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Introduction to Macbeth

As one of Shakespeare’s shortest and most popular plays, Macbeth has been acted and filmed in great numbers. It is a play that can easily be transformed to make it relevant for modern audiences.

Macbeth is considered a jinxed play.  Because of its dark and supernatural elements, professional and amateur actors feel that a spell has been cast over the play.  Jon Finch who played the part of Macbeth in Polanski’s film said:

It's called the unmentionable play.  You're not allowed to say Macbeth in a theatre or in a dressing room.  If you even quote from the play, you have to go outside the dressing room, turn round three times, whistle, spit or something like that.  It's an unlucky play because most of it is performed in the dark and on the battlements and people tend to fall off battlements when they can see the edges of the rostrum or whatever.

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's most popular plays. It deals with extreme passion, lust, greed and ambition.  Yet it appeals to all people in all times. As John Cox put it: “we can all be Macbeth”.

The meanings of a play emerge indirectly or implicitly via the vicarious personal involvement or identification and empathy of us the responders.

Meaning can be derived from recurring Motifs which unify the plot and provide clues to the composer’s underlying concerns in creating meaning through patterns of design. Variations upon a theme will reinforce the message.  Motifs help to foster textual integrity.

Macbeth is a rich minefield of layers and layers of meaning.  Shakespeare embodies the moral relativism of the Post-Modernists. One can never be sure whose side he is on. Shakespeare is full of moral and philosophical ambiguities. 

As John Bell states: “he doesn’t commit himself to any one stance....he didn’t have to believe anything.  His great objectivity lead to ambivalence because life is ambiguous. 


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