays and the later plays. But I’m not crazy about the glosses in the Norton. Other mass markets like Penguin and Signet are fine, but their glosses are often not enough for my students.