Saturday, August 16, 2008

Secondlings of my Mind

Now that the pressure is off, I've been reflecting on the Macbeth experience a bit.

I think most Shakespeare folks think about how the texts work theatrically as we read them, but it's a fuller experience when you see them actually performed, and yet more intense when you participate in creating the performance.

The thing that really struck me as I watched last night was that while I've always thought of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as "grown ups," mature adults, say in their 30s or 40s at least, the high school students playing the parts brought things through for me in ways that made the youth thought-provoking and effective. When I think of Macbeth as a grown-up, then Lady Macbeth's attacking his sense of masculinity feels odd, but seeing Macbeth as a very young man, those attacks really worked.

When, in 1.7, she asks
Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,'
Like the poor cat i' the adage?

and he responds,
Prithee, peace:
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none.

their youth really made his protest feel real, as if he's so young and still working on what it means to be a man in his so very violent culture.

One place where youth worked against our production was in Macduff's responses to the horror of the regicide of Duncan and to the worse horror of learning that his wife and children have been killed. Similarly, Malcolm never quite got the hang of looking really scared, worried, or griefstricken. Our actors, happily for them, don't seem to have had much experience with real grief, so acting it was difficult, and they didn't always pull it off. And grief seems to be a hard emotion to act because you have to be able to say your lines clearly, and you can't actually do that if you're choking back tears and all. So you have to get the response from the audience with more subtle stuff.

That struck me as especially difficult; I've experienced a lot less grief than a lot of people, and my reactions have been very different, physically, at different times. But my reactions always felt weird or off, too, as if even though I was sitting alone in a room, I wasn't performing grief right for my culture or something. So I don't think I was able to help our actors much with the grief thing.

Another thing that struck me last night is how absurdly funny bits of Macbeth are. The porter scene worked way better for me live than it does in the text, especially the second part, where he's talking to Macduff and Lennox. I think seeing Macduff and Lennox react made it work for me. When I read the play, the porter is more of an intellectual exercise, I guess, and so less funny.


  1. to be fair, grief is not tolerated or recognized well in our modern culture. it is seen as a weakness. many companies give 3 days off for "bereavement," and that's barely time to manage basic arrangements, much less emotions. and not all our emotions upon death of a close family member are of the hallmark variety, but that may be the only variety available to young actors.

    even as an english major, i could love tiny bits of shakespeare but be confounded with reading and really understanding a whole play. the language is hard to decode on paper, even if his themes are so wonderful.

    it makes so much difference seeing actors performing his works. and another magnitude of difference, being somehow involved in a production. my only direct experience with a shakesperian play was costuming for a middle school production of midsummer night's dream. it was pushing their talents as 12-13 year-olds, but that is a forgiving play, very funny to see. the best part was watching the students wake up to their roles, begin to understand stepping into a character's shoes.

  2. huh, this got me thinking. I think the raw ambition in Macbeth, and the willingness to go to any lengths to get their are more a younger person's perspective than not. I really haven't thought hard about Macbeth for ages, but of all of the Shakespeare I read when I was younger, Macbeth was the easiest for me to throw myself into.

  3. Two recent Macbeth sitings come to mind -

    One is the recent production on Broadway with Patrick Stewart - terrifyingly amazing.

    The other is season two of Slings and Arrows (have I already told you about this amazing Canadian series about a Shakespeare production company?) where they put on Macbeth and Geoffrey has to deal with both Banquo's Ghost and Oliver's ghost at the same time. (You can see it on you tube or rent it on net flix)

    I can't imagine any kid being able to pull off much of this play - it's themes are so adult, and kids have had so little life experience to draw on. Fortunately, for them there's always Midsummer Night's Dream....