From New World Encyclopedia

Macbeth and Banquo meeting the witches on the heath by Théodore Chassériau.

Macbeth is among the best known of William Shakespeare's plays, as well as his shortest surviving tragedy. It is frequently performed at professional and community theaters around the world. The play, loosely based upon the historical account of King Macbeth of Scotland by Raphael Holinshed and the Scottish philosopher Hector Boece,[1] is often seen as an archetypal tale of the dangers of the lust for power and betrayal of friends.

Date and Text

Due to significant evidence of later revisions, Macbeth cannot be precisely dated. Many scholars believe the most likely date of composition is between 1603 and 1606.[2] They suggest the play is unlikely to be earlier than 1603 given that it seems designed to celebrate King James's ancestors and the Stuart accession to the throne in 1603 (James believed himself to be descended from Banquo)[3] and the parade of eight kings which the witches show Macbeth in a vision in Act IV is generally taken to be intended as a compliment to King James VI of Scotland. Other editors of the play suggest a more specific date of 1605-6; the principal reason for this are possible allusions to the Gunpowder Plot and its ensuing trials. Specifically, the Porter's speech (Act II, scene III, lines1-21) may contain allusions to the trial of the Jesuit Henry Garnet in spring, 1606; "equivocator" (line 8) may refer to Garnet's defence of "equivocation" [see: Doctrine of mental reservation], and "farmer" (4) was one of Garnet's aliases.[4] However, the concept of "equivocation" was also the subject of a 1583 tract by Queen Elizabeth's chief councillor Lord Burghley as well as the 1584 Doctrine of Equivocation by the Spanish prelate Martin Azpilcueta that was disseminated across Europe and into England in the 1590s.[5]

Scene from Macbeth, depicting the witches' conjuring of an apparition in Act IV, Scene I. Painting by William Rimmer

Scholars also cite an entertainment seen by King James at Oxford in the summer of 1605 that featured three "sibyls" like the weird sisters; Kermode surmises that Shakespeare could have heard about this and alluded to it with the three witches.[6] However, A. R. Braunmuller in the New Cambridge edition finds the 1605-1606 arguments inconclusive, and argues only for an earliest date of 1603.[7] The play is not considered to be any later than 1607, since, as Kermode notes, there are "fairly clear allusions to the play in 1607."[8] The earliest account of a performance of the play is April 1611, when Simon Forman recorded seeing it at the Globe Theatre.[9]

Macbeth was first printed in the First Folio of 1623 and the Folio is the only source for the text. The text which survives has been plainly altered by later hands. Most notable is the inclusion of two songs from Thomas Middleton's play The Witch (1615); Middleton is conjectured to have inserted an extra scene involving the witches and Hecate, because these scenes had proven highly popular with audiences. These revisions, which since the Clarendon edition of 1869 have been assumed to include all of Act III, scene v, and a portion of Act IV, scene I, are often indicated in modern texts.[10] On this basis, many scholars reject all three of the interludes with the goddess Hecate as inauthentic. Even with the Hecate material, the play is conspicuously short, indicating that the Folio text may derive from a promptbook that had been substantially cut for performance, or that an adapter has cut the text himself.

Performance History

Apart from the one mentioned in the Forman document, there are no performances known with certainty in Shakespeare's era. Because of its Scottish theme, the play is sometimes said to have been written for, and perhaps debuted for, King James; however, no external evidence supports this hypothesis. The play's brevity and certain aspects of its staging (for instance, the large proportion of night-time scenes and the unusually large number of off-stage sounds) have been taken as suggesting that the text now extant was revised for production indoors, perhaps at the Blackfriars Theatre, which the King's Men acquired in 1608.[11]

In the Restoration, Sir William Davenant produced a spectacular "operatic" adaptation of Macbeth, "with all the singing and dancing in it" and special effects like "flyings for the witches" (John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus, 1708). Davenant's revision also enhanced the role of Lady Macduff, making her a thematic foil to Lady Macbeth. In an April 19, 1667 entry in his Diary, Samuel Pepys called Davenant's MacBeth "one of the best plays for a stage, and variety of dancing and music, that ever I saw." The Davenant version held the stage until the middle of the next century. It was this version that the famous Macbeths of the early eighteenth century, such as James Quin, employed.

Charles Macklin, not otherwise recalled as a great Macbeth, is remembered for performances at the Covent Garden in 1773 at which riots broke out, related to Macklin's rivalries with Garrick and William Smith. Macklin performed in Scottish dress, reversing an earlier tendency to dress Macbeth as an English brigadier; he also removed Garrick's death speech and further trimmed Lady Macduff's role. The performance received generally respectful reviews, although George Steevens remarked on the inappropriateness of Macklin (then in his eighties) for the role.

After Garrick, the most celebrated Macbeth of the eighteenth century was John Philip Kemble; he performed the role most famously with his sister, Sarah Siddons, whose Lady Macbeth was widely regarded as unsurpassable. Kemble continued the trends toward realistic costume and to Shakespeare's language that had marked Macklin's production; Walter Scott reports that he experimented continually with the Scottish dress of the play. Response to Kemble's interpretation was divided; however, Siddons was unanimously praised. Her performance of the "sleepwalking" scene in the fifth act was especially noted; Leigh Hunt called it "sublime." The Kemble-Siddons performances were the first widely influential productions in which Lady Macbeth's villainy was presented as deeper and more powerful than Macbeth's. It was also the first in which Banquo's ghost did not appear onstage.

Kemble's Macbeth struck some critics as too mannered and polite for Shakespeare's text. His successor as the leading actor of London, Edmund Kean, was more often criticized for emotional excess, particularly in the fifth act. Kean's Macbeth was not universally admired; William Hazlitt, for instance, complained that Kean's Macbeth was too like his Richard III. As he did in other roles, Kean exploited his athleticism as a key component of Macbeth's mental collapse. He reversed Kemble's emphasis on Macbeth as noble, instead presenting him as a ruthless politician who collapses under the weight of guilt and fear. Kean, however, did nothing to halt the trend toward extravagance in scene and costume.

The Macbeth of the next predominant London actor, William Charles Macready, provoked responses at least as mixed as those given Kean. Macready debuted in the role in 1820 at Covent Garden. As Hazlitt noted, Macready's reading of the character was purely psychological; the witches lost all superstitious power, and Macbeth's downfall arose purely from the conflicts in Macbeth's character. Macready's most famous Lady Macbeth was Helena Faucit, who debuted dismally in the role while still in her mid-twenties, but who later achieved acclaim in the role for an interpretation that, unlike Siddons', accorded with contemporary notions of female decorum. After Macready "retired" to America, he continued to perform in the role; in 1849, he was involved in a rivalry with American actor Edwin Forrest, whose partisans hissed Macready at Astor Place, leading to what is commonly called the Astor Place Riot.

The two most prominent Macbeths of midcentury, Samuel Phelps and Charles Kean, were both received with critical ambivalence and popular success. Both are famous less for their interpretation of character than for certain aspects of staging. At Sadler's Wells Theatre, Phelps brought back nearly all of Shakespeare's original text. He brought back the first half of the Porter scene, which had been ignored by directors since D'Avenant; the second remained cut because of its ribaldry. He abandoned Irving's music and reduced the witches to their role in the folio. Just as significantly, he returned to the folio treatment of Macbeth's death. Not all of these decisions succeeded in the Victorian context, and Phelps experimented with various combinations of Shakespeare and D'Avenant in his more than a dozen productions between 1844 and 1861. His most successful Lady Macbeth was Isabella Glyn, whose commanding presence reminded some critics of Siddons.

The outstanding feature of Kean's productions at the Princess's Theatre after 1850 was their accuracy of costume. Kean achieved his greatest success in modern melodrama, and he was widely viewed as not prepossessing enough for the greatest Elizabethan roles. Audiences did not mind, however; one 1853 production ran for 20 weeks. Presumably part of the draw was Kean's famous attention to historical accuracy; in his productions, as Allardyce Nicoll notes, "even the botany was historically correct."

Henry Irving's first attempt at the role, at the Lyceum Theatre, London in 1875, was a failure. Under the production of Sidney Frances Bateman, and starring alongside Kate Josephine Bateman, Irving may have been affected by the recent death of his manager Hezekiah Linthicum Bateman. Although the production lasted eighty performances, his Macbeth was judged inferior to his Hamlet. His next essay, opposite Ellen Terry at the Lyceum in 1888, fared only slightly better. Friends such as Bram Stoker defended his "psychological" reading, based on the supposition that Macbeth had dreamed of killing Duncan before the start of the play. His detractors, among them Henry James, deplored his somewhat arbitrary word changes ("would have" for "should have" in the speech at Lady Macbeth's death) and his "neurasthenic" approach to the character.

Barry Vincent Jackson staged an influential modern-dress production with the Birmingham Repertory in 1928; the production reached London, playing at the Royal Court Theatre. It received mixed reviews; Eric Maturin was judged an inadequate Macbeth, though Mary Merrall's vampish Lady was reviewed favorably. Though The Times judged it a "miserable failure," the production did much to overturn the tendency to scenic and antiquarian excess that had peaked with Charles Kean.

Among the most publicized productions of the twentieth century was mounted by the American Negro Theater at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem in 1936. Orson Welles, in his first stage production, directed Jack Carter and Edna Thomas (Canada Lee played Banquo) in an all-African-American production. Welles set the play in post-colonial Haiti, and his direction emphasized spectacle and suspense: his dozens of "African" drums recalled Davenant's chorus of witches.

Laurence Olivier played Malcolm in the 1929 production and Macbeth in 1937 at the Old Vic Theatre in a production that saw the Vic's artistic director Lilian Baylis pass away the night before it opened. Olivier's makeup was so thick and stylized for that production that Vivien Leigh was quoted as saying "You hear Macbeth's first line, then Larry's makeup comes on, then Banquo comes on, then Larry comes on." [12] Olivier's later starred in what is probably the most famous twentieth-century production, by Glen Byam Shaw at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1955. Vivien Leigh played Lady Macbeth. The supporting cast, which Harold Hobson denigrated, included many actors who went on to successful Shakespearean careers: Ian Holm played Donalbain, Keith Michell was Macduff, and Patrick Wymark the Porter. Olivier was the key to success. The intensity of his performance, particularly in the conversation with the murderers and in confronting Banquo's ghost, seemed to many reviewers to recall Edmund Kean. Plans for a film version faltered after the box-office failure of Olivier's Richard III. It was of this performance that Kenneth Tynan asserted flatly that "no one has ever succeeded as Macbeth—until Olivier.

Olivier's costar in his 1937 Old Vic Theatre production, Judith Anderson, had an equally triumphant association with the play. She played Lady Macbeth on Broadway opposite Maurice Evans in a production directed by Margaret Webster that ran for 131 performances in 1941, the longest run of the play in Broadway history. Anderson and Evans performed the play on television twice, in 1954 and 1962, with Maurice Evans winning an Emmy Award the 1962 production and Anderson winning the award for both presentations.

After the Olivier performance, the most notable twentieth-century production is that of Trevor Nunn for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1976. Nunn had directed Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren in the play two years earlier, but that production had largely failed to impress. In 1976, Nunn produced the play with a minimalist set at The Other Place; this small, nearly round stage focused attention on the psychological dynamics of the characters. Both Ian McKellen in the title role and Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth received exceptionally favorable reviews. In 2004, members of the RSC voted Dench's performance the greatest by an actress in the history of the company.

The production was eventually moved to London (and ultimately filmed for television); it overshadowed Peter Hall's 1978 production with Albert Finney as Macbeth and Dorothy Tutin as Lady Macbeth. However, the most infamous recent Macbeth was staged at the Old Vic in 1980. Peter O'Toole and Frances Tomelty took the leads in a production (by Bryan Forbes) that was publicly disowned by Timothy West, artistic director of the theater, before opening night, despite being a sellout because of its notoriety.

On the stage, Lady Macbeth is considered one of the more "commanding and challenging" roles in Shakespeare's work.[13]

The most recent performance took place in the real Macbeth's home of Moray, produced by the National Theatre of Scotland to take place at Elgin Cathedral. Professional actors, dancers, musicians, school children, and a community cast from the Moray area all took part in what was an important event in the Highland Year of Culture, 2007.


Duncan - King of Scotland

  • Malcolm - Duncan's elder son.
  • Donalbain - Duncan's younger son.

Macbeth - A general in the army of King Duncan.

  • Lady Macbeth - Macbeth's wife.

Banquo - Macbeth's friend and a general in the army of King Duncan.

  • Fleance - The son of Banquo.

Macduff - The Thane of Fife.

  • Lady Macduff - Macduff's wife.
  • Macduff's Son

Lennox - A Scottish lord.
Rosse - A Scottish lord.
Angus - A Scottish lord.
Mentieth - A Scottish lord.
Caithness - A Scottish lord.
Siward - Earl of Northumberland, General of the English forces.

  • Young Siward - The son of Siward.

Seyton - A servant.
The Weird Sisters
Three Murderers
Porter (or Messenger)


Macbeth and Banquo with the Witches by Johann Heinrich Füssli.

The play opens amid thunder and lightning, with three Witches—the Weird Sisters—deciding that their next meeting shall be with a certain Macbeth. In the following scene, a wounded sergeant reports to King Duncan of Scotland that his generals, Macbeth (who is the Thane of Glamis) and Banquo, have just defeated an invasion by the allied forces of Norway and Ireland, led by the rebel Macdonwald. Macbeth, the King's kinsman, is particularly praised for his bravery, and fighting prowess.

The scene changes. Macbeth and Banquo enter in conversation, remarking on the weather and their win ("So foul and fair a day I have not seen"). While they wander into a heath, the three Witches who have been waiting greet them with prophecies. Even though it is Banquo who first challenges them, they address Macbeth. The first hails Macbeth as "Thane of Glamis," the second as "Thane of Cawdor," while the third proclaims that he shall "be King hereafter." Macbeth appears stunned into silence, so again Banquo challenges them. The Witches inform Banquo he shall father a line of kings. While the two men wonder at these pronouncements, the Witches vanish, and another Thane, Ross, a messenger from the King, soon arrives and informs Macbeth of his newly-bestowed title—Thane of Cawdor. The first prophecy is thus fulfilled. Immediately, Macbeth begins to harbor ambitions of becoming king.

Macbeth writes to his wife about the Witches' prophecies. When Duncan decides to stay at the Macbeth's castle at Inverness, Lady Macbeth hatches a plan to murder him and secure the throne for her husband. Macbeth raises valid concerns about the regicide, but Lady Macbeth eventually persuades him to comply with their plan.

In the night of the visit, Macbeth kills Duncan—the deed is not seen by the audience, but it leaves Macbeth so shaken that Lady Macbeth (herself very jumpy) has to take charge—as per her plan, she frames Duncan's sleeping servants for the murder by planting their bloody daggers on them. Early the next morning, Lennox, a Scottish nobleman, and Macduff, the loyal Thane of Fife, arrive. The porter opens the gate and Macbeth leads them to the king's chamber, where Macduff discovers Duncan's corpse. In a sham fit of fury, Macbeth murders the servants before they can protest their innocence. Macduff is immediately suspicious of Macbeth, but does not disclose his suspicions publicly. Fearing for their lives, Duncan's sons flee, Malcolm to England and his brother Donalbain to Ireland. The rightful heirs' flight makes them suspect, and Macbeth assumes the throne as the new King of Scotland as a kinsman to the dead king.

Macbeth seeing the Ghost of Banquo by Théodore Chassériau.

Despite his success, Macbeth remains uneasy regarding the prophecy that Banquo would be the progenitor of kings. Hence Macbeth invites Banquo to a royal banquet and discovers that Banquo and his young son, Fleance, will be riding that night. He hires two men to kill Banquo and Fleance (The third murderer mysteriously appears in the park before the murder). While the assassins succeed in murdering Banquo, Fleance is able to escape. At the banquet, Banquo's ghost enters and sits in Macbeth's place. Only Macbeth can see the ghost; the rest of the guests begin to panic at what they see as Macbeth raging at an empty chair, until a desperate Lady Macbeth orders them to leave. Disturbed, Macbeth goes to the Witches once more. They conjure up three spirits with three further warnings and prophecies, which tell him to "beware Macduff," but also that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth" and he will "never vanquish'd be until Great Birnam Wood to High Dunsinane Hill shall come against him." Since Macduff is in exile in England (he meets with Malcolm and together they begin to raise an army), he is safe, so Macbeth massacres everyone in Macduff's castle, including Macduff's wife and their young children.

Lady Macbeth eventually becomes racked with guilt from the crimes she and her husband have committed. In a famous scene, she sleepwalks and tries to wash imaginary bloodstains from her hands, all the while speaking of the terrible things she knows.

Lady Macbeth sleepwalking by Johann Heinrich Füssli.

In England, Malcolm and Macduff plan the invasion of Scotland. Macbeth, now identified as a tyrant, sees many of his thanes defecting. Malcolm leads an army, along with Macduff and Englishmen Siward (the Elder), the Earl of Northumbria, against Dunsinane Castle. While encamped in Birnam Wood, the soldiers are ordered to cut down and carry tree limbs to camouflage their numbers, thus fulfilling the Witches' second prophecy. Meanwhile, Macbeth delivers a famous nihilistic soliloquy ("Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow") upon learning of Lady Macbeth's death (the cause is undisclosed, but it is assumed by some that she committed suicide, as the Malcolm's final reference to her reveals "'tis thought, by self and violent hands/took off her life").

A battle ensues, culminating in the slaying of the young Siward and Macduff's confrontation with Macbeth. Macbeth boasts that he has no reason to fear Macduff, as he cannot be killed by any man born of woman. Macduff declares that he was "from was from his mother's womb untimely ripp'd" (i.e., born by Caesarean section before his mother's actual delivery)—and was therefore not "of woman born". Too late, Macbeth realizes the Witches have misled him. A fight ensues, which ends with Macduff beheading Macbeth offstage, thereby fulfilling the last of the prophecies.

In the final scene, Malcolm is crowned as the rightful King of Scotland, suggesting that peace has been restored to the kingdom. However, the witches' prophecy concerning Banquo, "Thou shalt [be]get kings," was known to the audience of Shakespeare's time to be true, as James I of England was supposedly a descendant of Banquo.

Themes and motifs

Macbeth is an anomaly among Shakespeare's tragedies in certain critical ways. It is short: more than a thousand lines shorter than Othello and King Lear, and only slightly more than half as long as Hamlet. This brevity has suggested to many critics that the received version is based on a heavily cut source, perhaps a prompt-book for a particular performance. That brevity has also been connected to other unusual features: the fast pace of the first act, which has seemed to be "stripped for action"; the comparative flatness of the characters other than Macbeth; the oddness of Macbeth himself compared to other Shakespearean tragic heroes.

These unusual features have not, of course, kept Macbeth from the ranks of the most-studied, most-performed, and most-admired of Shakespeare's plays.

Macbeth as a tragedy of character

At least since the days of Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson, analysis of the play has centered on the question of Macbeth's ambition, commonly seen as so dominant a trait that it defines his character. Johnson asserted that Macbeth, though esteemed for his military bravery, is wholly reviled. This opinion recurs in critical literature. Like Richard III, but without that character's perversely appealing exuberance, Macbeth wades through blood until his inevitable fall. As Kenneth Muir writes, "Macbeth has not a predisposition to murder; he has merely an inordinate ambition that makes murder itself seem to be a lesser evil than failure to achieve the crown." Some critics, such as E. E. Stoll, explain this characterization as a holdover from Senecan or medieval tradition. Shakespeare's audience, in this view, expected villains to be wholly bad, and Senecan style, far from prohibiting a villainous protagonist, all but demanded it.

Yet for other critics, it has not been so easy to resolve the question of Macbeth's motivation. Robert Bridges, for instance, perceived a paradox: a character able to express such convincing horror before Duncan's murder would likely be incapable of committing the crime. For many critics, Macbeth's motivations in the first act appears vague and insufficient. John Dover Wilson hypothesized that Shakespeare's original text had an extra scene or scenes in which husband and wife discussed their plans. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the audience is meant to perceive that Macbeth has already thought of killing Duncan before the play begins. Neither of these interpretations is fully proveable; however, the motivating role of ambition for Macbeth is universally recognized. The evil actions motivated by his ambition seem to trap him in a cycle of increasing evil, as Macbeth himself recognizes: "I am in blood; stepp'd insofar that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as to go o'er."

Macbeth as a tragedy of moral order

The disastrous consequences of Macbeth's ambition are not limited to him, of course. Almost from the moment of the murder, the play depicts Scotland as a land shaken by inversions of the natural order. Shakespeare may have intended a reference to the great chain of being, although the play's images of disorder are mostly not specific enough to support detailed intellectual readings. He may also have intended an elaborate compliment to James's belief in the divine right of kings, although this hypothesis, outlined at greatest length by Henry N. Paul, is not universally accepted. As in Julius Caesar, though, perturbations in the political sphere are echoed and even amplified by events in the material world. Among the most frequently depicted of the inversions of the natural order is sleep. Macbeth's announcement that he has "murdered sleep" is figuratively mirrored in Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking.

Macbeth's generally accepted indebtedness to medieval tragedy is often seen as particularly significant in the play's treatment of moral order. Glynne Wickham connects the play, through the Porter, to a mystery play on the harrowing of hell. Howard Felperin argues that the play has a more complex attitude toward "orthodox Christian tragedy" than is often admitted; he sees a kinship between the play and the tyrant plays within the medieval liturgical drama.

The theme of androgyny is often seen as a special aspect of the theme of disorder. Inversion of normative gender roles is most famously associated with the witches and with Lady Macbeth as she appears in the first act. Whatever Shakespeare's degree of sympathy with such inversions, the play ends with a fairly thorough return to normative gender values. Some feminist psychoanalytic critics, such as Janet Adelman, have connected the play's treatment of gender roles to its larger theme of inverted natural order. In this light, Macbeth is punished for his violation of the moral order by being removed from the cycles of nature (which are figured as female); nature itself (as embodied in the movement of Birnam Wood) is part of the restoration of moral order.

Macbeth as a poetic tragedy

Critics in the early twentieth century reacted against what they saw as an excessive dependence on the study of character in criticism of the play. This dependence, though most closely associated with Andrew Cecil Bradley, is evident as early as the time of Mary Cowden Clarke, who offered precise, if fanciful, accounts of the predramatic lives of Shakespeare's female leads. She suggested, for instance, that the child Lady Macbeth refers to in the first act died during a foolish military action.

From the viewpoint of New Criticism, Macbeth had to be read as poetry before all else. Its significance inhered in its language and style, rather than in the characters understood as people. From Caroline Spurgeon and L. C. Knights to Cleanth Brooks, critics analyzed the way in which imagery and metaphor created a pattern of meaning alongside the play's events. Image sets such as blood, which Shakespeare refers to more than 40 times, and figures such as paradox, were seen to play a vital role in shaping audience response to the drama.

The "Scottish Play"

While many today would simply chalk up any misfortune surrounding a production to coincidence, actors and other theater people often consider it to be bad luck to mention Macbeth by name while inside a theater, and usually refer to it superstitiously as The Scottish Play, "MacBee," or sometimes, "The Scottish King."

This is said to be because Shakespeare used the spells of real witches in his text, so witches got angry and are said to have cursed the play. Thus, to say the name of the play inside a theater is believed to doom the production to failure, and perhaps cause physical injury or worse to cast members. A large mythology has built up surrounding this superstition, with countless stories of accidents, misfortunes and even deaths, all mysteriously taking place during runs of Macbeth (or by actors who had uttered the name).[14]

An alternative explanation for the superstition is that struggling theaters or companies would often put on this popular 'blockbuster' in an effort to save their flagging fortunes. However, it is a tall order for any single production to reverse a long-running trend of poor business. Therefore, the last play performed before a theater shut down was often Macbeth, and thus the growth of the idea that it was an 'unlucky' play.

Adaptations and cultural references

Film versions

  • Macbeth, 1916 film directed by John Emerson [2]
  • Macbeth, 1948 film directed by, and starring, Orson Welles, with Jeanette Nolan, Roddy McDowall, and Dan O'Herlihy.
  • Joe Macbeth, 1955 film noir resetting the story as a gang war in Chicago
  • Throne of Blood, 1957 film directed by Akira Kurosawa, is a reexamination of Macbeth in Feudal Japan, starring famed Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune.
  • Macbeth, 1971 film directed by Roman Polanski
  • Macbeth, 1979 film (made for T.V.) directed by Trevor Nunn, starring the Royal Shakespeare Company with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench.
  • Men of Respect, 1991 film set as a Mafia power struggle in New York, in modern English, but otherwise very closely tracking the original.
  • Maqbool, Vishal Bhardwaj's critically acclaimed 2003 Hindi movie adaptation set in the Mumbai underworld. It starred Irfan Khan and Tabu. Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah play two corrupt cops who predict Maqbool's rise and fall, thus portraying the role of the Witches.
  • Macbeth, 1997 film directed by Jeremy Freeston and Brian Blessed, with Jason Connery as Macbeth and Helen Baxendale as Lady Macbeth.
  • In the Flesh, 1998 pornographic film adaptation by Antonio Passolini and Stuart Canterbury. Featured Mike Horner as Macbeth and Kylie Ireland as Lady Macbeth.
  • Scotland, Pa., 2001 independent film retelling the story in the form of a black comedy set against the backdrop of a 1975 hamburger stand.
  • Macbeth, 2003 independent film directed by Bryan Enk; set in a surrealistic modern United States. Moira Kelly is Lady Macbeth, and Peter B. Brown is Macbeth.
  • Macbeth, 2006 film set against the backdrop of a violent gang war in Melbourne, Australia and directed by Geoffrey Wright.

Literary versions

  • MacBird, a 1966 counterculture drama by Barbara Garson featuring US President Lyndon Johnson as Macbeth
  • Macbett — 1972 play by Eugène Ionesco which satirises the original.
  • "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District," short story by Nikolai Leskov only loosely related to Shakespeare's play
  • Light Thickens — 1982 Inspector Alleyn mystery novel by Ngaio Marsh. This, her last novel, concerns five weeks of rehearsal for a London production of the play. The dramatic and literary detail is vivid and compelling, as the author knows her business.
  • Macbeth — 1988 Greek novel by Apostolos Doxiadis
  • Wyrd Sisters — 1988 novel by Terry Pratchett, whose plot combines those of Macbeth and Hamlet. One of many novels set in the Discworld fantasy world.
  • MacBeth — 1999 Finnish comic book, adapted by Petri Hannini and artwork by Petri Hiltunen.
  • The Third Witch — 2001 novel by Rebecca Reisert, told from the point of view of one of the witches in the play.
  • La señora Macbeth 2004, by Griselda Gambaro. An Argentinian play, told from the point of view of Lady Macbeth and her arguing with the three witches that harass her during the victories and later death of his husband.
  • American Ambition[15] 2006, by John Hamilton Allen sets the story in the contemporary United States and the struggle for the White House.

Television versions (a selection)

  • Macbeth — 1954 Hallmark Hall of Fame live adaptation of the famous stage production starring Maurice Evans and Judith Anderson, with a mostly American supporting cast of stage and television actors, among them Richard Waring.
  • Macbeth — 1960 television remake of the 1954 production, again produced for the Hallmark Hall of Fame, and again starring Evans and Anderson, but this time featuring an all-British supporting cast, and filmed on location in England and Scotland. Ian Bannen and Jeremy Brett are also featured.
  • Play of The Month: Macbeth; 1970 production, shown on the 20th September that year on BBC1. Starring Eric Porter, Janet Suzman, John Alderton, Geoffrey Palmer, John Thaw and Tony Caunter.
  • Macbeth— 1983 production produced for the BBC Shakespeare series shown on PBS, this version starring Nicol Williamson and Jane Lapotaire.
  • Macbeth — 1992 animation by Nikolai Serebryakov as a part of Shakespeare: The Animated Tales
  • Macbeth — 1998 TV movie on UK Channel 4, starring Sean Pertwee and set in an alternate present-day Scotland, but with the original dialogue
  • The BBC's ShakespeaRe-Told series in 2005 included a present-day modern-language Macbeth set in a Glasgow restaurant.

Musical adaptations

  • The opera Macbeth (1847) by Giuseppe Verdi
  • The opera Macbeth (1910) by Ernest Bloch
  • Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, opera by Dmitri Shostakovich based on the short story by Nikolai Leskov.
  • Macbeth is one of Richard Strauss's earliest tone poems (1890).
  • The album Thane to the Throne (2000) concept album by Jag Panzer
  • The album A Tragedy in Steel (2002) a concept album by Rebellion.
  • Macbeth: the Contemporary Rock Opera (revised 2006) by Judy Stevens and Clarry Evans, first performed at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.
  • Umbatha, merging the story with the history of Shaka Zulu, incorporating Zulu tribal songs and dances. Written by Welcome Msomi and first performed in 1969. See UCLA news article.
  • David Hobson's rock opera - 1985
  • "From a Jack to a King" by Bob Carlton 2007

See also


  1. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition - Retrieved October 29, 2007.
  2. William Shakespeare, and A. R. Braunmuller. Macbeth. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 0521223407), 5-8
  3. Braunmuller, 2-3.
  4. Frank Kermode. The Riverside Shakespeare. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974, ISBN 0395754909), 1308; for details on Garnet, see Perez Zagorin, "The Historical Significance of Lying and Dissimulation—Truth-Telling, Lying, and Self-Deception." Social Research (Fall 1996).
  5. Mark Anderson. Shakespeare By Another Name. (New York: Gotham Books, 2005, ISBN 1592401031), 402-403
  6. Kermode, 1308.
  7. Braunmuller, 5-8.
  8. Kermode, 1308.
  9. If, that is, the Forman document is genuine; see the entry on Simon Forman for the question of the authenticity of the Book of Plays.
  10. Nicholas Brooke. The Tragedy of Macbeth. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, ISBN 0192834177), 57
  11. For the date of acquisition, see, for instance, Joseph Quincy Adams. Shakespearean Playhouses. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917, OCLC 1070344), 224.
  12. Robert Tanitch. Olivier. (Abbeville Press, 1985)
  13. Langdon Brown. Shakespeare around the Globe: A Guide to Notable Postwar Revivals. (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986, ISBN 0313237565), 355.
  14. Robert Faires, The Austin Chronicle: Arts: The Curse of the Play. October 13, 2000, Retrieved October 29, 2007.
  15. John H. Allen. American Ambition. (2006) [1]. Retrieved June 2, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Adams, Joseph Quincy. Shakespearean Playhouses. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917, OCLC 1070344
  • Allen, John H. American Ambition. ( ISBN 9781847538284
  • Anderson, Mark. Shakespeare By Another Name. Gotham Books, 2005. ISBN 9781592401031
  • Bald, R.C. "Macbeth and the Short Plays." Review of English Studies 4 (1928).
  • Brooke, Nicholas, ed. The Tragedy of Macbeth. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1998. ISBN 9780198129011
  • Brown, Langdon. Shakespeare around the Globe: A Guide to Notable Postwar Revivals. New York: Greenwood Press. 1986. ISBN 9780313237560
  • Kermode, Frank. The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974, ISBN 0395754909
  • Shakespeare, William and A. R. Braunmuller. Macbeth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, ISBN 0521223407
  • Shirley, Frances. Shakespeare's Use of Off-stage Sounds. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 1963. OCLC 45408079
  • Tanitch, Robert. Olivier, the Complete Career. Abbeville Press, 1985. ISBN 0896595900
  • Zagorin, Perez. "The Historical Significance of Lying and Dissimulation—Truth-Telling, Lying, and Self-Deception." Social Research (Fall 1996). ISSN 0037-783X

External links

All links retrieved November 5, 2022.

William Shakespeare and his works
General information Biography | Style | influence | Reputation | Religion | Sexuality | Shakespearean Authorship Question
Tragedies Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Hamlet | Julius Caesar | King Lear | Macbeth | Othello | Romeo and Juliet | Timon of Athens | Titus Andronicus | Troilus and Cressida
Comedies All's Well That Ends Well | As You Like It | The Comedy of Errors | Cymbeline | Love's Labour's Lost | Measure for Measure | The Merchant of Venice | The Merry Wives of Windsor | A Midsummer Night's Dream | Much Ado About Nothing | Pericles, Prince of Tyre | The Taming of the Shrew | The Tempest | Twelfth Night, or What You Will | The Two Gentlemen of Verona | The Two Noble Kinsmen | The Winter's Tale
Histories King John | Richard II | Henry IV, Part 1 | Henry IV, Part 2 | Henry V | Henry VI, part 1 | Henry VI, part 2 | Henry VI, part 3 | Richard III | Henry VIII
Poems Sonnets | Venus and Adonis | The Rape of Lucrece | The Passionate Pilgrim | The Phoenix and the Turtle | A Lover's Complaint
Apocrypha and Lost Plays Edward III | Sir Thomas More | Cardenio (lost) | Love's Labour's Won (lost) | The Birth of Merlin | Locrine | The London Prodigal | The Puritan | The Second Maiden's Tragedy | Richard II, Part I: Thomas of Woodstock | Sir John Oldcastle | Thomas Lord Cromwell | A Yorkshire Tragedy | Fair Em | Mucedorus | The Merry Devil of Edmonton | Arden of Faversham | Edmund Ironside | Vortigern and Rowena
Other play information Shakespeare's plays | Shakespeare in performance | Chronology of Shakespeare plays | Oxfordian chronology | Shakespeare on screen | BBC Television Shakespeare | Titles based on Shakespeare | List of characters | Problem Plays | List of historical characters | Ghost characters


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