In this assignment I will study three dramatised interpretations of Macbeth and will analyse how successfully the directors were able to transfer script to stage. I will study the effectiveness of the witches and say if they are effective in today’s modern society which isn’t threatened by witchcraft.
This first scene in “Macbeth” is crucial as it sets the atmosphere and the scene for the play. It introduces characters before we even get to meet them, for example Macbeth. It fascinates and astounds the audience also disturbing them as I discovered in Orson Welle’s interpretation. The scene suggests things that occur later on in the play. It also suggests a presence of evil. Is Macbeth in charge of his destiny as he echoes the witches words, “fair and foul” later on in the play. Is everything as it seems?
The three productions that I will study for this piece of coursework are:
* Orson Welle’s (film 1930s)
* Roman Polanski (film 1971) and
* BBC Shakespeare shorts (video production 1998)
In the original text of Macbeth, Shakespeare opens his play in “an open place.” We notice that in each of the different productions, each director picks a different location for this first scene e.g. cliff top, beach and a warehouse, but in each setting the locality is still an “open space”. The directors tried to make the atmosphere and scenery as supernatural and eerie as possible.
The first production that I studied was by Orson Welle’s. In this opening sequence, he tried to get a surreal and unnatural effect.
The setting for this version was on top of a cliff top surrounded by mist.
The first image we see is a boiling cauldron then it moves quickly to the three witches on the cliff. This image isn’t in the centre of the screen as in the rest of the interpretations by other directors. It is more to the right hand side of the screen.
The next image we see is the witches’ hands going into the boiling cauldron and then they pull out a lump of clay. They rip it apart to reveal the figure of a baby. Truly frightening. It throws the natural order of things as we associate caring and gentleness with children not roughness and violence.
The witches’ costumes consisted of stereotypical rags and black cloaks. They apparently had long hair but it was difficult to see as it was covered by their costume. We couldn’t see the witches faces in this, only their hands which looked deformed.
The atmosphere was eerie and thunder and lightning could be heard and seen in the background.
When the witches’ hands went into the boiling hot water in the cauldron, I found it weird and slightly disturbing.
This production was in black and white but in my opinion it worked very we;; and was keeping with the sinister atmosphere.
When the witches were creating this baby, their nails could be heard scratching in the background.
The music was powerful and it built up the atmosphere. I identified the violins, chimes or xylophone, and a drum at the very beginning. After the first witch mentions “Macbeth”, the violins get increasingly louder and the camera goes to a close up of the baby the witches created.
There were a number of text cuts in this piece as it went from, “that will be ere the set of sun…………..there to meet with Macbeth.” Then it ended. The props used were very much in keeping with our associations with witchcraft.
The next example I studied was Roman Polanski’s version. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece as the witches just appeared to be a group of women who had been outcast by society.
This interpretation began with a long shot of a deserted beach perhaps after a storm, with the view of mountains in the background. The sky at the beginning was a red colour then it turned cloudy, blue then pale grey. I think that it was sunrise.
The next image we see is a stick held by one of the witches. It forms a circle in the sand and the other two witches eagerly follow and start digging with their bare hands. They wore stereotypical rags but they didn’t all have the features associated with witches. For example, the first witch had deformed features and was very old. She had a wavering voice and a hump on her back. Also, she wore a balaclava which suggests she may have been bald. This witch appears to be the dominant one. The second witch just appears to be a regular old woman with a high pitched voice. On the other hand, the third witch appears to be more beautiful and normal than the rest. She is young, has blond hair and appears to do all the work. The only noticeable thing is the fact that she doesn’t talk. Maybe she can’t or she may be in the process of learning from the other two older witches.
The first sound we hear is a noise from a seagull, we then hear coughing from one of the witches. In the background there appears to be a bell sound that takes the effect of wind or whistles in the distance.
This adaptation ends at the words, “there to meet with Macbeth.”
In the chant the witches put items in the hole they dug with their bare hands. A noose went in first followed by a hand in which a dagger had been placed. The witches sprinkled herbs over the objects and then covered up the hole with the sand. The first witch got a bottle of blood and poured it over the hole. Then the witches chanted, “fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air.” Next they spat three times to seal the spell. At this, the witches walked off as the third witch pulls the first as she is blind while the second walks quite independently along side the cart. It ends with a long camera shot as the witches disappear as fog comes in and covers the beach.
The final piece that I studied was a production by the BBC for Shakespeare shorts. It is fairly recent compared to the rest as it was produced in 1998.
This interpretation is set in a warehouse, away from the public view. The first image we see is of the three witches sitting around a pentacle as the dominant witch lays out tarot cards. While this is all happening, the camera moves around all the witches in a panoramic shot.
Their costumes showed their sexual power as they consisted of tight tops and the trousers were made of a modern fabric, PVC. The clothes were bright and vibrant for example the first witch wore a purple top, but this suggested that the person was a spiritualist or member of a satanic cult. They all had long, black nails and long, dangling bracelets.
The witches in this version were not the stereotypical females they are in the other productions. They use there sexual power to try and lure Macbeth but I feel that the use of the masks defied the purpose. Each witch had a different symbol on their cheek e.g. a moon. They all came from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds for example, the first witch was Asian, the second was English and the third was Scottish. Their voices were humane and clear, not raspy and wavering.
There was an evil atmosphere in the warehouse as if you know something bad was going to happen. It was sinister and the darkness helped achieve this effect.
There was a wide variety of colour from their clothes to the colour of the tarot cards.
There was continuous music throughout. There was a continuous base line played by the violin or cello. Wind chimes could be heard in the background and the cello achieved a constant drone effect throughout this production.
The text in this adaptation remained the same as the original text but the witches didn’t speak at the same time during the chant. They each took a different line which shows a somewhat mark of respect for each other.
I noticed at the end of this scene, the director co-mingled the first and second scenes. Macbeth arrives in a helicopter just before the witches say, “I come greymalkin…”
The props used in this scene were the tarot cards which were used at the beginning, a pentacle which appeared to be carved into the ground, a mask which remained in the centre of the pentacle, charm bracelets and gothic rings etc., candles and roller blades which were used towards the end of the scene.
In my analysis of comparing the three productions with the original text of Macbeth, I noted a number of differences to the original script.
In Polanski’s version the witches ended their scene at the words, “…there to meet with Macbeth.” The chant, “fair is foul and foul is fair…” was said after the hole, with all the items in it e.g. noose, hand with a dagger and herbs, was covered up with the sand. This was the version that I preferred as I didn’t see the witches as witches and just ordinary women who had been out cast by society. It wasn’t really that stereotypical as such. They were a group of women ranging from young to old. I liked the location for this scene, as it was effective for the purpose. The deserted beach and the atmosphere gave the effect that a storm had just ended.
In the Orson Well’s production, I would agree that the directors succeed in creating a surreal effect by using powerful images and music. This piece was disturbing and frightening as they created this baby but they just ripped the clay apart to reveal it. We would associate gentleness and caring with a baby and not violence
In the BBC Shakespeare Shorts production, the director of this version co-mingled a number of scenes for example; the first scene was co-mingled with the second and third one. Macbeth doesn’t enter until the second scene but he arrives in the helicopter towards the end of the first one. I preferred this version, as it seems more realistic than the others. The witches wore modern clothes instead of the stereotypical rags and they weren’t ugly as they are often portrayed in other productions. In this adaptation I enjoyed the way the directors created a spiritualistic effect by using tarot cards and the fact that they placed these in a pentacle (star). I also liked the whole universalism idea in the way that the witches came from different cultures and groups. The only thing that I didn’t agree with was the use of the mask in the centre of the pentacle, as it seemed to defy the purpose to overcome Macbeth by using their sexual power.