Macbeth Fate VS Free Will
How it works
Written in 1623, William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth continues to be widely discussed and reenacted into the twenty-first century. Macbeth’s far-reaching themes and lack of descriptive stage directions allow for infinite interpretations and performances. Polly Findlay’s contemporary spin is no exception. This fast-paced version of Macbeth emphasizes the destruction of unchecked aspiration through the incorporation of supernatural all-knowing figures, a digital clock, and a modern setting that transforms abstract ideas from stage material to real life, ultimately leaving audience members in awe.
The fear of the unknown continues to be the greatest human emotion and Polly Findlay knew just how to play with that fear: supernatural children. In Shakespeare’s original playbook, he never specified the age nor the degree of psychic these characters actually are, leaving this choice up to the director. In this version of the play, the Weird Sisters were played by three elementary-aged girls. They were dressed in matching, bright red school uniforms with white tights, often speaking in eerie unison. The intensified supernaturalness of the Weird Sisters played with the audience’s curiosity and fears of horror.
How it works
In fact, this common fear of the supernatural evoked a physical nervous system response; the girls gave me chills. This idea drew upon the movies of The Shinning and Poltergeist which both utilize children to increase scare factor. Although the choice of using children in horror movies or plays could be considered unethical, it is extremely effective in making people uncomfortable. The girls awaken Macbeth’s ambition when they deliver him deliver the prophecy that he will be king. Their otherworldliness magnifies the consequences of sacrificing morals by adding to an already existent unease.
The porter character’s canny attitude gave the audience a break from their fears. One does not expect to find Macbeth amusing, but this character made the play just that. He gave the events a sense of irony, because it is as if he knew they were inevitable. The Porter was a unique character who fulfilled a diverse amount of rolls: he cleaned up the stage intermittently with a vacuum, became a third murderer, an observer, and a symbol of fate. From the beginning of the play, he sat in the shadows watching.
Though he never explicitly interacted with them, his presence felt like an extension of the Weird Sisters; he became an all knowing figure. He acted as the unspoken narrator providing knowledge and insight as he communicated between the audience and the stage characters. The Porter kept track of Macbeth’s kills by etching on a wall. He started off slowly making tallies, each tick was accompanied by a loud jarring noise, adding to the horror motif. His tallies soon sped up, displaying the escalation of Macbeth. Many times throughout, he glanced at the watch on his wrist. This action, along with his pointing of Macduff in the direction of Macbeth in the final scene introduced the idea of fate.
Another choice that Findlay made was the incorporation of a clock. Time is an interesting aspect of her production. Throughout the entire play, there hung a relatively large and hard to miss digital clock in the middle of the stage. Perhaps it was digital so that there could be no question on its purpose because numbers are the same in every language. This was not just any old clock; the red numbers exhibited a countdown. A countdown to what exactly? Macbeth’s death? As the play progressed, this became more clear. The time passing did indeed end when Macbeth was slain, but the interesting part is that it was reset and began counting down again with the crowning of Malcolm. The ticking mimicked a bomb. The clock represented a countdown to the inevitable. It is an extension of the all-knowing supernatural figures and brings into question the idea of predetermined actions. The counting down caused the audience to ponder if the characters next actions were fixed or whether they were free will choice.
Time was measured and manipulated throughout the play suggesting that these characters have a choice but at the same time, would ultimately chose the inevitable. Macbeth’s line “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” worked hand in hand with the clock to suggest that ambition is an never-ending cycle and that history repeats itself (5:5:18). The soliloquy only enforced the resetting of the clock with Malcolm’s crowning. The use of a digital clock extended the theme from the stage to the audience emphasizing that time is out one’s control. The clock was an effective and engaging aspect that drew out the central message of the play.
Using supernatural children and a digital clock were clever choices on Findlay’s part, but the most effective choice was utilizing a modern setting. At first, the simple background of waiting room chairs, a water dispenser, and a plant left me wondering if I was seated for the right performance. The purpose soon became clear. The use of a contemporary background and modern clothing allowed Shakespeare’s ideas to jump straight from the stage to the audience. Shakespeare established a theme of human ambition that is inescapable no matter how the play is performed but the modern choices imply that these principles are true today.
The presence of paranormal phenomena and the incorporation of a clock to emphasize time on a contemporary stage reiterate that the natural tendency for humans to seek immediate gratification continues into the 21st century. These aspects work together to highlight the dangers associated with suppressing morals and propose a discussion on the notions of predetermination versus free will. Melding the old concept of tragedy with the relatively new interest in horror gives shape to humanity’s greatest fears making Macbeth more accessible than it has ever been. This take on the medieval play suggests that nothing in life is quite as it seems.