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  • Writer's pictureeclectic Stefan

The Tragedy of Macbeth:"Blood will have blood"

A movie with ghosts, prophecies, spirits, ambitious villains, the supernatural, soliloquies and fate make for a powerful combination. To then say the movie is based on Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, rather than another Marvel superhero movie, may surprise some people.

Let's make it clear--this is Shakespeare and Shakespeare elicits many reactions. There are people who consider Shakespeare to be highbrow suitable only for the elite classes of society; others think that Elizabethan English and Shakespeare’s dialogue is too difficult to understand; still others revel in the language, spectacle, word play, comedy, drama and history across the vast works of William Shakespeare.

I want to go to Stefan's Review of The Tragedy of Macbeth . I'll check this background information later.

Shakespeare wrote his plays for everyone

To put Shakespeare and your reaction to his plays in perspective while deciding whether to watch The Tragedy of Macbeth, let’s consider the nature of what Shakespeare wrote, and more to the point, how the words and performances came alive on stage.

"All of Shakespeare’s plays, no matter how serious, how philosophical, how ‘educated,’ had something for [the groundlings/penny stinkers]. Shakespeare’s plays were notable for their wide range of appeal, including crude jokes, slapstick burlesque, lower-class characters, as much as refined emotions, intellectual ideas and monarchs."

An excerpt from What Are ‘Groundlings’? A Definition Plus Some Fun Facts

Audiences would sit on the stage. Actors and audiences were up-close and personal. If they didn’t like what they saw and heard, they threw apples or part of their lunches. There was little attempt at scenery. Words and gestures sparked the imagination. Special effects amounted to trapdoors that allowed ghosts and spirits to appear and enthral the audience. Many corpses were strewn at the end of the dramas which also provided spectacle for the audiences. Elizabethan audiences liked noise from the flourish of trumpets to battle noises, plus the applause, shouts at the players and boos if the audience was displeased.

Audience members yelled during exciting parts, booed villains, and cheered special effects like smoke and fireworks. It's a bit like blockbuster movie audiences today. The general public purchased the cheapest tickets and stood close to the stage for the duration of the play.

And if you believe you don’t know or understand Shakespeare's language, look through these lists of words and phrases, such as "Cruel to be kind", "Too much of a good thing", "All that glitters isn't gold", "fashionable", "skim milk", "puking" and "arouse", that everyone of you has probably used many times. And you didn’t know they are Shakespeare's original words and phrases. There's a lot more too. Check out these links.

Compiled by Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company Australia

From Shakespeare Birthday Trust

By Elena Holodny, Business Insider Australia

You want more? Well, here’s the downright crude and rude vocabulary and dialogue in Shakespeare’s plays. It's time to lower your high-brow and lift your low-brow. As an actor as well as a playwright, Shakespeare knew all to well what it meant to be the target of the audience's ire. That's why Shakespeare included ribald language to tempt and tease the audience. This is Shakespeare at his most crude and rude and that's the way his audiences liked it.

Click the image of The Bawdy Bard
for Shakespeare's Salacious Language

Stefan's Review of The Tragedy of Macbeth

Current Release in cinemas (February 2022) and streaming on Apple+

All photo stills and official trailer © Apple. Images and video

cannot be altered or modified in any way, in whole or in part.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is film director Joel Coen’s foray into Shakespeare with the lead roles cast for the power house actors Denzel Washington and Frances Dormand. I’ll be careful in providing information about the events depicted in The Tragedy of Macbeth and give the warning, “SPOILER ALERT”. Before Shakespeare purists say that everyone knows the story of Macbeth, I will share this anecdote. At a recent screening of Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (based on Shakespeare’s The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet—another seemingly obvious story for anyone familiar with Shakespeare—a young women behind me commented to a friend as the credits rolled, “What the F&%#, I thought West Side Story was going to have rodeos and cowboys. Don’t scoff. Consider that not everyone is as familiar with what we think is obvious. The next paragraph provides a short summary of the events in The Tragedy of Macbeth. Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to know what happens.

The Weird Sisters: Witches, Prophecies & the Supernatural

SPOILER ALERT! Three witches tell the Scottish general Macbeth that he will be King of Scotland. Encouraged by his wife, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth kills the king, Duncan, becomes the new king, and kills more people out of paranoia and fits of rage. Civil war erupts to overthrow Macbeth, resulting in more death. Death, supernatural forces, madness, treachery, ambition and more death permeate the characters and their deeds.

Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) & Macbeth (Denzel Washington)

Director Joel Coen on set; Coen directing while Frances McDormand observes

That’s only a summary of the play that, in its entirety, runs for several hours as a full production. Usually, The Tragedy of Macbeth is edited to about two hours. That means that dialogue and scenes will be edited depending on the director and the scriptwriter. Joel Coen’s movie is 1 hour and 45 minutes, so Coen has edited a substantial amount of Shakespeare’s dialogue and directions. That may annoy the purists. Although you sense the jumps when scenes have been deleted, Coen, nonetheless, has managed to maintain the flow of the action, characterisations and shifts smoothly from one scene and act to the next. Sometimes, he has re-ordered scenes for cinematic effect. Remember, this is Coen’s movie based on Shakespeare’s play.

It’s important to consider the film qualities of Coen’s version of The Tragedy of Macbeth. He has not merely filmed a staged version of the play, although the sparse sets are reminiscent of a stage production. Coen’s cinematic techniques reflect how the play would have been staged in Shakespeare’s day but redesigned for a contemporary film setting. The Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed, did not feature a great deal of scenery and plays occurred in the middle of the afternoon in sunlight. The effects created to make ghosts and the dead appear and/or disappear used trapdoors, a rather simple method compared to our digitally generated effects these days. Perfomers and perfomances relied heavily on suggestion rather than elaborate staging.

Film set inspired by German Expressionism

Macbeth & Lady Macbeth silhouetted in a high contrast black & white scene

Coen employs old film techniques, multiple layered screens, smoke, and mist to segue from scene to scene and create atmosphere. Atmosphere is essential for Coen, as it was to Shakepeare’s audiences, who relied on actor’s movements, gestures, word play and a high dead body count, that sometimes required a scorecard to calculate the tally, rather than elaborate stage sets and effects to create an atmosphere. Angular austere sets are firmly based on German Expressionism and evoke a sense of the early days of cinema. Coen even presents the movie on screen in a standard 4:3 Hollywood format and shot it in black and white, which works extremely well.

Director Coen presented production designer Stefan Dechant with references from "The Passion of Joan of Arc," "Sunrise," and "The Night of the Hunter."

IndieWire, Bill Desowitz, January, 2022

Coen’s version is steeped in the tradition of Shakespeare and The Globe Theatre with limited sets, atmosphere and a reliance on dialogue that is poetic, informative and prophetic. Macbeth’s ambition is determined, his desire for power unquenchable and, ultimately, his murderous deeds drive him wild with rage and lead to his undoing, while Lady Macbeth encourages and goads her husband to murder the king and assume the throne only to discover that the blood on her hands can never be washed clean. The Three Weird Sisters, the witches who predict Mabeth’s future, provide the prophecies while Macbeth and Lady Macbeth provide the means that lead to their doom.

Official Trailer Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth

Official trailer © Apple

So, to watch or not to watch The Tragedy of Macbeth (yes, a bit obvious and, yes, not from Macbeth) but I said it, so, what is done cannot be undone (there I go again, another Shakespearean reference and this time from Macbeth). Never mind, I’ll bear the slings and arrows (I know, it’s from Hamlet ) of your harsh judgement. Like a groundling/penny stinker, you can throw a digital tomato at me for those puns. And then re-read the link to Shakespeare’s words to understand the words and quotes that you use in everyday language today. You will know without doubt that you use Shakespeare’s words often; you can and do speak Shakespeare.

Don’t get hung up on trying to understand every word and every phrase. Let the rhythm of the language and the movements and gestures of the performers create a flow for the story. You will get the gist of what is happening and the emotions that are generated. Definitely, you won’t need words when the killings occur. The visuals will speak for themselves.

As for Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, I always believe it’s worth watching most films, even those you realise you can’t stand and might even walk away from after watching only 20 minutes. Give Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth a go. If you enjoy Shakespeare, you can decide how Coen’s interpretation works in with other performances of Macbeth that you have seen. If it doesn’t grab you, check the films in Film Extras below and have a look at film versions of Macbeth such as Kurosawa’s Japanese samurai version or one of the musicals based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to see if that might allow you to see Shakespeare in a different light.

EXPLORE Bell Shakespeare

To grasp a solid understanding of the basics behind creating a Shakespearean play on stage, you must explore the world of Australia’s superb Bell Shakespeare theatre company. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Shakespeare elite or novice, Bell Shakespeare will offer something for everyone. They are an innovative company that stages exciting, contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare’s works.

Watch and listen to rehearsals, interviews with Robert Jago--the actor in the role of Macbeth, directors Amy Hardingham & Huw McKinnon, and set & costume designer Tobhiyah Stone Feller.


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Adaptations of & Movies based on William Shakespeare’s plays

Roman Polanski’s Macbeth (1971)

Roman Polanski directed this violent and sexualised revision of William Shakespeare's tragedy of madness and political intrigue.


Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957)

Director Akira Kurosawa's resetting of William Shakespeare's Macbeth in feudal Japan is one of his most acclaimed films.


Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Baz Luhrmann adapted this classic Shakespearean romantic tragedy for the screen, updating the setting to a post-modern city named Verona Beach. A vibrant and energetic interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.


10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

10 Things I Hate About You takes Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shrew, and reimagines it in a high school setting.


Robert Wise’s West Side Story (1961)

A modern day Romeo and Juliet are involved in New York street gangs. On the harsh streets of the upper west side, two gangs battle for control of the turf. The situation becomes complicated when a gang member falls in love with a rival's sister.


Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (2021)

Steven Spielberg has produced a new film adaptation of West Side Story through different eyes and different sensibilities without compromising the integrity of the original stage production and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics.

In selected cinemas only at the moment (February 2022). Check your local cinemas.

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Feb 03, 2022

Love the review. Your puns, well, "You think you're funny, and I think I'm laughing". :) Super keen to see this film!

eclectic Stefan
eclectic Stefan
Feb 03, 2022
Replying to

Thank you. Puns? What puns? As Sergeant Schulz would say, “l know nothing.” But, yes, couldn’t resist the puns. Gotta keep my Vooich on, for better or for worser, otherwise I’m not Vooich.

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