Thursday, November 23, 2006

Enter the King

(Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 2)

What would Shakespeare's audience have experienced at the very start of this scene?

Firstly, there would have been music - the entrance of a King is marked by trumpets.

These trumpets, though, are more battle alarms than ceremonial entrance music. The Elizabethan audience would know the difference.

And instead of the usual stately King’s entrance (see Olivier’s Film, Henry V) we have a rushed entrance – but, it is still ordered, it is still according to rank and the costumes make fairly clear who is more important, who less; who is noble, who a servant: Who on active service, who civilian civil servant.

If this were the start of the play, it would be confusing – to make sense of it, you need to know what is causing the rush.

But it isn't the start of the play - it follows the first, witches scene - which sets up an anticipation in the audience.

The witches dress 'out of rank', they indicate an evil force at work in this state, they show the battle and mention, - Macbeth.

The sound effects in their scene is ‘thunder and lightening’ – rumbles and crashes – the trumpet music, in comparison, is much more ordered.

Much of the second scene only makes sense (and unity) in the light of the first scene.

When the 'sergeant' enters - what does he look like? How does he 'fit in' to the rushed, but essential order and harmony of the court? - He doesn't. He is a bloody man - a phrase often laughed at as weak, but at the time of writing, pregnant with meaning.

Modern televised war, pictures edited to reduce exposure to too much horror (for political and taste considerations) doesn't begin to represent the reality of hacking away at human beings with sharp edged weapons. Try slitting a man's throat and not getting blood on your shoes.

Bullets kill much more cleanly than swords.

I remember the Peter O'Toole Macbeth - derided because it attempted to bring back the blood - but truer to the original in this respect than any other modern production (including film).

The blood screams out - the State is in danger - we can't tell what this man is - he is a soldier of some sort, an officer? Rank has become confused. To the Elizabethan mind, few things were more dangerous than rank confusion (sorry, couldn't resist the pun).

‘What,’ thinks your average 'Lizy apprentice, ‘were those words of the witches? Fair is foul, etc.' - what is rotten in this State? What is upside down?’

‘And what of Macbeth - "they" mentioned him?’

Without the first scene, the subtext is missing - and a considerable amount of the depth of meaning we get out of these scenes comes not from the words, but from the "production" – especially costume.

Shakespeare's words are only part of the work he did - he acted, and directed as well.

1 comment:

Ian Thal said...

Of course, not only is the bloody captain (or sergeant) covered in blood, but his report to Duncan is filled with gore. Indeed, as I prepare for the role and do the necessary interpretive work, he appears proud of the bloody details-- equating them with valor and justice.