Bardolatry in Full Bloom

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Title: Macbeth

Rating: 3 Stars

They got the setting right. You get the feel of desolate, beautiful Scotland. The medieval settings feel right. The characters are scarred and generally dirty.

The play stays true to the spirit of the play. Having said that, I think they treat the material in a too sacred manner. There are several scenes where it’s basically Fassbender uttering the words staring at the camera. It feels like a Shakespeare recitation at times. I don’t know Fassbender’s background, but I’ve seen actors utter Shakespearean lines in an utterly normal manner where you feel the poetry almost as an undertone.

All in all, this production felt portentous.

Contrast that to the version that I saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The stage exploded in drama and action. You felt gripped by the play throughout. It was probably a more irreverent presentation, but I think that’s important when staging Shakespeare. No one wants to go to a play and have it feel like church. In some ways, this movie felt like going to a Shakespearean service.

Speaking of which, many years ago I saw Anthony Hopkin’s movie treatment of Titus Andronicus. Again, it felt too reverent.

On the other hand, Coriolanus (starring Ralph Fiennes) and Cymbeline (Ed Harris) were both brilliant. They both took liberties, but in so doing, the plays seems more meaningful, relevant, and energetic.

I find the background to Macbeth to be interesting. By this time, King James I is a patron of Shakespeare’s company. It’s telling that this play turns on the horrible things that happen when someone takes it upon themselves to kill a king. Considering the recent history and the somewhat precarious position on the throne, this was probably an important message that James would appreciate.

Also, the survival of Banquo’s son and the witches promise of a long line of kings is meaningful because it was believed that James I is descended from Banquo. On top of that, apparently in Shakespeare’s source history, Banquo actually had a role in Duncan’s assassination. This was whitewashed to make sure that James I reign is untainted by even the hint of regicide.

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