Tag Archives: Macbeth

The Fassbender Macbeth and Shakespearean Riddles

I finally got the chance to see the 2015 film adaptation of Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. Based on the after-show rumblings, the people in the theater seemed pretty split between those loving the production for its visual sumptuousness and having such a hunky actor speak in verse, and those begrudging Kurzel for privileging style at the cost of the comic relief scenes, which were all cut.

I get it: I was waiting to see what they’d do with the Porter scene, too. I love when Macduff Jr. cheekily challenges his mum on the morality of whether every single liar should be hanged by every single honest man. These parts were missed, but what remains is a production streamlined to reflect Macbeth’s own subjective: what does he see? how does he feel? What’s left is his descent into madness.

In the process of this descent, Macbeth kills all of his friends / competitors, defending his crown while the rest of Scotland turns on him. He makes one final visit to the “weird sisters,” who foretell whether he will win the war or be vanquished once and for all. They respond with the following riddle-like stipulations:

1: “None of woman born shall harm Macbeth.”

2: “Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.”

Ultimately, Macbeth hears only what he wants to hear. To the Scottish king, their responses are not cryptic but clear: your cause is just, you will survive this war. To someone terrified of being defeated without an heir of his own, Macbeth hears that it is impossible to vanquish him, just as it seems impossible for a person to be born from anyone but a woman, or for a forest to exist anywhere but where it is rooted.

To me, the most important quality of any adaptation is whether it makes me think about the play in a new way. Kurzel’s Macbeth does this with the final battle scene. In most productions that I have seen, the allied powers transport Birnam Wood to Dunsinane by camouflaging themselves in the leaves and branches of Birnam Wood, effectively going unseen by Macbeth until it is too late. This convention is exceptionally clever: it requires surprisingly little effort in order to stage something that, to Macbeth, seems so impossible. Because I’ve seen the scene staged in this fashion so many times, I wasn’t expecting this production to go in another direction. But boy, did they! Instead of bringing the forest to Dunsinane through camouflage, Malcolm’s army sets Birnam Wood ablaze. That’s right: the final battle is staged on the smoky, ashy, periphery of a giant forest fire!

macbeth-poster2-social

Coming disturbingly full-circle from the misty heath on which the first battle was set, what we get is a stark contrast between natural order and man’s interference:

  • Duncan, the natural king, vs. Macbeth, the regicidal usurper
  • Mist vs. ash
  • Nature’s inherent fearsomeness vs. destruction at the hands of men

Macbeth disturbs the natural order by killing the natural king. Kurzel epitomizes the subsequent challenges facing the usurper by showing not only man, but nature rising against Macbeth to restore Malcolm to his rightful seat.

So that leaves us with the question: is it worthwhile to brave the January cold in order to see this film? My answer: most definitely. See Kurzel bring the unexpected to Dunsinane! And if that’s not steamy enough for you, know that you’ll also be getting some of this:

macbeth2

Not bad, Fassbender. Not bad.

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Filed under Characters, Performances, Plays, Reviews, Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Birthday Resolutions: 2014 Edition!

With mirth and laughter, let old wrinkles come.

images-2Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare! Also, happy birthday to me! Today I turn 28, but the milestone birthday goes to the Bard himself, who turns 450! Every year on our shared birthday, I like to reflect back on the amazing ways that I’ve experienced Shakespeare over the course of the year, and my goals as a Bardolator (unabashed Shakespeare lover) for the coming year. Take a look back at my Shakespeare’s Birthday Resolutions from 2012 and 2013 – I can’t believe how quickly time flies!

 

Up till now

The past year’s shakespeareance (I had to – just once) most dear to me is my trip to England. There, I presented my research alongside my peers, and I got to go on a mini tour to visit some of my favorite people in London, Oxford, and Cambridge. I feel so lucky to be able to gallivant around England for a few weeks every year or two; however broke I am afterwards, I still think of it as one of the top perks of being a scholar. I love being able to work from where I want, when I want, be it in the promised land of Shakespeare himself, or working away at my desk with a sleeping cat next to me for moral support. Both are part of the lifestyle that I’ve come to savour over the past year.

Some of National Theatre Live's best offerings!

Some of National Theatre Live’s best offerings!

As ever, I cannot express the extent of my appreciation for the technology and arts funding that brings the best of England’s theatre live to my local cinema. This year, I got to see Rory Kinnear’s Olivier-winning turn as Iago in Othello; Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus, which was just as sexy as I’d hoped; and Kenneth Branagh’s outstanding Macbeth, which I am over the moon to be seeing in New York this coming June!

Professionally, I am always striving to strike a balance between working hard and having fun. This year, the fates aligned when my Victorian ecocritic boyfriend got assigned to TA Shakespeare with me; to have a boyfriend who can quote Shakespeare is pretty much all I’ve ever wanted…and far be it from me to stop our students from calling us the Brad and Angelina of the English department 😉

Thanks for the Bardie, Shakespeare Standard!

Thanks for the Bardie, Shakespeare Standard!

But enough of the lovey-dovey stuff! This year, I’ve been working to keep on top of my blogging while doing my research, which isn’t always easy but is nonetheless immensely rewarding. This morning, I found out that I won two Bardie awards on behalf of The Shakespeare Standard, where I discuss my grad school experiences in the Secret Diary of a PhD Candidate. Winning the award is such an honour, and reminds me that it’s worth it to keep writing because there are people out there who will keep reading! I thank you! I continue to strive to make your blogging experience better, which is why I’ve finally done away with the dusty bardolator23.wordpress.com domain and have finally locked down TheBardolator.com. Stay tuned for some exciting updates over the course of this year, too; as I get closer to the job market, I want to make this place shine!

And finally, the dissertation: I’m proud and relieved to have made some substantial progress on my dissertation research this year. After years of grappling with The Merchant of Venice (relationship status: it’s complicated.), it finally hit me that it is the beast that I was meant to tackle in my dissertation. I’ll be presenting the first nugget of that research at a symposium at the University of Toronto this weekend: wish me luck!

 

What’s to come

This past year, I’ve been building up my teaching skills by taking a course on teaching and learning in higher education. Teaching at the university level doesn’t require a Bachelor of Education, but the methods I learned in the course have already proved indispensable for my marking, and I can’t wait to see how they influence my teaching. In September, I will be teaching my own course. This is an experience that has been no less than five years in the making, and I can’t be more excited about it. Word docs with creative ideas abound!

Got an idea for my Shakespeare course hashtag? Leave it in the comments below!

Got an idea for my Shakespeare course hashtag? Leave it in the comments below!

But as much as teaching is a time to pass on my knowledge, it’s still very much a time for me to grow. In the past, I’ve been known to ride what I would call the “textual high horse” – I’ve argued that Shakespeare must first and foremost be understood through reading the text, and then only afterwards should students watch the movies. While this is one of my ideals, I recognize that undergraduate study habits don’t always work that way. For my course, I will be screening each of the films and I really hope all students, whether they’ve had/made the time to read the text or not, come to these screenings and engage with the material in whichever ways they can. I want to make these screenings a party- popcorn potlucks! I’ll know that it works if the students develop a course hashtag. I’ll be sure that it works if the students turn that hashtag into t-shirts – fingers crossed!

On the vein of performance, my goals for this coming year are, as always, to immerse myself in more Shakespeare! I’m particularly excited for what’s to come in Shakespeare performance this year. Much to my joy, the Stratford Festival is fulfilling one of my dreams: to stage more than one production of the same Shakespeare play to show the variety of interpretations that can spin out of one major dramaturgical difference. This year, they’re staging two productions of Midsummer Night’s Dream!

Benedict is primed for performance!

Benedict is primed for performance!

There is one production, though, that I’m more excited about than any other, excited enough to book another trip across the pond for it. What’s that? Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at the Barbican, August 2015! It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve read or seen that play: I can’t wait to see how Olivier award-winning director Lyndsey Turner will spin it! Will Benedict act like Sherlock, or Kahn, or think outside of the box? We’ll have to wait and see! So what’s the plan till then? My plan is to use that trip as my brass ring, the goal that pushes me to finish my dissertation and then take a much-needed vacation!

And with that, let’s celebrate! Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare! To another 450 years!

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National Theatre Live: Macbeth

Last night, I had the privilege of seeing Kenneth Branagh star in Macbeth, the production that has brought him back to the Shakespearean stage after a decade. As I’ve mentioned before, this production was very sold out; before going to England this past summer, I tried to pull every Shakespearean string I had, and still no luck! No amount of Googling, even, could find me a scalper to sell me overpriced tickets to this hyped-up production. Lucky for me, the wonderful National Theatre Live screened a live[1] performance of the play. I got to pre-order my tickets without panic, all for the low cost of 23 bucks! Not surprisingly, it was well worth it.

Macbeth telling his wife to "Bring forth men-children only"

Macbeth telling his wife to “Bring forth men-children only”

Branagh has only gotten more attractive with age, and while he held his head high as a redheaded Scot, I respect his decision not to parrot Shakespeare’s words in a put-on Scottish accent. That being said, some of the characters stayed true to their authentic Scottish accents, and I have to say: iambic pentameter has never sounded so sexy!

The reason why I continue to see Shakespeare’s plays re-produced, after reading and seeing them so many times before, is because each production has the potential to open my mind to ideas within the play that I haven’t yet considered. Branagh’s performance was excellent, although I wouldn’t say it shed significant light on aspects of the character that I haven’t already thought about. He pronounced the speeches well, but sometimes a bit too quickly; I would have appreciated a pregnant pause here and there to allow the gravity of Macbeth’s thoughts and actions to set in. For example, when Macbeth ponders his prospective murder of Duncan, he says:

                                  I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on the other.

I would have loved it if he had paused at the expression “vaulting ambition”, providing maximum dramatic effect so that we knew that this is his ultimate reason for murdering the king.

Can Macbeth be redeemed for his crimes?

Branagh as a director, though, is another story. The production was exceptionally well directed. It was set in a deconsecrated church, which brought up some really interesting parallels between the cross, symbolizing redemption; swords, symbolizing the battles that bookend the domestic interior plot; and the dagger, that Macbeth uses to kill Duncan. One of the most impressive moments in the production was Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger which I see before me” soliloquy, when he begins to mentally unravel. This speech provides every director with a choice: do you show the dagger? Is the dagger real, hovering above Macbeth, or is it, as Macbeth says, “A dagger of the mind, a false creation, / Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?” The impressive moment came when Branagh began this speech, speaking to a beam of light that seemed to reflect from behind the church’s giant cross, onto the muddy battlefield that is stage floor. Never before did the notions of murder and redemption seem so…illuminated. This is the most literal manifestation of my notion of “shedding light” on different meanings within the play. Does Macbeth kill his king and curse himself forever? Or is eternal damnation worth it for the sake of becoming King himself? That being said, after this impressive sight, it seemed almost bathetic[2] when we finally did see a dagger, hovering from above on a not-so-invisible fishing wire.

Duncan in the mud, fighting for his against the initial uprising

Duncan in the mud, fighting against the initial uprising

All in all, the most impressive element of this production was the set. Rather than a stage at the front of the church, the action was set in the nave, the central aisle of the church, with the audience sitting in rows across from each other. The initial battle scene was set in the rain, and much of the killing was done up against the boards, providing a terrifying shock to the audience present in Manchester the night the performance was filmed.

What was really interesting was that they did not cover up this set when the plot turns to Macbeth’s castle at Inverness. Lady Macbeth is a domestic goddess; she plays the role of gracious hostess, all the while convincing her husband to kill the king. I got a new sense of her significant part in this treachery when Alex Kingston waded through the mud, saying: “The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements”; this castle is indeed Lady Macbeth’s battlement.

Malcolm fighting in the mud

Malcolm fighting in the mud

If I had to apply one adjective to this production, I’d use the word “raw.” When Macduff cried over the death of his wife and children, he cried from his eyes, nose, and mouth. With the help of filmed close-ups, I was able to see the tears and mucus flowing out of his twisted, grief-stricken face. When Banquo was stabbed (in the back, appropriately), we saw the blood flow out of his mouth. And when any character died in battle, they lay face-down in the mud for minutes on end, no matter how unpleasant it was for the actor himself.

All in all, this is a performance that you don’t want to miss. Luckily, you don’t have to! See your local cinema listings for the encore presentations of National Theatre Live’s presentation of the Manchester International Festival’s Macbeth.


[1] We watched it “as live” – the live performance was filmed over the summer.

[2] The tumbling of the profound into the absurd.

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Kenneth Branagh’s New York stage debut as Macbeth

Last night, I found proof that the theatre gods exist. That’s a pretty big claim to make – what event could be so huge?? I’ll tell you: in June 2014, Kenneth Branagh is making his New York stage debut!!!

Why is this a big deal? For a number of reasons!

Branagh as Macbeth

–       First off, Branagh has brought so much to the world of Shakespeare in performance. He has directed a number of Shakespeare films, including As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing, and has performed some of the greatest Shakespearean roles, including Hamlet, Richard III, Iago, and Henry V. At the rate he’s going, it’s no surprise that people (myself included), consider him the Laurence Olivier of our generation.

–       He’s just getting off an eleven-year hiatus from the Shakespearean stage. He has spent the interim busying himself by directing small art house films like Thor, you’ve probably never heard of it.

–       Branagh’s initial return to the Shakespearean stage was this summer, where he co-directed, and delivered a critically acclaimed performance of Macbeth for the Manchester International Festival. The incredibly short run, only 18 performances, was fuelled by such high demand that it sold out instantly. I was so excited when I found out that he’d be performing in England at the same time that I was there, but no matter who I begged, what scalpers I Googled, or which favours I tried to call in, the response was the same: sold out.

–       Despite the demand, the audiences were limited to less than 300 viewers per performance. To appease disappointed Bardolators, the production was at one point relayed on giant screens outside the theatre in Manchester, bringing in no less than 5000 people!

–       For those of you who indulge in the “Mackers Myth” (the rubbish superstition that saying the name “Macbeth” will bring your production bad luck), according to some shady reports, one actor in Manchester was struck by Branagh’s sword, and needed to go to the hospital after final curtain.

–       In an age of unique Macbeths, this one made its presence known by being staged in a deconsecrated church in Manchester. And while I have every intention of dashing to the movie theatre on October 17 to catch National Theatre Live’s broadcast of the Manchester production, I am still going to jump on the opportunity to book tickets for the New York production. As opposed to making his New York stage debut on Broadway, Branagh’s Macbeth will be staged at the Park Avenue Armory. Rather than replicating the original production, it will be re-imagined to best suit the vast, 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall.

–       Although Branagh calls this setting “epic”, Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian teases us by saying that the space has a capacity for audiences sized anywhere between 200-5000! I can’t tell if I’d prefer the former or the latter, as long as I can be one of them!

So: where will you be in June 2014?

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Tamora, Queen of the Goths: a tribute to a she-villain

Mirror, mirror on the wall…who’s the fiercest she-villain of them all?

“Unsex me here”: Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth

The go-to answer is usually Lady Macbeth, and not without reason. She’s ambitious, and her words leave such an emasculating sting on Macbeth that he is driven to kill King Duncan. While he wants to reap the benefits of being king, it is Lady Macbeth who shows him that, to make a royal omelet, one must first crack a few crowns.

Lady Macbeth is most notable for her lack of stain-remover and for the heartlessness of the following rant:

When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.

Lady Macbeth’s baby is one of those great Shakespearean mysteries. We know that Macbeth has no sons, and thus the crown will pass to Banquo’s, but what of that baby? Was it Macbeth’s, or Lady M’s by another man?  Has she already dashed that baby’s head into the concrete? We never really know, but her threat to “dash” the baby’s brains out has made her an eternally compelling she-villain.

“Now climbeth Tamora Olympus’ top” – Jessica Lange as Tamora

But now I’d like to make the case for Tamora, Queen of the Goths, the underrated she-villain of Titus Andronicus. Mother to four sons over the course of the play, she is the true embodiment of “Hell hath no fury like a Mama Bear scorned.”

Tamora’s first words are some of her most compelling, as she begs Titus to spare the life of her firstborn:

Stay, Roman brethren! Gracious conqueror,
Victorious Titus, rue the tears I shed,
A mother’s tears in passion for her son:
And if thy sons were ever dear to thee,
O, think my son to be as dear to me!
Sufficeth not that we are brought to Rome,
To beautify thy triumphs and return,
Captive to thee and to thy Roman yoke,
But must my sons be slaughter’d in the streets,
For valiant doings in their country’s cause?
O, if to fight for king and commonweal
Were piety in thine, it is in these.
Andronicus, stain not thy tomb with blood:
Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods?
Draw near them then in being merciful:
Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge:
Thrice noble Titus, spare my first-born son.

 

Tamora pleading with Titus in the Peacham drawing: the only surviving contemporary Shakespearean illustration

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