As part of our GCSE coursework, we have been asked to study various productions and write an essay showing how different effects create different atmospheres and responses and we have to decide whether these productions have been successful or otherwise. I have chosen to analyse initial scene, Act (I), scene (I). The decision has been taken as I have thought how witchcraft featured strongly in the time of Shakespeare. Many witches were burned at the stake for their practice. I have been interested in how these witches have continuously changed throughout “Macbeth”.
They use their witchcraft in the first scene to discuss how to capture Macbeth and it is interesting to see how different directors have interpreted Shakespeare’s original text. The first production I studied was a BBC video version made in 1983. In the opening sequence, the sky is enveloped in a red sunset- type atmosphere, and then there is a dramatic change of colour to a grey dull sky and unpredictable forks of lightening strike. This immediately creates an un- natural atmosphere. To add to this, loud intensely spooky music plays, giving the impression that something out of the ordinary is taking place at this time.
We wallow in this introductory atmosphere and then give free rein to the events about to follow. The camera rapidly advances to a tripod- like frame of rocks on which three human- like figures sit hunched over, faces not yet visible. These three figures rise slowly, elevating their hands to the sky as if greeting or worshipping some God. They now reveal themselves to be witches, wearing frayed, tattered rags, the traditional impression of a witch. The three are ancient- looking creatures and this is also added to, by their rough, sour voices.
When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning or in rain? ” As each talk they look from one to the other, including each in their devious conspiracy. As Macbeth’s name is mentioned a piercing musical note penetrates in conjunction with the transfixed camera on each of the immoral witches faces. These witches appear to be sincere sisters, as they join hands and chant, “fair is foul and foul is fair… ” The witches mysteriously disappear and the scene ends, leaving us with a feeling of suspense and anticipation, which this witchcraft has created.
I found this production extremely successful in creating the traditional feel of witches. The environment it was set in gave a great feeling of mystery and suspense. The director used special effects of music, ghostly movement of the witches and the lighting to hold my attention and allowed me to appreciate more the reading of Macbeth, in this production. The second production I studied was the Roman Polanski film version, which was produced in 1970. Again the scene opens with a red sky and there is silence. However the silence is broken by sharp whistles of wind.
The setting appears to be a deserted beach and the wind is blowing the sand in a circular motion. A cough is heard and we see a stick probing the sand. As the camera gradually moves up the stick an old, wrinkled hand is revealed, leading to the face of an old woman, covered by a balaclava. Two witches accompany her, one elderly like herself and seeming to find it hard in contemplating the strenuous work about to take place. The other is younger, quite pretty with long blonde hair but seems physically too mature in a way. She had aged ungracefully and like the others possessed a humped back.
She give the impression that she was imitating the other two haggard witches and seemingly not making the most of her own good features. The older witches look more superior and their facial gestures suggest that they are “teaching” this younger one. She seems dependent on them for instructions. A seagull flies overhead. The 3 sisters are digging vigorously at the sand. The young witch has a dagger and a surreal hand, gored with blood, the hand is wrapped around the dagger, along with a hang-man’s noose and in silence they place it in the hole that they took so much obsequiousness in digging and covering it up by sand.
After this they express their work by chanting, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the foul and filthy air. ” They spit on the area, in which their act has occurred and with a look of contempt, yet satisfaction they slowly turn and hobble away. I find this moment of the scene successful, in that it moves slowly, capturing each detail. Chimes can be heard as the three move into the distance and the volume of this increases as they move further out. The Three figures become more silhouetted and ghostly stagger into the distance.
The sand then seems to turn ice-like and the witches change from hobbling to gliding, almost gracefully over the surface and gradually the torsos dwindle into tiny specs in the distance. In this version some lines have been omitted, however I feel that this gives more sense of mystery and purpose of the scene and the witches’ actions show more than words maybe could. The production was successful for me in that it maintained the evilness that Shakespeare portrayed in this play. I think it displays the evilness of human nature in a pure and intellectual way.
The next production I studied was a BBC Shakespeare Shorts version, made in 1997. This version is different in the way it has a more modern feel. It shows a gothic distinction between it and the others. The tree witches seem to be more in a practice of black magic than the typical, clichi?? witch-type. The witches are implemented with black, disproportionate nails. They are all attractive and intriguing, each one showing different attributes towards their characters. They seem infatuated with their magic and obtain tattoos, indicating each destiny.
The site is in a warehouse-type building, with a lot of space for these witches to practice their acts. Upon their “heath” sit tarot cards, which “answer” their questions. “When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightening, or in rain? ” When one witch asks this question, another turns over the card and retrieves the answer, a picture of lightening is shown. The only light is from candles situated around the room, adding to the feel of the gothic atmosphere. The camera moves about the room capturing the colours and indications of evil.
The witches’ clothes are black with hints of purples and reds and the glow from the candles carries us into the mysterious mood. As the witches talk, the scene shoots to Macbeth, coming from war. This is again showing the modern feel, through the fact he is emerging from a jet fighter. In the background we hear a drumming noise and this gets more rapid, raising the suspense inside us. As the scene shoots from the witches and Macbeth, the witches continue to talk, with hints of smirks giving a feeling of playfulness rather than evilness.
I did not find this production of Macbeth successful in portraying the story as I see it in the real Shakespeare fashion. The modernized pieces destroyed the feel of the play and only succeeded in breaking the atmosphere for me. The jet fighter episode made a farce of what Shakespeare had created in his time and I believe removed the point of the text. It was unrealistic and impractical and to me, this version was insipid and tedious. From these three productions studied, my opinion is that the BBC version worked best.
I believe that sticking to the original text and complying with the stage directions works best. It allows the audience to appreciate this play and see the talent of the Shakespeare in its true form. I thought that the Roman Polanski version was successful in capturing the feel of weirdness and thought the site was excellent and effects such as the dramatic changes in lighting were proficient. I rejected the BBC Shakespeare shorts version. I feel it was not a success and making the production modernized took away from the story and the talent portrayed by Shakespeare in the written version.