About this Recording
NA316212 - SHAKESPEARE, W: Macbeth (Unabridged)
English 

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

Macbeth

 

By the time Shakespeare came to write Macbeth—almost certainly in 1605/1606—he had already completed three of the great tragedies with which modern audiences are so familiar: Hamlet (1601), Othello (1603) and King Lear (1605). Each of those plays gives us an eponymous hero who is in some significant way flawed, but for whom we also inevitably feel deep sympathy, whatever his errors or crimes. But in Macbeth, Shakespeare has chosen for his tragic hero a man guilty of the most terrible crime imaginable to a Jacobean audience, that of regicide—the murder of a king. Part of the writer’s triumph is to succeed in making Macbeth, whose crime we must detest, a man in whom we must also see something of our own darker side, our own potential for evil, so that Malcolm’s final judgment on him as a mere ‘butcher’ seems wholly inadequate, the verdict of someone who does not share the audience’s insight into Macbeth’s anguished inner world.

 

The Date and Sources

 

The dating of Macbeth is of particular interest because external, topical factors were clearly so influential in its composition. The play may well have been performed at court, in which case the emphasis on the supernatural would have chimed in perfectly with King James’ known interest in witchcraft; the monarch (who was also, of course, the Stuart James VI of Scotland) claimed direct descent from Banquo, the escape of whose son Fleance in Act 3 Scene 3 thus assumes crucial importance. Perhaps the most immediately significant event at this time was the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in November 1605: the Jesuit Father Garnet was hanged for treason in May 1606, and his ‘equivocation’ over the truth during his trial is echoed satirically in the Porter’s speech (Act 2 Scene 3)—‘Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven...’ Shakespeare’s concern for national, natural or social disorder may be seen in almost any of his plays, whether history, comedy or tragedy.

 

But in Macbeth he approaches it with particular focus and intensity, detailing its consequences in ways which range from the domestic horror of the murder of Lady Macduff and her children to the general disturbance of nature remarked on by the Old Man and Ross in Act 2 Scene 4, or expressed in the personification of Scotland offered by Macduff in Act 4 Scene 3: ‘It weeps,

it bleeds; and each new day a gash / Is added to her wounds...’

 

The source of the play is relatively straightforward: Macbeth is almost entirely derived from the Elizabethan Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of British History. Of particular interest here is what Shakespeare altered or omitted, often for political reasons: for example, Holinshed has Banquo as an accomplice in Duncan’s murder. This is changed because, obviously, Shakespeare will not wish to offend his King by presenting his ancestor as a regicide. Additions, which Shakespeare made in order to deepen character or enhance dramatic effect, include the banquet scene, with the appearance of Banquo’s ghost (Act 3, Scene 4), and Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene (Act 5 Scene 1).

 

Synopsis of the Play

 

Act 1, Scene 1: Three witches agree to meet Macbeth on the heath after the battle against the rebels in which Macbeth, with Banquo, is leading King Duncan’s forces. Scene 2: The King receives a report of the current state of battle: Macbeth is fighting with formidable valor. Ross then brings news of Macbeth’s victory. The treacherous Thane of Cawdor, captured by Macbeth, is to be executed and his title given to Macbeth.

 

Scene 3: The witches meet Macbeth and Banquo, greeting Macbeth as not only Thane of Glamis (which he already is) but also as Thane of Cawdor and ‘King hereafter’. They predict that Banquo will father kings, though he will not himself be one. News arrives that Macbeth has indeed been named Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth broods over the disturbing but exciting possibility that he might now become king, by fair means or foul. Scene 4: King Duncan honors the achievements of his two generals, but checks Macbeth’s hopes of legal succession by naming his elder son Malcolm as heir to the throne. Scene 5: Lady Macbeth reads a letter from her husband, which details the prophecies. Immediately excited by the prospect of her husband’s kingship, she realizes that she must be the driving force behind the murder they will have to commit. A messenger brings news that the King will stay in the Macbeth's castle that very night; seeing her opportunity, she prays for strength to the ‘spirits that tend on mortal thoughts’. Macbeth enters. Scene 6: Duncan is welcomed graciously by his hostess. Scene 7: Macbeth has left the banquet to wrestle with his conscience over the prospective murder of his guest, the King. Lady Macbeth finds and furiously upbraids him: he is persuaded once more to do the deed.

 

Act 2, Scene 1: Macbeth and Banquo agree to speak at another time of the witches and their prophecies. Alone and waiting for the prearranged signal from his wife, Macbeth feverishly imagines the dagger he will use showing him the way to Duncan’s chamber. Scene 2: Macbeth, paralyzed with fear and guilt, returns to his wife, having killed Duncan. She assures him that ‘a little water clears us of this deed’. They are interrupted by a loud knocking at the castle gates. Scene 3: The Porter, imagining himself the porter of ‘hell-gate’, makes his way to the gate to let in Macduff and Lennox. Macduff is appalled to discover the King’s murdered body. Suspicion initially falls on the King’s guards, whom Macbeth claims to have murdered in a fit of righteous anger, but Malcolm and Donaldbain, Duncan’s sons, fearing further treacherous violence, flee the country. Scene 4: An old man describes the unnatural signs in nature. Ross will attend Macbeth’s investiture as King, but Macduff, hinting at his suspicions of Macbeth, refuses to join him.

 

Act 3, Scene 1: Now King, Macbeth is fearful of Banquo and his offspring: he hires two murderers to assassinate Banquo and his son Fleance as they return to the castle that evening. Scene 2: Macbeth and his wife attempt to reassure themselves: Macbeth hints at the planned murder and claims that the deed will make their position safer. Scene 3: Banquo is killed, according to plan, but Fleance escapes. Scene 4: Entertaining the Scottish lords at a great banquet, Macbeth is overwhelmed by terror at the appearance of Banquo’s ghost, visible to no one else. Lady Macbeth is forced to bring the evening to an abrupt halt, conscious that suspicions must now be directed at her husband. [Scene 5: Hecate reproaches her minions, the witches. This scene is almost certainly not by Shakespeare.] Scene 6: Lennox and another Lord speak darkly of the current pitiful state of Scotland. Hope lies with Malcolm and Macduff, who have gone to England to seek Edward the Confessor’s help in restoring rightful rule to Scotland.

 

Act 4, Scene 1: Macbeth visits the witches to seek reassurance. They warn him to beware Macduff; claim that ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’, and that he will never be defeated until ‘Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him’. But they also show him a vision of Banquo’s descendants as Kings of Scotland. Macbeth resolves to murder Macduff and his family immediately. Scene 2: Lady Macduff, talking to her young son (who is precociously aware of the prevalence of evil), is unable to escape Macbeth’s assassins. She and her children are butchered. Scene 3: In England, Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty by pretending that, when he has recovered the throne, he will be an even more monstrous ruler than Macbeth. Macduff’s horror confirms his loyalty. Ross arrives with news of the murder of Macduff’s family. Macduff swears vengeance.

 

Act 5, Scene 1: A doctor and a waiting-gentlewoman observe the now deranged Lady Macbeth as she walks and talks in her sleep, revealing her guilt. Scene 2: The Scottish elements of the force sent to destroy Macbeth are about to join their English allies near Birnam wood. Scene 3: Some of Macbeth’s fellow thanes are deserting to the approaching army, but Macbeth remains defiant, bolstered by the witches’ prophecies. Scene 4: Malcolm orders his soldiers to cut down branches from Birnam wood and carry them to camouflage their advance. Scene 5: Inside Dunsinane Castle news is brought to Macbeth of his wife’s death, presumably by suicide. Then Birnam wood is reported to be on the move. Scene 6: Malcolm asks old Siward and his son to lead the assault on Dunsinane. Scene 7: Battle having been joined outside the castle, Macbeth encounters and kills young Siward. Macduff seeks out Macbeth. Scene 8: Macduff finds Macbeth and they fight. Macduff tells Macbeth that he was ‘from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d ‘—i.e. born by Caesarean section. Macbeth is dismayed to discover the treacherous ‘double sense’ of the last of the witches’ prophecies. Scene 9: Old Siward is comforted by the thought that his son died fighting bravely. Macduff appears holding Macbeth’s severed head aloft, and Malcolm is acclaimed King of Scotland.

 

Commentary

 

Macbeth is one of the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays, especially in comparison with the other great tragedies. The action proceeds swiftly, conveying sometimes a sense of almost sickening rapidity and violence, especially when Macbeth resolves that ‘the very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of my hand’, and we are plunged immediately into the terrifying scene of slaughter in Macduff’s castle. This uneasy motion is in fact suggested in the very first scene of the play, when a disturbing moral ambiguity is established by the witches’ ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’. The play, in other words, is to conjure a world where nothing can be trusted to be what it seems, where ‘nothing is, but what is not’: ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me… or art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation?’ This is, then, as much a drama of atmosphere as of character, and the atmosphere is in part created by Shakespeare’s brilliantly vivid and consistent use of imagery—for example, of light and dark, disease, clothing and sleep—while the character interest is almost wholly centered around the Macbeths. Goodness is perhaps inevitably less interesting than evil, and in any case it is clear that neither of the Macbeths is purely wicked: Lady Macbeth is eventually eaten up and destroyed by her guilt, while Macbeth’s mental and spiritual anguish is repeatedly conveyed, whether in his obsessive belief that he has ‘murdered sleep’ or his final state of numb despair where life is no more than a ‘tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing’. One might say that the play exists simultaneously on two levels: the level of physical action, powerfully conveyed, but almost more importantly the level of spiritual conflict being fought out within Macbeth himself. Evil, for Shakespeare, is inevitably and rightly self-destructive: but who can emerge from an experience of this extraordinary play without a pang of regret for the man that Macbeth might have been and once was?

 

Notes by Perry Keenlyside

 

 

Macbeth—The Theater Legend

 

Is there a curse on the play of Macbeth? Some actors believe so, to the extent that direful things will happen to the current production if the play

is quoted or even mentioned by name. That is why, in hushed tones, you’ll hear thespians referring to the ‘Scottish play’. Indeed, so virulent is the superstition that should a hapless actor let fall a quote in a dressing-room, he is obliged to leave the room, turn around three times, spit (or swear), and knock on the door to be granted re-entry! But is there any basis for this tradition? It certainly seems that Macbeth has been dogged with bad luck over the centuries. In the 1930s, for instance, at the Old Vic, four different actors played the Thane in one week. The first lost his voice, the second caught a chill, the third was sacked and the fourth finally did make it to the stage, but not, I imagine without considerable first-night nerves.

 

Mishaps involving the fight between Macbeth and Macduff are legion: swords breaking and points just missing members of the audience, fatal stabbings and one poor actor in the 19th century, who had to face the violent force of Macready’s Macbeth, succeeded in losing both his thumbs!

 

As is often the case, there is a practical reason behind the superstition. In the days of the strolling players, when a company saw Macbeth advertised as their next production, it was often a sign that they were not doing well at the box office, and this popular play was expected to save the day. So it is not perhaps surprising that the mere mention of this play is considered unlucky for actors.

There is also a sinister side to the superstition. Tradition has it that the young boy-actor Hal Berridge, who created Lady Macbeth, died during the first performance; and there is a rumor that the Witches’ incantations contain a genuine Black Magic Curse, thus perpetuating in every performance the play’s unprecedented run of bad luck that has lasted nearly 400 years.

David Timson

 

The Cast of Macbeth

 

            Macbeth         Stephen Dillane

            Lady Macbeth           Fiona Shaw

            Duncan          Denys Hawthorne

            Malcolm/Apparition 2          Declan Conlan

            Banquo          Adam Kotz

            Macduff/Apparition 1           Colin Tiernay

            Ross  Nick Gecks

            Lennox           Bruce Alexander

            Porter Bill Paterson

            Witch 1           Annette Badland

            Witch 2           Joyce Henderson

            Witch 3/Gentlewoman        Pauline Lynch

            Hecate           June Watson

            Doctor/Old Man/Siward      John Rogan

            Donaldbain/Young Siward Benjamin Soames

            Fleance/Apparition 3           James Boxer

            Lady Macduff Stella Gonet

            Son of Macduff         Stephanie Lane

            Captain/1st Murderer/Caithness/Lord/Seyton   David Timson

            2nd Murderer/Mentheith/Servant  Jonathan Keeble

            Angus/Servant/Soldier/3rd Murderer       Peter Yapp

 

FIONA SHAW (Lady Macbeth) has won the Olivier Award

for Best Actress four times, as well as a clutch of other awards, for her roles in As You Like It, Electra, The Good Person of Sichuan, Hedda Gabler and Machinal. Her interpretation of Richard II was widely acclaimed, as is her work in films such as My Left Foot, Jane Eyre and Anna Karenina.

 

STEPHEN DILLANE (Macbeth) trained at the Bristol Old Vic and has appeared in many productions at the Royal National Theatre; at the Royal Court; and at the Gielgud Theatre in the title role of Hamlet. He played Clov in Endgame at the Donmar Warehouse, and the title role in Uncle Vanya for the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Young Vic. TV work includes The One Game, An Affair in Mind, Christabel, Heading Home, You, Me and It, The Rector’s Wife, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd and Kings in Grass Castles. Films include Hamlet, Stolen Hearts, Firelight, Welcome to Sarajevo,

and Love and Rage.

 

DENYS HAWTHORNE’s (Duncan) long career has encompassed many of the leading theater companies in the UK and Ireland. He played Mr. Woodhouse in the film of Emma and appears regularly in TV sitcoms, from Poirot to Inspector Morse.

 

DECLAN CONLAN (Malcolm/Apparition 2) has worked widely for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre in England, and the Abbey Theatre and Naked Theatre Company (including the title role in Hamlet) in Ireland. He is also seen in TV and film.

 

ADAM KOTZ (Banquo) has worked extensively in leading roles with, in particularly, The Royal National Theatre and Cheek by Jowl Theatre Company. Plays include Racing Demon, Measure for Measure, and A Family Affair. TV and Film work includes Band of Gold, Touching Evil and Shot Through The Heart.

 

COLIN TIERNAY (Macduff/Apparition 1) trained at The Drama Centre. His theater work includes Sienna Red (Peter Hall Company), Henry VI (Royal Shakespeare Company), The Machine Wreckers (National Theatre) and Othello (National and world tour). His TV work includes Casualty, and Between the Lines.

 

NICK GECKS (Ross) has appeared in several theater and television productions. Theater includes several seasons for the Royal Shakespeare Company. For television: The Mill on the Floss, The Chief and Wycliffe. Films: Parting Shots, Tai Pan, Forever Young and To The Lighthouse.

 

BRUCE ALEXANDER (Lennox) is best known as Superintendent Mullett in A Touch of Frost and has appeared in many other TV shows such as Berkeley Square, Casualty and Peak Practice. He has also played major roles in the theater, notably with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He is a director of ACTER, which annually tours Shakespeare to US campuses.

 

BILL PATERSON (Porter) was born in Glasgow in 1945. Founder member of 7:84 Theatre Company, he was involved in many of the first productions of John McGrath, John Byrne and Billy Connolly. He has worked extensively in theater: Who’s Life Is It Anyway?, Guys and Dolls, Death and the Maiden; on TV: Smiley’s People, The Singing Detective, The Crow Road; in film: The Killing Fields, Truly, Madly, Deeply, Richard III and Spiceworld. His radio work has included many dramas and documentary commentaries.

 

ANNETTE BADLAND (Witch 1) has appeared with the Royal Shakespeare Company and received an Olivier Award nomination for best supporting actress for Sadie in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the National. She played Miss Mackay in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the National. She is

regularly seen on TV.

 

JOYCE HENDERSON (Witch 2) trained with Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Her theater credits include, for the Royal National Theatre: The Street of Crocodiles (Theatre de Complicite) and Volpone; Others: Wallace and Gromit in a Grand Night Out. Film and TV credits include Peter and the Wolf (Spitting Image) and Stella Does Tricks.

 

PAULINE LYNCH (Witch 3/Gentlewoman) trained at Rose Bruford College. She played Lizzie in Trainspotting and has appeared in A Mug’s Game and Soldier Soldier on TV. Among her theater work has been the role of Mary MacGregor in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

 

JUNE WATSON (Hecate) gained her early theater experience in Liverpool, Edinburgh and Leicester. Since then she has been seen frequently at the Royal National Theatre, with the English Shakespeare Company. Film and TV includes: Doctor Finlay, Prime Suspect, and Bloody Kids.

JOHN ROGAN’s (Doctor/Old Man/Siward) active career has included regular appearances with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and London and in London’s West End. His equally busy TV career includes Porterhouse Blue, The Bill, and Poirot. Films include: Drowning by Numbers

and The Grass Arena.

 

BENJAMIN SOAMES (Donaldbain/Young Siward) trained

at LAMDA. He has appeared in the TV series Sharpe and Absolutely Fabulous as well as the films Heavy Weather and England, My England. He has also toured worldwide in the acclaimed Cheek By Jowl production of Measure For Measure.

 

JAMES BOXER’s (Fleance/Apparition 3) first appearance in theater was as William in the National Theatre’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor, a play he later adapted for

a school production. He has sung in many operas with the English National Opera Company, including Carmen, Tosca, Der Rosenkavalier and The Magic Flute.

 

STELLA GONET’s (Lady Macduff) appearances in series

of key roles have placed her in the forefront of young British actresses. These included Titania and Isabella for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac and Ophelia in Hamlet at the National Theatre.

STEPHANIE LANE (Son of Macduff) has sung in numerous concerts, recordings, operas, and on television, as a member of Finchley Children’s Music. She is an accomplished pianist and appeared in The Wind in the Willows and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie both for the Royal National Theatre.

 

DAVID TIMSON (Captain/First Murderer/Caithness/Lord/ Seyton) has performed in modern and classic plays across Great Britain and abroad, including Hamlet, The Man of Mode, and Hard Times, and for Alan Ayckbourn Chekov’s Wild Honey. He has made over 1000 broadcasts for the

BBC and World Service ranging from the classics to the Woman’s Hour serial. He has been seen on TV in Nelson’s Column, The Bill, and Eastenders, and

in the film The Russia House.

 

JONATHAN KEEBLE (Second Murderer/Mentheith/Servant) trained at the Central school of Speech and Drama. Theater includes Coventry, Liverpool, Lancaster, West Yorkshire Playhouse, and a season at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. He has featured in over 150 radio plays for the BBC and is an established voice actor.

 

PETER YAPP (Angus/Servant/Solder/Third Murderer) has appeared in plays and theaters across Britain and in the West End including Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Piccadilly, and The Black Prince at the Aldwych, and spent a year with the BBC Radio Drama Company. His TV credits include House of Elliot, Martin Chuzzlewit and Poirot.

 

STEPHEN WARBECK  Composer

Stephen Warbeck has composed over 60 scores for the theater. He wrote the music for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at the Royal National Theatre, which was running while this recording was made. His music has also featured in many Shakespeare plays in Royal Shakespeare Company productions. His TV work includes Prime Suspect and Bramwell, and his film work includes Mrs. Brown. He also has his own bands: the hKippers and the Metropolitan Water Board.

 

SARAH HOMER  Bass Clarinet/Double Bass

Sarah Homer trained at the Royal College of Music. She was principal clarinetist with the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra and as well as her extensive theater and film work she has played with such diverse people as Gavin Friday, Dagmar Krause, the hKippers, Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice, Magic Mountain, Massive Attack, the Almeida Ensemble, Electra Strings and many others.

 

SARAH BUTCHER  Cello

Sarah Butcher studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Stefan Popov and later in master classes with William Pleeth. A busy worldwide career has involved work with ensembles as diverse as the European Community Youth and the BBC Symphony Orchestras, as well as many chamber groups. She is a member of the London Mozart Players.

 

PAUL CARVAS  Percussion

Paul Carvas plays with many different bands and is involved in all musical genres working with musicians ranging from Leonard Bernstein, Harrison Birtwistle and John Dankworth to Randy Crawford. He has recorded albums with John Williams, John Adams, and Elton John and is in great demand on film and recordings sessions as a specialist hand drummer. He also teaches at the Royal Academy of Music.

 

SIMON WEIR  Engineer and Sound Dramatization

Simon Weir has recorded and edited Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Naxos AudioBooks, as well as editing over 100 spoken word recordings for the label. He spends much of his time engineering and editing classical music recordings for Radio 3 and many classical record companies.


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