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Shakespeare's rhetoric has always astounded his contemporary audiences through his almost supernatural ability to perceive and present the universality of human nature on stage, regardless of the time his characters lived in.
The three different types of techniques used in rendering the play to the public are different, but related art forms: literature, theater and film. They reflect their author's or directors' vision of the story originally presented by Shakespeare on stage at the Globe, in London, at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
Kings of Scotland, England, and later Great Britain, had always been challenged in keeping their place on the throne and Shakespeare himself lived through times that were still full of intrigue and plotting against the sovereign. Mary Stuart, accused of plotting against the queen of England, Elisabeth I, had been executed in 1587, still a vivid memory for many who attended the shows put on stage at the Globe.
The Londoners in Shakespeare's time were thus no strangers to the intrigues at the royal courts. The way kings feared for their lives, while princes or any of those who could raise a claim to the throne were wowing their nets, making allies in order to reach the final goal: get the throne and make sure they had a valid line of descendants, often appears depicted in Shakespearean plays. From this point-of-view, the history of Scotland and England was a little different than the history of the rest of the world ever since there was something to be shared between two or several lines of royal descendants.
Faulkner once said that the best literature comes out of the conflicts of the human heart with itself. Shakespeare's rhetoric masters the human tragedy at all levels: the inner world of the human mind and the human heart as well as the exterior consequences of the human acts and the development of the relationships between those caught by history in the same boat by fateful circumstances. Willingly or unknowingly, people pay the price for their vices and their virtues. Macbeth the play illustrates the lesson us humans learn too late: everything comes with a price. Polansky's film, Macbeth, takes this lesson a step further and puts things into the perspective of the randomness and thus frailty of the human life. The absurd in the human life, illustrated by a history of bloodshed, is splattered on Polansky's screen.
Macbeth was written in an age when superstition was second nature, people accused of witchcraft were in danger of a dreadful death and natural disasters were usually explained by the intervention of supernatural forces. Death was a constant and the Globe was in fact the second stage, while the first known to Englanders was the scaffold, or any place destined for an execution. Moreover, the executions of those considered unworthy of a dignified death were disemboweled and their corpses were dismembered and exposed in public places. Life was short in Elizabethan England and manmade causes made it even shorter.
Shakepeare's Macbeth explores what happens behind those actions, inside the tormented souls that aspire greatness and shed the blood of their human fellows with disrespect for the intrinsic value of the human life. Everyone appears to be replaceable, humanity looses what had distinguished it from the animal world where everything is settled with a fight and the death of the adversary means the triumph of another one's genes. But even in the animal world there are rules even if animals don't have a conscience.
Macbeth's world seems to be reigned by the spirits of evil, no one escapes their spell and not even Macbeth's death does not succeed to wash all the sins in order to make place for a better world, free of the dominating powers of every conceivable human vice. Some scholars have reached the conclusion that Macbeth's death and his subsequent beheading are placed behind the scenes because Shakespeare wanted to suggest his character was not worthy of a dignified scene of death, in the open. He had Macbeth slain instead in a hidden place, a king who lost the right to die with honor.
Beside Shakespeare's intentions to punish his main character in more than one way, there are also technical conditions to be considered when analyzing the scene of Macbeth's beheading. The technical conditions at the Globe in the seventeenth century, as developed as they may have been compared to those other theaters in the country had at the time, were less likely to allow a director to create a credible beheading scene. Moreover, people were making distinctions between the real world and the world of entertainment. On the other hand, fake blood was also used on stage in Shakespeare's time, thus Shakespeare's choice of spearing the public of both Macbeth's death and beheading scene could be partially explained by his wish to punish him with a hidden death, in the spirit of all the deaths Macbeth inflicted upon those who became his victims.
In the scene of the fight, Macduff is asking his opponent to give up all pretense of kingly dignity and reveal his real identity: "Then yield thee, coward, / And live to be the show and gaze o' the time: / We'll have thee, as our rarer monsters are, / Painted on a pole, and underwrit, / 'Here may you see the tyrant" (Shakespeare, Macbeth). During the next scene, Macduff produces Macbeths head as the necessary condition to be met before Duncan's successor, Malcom, could be crowned as king of Scotland.
Macbeth's death is not the symbol of evil confronted and vanquished by the forces of good. Ross, the companion of kings, regardless of their entitlement to their throne, the messenger who brings news of death, the man who does not hesitate to turn on his cousin's innocent family and become accomplice in the murder of children and women, is present in the final scene of Malcom's coronation. Macduff himself is having the blood of his offspring and wife on his hands since he fled the country leaving them in the hands of his enemies. As long as Shakespeare leaves Ross and Macduff to participate in the new order and stand at the side of the new king, there is a sign that evil has not been vanquished. One tyrant had perished, but others might be born.
The ephemerid human life is in Shakespeare's plays generally and in Macbeth in particular a constant on stage, reflection of the thoughts of the audiences return to their own stage, to confront the precariousness of their own reality after the theater doors had closed. According to Ivo Strecker and Steven Tyler, the novelty in Shakespeare's plays comes precisely from his art of rhetoric, his ability to draw the audience onto the stage, compared to the mediaeval plays or the ones that will follow in the baroque period: "there is however a difference: medieval comments on life as an unreal show were always extra-dramatic; Shakespeare's are made within the framework of the drama, and spoken with vividly imagined spoken personae. So they open up for the audience potential dimensions of reality rather than shutting the world off and turning away from it" (Strecker, Tyler, 2009, p. 104). The audience is thus actively participating in the story intended to unfold on stage and Shakespeare is as always counting on a highly active and intelligent audience with a keen sense of perception. The brilliant lines in his plays are not wasted on people who are unable to understand those experiences and use their own imagination, reflection, torments and dreams in order to be able to relate to those who are tormented, dream and suffer on stage. "In the wooden O. Of the Elisabethan public theaters, the spectators were in a close and delicate relation with the drama, neither themselves part of it, like medieval audiences, nor entirely separate, but held in an "equilibrium of involvement and distance" (Righter 1962, 1967: 184) that was gradually lost after Shakespeare's death in 1616"(Strecker, Tyler, 2009, 105).
Shakespeare's audience received a different kind of speech and representation on stage, according to the evolution society had made from the medieval thinking to that of the Renaissance. Londoners, smart city people, were more motivated by all the advances of science and technology to start to question the old order of things and to change their views of their own place in relation to the rest of the world as well as with God.
The aforementioned technical difficulties of staging a beheading during Shakespeare's life and the conventions of the stage might have had a contribution to the author's choice not to present the actual beheading on the stage. On the other side, the fact that the audience does not even see Macbeth hurt or killed is also an indicator of the fact that Shakespeare wanted to keep his death in the shadow where he belonged due to all his previous murders. Ross' dialogue with his father in the play is punctuated by reflections on…[continue]
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