I could claim that I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s plays, but inevitably I would be stone cold busted by someone asking me “So what is your favorite part of Cymbeline?” and responding with “The part where the scrappy underdog rocks it in her first cymbal solo.” So, NO, Shakespeare scholars, I haven’t read them all and I’ll immediately concede everyone’s superior knowledge on the Shakespeare catalog. I’ve read a few, though, and it’s not a contest but MACBETH WINS. I’m not just saying that because I am afraid Lady MacBeth will kill me in my sleep. This play just blows my hair back. I like Macbeth so much that I automatically love anything remotely Macbeth-related, including but not limited to getting blood on my hands and/or clothing, presidential election cycles, and haggis. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA just kidding I loathe presidential election cycles.
This story of an ambitious warrior who murders his way to the throne in ancient Scotland is ubiquitous. Even if you haven’t read Macbeth, you’ve bumped into it. You have, really. You can’t help it. It’s like pumpkin spice—it gets everywhere. “Something wicked this way comes”? From Macbeth. “Out, out, damned spot”? Macbeth. “Double, double, toil and trouble”, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury” and I’ll spare you but there is much more. This play has provided some of the most fundamental ways in which we communicate in the English language and it’s an amazingly long list from a relatively short work. Macbeth was written around 1606, is the shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and is really, really murdery.
There is something so satisfying about a great ghost story, and that’s where my love affair with this work germinates. It’s so moody and dark I’m convinced Shakespeare was in his Goth teen phase when he wrote it, hanging out in his room practicing black eyeliner application and bingelistening to Morrissey. At its core, Macbeth is about how our choices and our decisions haunt us, about how consequence becomes our fate. Shakespeare illustrates the failings that result from arrogance and hubris with creepy, psychic elements like bloody visions and sleepwalking. Also trees come to life and ambush people. (The first draft had a Loch Ness Monster subplot. Probably. Because Scotland). It’s a big pile of kilt-wearing spooky greatness.
What Up, Witches Can we talk about the witches? Because they make me fangirl HARD. There are three of them. They live in a cave, they dance for hours around a cauldron (see? Shakespeare even invented raves), and they probably haven’t brushed their teeth ever. If they meet an endangered species? They’ll cut it up for spellcasting. If you won’t share your snacks with them? They’ll find your husband and screw him to death. THEY DO NOT CARE. I realize all the death and mangling is supposed to turn me off but I love them so much. For all the forwardness and enlightenment that was the Elizabethan age, women were still regulated to very specific roles, and didn’t get many chances to be in charge of their own destinies. Shakespeare wrote these weird sisters as profoundly, refreshingly powerful. They are not here for small talk, thanks. They are here to terrify people and chew bubblegum, and they are all out of bubblegum. Chief among their interests is career counseling, evidenced by telling Macbeth that they have prophesized that he seems destined to wear a crown. This is awesome because gold is SO his color. (Compliance tip: Your yearly performance review should not contain “Ensure throne appropriation via aggressive death blueprint” as a development item because regicide is a very serious HR violation.)
Witches: Dude we had a vision you will be King
Macbeth: ok gonna go kill someone so it’ll happen
Witches: well that escalated quickly
Real Housewives of Scotland If you ever get cast on any Real Housewife series, I would not look to New Jersey or California for tips on how to best conduct your privileged life of social climbing. I’d go straight to Scotland for that playbook. If any couple in the history of couples was made for reality TV, it’s the Macbeths. They’re ambitious, morally ambiguous, and fashion-forward. (Macbeth begins and ends the play in full battle armor and I don’t want to live in a world where that kind of bold choice doesn’t at least get you a shot at Vanity Fair’s Best Dressed.) Lady Macbeth is ride or die when it comes to helping her husband climb that career ladder. As soon as she hears he’s got witch juju on his side, she’s ready to take it to the mat. Some long-time married couples put some spice back in their relationship by investing in vacation real estate, and some do it by murdering a bunch of people to ensure ascension to the throne. Guess which track is more likely to land you on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live?
Disclaimer: I don’t recommend political assassinations as a joint hobby. Or as a singular hobby. What is wrong with you? But if I did, I’d point you to the Macbeths and tell you that the number one indicator of success when you are trying to murder people to be King of Scotland is a supportive partner. One who shares your dreams. Someone who can pick you up when you are feeling down. Someone who can call on the gods to surgically excise all of her humanity so that stabbing someone doesn’t feel like a bad idea.
Macbeth: Some random women from the woods said I might be King someday
Lady Macbeth: seems legit, let’s kill people to make that happen
Macbeth: well that escalated quickly
Can’t See The Forest For The Treason Call it an Elizabethan special effect or an arboreal miracle. Either way, the witches’ prophecy about Macbeth staying King until “Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane” isn’t the get out of jail free card that Macbeth thinks it is. TWIST: it’s a big Scottish loophole. Macbeth is assured by the witches that he’s King until the trees in a nearby Birnham forest can walk to his castle in Dunsinane. It never occurs to Macbeth to take this prophecy anything but literally, because Macbeth is an asshat. In fact, Macbeth’s
exact line is (paraphrasing) “Pfft. Trees can’t walk. I’m hiring a contractor to renovate the throne room.” Meanwhile, back at the ranch, opposition leader MacDuff raises an army to attack Macbeth’s fortified castle. The army gets close enough to attack by disguising themselves with branches from Birnham forest. Think of it as the original manscaping. I love this scene. It’s so satisfying to see karma delivered in such a creative and decisive way. It’s also fun to imagine how the bagpipe player managed to look like a tree while playing his bagpipe. (In my version of this, there’s always a bagpipe player. Because Scotland. Sorry, Scotland.) MacDuff and his troops breach the castle, throw down some trash talk, and before you know it Macbeth’s been beheaded. Let that be a lesson-never piss off an armed tree. Malcolm, the rightful heir, takes the throne and we have our happy ending.
Malcolm: didst thou vanquish MacBeth, Thane Of Asshat?
Malcolm: I just can’t waaaaiiit to be King
MacDuff: I cut off his head, here ya go
Malcolm: well that…….EW.
MacDuff: not the line
Malcolm: kings make their own punchlines
There is an interactive Macbeth HOW COOL: http://www.sleepnomore.com/#share