Monday, October 4, 2010

The Darker Side of Shakespeare

Walking into McManus Theater, I did not know what to expect. As I sat down in my seat, I began to recall the few Shakespearian tragedies and comedies that I have read – Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and King Lear – but not Macbeth; yet I was eager to see this particular production of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy. All in all, I found the play to be extremely fascinating – a typical Shakespearian play which contained intense drama, emotion, and, of course, a twist ending with a somewhat horrific realization. In the case of Macbeth, the horrific realization is that when mankind is stripped down to its bare, raw state, life revolves around brutality, power, and greed. This principle is especially evident in the actions of Macbeth, the play’s protagonist, who continually plot against others in order to satisfy their needs. The portrayal of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in such a manner is significant because it exposes the audience to the darker side of life and the human race.

From the very beginning of the production, the cast effectively sets the mood of the play with many theatrical props. For example, during several scenes with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the stage remains dark with the exception of a few lit torches. By using this technique, the director successfully creates a dreary, sullen environment, which urges the audience to seek out the light. However, the audience will not find any light in this play – literally or figuratively – and often one is left to wonder if anything just will arise out of all of the violence. In addition to lighting, the director uses a lot of blood, gore, and fierce stage fighting to emphasize the tenebrific atmosphere of Macbeth. Without such effects, the production would not have been nearly as captivating.

While the stage props and effects were essential to shaping Macbeth, the theme of violence, darkness, and greed is particularly apparent in the actions of Macbeth himself. For instance, during his bloody rampage, Macbeth murders the King of Scotland (Duncan), Duncan’s son Banquo, several innocent royal guards, and Macduff’s entire family, including his wife and sons (Macbeth was compelled to kill these people because of a prophecy stating that they would threaten him as King of Scotland). While the prophecy may partially justify Macbeth’s violence, nevertheless his actions demonstrate that humans can be so greedy that they are willing to kill others in order to better their own lives.

Furthermore, as I walked out of the theater, pondering what I just saw, I began to notice a thematic parallel between Macbeth and Elizabeth Gilbert’s “One Word.” In “One Word,” Gilbert illuminates the importance of one’s ‘word,’ which (as she expresses) encompasses one’s goals, desires, and meaning in life. I then asked myself: if everyone has a word in life, then what was Macbeth’s word? By using this philosophy, I determined that Macbeth’s word was “power.” One could easily justify this through Macbeth’s personality alone, as he was a power-hungry, greedy, shallow man who did not hesitate to take other’s lives in order to accomplish his personal goals. In his journey for power, Macbeth committed numerous acts of malefaction, betrayed many of his fellow nobles, and ultimately set the stage (pun intended) for his own death. By allowing power consume his life, Macbeth is transformed into a violent and traitorous man.

Overall, the production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the Restless Ecstasy Tour was extremely well executed, and I highly recommend this it (as well as any version of Macbeth) to anyone who enjoys theater. Through the director’s use of both subtle and exaggerated effects – such as stage lighting and the use of blood – one can evidently see the dark side of human nature as the primary theme of the play. The performance of Macbeth also shows the audience that one is willing to commit even the most evil deeds to fulfill one’s own selfish goals. Moreover, the establishment of “power” as Macbeth’s ‘word’ (a concept defined in Elizabeth Gilbert’s “One Word”) only further displays the corrupt, horrific essence of Macbeth.

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