This essay describes how two different film directors have interpreted and expanded on Shakespeare’s original text of Macbeth to produce their own films, focusing on the witches. The films are both based on Macbeth but there are many differences. In these films, we expect the witches to create problems and bring evil, setting a tense and fearful atmosphere. They do this to recreate the atmosphere that was present when Shakespeare’s play was performed in his day.
In both Polanski’s and the Animated Tales versions, the witch’s attire makes them seem both supernatural and unnatural. In Polanski’s they are dressed in rags, varying in age. The unnatural attire has come from a quotation of Banquo from Act 1 Scene iii – “What are these, so wither’d and so wild in their attire, that look not like th’inhabitants o’th’earth”. The eldest witch has a long pointy nose and is wearing a long, black garment. One could say that her attire makes her look rather like a raven. Ravens were thought to be messengers of bad things to come in the future, this is supported by a quotation of Lady Macbeth – “The raven himself is hoarse”, but now the witches are the messengers of the bad things to come.
In Animated Tales, the witches are each wearing a mask and they shift between their two faces (they are two faced – equivocation). Again in Animated Tales, one witch is made to look like a raven, so Animated Tales has also used bird imagery to help illustrate how the witches are deceitful and not to be trusted. One of the other witches is like a skeleton, this is again an interpretation of Banquo’s quotation from Act 1 Scene iii – “Live you? Or are you aught that man may question”. In Act 1 Scene iii of Shakespeare’s original text, a witch says – “I’ll give thee a wind”, in Animated Tales, a witch metamorphoses into lightening, this shows how Animated Tales have referred back to the text as the witches have power over the weather and are supernatural.
Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy the whole way through the play when the witches are present, in the form of “thunder and lightning”. Polanski takes this into account and sets the first scene on a desolate beach on a dull, grey day. Polanksi’s use of pathetic fallacy differs from Shakespeare’s because Shakespeare sets his on a battlefield with thunder and lightening (a storm).
One noticeable thing is that the sky is red (red sky in the morning is a sailors warning), which means that bad weather is expected so Polanski wants the storm to be upon them when they meet with Macbeth, because that is when the witches are going to act their evil on Macbeth. Another way Polanksi has shown that a storm is brewing is the way he has the seagulls inland, as if they were fleeing from the storm. Polanski picks up on how Act 1 Scene i is just a preparatory scene as the witches are planning their next meeting – “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
In both films, there is a spell or charm. Witches charm in Animated Tales is when they are telling Macbeth and Banquo the prophecies. In Polanski’s, the witches make the charm at the start, on the beach in Scene i. They have both picked up on the witches’ charms from the original text – “Fair is foul, and foul is fair, Hover through the fog and filthy air”, “Here I have a pilot’s thumb”.
In Polanski’s, one of the witches draws a circle and then the other two witches dig a hole. It is important that we note the objects they use in the charm – first of all, they place a noose into the bottom of the hole. This represents the treachery of the story with Macbeth being the traitor. A human arm grasping a dagger is positioned on the top, which tells us how King Duncan is to be killed. They then fill in the hole with sand and pour some blood on it. Blood represents guilt and is relevant to Macbeth’s quotation after he has killed Duncan – “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand”. One way of looking at this charm is by saying that it is like a prologue, it tells the plot in brief – that somebody is to commit treason with a dagger and there is to be guilt. The other way of looking at it would be to say that the witches are planning this to happen and they have a hand in what Macbeth is going to do.
The Animated Tales charm, as I have said before, takes place when the witches are giving the prophecies to Macbeth and Banquo. When a witch says, “All hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor”, the fingers of the skeleton witch are used to make the medallion that belongs to the Thane of Cawdor. Then when a different witch says “All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter”, the fingers turn into a crown.
The dazzling gold crown floats above Macbeth’s head; this may be a sign that Macbeth is never going to be a proper king, just a king in title. The crown shines a reddish glow onto his face as if its tempting him, this links in with the text as the witches do not make Macbeth King, they just put the idea in his head – “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis. All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor. All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.”
The fact that the glow is reddish is relevant because in the play, blood is a representative of guilt and blood is red. Animated Tales takes that into consideration and uses it to illustrate how Macbeth becomes king, but he is a guilty king. The red glow could be interpreted as the witches telling Macbeth a red future, a guilty future, an evil future.
The witches’ eyes were glowing red when Banquo says, “If you can look into the seeds of time”, this suggests they can see the evil future or it could be that the red is symbolic of how they are equivocating against Macbeth. When the witches turn to prophesise to Banquo, they change their faces or masks half way through each prophesy – “Lesser than Macbeth….” (changes mask) “….and greater”, “Not so happy….” (changes mask) “….yet much happier”.
The fact that the witches change their masks half way through the prophecy is a realisation of the how the witches have two faces (are two-faced) and are using equivocation. The deceit is also shown by one of the witches turning into a raven during Banquo’s prophecy. As ravens in Shakespeare’s day were considered evil, so are the witches. The confusion that the witches have created is again enforced by the fact that they are circling Banquo so he does not know who is going to talk to him next; they are making him confused and disorientated.
The part in Polanski’s version where the prophecies are told, is when the threat of the storm is realised and it’s raining and the bagpipes are playing (representing thunder) – the storm is here, we know the real evil doings are about to take place now. Dischorded bagpipes are being played. The bagpipes are Scotland’s national musical instrument and the fact that they are being played in a random, dischorded manner is relevant. This is because it is unnatural to hear out of tune music, and its unnatural that Macbeth is Scotland’s king. It also shows us the natural disorder and dramatic irony – even though Scotland won the war, Scotland will still be havoc (“New widows howl, new orphans cry”) because Macbeth is going to be their king.
Macbeth and Banquo’s horses react, and then they hear coughing behind rocks. The coughing is of course from the witches and it may be Polanski’s way of telling us that the witches are physically ill, as well as morally. The horses reacting first is linked in with what Ross says to the old man – “Duncan’s horses, a thing most strange and certain, beauteous and swift, the minions of their race, turn’d wild in nature”, so the horses sensed the natural disorder (Duncan’s death) and again they have sensed the supernatural happenings (the witches).
It is notable that the eldest witch has no eyes. Polanski here could be using Greek Mythology to show his viewers that the witch can’t see what is in front of her, but she can see into the future. Polanksi picks up on the chanting from the original text but makes the witches seem as if they are mumbling – maybe talking to spirits or performing other supernatural activities.
The witches mumbling is linked in with the dischorded tune of the bagpipes. Since bagpipes are representing thunder, the way that the witches know the general tone of the bagpipes is significant because it links the witches in with the weather – supernatural! In Animated Tales after the prophecies are told, when the witches are leaving, they link hands, spin around up in the sky and disappear. This is a representation of the quotation – “The weird sisters, hand in hand” and is an example of how Animated Tales have illustrated Macbeth well, but still referred to the text.
This is different from Polanski’s version because after the prophecies are told in his version, the witches lead Macbeth and Banquo after them. They are leading them into an old burial grave of a king. This is fitting as the witches are leading Macbeth to a death of a king – Duncan!
When they are leaving, Polanski has realised that because they are evil, they cannot be seen as feminine (he knows this because of when Lady Macbeth asks the evil spirits to “unsex” her in the text), so one of the witches lifts her skirt and growls. That is also related to this quotation of Banquo’s – “Upon her skinny lips; you should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret”. Banquo doesn’t say that in Polanski’s version – Polanski uses this gesture to illustrate Banquo’s quotation and so that he sticks to the original text.
I personally thought that Polanski’s version of Macbeth represented the witches better than the Animated Tales version. Some of his illustrations were exceptionally intellectual, with the natural disorder in Scotland represented by the dischorded bagpipes sticking in my mind.
Also because Animated Tales is animated, it would be easier to make the witches seem supernatural. The metamorphosing of the witches in the Animated Tales version would be a lot easier to fabricate than the Greek Mythology that Polanksi used. It seems that more work has gone into Polanki’s version as special effects aren’t used, this also makes it more like what audiences in Shakespeare’s day would have seen.