I am in bloodStepped in so far that, should I wade no more,Returning were as tedious as go o’er.– Macbeth (3.4.142-144) by William Shakespeare, after killing King Duncan, the two guards, and his previous ally, Banquo–all done to be and remain king.
Macbeth (1971), starring Jon Finch (Macbeth) and Terrence Bayler (Macduff).
Directed by Roman Polanski.
Macbeth (2015), starring Michael Fassbender (Macbeth) and Sean Harris (Macduff).
Directed by Justin Kurzel.
In the mid-seventeenth century, William Shakespeare produced a tragedy, not knowing the extent of the impact or significance that the play would create or hold in his lifetime, let alone the future. This play, also known as Macbeth, was originally created by Shakespeare with the intention of acting as entertainment, while also speaking out on underlying social issues such as the dangers of: corruption brought forth by the pairing of unchecked ambition and moral boundaries, the toxic molding of masculine ideals, and crossing the line between kingship and tyranny. Furthermore, Shakespeare uses Macbeth to set an example through the underlying message: if these variables aren’t taken into account and are avoided altogether, the results that come about may very well be variations or emulations of Macbeth’s fate, as well as the overall creation of a ‘monster’. This is further exemplified by the later recreations and more current takes of this forewarning, this time through films, by directors Roman Polanski (1971) and Justin Kurzel (2015).
The running interpretation or the face(s) one applies to the term ‘monster’ differs from person to person; despite this, a common thread of characteristics may still be found to denote someone or something as a ‘monster’. Even with this thread still present, the term itself still has the ability to mold to the creator’s desire and its found context–going either in the positive or negative direction. The direction that I am choosing to go in when utilizing the term ‘monster’ is in the utmost negative direction on the spectrum, while using theses from the chapter of Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Theory: Reading Culture, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”, as later evidence and reference. In this context, I am choosing to define the main character of Macbeth as a ‘monster’, due to the alignment of Macbeth and the qualifications of what a ‘monster’ is by Cohen, the father of ‘monster’ theories.
Now with this definition of ‘monster’ freshly implanted in your mind and the scene now set, we can now move on to synopsize the play and watch the label, ‘monster’, appear by itself and get painted in big, red letters across Macbeth’s forehead–before comparing Macbeth to “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”. While we now shift gears, imagine reclining backwards in an expensive, comfortable seat at the movie theater, waiting for the red curtains to be pulled to the sides; all done so that the text could finally come to life and be easier to understand as a current play…and not in yee, old English. Now, que the lights being dimmed and the red curtains “magically” moving to the sides, all by themselves, and the show finally beginning. Or, we could be more realistic and say you showed up 20 minutes late to the showing because of the “previews” taking so long, making you miss the beginning. That excuse is perfectly acceptable in this case though because the beginning of the play was very boring and didn’t really have any impact on the plot anyways–just know that a large battle happened and that the king, King Duncan, some other thanes (nobles), and Macbeth were all there. In addition to this, Macbeth killed and beheaded a righteous enemy on the battlefield, Macdonwald. As a result, King Duncan grants Macbeth the honorable title, “Thane of Cawdor”. However, this was not the type of recognition that Macbeth desires because he is secretly a power hungry, insecure person; soon made evermore apparent by the three, creepy, old witches. After all of the hoopla of the battle, Macbeth, King Duncan, along with everyone else agree on meeting later at Macbeth’s castle for continuance of celebration. Shortly after, Macbeth and his close friend, Banquo, start make their way back to the castle. During this time frame, three random witches appear and inform both characters of a prophecy: either Macbeth will be king or Banquo will father a generation of kings. In that moment, tension arises because it would be impossible for both choices to come true, but let me offer a much shorter summation of what happens. Long story short, Macbeth kills a large sum of people (King Duncan, two guards, Banquo, Lady Macduff, her family and household, and Young Siward) due to the prophecy. Moreso, he does this with the intention of lessening the possibility of anyone else taking the throne from him, so that he won’t be faced by his own insecurities of not being in the spotlight and in the top power position, or allowing his pushy, demeaning wife to continue to belittle and emasculate him. He ultimately does get out of anymore confrontation with his wife because Lady Macbeth commits suicide near the ending of the play, as a result of the guilt overtaking her from being involved with the murder of Duncan. He does not, however, avoid his own insecurities because of the consistent thought of ambition and power on his mind. After killing all of these people to maintain his status, Macbeth begins to go even crazier because of the accumulation of all the blood from the past murders, now on his hands, epitomized within the lines “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red” (2.2.60-68). This attitude, as represented within those lines alone, along with the pairing of the attitude in the later statement, “I am in blood stepped in so far, that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.142-144), act as the basis and embodiment of Macbeth’s character and mindset throughout the entire play–even until the point of his own death (yes, Macbeth gets killed in the ending by Macduff…if you’re unaware and still haven’t watched the movie clips above yet), being clear evidence of the monstrous motives and agenda that were fully present, at all times. Have you envisioned the word, ‘monster’, written in capital letters across Macbeth’s forehead yet? I mean…he only killed tons of people, played a huge part in his wife committing suicide, and continued to go forth because of what again? Oh yes, it was too tedious to go back because he was in too deep. Well, if that doesn’t scream out ‘monster’ to you, then I don’t know what your definition consists of; you had better get checked out though. This “man” (more like coward) was his own demise, letting power overtake him and lead him down the dark road…all up until his final breath. That, my dear, is the epitome of a ‘monster’; he only cared of his own rank, rather than thinking about his repercussions and impact on the people around him. Furthermore, immediate pleasure, an all familiar characteristic and thought of a ‘monster’, was one of the prominent thoughts inside Macbeth’s head. Side thought: have I scrambled your brain yet and had you reconsider your thoughts on Shakespeare yet? He isn’t so boring anymore, is he (besides the fact that the text may be slightly difficult to read at first, yes, I know)? You had better be considering him a genius by now.
After now having a general understanding of the basic plot line of Macbeth, we may now additionally analyze Macbeth’s actions and mindset, while using and revisiting Cohen’s monster classification process. When classifying a ‘monster’ by using the common thread of qualities that we, as a society, have determined, it needs to be noted that a ‘monster’ doesn’t have to fit into every category or theses as presented by Cohen–despite this usually happening. To narrow down the definition even further, Cohen defines ‘monster’ as “…an incorporation of the outside, the beyond–of all those loci that are rhetorically placed as distant and distinct but originate within” (7), in “Thesis IV: The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference.” With this delineation alone, we can now declare that Macbeth is indeed a ‘monster’, for the simple fact that his actions were a product of society and culture. More precisely, Macbeth is a representation, painted by Shakespeare, of that current time period’s ideology: power, masculinity, and brute strength. Even though Macbeth includes nobility and such, which our culture and society noticeably doesn’t have anymore, the mirror that Shakespeare is holding to the past can remain held up for current times, along with the future–for a constant reality check. When society stares, long and hard at itself in the mirror, red flags will appear, possibly disappear for a short time span, and reappear at a later point because “They can be pushed to the farthest margins of geography and discourse, hidden away at the edges of the world and in the forbidden recesses of our mind, but they always return. And when they come back, they bring not just a fuller knowledge of our place in history and the history of knowing our place, but they bear self-knowledge, human knowledge–and a discourse all the more sacred as it arises from the Outside” (Cohen 20). This thesis (“Thesis VII: The Monster Stands at the Threshold…of Becoming)”, along with the one that was previously stated, encapsulates the concept of a ‘monster’, as well as provides a solid basis and proof that Macbeth is a prime example–seen clearly through his lines and actions.
Although Shakespeare’s cautionary tale is able to stand strongly on its own, the addition of visuals, in the form of a film in this case, has the potential of enhancing the text’s messages, elevating previous understanding of the text, evolving prior stances or biases on the topics spoken on, as well as producing additional takeaways that can be applied to everyday life. By reading and/or viewing this timeless piece of literature, one is granted the opportunity to view their active stream of consciousness, morals, and personality traits. If one faces this confrontation and realizes that their chosen pathway and mindset aligns with Macbeth, they do have the ability to grow and evolve; however, it is up to that person to initiate the change. Shakespeare has purposefully laid out the foundation and materials, or the “dos and don’ts”, that are viable for initiating this change if desired by the viewer(s)–as shown by the contrast of the main characters, (Macbeth and Macduff, Macbeth and Banquo, or evil versus good), their actions, and the general plot of the play. Now, let’s see who did this best: Shakespeare, Roman Polanki, or Justin Kurzel.
In the rendering of Roman Polanski’s Macbeth, a non-realistic, over-dramatized approach was taken, ultimately taking away from the important themes offered. The specific scene that I wanted to focus on was the ending, battle scene of the movie because this was one of most crucial moments of the entire story–containing the biggest plot twist. Besides the main prophecy that Macbeth focuses on, there is an added prophecy that foreshadows Macbeth’s future and his demise. This included two important factors of this specific scene: Macbeth can only be killed by a man, not born of a woman and to be aware of the Thane of Cawdor (Macduff). These are important because Macbeth comes into the battle with his head held high, thinking that he would not be defeated because every human is born of a woman–taking the prophecy’s words literally. However, what he didn’t think of was that a cesarean section is possible…and that just happened to be how Macduff was born–making him not born naturally by a woman. Despite this playing a key role in the plot, it wasn’t included during the battle, right before Macduff kills Macbeth in this version. That alone disappointed me because it’s one of the best plot twists there is. Many people either miss that element of the text or misinterpret it, so I was expecting there to be focal point of the battle, right before Macbeth is beheaded. This version did let me down with that part alone, but it was also just not a well produced or casted depiction of Macbeth–from the tiny, wussy men, to the poor execution of the plot twist, to the fight scenes looking like rag dolls flopping around, to the large group of spectators watching and allowing these rag dolls to just flop around and not anything about it. The one detail that I did appreciate being exaggerated was the beheading of Macbeth because that act emphasizes the ‘monster’ that he had become. From the beginning of the play, Macbeth was rewarded for beheading the other ‘monster’ at the time; but now, he is the ‘monster’ being beheaded by the new hero, Macduff. For the most part, I was fairly disappointed because of the points made above, plus my standards were already significantly high because I had watched the 2015 version first.
Now saving the best for last (besides the text itself, obviously), welcome to the stage: Justin Kurzel’s proper and well-executed representation of Macbeth. I chose to effectively use the ending battle scene from this movie too, for the purpose of bearing witness that Macbeth is a front-runner in the human, ‘monster’ category. Yes, I said human, ‘monster’ category. Many people think of serial killers, mass murders, and basically anything that has to do with killing when it comes to deeming someone the title of a ‘monster’ when they’re in the human form. Well, guess what? That’s exactly why Macbeth is able to fit this image so perfectly, not only in the text alone, but in this film more specifically. Instead of the scene that you viewed right before the Kurzel take, Polanski’s version, with the actors who I (along with yourself too, maybe?) had never seen or heard of in my life (also, maybe that’s why their performance wasn’t so fantastic), Kurzel made sure of implicating some of not just well-known, but as well as topnotch, actors in the industry. Okay, I’ll be honest. I only really focused on Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, but don’t twist my words. What I’m not saying is that the other actors did a terrible job. They in fact, too, did a marvelous job (oops, a pun…Fassbender was in Marvel), and did Shakespeare justice. They were all able to put a face, faces rather, to the text and enhance it in all ways–getting you hooked and keeping you completely invested throughout the whole movie. You start to feel although you are in Scotland, watching the cast perform while in the outskirts of the crowd. Everything felt so intimate–something very important with movies, for it should always feel as if you were there during the shooting of the film too. You were able to feel everything that the actors were saying, Macbeth especially, during the chaos of it all. You saw craziness in his eyes and were followed up by shivers down your spine. The thought of: this man is pure insanity, and I would stay away from him too, continues to cross your mind as you live in the movie when watching. Fassbender, without a doubt, went far beyond when portraying the ‘monster’ of Macbeth–which was everything and anything that I could ask for. It was almost too real, making me question if that’s truly who he is as a person; but then I was reminded of his goofy interviews. Anyways, that essential element was something that Polanski wasn’t able to achieve, making him fall off my radar. However, with this being a more modernized route that Kurzel and the cast took, with lines that we can now understand much better, impressive graphics, more realistic acting and fight scenes, AND the actually included plot twist before Macbeth was killed, you feel like you can finally deep dive into the dark depths of Shakespeare. Kurzel’s believeability factor and by actually setting the scene in Scotland made the play rise from the ashes like a phoenix, and come to life–bigger and better than ever before.
Despite these two other variations of Macbeth that the directors created, the play will forever live in the spotlight–regardless of it being hard to read or not. The messages contained in the timeless tragedy, surface level and below, are vital points made by Shakespeare that need to be ever-present in society’s minds. What needs to more specifically be understood and internalized is that the pathway that of Macbeth’s is also a road that remains open to all as well; however, this road awakening the inner beast of the active participant “outlines the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake” (Cauchi). If ever encountering this path yourself or bearing witness to someone else heading down or are already on this pathway to hell, take Shakespeare’s warning along with mine, and steer clear. Our society already has too many ‘monsters’–whether they be inside of us, in our homes, all around us, and/or are even “leading” the country that we are citizens in. Either way, we do not need anymore ‘monsters’ running around; more is not merrier in this case. Just make sure to be aware of the dangers of power, anger, and jealousy at all times; there’s no turning back once you’ve been beheaded.
Cauchi, Francesca. “Compunctious Visitings”: Conscience as Unequivocal Witness in Macbeth.” Philological Quarterly, vol. 94, no. 4, Fall2015, pp. 335-351. EBSCOhost, chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=116141671&site=ehost-live.
This academic journal contained literary criticism on my primary text, Macbeth, by Shakespeare. Within this, Francesca Cacuchi comments on the issues that are below the surface level of the play–the underlying messages and motivations of Macbeth. Along with this, Cauchi makes an effort to point out Macbeth’s flaws and other characters, and also speaks out on the changes in their streams of consciousness and morality. Moreso, I used this source because it doesn’t glorify the play as all others do, and it also explicitly states and goes into depth on the issues of the characters, unlike the play or most reviews do. While doing this, it too gives an alternative perspective that also plays into my own take, while also giving me additional knowledge. This academic journal is a credible and reliable source because it is by a publication called Philological Quarterly, which is a department of English. This means that this has been peer reviewed and edited, ensuring that this source is the best of the best.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
The chapter that I used from Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s book Monster Theory: Reading Culture to enhance my evaluations was “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”. Within this chapter were seven different key categorizations and justifications that relate to the creation of monsters themselves. These theses offered me guidance while classifying my three main focused on texts as monsters because they acted as guidance, or a checklist, to see if my monster (Macbeth) had met a majority of the criteria. This source is a crucial source when analyzing not only monsters, but our society and culture because Cohen points out a direct correlation between the two. This additionally backs my claims made about Macbeth because the reactions presented by my characters are products of society’s attitude towards the social issues listed in my essay. In addition to this source being viable, this source is also credible because he is the father of monster theories, an English professor, and the director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies.
Kurzel, Justin. “Macbeth (2015) – Ending Battle Scene.” Youtube, uploaded by Platinum Movie Clips, 14 January 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR9n6KQWejM.
This Youtube clip is of the battle scene, near the ending of movie produced in 2015 by Justin Kurzel. I used this battle scene as one of my primary texts, in order to display the monstrous side of Macbeth. Starred within this movie as Macbeth is Michael Fassbender and Sean Harris as Macduff. In this scene, Macbeth is finally confronted by Macduff and both prepare to fight. After approaching each other and initiating a battle, Macduff overtakes Macbeth for the majority of the time; however, Macbeth finally gets Macduff into a position where he is powerless. This part of the scene is important because Macduff finally reveals to Macbeth that he was born by a cesarean section–meaning that he is able to break the prophecy that the witches had previously spoken of. Furthermore, Macbeth freezes directly after this confrontation, giving Macduff the opportunity to kill Macbeth. I picked this movie because it was the most recent rendition of the play, and the acting as well as the director’s interpretation and execution were spot on (not overacting, but taking a more realistic approach). This source was also credible because it’s a movie that was based off the actual play itself, including direct lines.
Polanski, Roman. “Polanski Macbeth Final Fight.” Youtube, uploaded by Donna Brewer, 12 May 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0waVOnG-PEw.
This rendition of Macbeth by Roman Polanksi plays into the previous over-dramatized versions of the tragedy by providing yet another one. The actors in this Youtube clip are Jon Finch as Macbeth and Terrence Bayler as Macduff, in the final battle scene. Both Finch and Bayler are in fully suited armor, going head to head and trying to kill each other. At the end of the drawn out scene, Macduff eventually beheads Macbeth. This movie is a credible source because it contains direct lines from the original play.
Shakespeare, William, and John Crowther. Macbeth. SparkNotes, 2003.
Macbeth was originally published in 1623 by William Shakespeare, as a way to speak on the dangers of political ambition and power. I used the main character, Macbeth, as an example of a monster because of the horrendous qualities that he possesses, along with the heinous acts that he commits throughout the whole play. Not only does this exemplify Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Theory: Reading Culture by backing up many of his theses, but it also stands on its own by offering its own take on morality, values, and consciousness. In addition to this, this play remains a credible source, even as time continues to go on because the themes of the play may forever be applicable and accurate. Even moreso, it is written by the literary genius, Shakespeare.