The Cursed “Scottish Play” - Some of the gory particulars:
Beginning with its first performance, in 1606, Dear Will himself was forced to play Lady Macbeth when Hal Berridge, the boy designated to play the lady with a peculiar notion of hospitality, became inexplicably feverish and died. Moreover, the bloody play so displeased King James I that he banned it for five years.
When performed in Amsterdam in 1672, the actor playing Macbeth substituted a real dagger for the blunted stage one and with it killed Duncan in full view of the entranced audience.
As Lady Macbeth, Sarah Siddons was nearly ravaged by a disapproving audience in 1775; Sybil Thorndike was almost strangled by a burly actor in 1926; Diana Wynyard sleepwalked off the rostrum in 1948, falling down 15 feet.
During its 1849 performance at New York's Astor Place, a riot broke out in which 31 people were trampled to death.
In 1937, when Laurence Olivier took on the role of Macbeth, a 25 pound stage weight crashed within an inch of him, and his sword which broke onstage flew into the audience and hit a man who later suffered a heart attack.
In 1934, British actor Malcolm Keen turned mute onstage, and his replacement, Alister Sim, like Hal Berridge before him, developed a high fever and had to be hospitalized.
In the 1942 Macbeth production headed by John Gielgud, three actors -- Duncan and two witches -- died, and the costume and set designer committed suicide amidst his devilish Macbeth creations.
The indestructible Charlton Heston, in an outdoor production in Bermuda in 1953, suffered severe burns in his groin and leg area from tights that were accidentally soaked in kerosene.
An actor's strike felled Rip Torn's 1970 production in New York City; two fires and seven robberies plagued the 1971 version starring David Leary; in the 1981 production at Lincoln Center, J. Kenneth Campbell, who played Macduff, was mugged soon after the play's opening.
Of course, no explanations have been given for the seemingly inevitable toil and trouble that is part and parcel of this unlucky play. You don't, in fact, ever refer to Macbeth or quote from it unless rehearsing or performing it. You also don't, as explained to me by countless brave and talented actors from Glenda Jackson to Ian McKellen, refer to this haunted play by name, but instead you call it That Scottish Play or simply That Play; everyone, it seems, will get the message, in a flash.
In 1606 William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, wrote a play which would go down in history as the cursed Scottish play after numerous mishaps during production. It was written for his new patron, James I (James VI of Scotland), following the death of Queen Elizabeth. James was interested in witchcraft and Scotland, and hence the themes in the play. Banquo is James's ancestor. The play itself tells the story of a man, urged by his wife and foretold by prophecy, who commits regicide in order to gain power. Unfortunately, due to numerous quirks of language and obscure allusions, the play is difficult to understand without assistance. Using this annotated version along with external links and analysis, to more information, you can now get a better grasp of one the best tragedies ever written, the tale of Macbeth.
Probably composed in late 1606 or early 1607, Macbeth is the last of Shakespeare's four great tragedies, the others being Hamlet, King Lear and Othello. It is a relatively short play without a major subplot, and it is considered by many scholars to be Shakespeare's darkest work. Lear is an utter tragedy in which the natural world is amorally indifferent toward mankind, but in Macbeth, Shakespeare adds a supernatural dimension that purposively conspires against Macbeth and his kingdom. In the tragedy of Lear, the distraught king summons the goddess of Chaos, Hecht; in Macbeth, Hecate appears as an actual character.
On the level of human evil, Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy is about Macbeth's bloody rise to power, including the murder of the Scottish king, Duncan, and the guilt-ridden pathology of evil deeds generating still more evil deeds. As an integral part of this thematic web is the play's most memorable character, Lady Macbeth. Like her husband, Lady Macbeth's ambition for power leads her into an unnatural, phantasmagoric realm of witchcraft, insomnia and madness. But while Macbeth responds to the prophecies of the play's famous trio of witches, Lady Macbeth goes even further by figuratively transforming herself into an unnatural, desexualized evil spirit. The current trend of critical opinion is toward an upward reevaluation of Lady Macbeth, who is said to be rehumanized by her insanity and her suicide. Much of this reappraisal of Lady Macbeth has taken place in discussions of her ironically strong marriage to Macbeth, a union that rests on loving bonds but undergoes disintegration as the tragedy unfolds.
The play begins with the brief appearance of a trio of witches and then moves to a military camp, where the Scottish King Duncan hears the news that his generals, Macbeth and Banquo, have defeated two separate invading armies—one from Ireland, led by the rebel Macdonald, and one from Norway. Following their pitched battle with these enemy forces, Macbeth and Banquo encounter the witches as they cross a moor. The witches prophesy that Macbeth will be made thane (a rank of Scottish nobility) of Cawdor and eventually king of Scotland. They also prophesy that Macbeth’s companion, Banquo, will beget a line of Scottish kings, although Banquo will never be king himself. The witches vanish, and Macbeth and Banquo treat their prophecies skeptically until some of King Duncan’s men come to thank the two generals for their victories in battle and to tell Macbeth that he has indeed been named thane of Cawdor. The previous thane betrayed Scotland by fighting for the Norwegians and Duncan has condemned him to death. Macbeth is intrigued by the possibility that the remainder of the witches’ prophecy—that he will be crowned king—might be true, but he is uncertain what to expect. He visits with King Duncan, and they plan to dine together at Inverness, Macbeth’s castle, that night. Macbeth writes ahead to his wife, Lady Macbeth, telling her all that has happened.
Lady Macbeth suffers none of her husband’s uncertainty. She desires the kingship for him and wants him to murder Duncan in order to obtain it. When Macbeth arrives at Inverness, she overrides all of her husband’s objections and persuades him to kill the king that very night. He and Lady Macbeth plan to get Duncan’s two chamberlains drunk so they will black out; the next morning they will blame the murder on the chamberlains, who will be defenseless, as they will remember nothing. While Duncan is asleep, Macbeth stabs him, despite his doubts and a number of supernatural portents, including a vision of a bloody dagger. When Duncan’s death is discovered the next morning, Macbeth kills the chamberlains—ostensibly out of rage at their crime—and easily assumes the kingship. Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain flee to England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that whoever killed Duncan desires their demise as well.
Fearful of the witches’ prophecy that Banquo’s heirs will seize the throne, Macbeth hires a group of murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. They ambush Banquo on his way to a royal feast, but they fail to kill Fleance, who escapes into the night. Macbeth becomes furious: as long as Fleance is alive, he fears that his power remains insecure. At the feast that night, Banquo’s ghost visits Macbeth. When he sees the ghost, Macbeth raves fearfully, startling his guests, who include most of the great Scottish nobility. Lady Macbeth tries to neutralize the damage, but Macbeth’s kingship incites increasing resistance from his nobles and subjects. Frightened, Macbeth goes to visit the witches in their cavern. There, they show him a sequence of demons and spirits who present him with further prophecies: he must beware of Macduff, a Scottish nobleman who opposed Macbeth’s accession to the throne; he is incapable of being harmed by any man born of woman; and he will be safe until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane Castle. Macbeth is relieved and feels secure, because he knows that all men are born of women and that forests cannot move. When he learns that Macduff has fled to England to join Malcolm, Macbeth orders that Macduff’s castle be seized and, most cruelly, that Lady Macduff and her children be murdered.
When news of his family’s execution reaches Macduff in England, he is stricken with grief and vows revenge. Prince Malcolm, Duncan’s son, has succeeded in raising an army in England, and Macduff joins him as he rides to Scotland to challenge Macbeth’s forces. The invasion has the support of the Scottish nobles, who are appalled and frightened by Macbeth’s tyrannical and murderous behavior. Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, becomes plagued with fits of sleepwalking in which she bemoans what she believes to be bloodstains on her hands. Before Macbeth’s opponents arrive, Macbeth receives news that she has killed herself, causing him to sink into a deep and pessimistic despair. Nevertheless, he awaits the English and fortifies Dunsinane, to which he seems to have withdrawn in order to defend himself, certain that the witches’ prophecies guarantee his invincibility. He is struck numb with fear, however, when he learns that the English army is advancing on Dunsinane shielded with boughs cut from Birnam Wood. Birnam Wood is indeed coming to Dunsinane, fulfilling half of the witches’ prophecy.
In the battle, Macbeth hews violently, but the English forces gradually overwhelm his army and castle. On the battlefield, Macbeth encounters the vengeful Macduff, who declares that he was not “of woman born” but was instead “untimely ripped” from his mother’s womb (what we now call birth by cesarean section). Though he realizes that he is doomed, Macbeth continues to fight until Macduff kills and beheads him. Malcolm, now the king of Scotland, declares his benevolent intentions for the country and invites all to see him crowned at Scone.
A Reminder about Quotations When you quote you must put quotation marks at the beginning and end of what you have copied. You must write the act, line and scene number after the quotation. For example: (1.1.37). If you quote from more than one line or the lines appear on more than one line you must indicate the end of the line by using /. For example: ‘Teach it but how/ And thou shalt see how apt it is to learn/Any hard lessons…’(1.1.280-282). Three dots (ellipses) indicate some words have been left out, they can be used in the middle of a line as well.
It should be unnecessary to quote large slabs but if you require more than one sentence you should begin a new line, indent several centimetres and copy the quote down. When the quote is finished begin a new line.
What atmosphere is created by the first scene in the play ?
What three prophecies do the witches make?
How does Macbeth react to the announcement that Malcolm will be the next king? Why?
How does Macbeth refer to his wife in his letter?
In Act One Scene Five what does Lady Macbeth say will stop Macbeth from pursuing the crown? What is she going to do to help him?
Why does Macbeth decide against killing Duncan in Act One Scene Seven?
How does Macbeth feel before and after the murder of Duncan?
How do Lady Macbeth and Macbeth behave after the murder is discovered? Describe their actions and their attitudes. There is no need to quote in your answer.
What do you Malcolm and Donalbain do after the murder has been discovered? Why? There is no need to quote in your answer.
How has nature been disturbed by the murder of the King? Why would the Elizabethan audience have accepted the link between the death of the king and the affect on nature?
Where is Macbeth at the end of Act Two? Why? There is no need to quote in your answer,
Act Three Questions
What does Banquo’s attitude to the witches’ prophecies show about his personality? How does this attitude contract with Macbeth’s attitude and actions?
In Act Three Scene Two why does Lady Macbeth say killing Duncan has gained her and Macbeth nothing?
In Act Three Scene Three Macbeth’s plan only partially succeeds, explain why both the success and the failure are important. There is no need to quote in your answer.
What does Macbeth decide to do after the banquet? Why is this important? Explain your answer clearly.
Act Four Questions 1. What are the four apparitions? What do they tell Macbeth? You may quote or paraphrase in your answer.
2. What dose Macbeth decide to do both generally and specifically after hearing seeing the apparitions?
3. How does Lady Macduff’s personality contrast with Lady Macbeth’s personality?
4. What does Macduff try to persuade Malcolm to do in Act Four Scene Three?
5. What arrangements has Malcolm made to help overthrow Macbeth?
6. What terrible news does Macduff receive from Ross? What does Macduff swear to do?
7. Why could the killing of Lady Macduff be described as a turning point in Macbeth’s character?
Discuss in relation to the other murders and the witches prophetic promises.
Act Five Questions 1. What evidence is there that Lady Macbeth suffers from a guilty conscience in Act Five Scene One?
2. How do the apparitions come true in Act Five? Explain your answer clearly, refer to the message given by the apparition and the form the real event takes.
Looking Back at Macbeth
Themes Tragedy A play is called a tragedy when the central character suffers from a character flaw (fault or weakness) which leads to his or her undoing (which is usually death). Macbeth’s character flaw is his ambition. 1. Explain how Macbeth’s ambition changes his personality and causes him to act in an evil way. Explain how his evil ways lead to his death.
2. Do you think Macbeth has any other character flaws? Explain your answer.
Good versus Evil
3.Who represents the good forces in the play? Explain why the characters are good.
4. Who represents the evil forces in the play? Explain why the characters are evil.
5. Which force eventually wins?
6. Do you think Macbeth would have become evil if he had not met with the witches? Explain your answer.
Briefly outline the seven prophetic promises made by the witches.
Explain how the prophetic promises dictate the action in the play.
Macbeth’s character (1)
The answers in column B have been muddled up. Work out the correct order and then fill in column C in your own words.