Some Shakespeare Fun

I saw a performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth over the summer. The quality of the production was excellent. There were no weak actors and everything was professional level…as well it should be for forty dollar tickets.

Watching the play reminded me of why I was disappointed when I read Macbeth in High School. On the surface, Macbeth has EVERYTHING – ghosts, sorcery, betrayal, regicide, war…it’s arguably Shakespeare’s most ambitious concept. And when Macbeth is good, it’s really, REALLY good. Lady Macbeth’s famous “Unsex me here” monologue is chilling and creepy, and the witch scenes are a blast.

In my opinion the best scene in the show, and certainly the best scene in this production, was the dinner scene that takes place after Duncan and Banquo’s murder, where the ghost of Banquo returns to haunt Macbeth. It’s frightening, eerie, and utterly compelling. Banquo’s ghost couldn’t have frightened Macbeth more if he’d started screaming at him – it’s a brilliant scene.

But unfortunately, Macbeth is hampered by some really, really slow scenes. Pretty much every scene that doesn’t involve Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, or at least Dunsinane Castle, is as boring as mud – and by this, I mean every scene with Macduff and Malcolm. I mean, DAMN do they take a very, very long time discussing the goings on of Dunsinane. We get it, Macbeth is a tyrant, your family was killed. STOP TALKING.

It’s a shame, because those dragging scenes ruined what would otherwise be a perfect show – and it was definitely the fault of the writing, not the actors.

I always did like “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet” more. “Romeo and Juliet” is the one I am particularly fond of, partially because it has some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful language, partially because it’s a terrific action yarn, and partially because moderns take Shakespeare’s message all the time and interpret it to mean exactly the opposite of the clear message, which is why so many modern productions and reinterpretations, in my opinion, ring false.

The love story of the show CAN’T be done properly. It’s total mess, and a lack of understanding about this point is where the otherwise brilliant “West Side Story” erred. Shakespeare knew perfectly well that their whirlwind romance was ridiculous and unhealthy – that was the point! It could never ring true, because it WASN’T true. Romeo and Juliet’s romance was doomed from the start, partially because of their family’s feud but also because they were two kids who didn’t understand what they were getting into and who held unhealthy notions of romantic love. Shakespeare is brilliant because he understood the world and how it worked; while he used whirlwind marriages often in his comedies he was no fool, and he knew quite well that in real life those sorts of love at sight matches were probably doomed to failure.

And Baz Luhrman should be dragged into a street and shot for his butchery. Blech.

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