Macbeth is a tragedy thought to have been written by William Shakespeare in around 1606. Brave young General Macbeth receives a prophecy from three witches telling him that he is destined to become the King of Scotland. Encouraged by his wife Macbeth murders the King, Duncan, and claims the throne. Macbeth becomes consumed with guilt and paranoia to the point of madness and commits more murders to retain his power. This tyrannical behaviour makes Macbeth unpopular and leads to an uprising against him. On receipt of further prophecies from the witches Macbeth determines that he is invincible however there is more to the prophecies than initially meets the eye. Lady Macbeth descends into madness finding herself unable to wash the blood from her hands as Macbeth prepares to take the last stand. The play deals with themes of power, ambition, masculinity, fate, appearance verses reality, tyranny and Kingship.
William Shakespeare is possibly the world’s most famous playwright with his plays being regularly performed around the globe to this day. Born in Stratford Upon Avon in 1564 the son of a Glover he rose to become a member of the aristocracy regularly having his plays performed at court. He was a prolific writer and has an astounding 38 plays attributed to him as well as over 150 sonnets.
Shakespeare is said to have based Macbeth on the real eleventh-century King Macbeth using Historical accounts, predominantly the Chronicles of Holinshed (1587). Historical accounts suggest that Banquo assisted in the murder of the King however Shakespeare altered this to please his King and patron James I who was said to have descended from Banquo. Shakespeare instead makes Banquo a noble character and has the witches predict that his sons will be Kings, referencing James I’s Scottish lineage.
The earliest recorded production is in 1606 when Simon Forman mentioned seeing the play at the Globe Theatre.
Over the years there have been countless productions of Macbeth. Notable past productions include John Gielgud’s 1955 production at Stratford Upon Avon that starred Lawrence Olivier and Vivian Leigh in the title roles, Trevor Nunn’s 1976 production for the RSC that starred Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. Rupert Goold’s 2007 production for Chichester Festival Theatre that starred Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood was hailed by many critics as the best production of the play they had ever seen. While James McAvoy was highly praised for his performance in Jamie Lloyd’s modern production at the Trafalgar Studios in 2013. Punchdrunk’s interactive production Sleep No More first seen in London in 2003 transposes the action of Macbeth to the 1930’s McKittrick Hotel. A reimagined version of this production has played in New York since 2011.
It is widely considered to be bad luck to mention the word Macbeth in a theatre and actors often refer to it as “The Scottish Play”. It is said to doom the production and even risk the possibility of physical harm to the cast and crew and there are a number of stories on ‘incidents’.
Macbeth has also been captured on film a number of times. Notable film adaptations include Kurosawa’s 1957 Japanese translation Throne of Blood, Roman Polanski’s 1971 version and most recently the 2010 television version of Rupert Goold’s acclaimed theatre production starring Patrick Stewart. An upcoming film production is rumoured to be in the pipeline starring Marian Cotillard and Michael Fassbender.