The Most Difficult Plays – n° 10.
I will start, once again, with oratory precautions. Yes, then all right, I am French, and I am well aware that Shakespeare is the cherished and almost reserved author of my English-speaking neighbours near and far.
Shakespeare is one of the most performed authors – I know that.
But that doesn’t make him – on the contrary – an easy playwright.
I don’t think any of his plays are “easy” – so I chose the one that impressed me the most, because it presents characters with empty hearts and drier than stones – they may shout, but they are dry : Macbeth.
Macbeth – directed by Orson Welles – 1948
Apart from the filmed versions of Orson Welles I have never seen a single Shakespeare in English – well, the excellent Romeo + Juliet too – otherwise it is in French – in translations that are sometimes … quite scandalous.
So my beloved directors for Shakespeare are French – you can stop reading, I won’t be offended.
At the Comédie Française, in Paris, in the 2000s, there were extraordinary productions of Shakespeare – and particularly of his comedies: frankly, I was bluffed.
And then there’s Thomas Jolly – well, he’s totally and absolutely my favourite because he has such a whimsical and surprising mind that he is made to edit your great author.
So much for my French people – I insist on this point, because you probably know that in France we are very proud of our great classical authors and that in our country, a good tragedy is: 24 hours – One action – One place – and no fantasies around, no magic, fantasy, witches telling you the future and forests that walk.
We are serious people, we do not joke about tragedy.
As a result, Shakespeare seen by a French is a bit like an Alien arriving on our stages. It’s quite incredible. And it is still true
Thus when, from Shakespeare, we see Macbeth, then we never get over it.
For my part, I will always wonder why this tragedy is not called: Lady Macbeth. As often in what I know of Shakespeare, she is the real monster of the play. A secondary character since she is not the major, she is Poison personified. An idea of the devil.
It is as if Shakespeare wanted to stage the devil from Genesis, the one who comes to tempt you and whom the weak man cannot resist.
I know – I read it too: she is the love for Macbeth. The one who helps him to assume his desire – a desire that was slightly blown in his ear by a few witches who were hanging around and were probably bored.
She has no desire for power for herself: she is content to be the catalyst – a little catastrophic – of her beloved husband’s deepest desires.
All right, then. The serpent in Genesis does not do anything else. It catalyzes the desire of Eve, and then of Adam, to taste that famous forbidden apple.
So, even if we argue about the reasons that lead the beautiful Lady to take the devil’s heart, she still takes it and quietly, calmly.
Macbeth had everything – she wants more.
She pours all the venom of the world into her poor husband’s ear: is he a coward? is he blind? doesn’t he understand when his hour of glory has finally come? is he bound by the sacred – and stupid for the monster – bonds of loyalty and faithfulness? – but it is the perfidy of the wife that, I think, outweighs all other arguments: are you a coward? asked by a wife to her husband, and there goes all their happiness crumbled.
If we add to this the terrible perfidy of witches – we have an absolutely terrifying portrait of women. Not one to save the other. One overtakes Medea in horror: because Medea was blinded by the violence of her love.
Lady Macbeth is not blinded: she destroys everything that doesn’t suit her, without passion, without real anger – with a coldness that makes her absolutely monstrous. And a candour that adds to the horror: but yes, even old men have a lot of blood in them.
When she disappears, Macbeth no longer has a single chance of getting out of it: he had none – but he didn’t know it – and the play leads him to lock himself up in his madness until its conclusion.
For me, the Frenchwoman, this kind of tragedy is strange, because it is a tragedy of Fatality. There was no choice, Macbeth could not resist. It is the tragedy of the one who lets the words and the evil desires of others flow into his heart. He didn’t stand a chance.
And since Shakespeare chose him as the main character and not Lady Macbeth, we can assume that he wanted to warn us. Monsters around us, without compassion, without love, simply devoured by ambition, there are so many of them.
But the “lesson” is not clear – and, in my humble opinion, this is where Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers: he lets us chew his terrible story, and it is up to us to learn what we can from it.
Do I really need to add that he is an essential author for a theatre?
And that Macbeth is one of the even more essential plays?
Of course, I don’t need to.
Well, I took excerpts through the Globe Theatre – quand même. Noblesse oblige.
Featured Image : The witches – Macbeth directed by Orson Welles