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Transforming Shakespeare’s written text onto the stage/screen

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With reference to the written Macbeth text, to the R.S.C’s 1967 production and the Roman Polanskis 1971 film, analyze how successful each production has been in transforming Shakespeare’s written text onto the stage/screen.

Throughout Shakespeare’s life he wrote and directed many famous and wonderful plays, these include Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and the Twelfth night. The play I will be focusing on will be Macbeth. I will be examining how two different directors, Trevor Nunn and Roman Polanski, have interpreted Shakespeare’s written text.

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Shakespeare conveyed themes and used various other dramatic devices to convey what the characters are feeling and experiencing. Both Trevor Nunn and Roman Polanski interpreted these themes differently and placed different emphasis on each of the many themes, which, resulted in two very different productions of the same play.

In Roman Polanski’s production of 1971, Jon Finch played Macbeth while Francesca Annis played Lady Macbeth. Polanski’s version was a high budget film with a lot of money spent on clothes, props and typically Scottish scenery.

In Polanski’s film there is no specific emphasis on any one theme but there is evidence of them in this production. This production of Macbeth is very lavish and easier to follow as many of the original lines have been edited or cut out. Also with the aid of scenery, I feel the viewer can get a better sense of what Shakespeare had originally intended. It is also worth mentioning that Polanski had a greater cast for his version.

In Trevor Nunn’s production of 1976, Ian McKellan played Macbeth and Judi Dench played Lady Macbeth. This production was preformed on stage with fewer props and a lot of emphasis placed on Light and Darkness, which represents good and evil. Trevor Nunn’s production had fewer actors and very understated costumes, as it was a low budget production. This version of Macbeth stuck rigidly to the original text and as a result proved slightly harder to follow. Although the level of acting shown by both Ian McKellan and Judy Dench was much stronger and convincing, the lack of scenery and props made it difficult for the viewers to realize what Shakespeare had intended.

Polanski’s film opens on a beach with the three weird sisters. The original text says a wild heath land but I feel a beach is affective as they later speak about creating a sea storm to punish a sailor’s wife,

“A sailors wife had chestnuts in her lap”, the scene ends with the camera focusing in on a dagger, which is not in the original, but again I feel this was effective because it gives us a sense of their ability to see the future. Throughout Polanski’s film he has alot of different scenery, which are typically Scottish and are very affective to convey how the weather changes throughout the play in relation to what the characters are feeling or saying. Polanski does not place strong emphasis on any one theme, although they are evident throughout. Polanski used music a lot in his production. The music changes in accordance with what is happening in the foreground, non-more so than when evil approaches.

The music is loud, unpleasant and does not seem to have any particular pattern. This contrasts well with the pleasant, free flowing and heavenly music, which accompanies the good people in the film. This works very well as in the original text Shakespeare did not use music as affectively or at all?, it helps to convey the evilness of the witches, which is what Shakespeare, had intended. Macbeth was set in 1606 and the clothes used in Roman Polanski`s production I felt were very realistic and again worked well as it gave the viewer a better idea of what people where like back then and how they behaved.

Trevor Nunn’s production as I said was less expensive and had a smaller cast with fewer props. This however did not take away from an excellent interpretation. Trevor Nunn places a lot of emphasis on light and darkness, good verses evil, this is most evident when we first meet Duncan. He is all dressed in white and is portrait as a frail old man, the music which accompanies him is church organ music and gives Duncan a heavenly radiance. This ties in very nicely with the “Divine Right Of Kings” theme where a crime against the king is a crime against God. Shakespeare did place some emphasis on light and darkness

Macbeth- “What is the night?……”

Lady Macbeth- “Almost at odds with morning, which is which………”

The struggle between good and evil is also incorporated in the struggle between light and darkness in Trevor Nunns production, light being good, darkness being evil.

Macbeth- “Stars, hide your fires!

Let not light see my dark and deep desires……”

This production is done on stage so there is a constant black background although different shades of light are shone upon the character’s faces, these usually relate to what they are feeling or saying. The lack of props makes the story that little harder to follow though the appropriately chosen clothes and excellent acting makes up for this.

Roman Polanski and Trevor Nunn both have very different interpretations of the play, in particular Act I scene VII and Act III scene IV.

In Roman Polanski`s production Act I scene VII begins with a banquet scene where everyone is present. Macbeth is seated beside Duncan and seems to be lost in thoughts while he debates whether or not to go through with the murder. This soliloquy is done with a voice over. The extent to which Macbeth is lost in his thoughts at this moment is none more evident than when Duncan proposes a toast to him and he does not realize, this is quite effective to convey how much thought Macbeth is giving to the murder, something which I feel reflects the original text very well as we can see from reading it that there are a large number of soliloquies in the book suggesting that Macbeth spent a lot of time thinking in to himself. Also the fact that Macbeth is sitting beside Duncan while he thinks about killing him is very effective again to convey how lost in his thoughts he is.

All the talk about murder and treason has not seemed to have any affect on Lady Macbeth`s appetite as she can be seen eating quite happily along with Duncan and his loyal followers, this reinforces the main theme that all is not what it may seem. Macbeth then leaves the banquet to be alone outside the banquet speaking into himself, this is one of the major soliloquies in the play and is done with a voice over.

This I feel works very well as it gives the viewer the sense that this is actually what is going on inside Macbeths head. Here Polanski places a lot of emphasis on unnatural weather, which reflects the words, which Macbeth is speaking. Inside the banquet we see all the kings’ men and followers getting along very well. This creates a nice warm pleasant atmosphere, which contrasts well with when Macbeth is outside in the stormy, unpleasant weather thinking evil thoughts.

When Lady Macbeth comes out to get Macbeth we get the impression that she is the worried one rather than Macbeth. In the text Lady Macbeth is the one in control, though in this scene she seems to have no power and tries to make Macbeth feel guilty by crying rather than persuading him to agree. Polanski does use the same lines as Shakespeare in this scene but Francescia Annis does not seem to portray Lady Macbeth quite as effectively as Shakespeare had intended. In the original text she is dominant in this scene and manages to manipulate Macbeth into agreeing with her, using various feminine techniques such as questioning his love and manhood.

Lady Macbeth- “From this time

Such I account thy love…”

In this production Lady Macbeth does use the same methods but does not execute them as effectively as she should have. Instead of appearing dominant Francesca Annis seems to be reduced to tears when Macbeth tells her he is not going to proceed with the murder, it is as though she is trying to make Macbeth feel guilty and agree with her as if she is a baby crying when she can not have what she wants. It is worth mentioning that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth carry this conversation into the banquet again where it seems they are not noticed. Macbeth pauses and it seems as though Lady Macbeth has failed in her attempt to manipulate Macbeth. He looks around and sees the heir to Duncan’s throne, Malcolm, the person who will be taking over from Duncan instead of him.

Malcolm- “Hail thane of Cawdor….” (Quote from video))

This speech from Malcolm, which Macbeth snubs, seems to change Macbeth`s mind rather than Lady Macbeth.

Macbeth- “If we should fail?”

Polanski also places some emphasis on music in this scene. It begins with pleasant music but the further Lady Macbeth tries to manipulate Macbeth the faster the music becomes as if to show the increasing pressure on Macbeth, this is very effective. Lady Macbeth is notably happier when Macbeth has agreed to kill Duncan. She is then asked to dance with Duncan and she agrees. Here I feel Polanski has really done well as Lady Macbeth is evil but appears nice and friendly echoing that all is not what it seems and that is why I think that part of the scene is added in.

The scene ends with Macbeth’s speech

Macbeth- “Bring forth men-children only!………”

Which emphasizes Lady Macbeth’s role in this scene and how it has affected him. On the whole I felt that this scene was well done. The use of weather and music was very good in helping transform what Shakespeare had originally written onto the screen. The costumes and use of props again helped the viewers to understand what messages Shakespeare originally conveyed.

In Trevor Nunn’s production this scene is done very differently. It begins with the focus on Duncan, all dressed in white with church music playing in the background, a reminder of the “Divine right of Kings”. All the cast are gathered. We then have an extreme close up of Macbeth where he nearly touches the camera. This is how Trevor Nunn preformed the on stage soliloquies. The light shining on Macbeth here is a dull gray light, which suggests fear. This ties in very well with the speech he is performing

Macbeth- “If it were done, when` tis done………”

The music in the background grows louder and louder as if the good heavenly church music is trying to combat over the evil Macbeth is speaking. This opening to the scene is very effective as it highlights a clear connection between Duncan and God, which shows us the enormity of what Macbeth is planning as well as the pressure and fear in Macbeth is under.

When Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that he has decided not to got through with the murder she is upset but keeps her composure unlike Lady Macbeth in Roman Polanski`s production. Judi Dench performs this scene very well, questioning Macbeth’s bravery and likening him to a cat that is not prepared to work for its fish,

Lady Macbeth- “Was the hope drunk

Wherein you dressed yourself? ……..”

Her body language reflects the written text very well, as when Macbeth tries to kiss her she pushes him away and will not let him near her until he has agreed. Lady Macbeth is being very manipulative as she questions Macbeth’s love and bravery whilst remaining in complete control. When Macbeth has agreed she allows him to kiss her, and the tone in her voice softens, Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth of her plan and the more she says the closer the two of them get. This I feel works very well as it shows the extent to which Lady Macbeth is in control. The fact that Macbeth hardly gets a say on the matter again emphasizes this. The scene ends in darkness, which is appropriate given what Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have just been discussing.

On the whole I think that this production is more effective in translating Shakespeare’s written text onto the screen, as it sticks more closely to the text and has a higher standard of acting. Both productions do the scene very well and both did some parts better than the other but overall I fell that Trevor Nunn had the better scene as I believe it was closer to what Shakespeare had originally intended.

Nunn’s use of light and darkness was excellent in conveying the fight between good and evil in this scene while Polanski`s use of weather and props worked well to show the viewers how actions or thoughts in the play can relate to other unnatural events. Shakespeare had originally intended this scene to show the evil starting to emerge in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, this was done very well in both productions though Ian Mc Kellan and Judi Dench I felt had the stronger partials judging by the original text.

The next scene I will be examining is Act III scene 4 (the banquet scene). Once again both producers interpreted this scene very differently and very uniquely.

At this stage in the film Macbeth has been crowned king and they are having a banquet to celebrate this. In Roman Polanskis production the scene begins with everyone gathered in the banquet hall watching a bear fight off two dogs in a cage. This is typical entertainment for this time period. King Macbeth is then is then called out to the hall by the murderers whom he had kill Banquo, they are alone in a dark hall speaking about murder. Polanski`s use of light here is very effective given what the murderers have just done. When the murderers tell Macbeth that Fleance has escaped

Murderer 1- “Most royal sir – Fleance is `scaped……”

The pressure on Macbeth builds, and he draws nearer to a complete break down

Macbeth- “Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect…”

When reading the original text it is hard to see what Macbeth is going through at the moment, but in Polanski`s production Jon Finch closes his eyes and leans his head back against the wall as if to say he has had enough and cannot take any more guilt.

Macbeth then has the murderers killed, this is not in the original text but shows us that Macbeth can use his powers for petty ways. This shows Macbeth’s tyrannical side something, which is lacking in Nunn’s production. Macbeth then returns to the banquet where he greets everyone present and not present

Macbeth- “Were the graced person of our Banquo present;

Who may I rather challenge for unkindness

Than pity for mischance!……”

Macbeth is being very hypocritical here as he knows that Banquo is dead in a ditch yet he still proceeds as if he is innocent of the knowledge. Macbeth has a very cool calm image here but when he sees Banquo`s ghost for the first time this changes

Macbeth- “Which of you have done this? … .thou canst not say I did it……”

The music here is out of tune again to convey evilness. Jon Finch does react as we had expected but from reading the text where are lead to believe that Macbeth nearly takes a fit after seeing this ghost, that all the guilt and lack of sleep has been building up to this point when upon seeing the ghost it is released. Macbeth panics and is notably scared though Lady Macbeth tries to calm everyone down,

Lady Macbeth- “Sit worthy friends: my lord is often thus

And hath been from his youth….”

The camera comes off Banquos ghost then returns to see the same ghost only covered in blood with twenty mortal gashes in his crown. We are then lead to believe that the ghost leaves and Macbeth is shaken but returns to his normal self

Macbeth- “Do not muse at me my most worthy friends;

I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing

To those that know me….”

Macbeth then tries to regain control and again he gives a speech to the room,

Macbeth- “And to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss………”

Again the ghost appears, the music becomes out of tune, Macbeth is angrier this time and commands the ghost to leave

Macbeth- “Avaunt! And quit my sight…”

The ghost does not obey and instead stands up and walks towards Macbeth, Macbeth retreats and falls back to leave the viewer with a screen shot of Banquo standing over Macbeth with a bird on his arm. This I think was very well done, the way the music gets louder and more out of tune the closer Banquo gets reinforces the evilness in this scene. The bird on Banquos arm I think represents his connection with nature in that he is dead and buried and now one with nature.

Once the ghost has left Macbeth is dazed. Here Lady Macbeth tries to help her husband by getting rid of the noble men, which she does. Once all is calm again attentions turn to Macduff showing us that Macbeth will use his powers in petty ways. Polanski uses light here to convey what Macbeth is saying

Macbeth- “Blood hath been shed ere now……”

Macbeth is lying in Bed and there is red light shining on his face. This represents the blood, which he is speaking of. In this film by the end of this scene all sympathy for Macbeth is gone while in the text there still remains some sympathy for the once brave soldier.

In Trevor Nunn’s production Act III Scene IV begins with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth entering the banquet together, Macbeth seems to be confident although it may be perceived as an act, they are both dressed and groomed perfectly. In this production there is no form of entertainment at the banquet. It is very plain and simple. Macbeth gives the cheer and lets all his noble men drink from a huge goblet. This is different from the original text as he then talks to the murderer inside the banquet hall where all eyes would naturally be on the king.

All the noble men do not seem to notice this which I feel is strange. When speaking to the murderer Macbeth looks scared as the pale gray light on his face suggests. He also speaks fast and at times loses his coolness with, the murderers. This in a way prepares us for what is to come when he sees the ghost. Nunn’s use of music is completely different from Polanski`s as instead of increasing the music or making it out of tune when evil is near, Nunn stops the music when the ghost appears.

Macbeth seems to be in control up until when he sees the ghost. This production is as a said performed on stage so Trevor Nunn decided not to have a ghost and rather let Macbeth act as though there was one. This I feel is very effective because it allows the viewers to experience the scene much the same ways as the cast would, it is almost as thought they are interacting with the characters and what is going on.

When Macbeth sees the ghost the music stops. He tries to control himself but instead erupts with a violent outburst, his eyes fixated and he is breathing heavily, Macbeth then performs another soliloquy with the pale light which emphasizes his fright at this point. Again Macbeth loses his temper and runs around and shouts a bit. Lady Macbeth tries very hard to get through to him but he remains focused on the ghost. The ghost disappears and Macbeth is sweating, he takes a moment then tries to get back in control.

Macbeth- “Do not muse at me my most worthy friends;

I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing

To those that know me….”

Macbeth then tries to win over the bemused audience. He fills up his goblet with wine and drinks it in one go to the audience’s amusement. Macbeth then sees the ghost for the second time and this time he reacts in a serious way. First he makes a face starts shouting at the ghost

Macbeth- “Avaunt! And quit my sight…”

Lady Macbeth at this stage has realized what it is that her husband is experiencing and she endeavors to stop him but it is no use Macbeth starts getting violent and salivating. This is very affective as it makes it seem as though Macbeth is literally taking a fit from seeing the ghost, this is a result of all the guilt and lack of sleep building up and finally erupting in a fit. I think that this scene is excellent in translating Shakespeare’s written text onto the screen because it shows the extent to which Macbeth is suffering something which I feel is not properly done in Polanski`s version or even in Shakespeare’s text further more I feel that this scene is also very effective to show the amount of pressure on Macbeth prior to this event.

After the fit Macbeth has saliva on his mouth and his hair is all unfixed which works well to show how his character has deteriorated from the start of the scene when the entered they room so perfect and full of confidence to the point when he sees the ghost. Also, when he tries to talk the words do not come out right and he sounds as though he can not talk, the onlookers at this Banquet are shocked and do not seem to want anything to do with the king after what he has gone through, the fact that he can not talk correct speaks a lot for the state of mind that he is in at this time.

Lady Macbeth shouts and cries until the noble men leave them alone, she is tired of covering up for her husband and falls to the floor, Macbeth speaks about Macduff and the weird sisters in a shaky voice close up to the camera although his eyes are past the camera which again says a lot for the state of mind he is in. The scene ends with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth holding each other with funeral music in the background, which slowly goes out of tune.

This scene was done very well. It shows how all the pressure building on Macbeth slowly got the better of him. Also it shows how Macbeth has gained independence from Lady Macbeth. There is an extremely high level of acting in this scene and credit goes to Ian Mc Kellan and Judi Dench for their superb portrayals of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The way that Trevor Nunn has made it seem as though Macbeth has really taken a fit is very effective to show what state the man is in something which I feel is not shown enough in the original text even though I believe this is the way Shakespeare would have wanted it to be. In contrast with Polanski`s production we can see that Macbeth (Jon Finch) shows less of a reaction to the ghost. This is closer to what the original text states it does not convey the full extent of Macbeth`s suffering as successfully.

Also I feel that in Polanski`s version the affect of when Macbeth mentions Banquos name and the ghost appears is lost but is very evident in Nunn’s production. The inclusion and exclusion of the ghost is a big difference in the two scenes, and personally I think the ghost should be excluded as it allows us to feel what the noble men are experiencing and in doing so we gain a little more sympathy for Macbeth. In the original text Macbeth is not left in a bad state at the end of the scene but Trevor Nunn decides to leave Macbeth in a way where he cannot talk or think straight. Polanski chose to follow the text more rigidly in this scene and as a result leave Macbeth feeling shaken but not stirred and as a result it is hard for the viewers to see how he is suffering, the original text states that one of the main reasons for his downfall is his state of mind.

In conclusion after closely examining the two production of Macbeth I have found that both are exceptional pieces of theatrical and film making genius, both excelling in certain parts of the play. The level of acting in each play was also of a very high standard given the script and plot (as some of Shakspears plays were quite challenging to understand and perform).

In my opinion Trevor Nunns production of Macbeth was more successful in translating Shakespeare’s original text onto the screen. I think this because he stuck closer to the original text and performed it in such a way that it was better and the messages Shakespeare originally conveyed were clearer and more evident. He did change a few things in the play but I felt they worked very well. In saying so Roman Polanski`s production was also very good. I felt the money was well spent and it was well directed. He did, however, change a lot of the play which worked well, just not as well as Trevor Nunn’s approach.

Cite this Transforming Shakespeare’s written text onto the stage/screen

Transforming Shakespeare’s written text onto the stage/screen. (2017, Oct 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/transforming-shakespeares-written-text-onto-stagescreen/

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