Macbeth: High School Edition Prototype
Annotated Table of Contents
This essay addresses the issues in other versions, and shows how our edition aims to resolve the issues presented. It outlines the various topics that will be addressed and the reasoning for how the edition will be written.
The introduction gives a brief history of Shakespeare and performing plays in his time. It also gives a brief overview of the history and the who’s who of the play to help students from becoming confused with the play while they are reading.
Act I Scene 4-7 Annotations
These selected lines are annotated to portray how the entire text would be annotated for a complete version of the play.
- History: This section gives a more in depth look at the history and its importance throughout Macbeth.
- Gender: This section looks at the gender issue within the play, specifically in regards to Lady Macbeth and her actions throughout the play.
- Adaptations: This section takes a look at different adaptations of the play, both older and more recent, among many different cultures, in an effort to show students how much Shakespeare has changed over time.
- Power and Politics: This section shows the students how power and politics work within the play in regards to the Macbeth’s constant need to kill to ensure his power.
There are many different versions of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth that high school teachers can choose for their students. Most of these editions contain only the play text with minor supplementary materials. This is because many teachers of this age group do not think it necessary to provide additional information about the play for their younger audience. Contrary to this idea, we believe that it is extremely important to introduce these students to the conversation surrounding the play, and give them a chance to see what they will experience when they attend college. High school students studying Shakespeare need to be shown how complex and intricate the text is in order to appreciate it fully, and this cannot be accomplished without a sufficient amount of supplementary material. So in an effort to prepare high school students for college, where they will have to address more scholarly materials, our edition aims to allow students to dip their toes in the metaphorical water without plunging in headfirst and drowning. In this essay, we will address the Pelican edition of Macbeth, edited by Stephen Orgel, and the issues that come with the lack of scholarly conversation within it, and how our edition will attempt to resolve these problems for our prospective audience.
It seems that Orgel’s edition was meant for a first-time Shakespeare reader, meaning that the edition itself contains very little secondary material. This version covers a broad range of topics, but does not go deep enough into the details, which prevents the audience from being able to connect and fully comprehend the conflicts within the play. For example, Orgel mentions the role of Lady Macbeth and her ambiguity with gender, but fails to go into detail concerning her influence over Macbeth and her contribution to the crimes committed within the play. This is an issue because the reader only gets a face-value understanding of the Lady within a gender context, which downgrades her role from a powerful authority over her husband to a one-dimensional woman and nothing else. Orgel’s analysis would have benefited from including a more elaborate description of Lady Macbeth in order to showcase her importance and complexity within Shakespeare’s writing.
Orgel also decided not to discuss various adaptations of Macbeth. He gives a broad overview of a theatrical world during Shakespeare’s time, but does not bring to light any recent adaptations both on the stage and on the screen. He also doesn’t focus in on specific versions of Macbeth in the 16th century, but rather gives a general layout of plays at the time. While this is helpful for first-time readers of Shakespeare, it would be even more helpful to address the different adaptations, because they assist the reader in understanding how culture has impacted the ways the play has changed over time.
In the Pelican version of Macbeth, Orgel mentions two very important ideas regarding politics, power and crime, but he fails to expound fully on any point. The first example, Orgel talks about how the play is about the conflicted nature of Macbeth against his own ambition. However, Orgel cuts the example short by focusing mostly on Hamlet instead of Macbeth. He assumes the reader is already aware of the other play and uses it as a specific correlation; the example falls short if the reader has not read Hamlet. The other mention Orgel has is the last paragraph of the play. He asks a number of questions, like why doesn’t the virtuous Malcom kill Macbeth. Yet, Orgel does nothing to prompt further ideas towards guiding the reader to think of similar ideas. He leaves the questions open, which is good for thought, but he does not create enough of a foundation to entice the readers to think for themselves.
Clearly, there are many missing links within Orgel’s edition of Macbeth. In our own edition, we want to make Shakespeare fun and easy to understand for high school audiences, but we also want to get them thinking in a more scholarly manner, especially within the four previously mentioned topics. In regards to Lady Macbeth, our edition will address the gender issue, but also show how important she was to the course of the play as a whole. For example, there is the scene when Lady Macbeth declares that she wants to be “unsex[ed]” so she can accomplish what needs to be done for her and Macbeth to take the crown. Our edition will show that becoming unsexed isn’t really necessary for Lady Macbeth because she has the power over her husband and her gender, while crucial to her character, does not necessarily prevent her from being effective. Where Orgel fails to show just how important Lady Macbeth is to the story but rather addresses the gender only, we will help our students see the complexity in her character, and why Shakespeare wrote her in that manner.
In this version of Macbeth, under the power, politics, and crime section, we will discuss the human nature of Macbeth. Why would a man loyal to his king end up killing said king and his friend to gain increased power? We will go through each crime Macbeth commits and analyze what the motivations of Macbeth were to commit each crime. If we use another example from another play, we will make sure we fully explain the event and why we are using it. We will ask easy open questions, such as, why does Macbeth continue to kill even after he gained the kingdom, and guide the reader to understand Macbeth’s reasoning behind each crime. We could use many other essays as examples to further expand on the ideas, introducing the conversation going on about this particular idea, but only use brief passages or summaries, as this version only introduces the topic.
Also, in regards to the mentioning of staging and adaptations of the play throughout the years, our edition will focus on making sure that high school students understand how versatile Shakespeare’s texts are, and how important it is to view Shakespeare as a global phenomenon and not just as an English or Western one. This edition will introduce Chinese adaptations of the play for high school students to ponder over, and compare these adaptations to the Western “horror” genre that Macbeth is always placed in within Western culture, as well as other early adaptations of the play not too far from Shakespeare’s own time. As already stated, this section within the edition will be written just as the rest are: in an easy-to-read format that will help high school students to actually enjoy sitting down and taking a while to focus on and learn more about literature. This edition expands far beyond the scope of the Pelican Macbeth not to overwhelm the students but rather to give them more of a foundation to branch their thoughts off of.
Our edition will encompass several broad topics, just like the Pelican edition, but will expand upon these topics in ways that the Pelican does not. And as we expand, we will make sure that high school students will be as in-tune to our edition as possible through the use of familiarizing our words in ways that these students will be comfortable reading. In other words, we’ll be writing our introduction and end matter not in scholar form, but in a familiar form that will be easy for high schoolers to get through. The subject matter will still be scholarly, but the way we write it will be in simplified terms. The purpose of our edition, therefore, is to bring these high-schoolers into contact with secondary scholarship and the metaphorical conversation that exists inside of all literature so that they are not overwhelmed when entering college but instead are already familiar with expanding beyond just the text. The Pelican edition, while helping high school students grasp a better understanding of Shakespeare in general, does not do this; and this is how our edition will sell.
Shakespeare was born on the 26th of April, 1564. Ok, so actually . . . he was really baptized on that day. No one knows his real date of birth. But babies were usually (not always, but usually) baptized around three days after their birth, so it’s safe to assume that he was born around the 23rd of April of that year. Throughout his life, he wrote and influenced about 36 plays total, most of which we know as his great masterpieces. Macbeth was written somewhere in the middle.
Most people not involved in scholarly conversation just assume that Shakespeare really was the “Shakespeare” that wrote all of these plays. However, it’s actually a huge debate going on about whether or not “Shakespeare” was really Shakespeare, or if he was someone else (like Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere--and you’re right, I’ve never heard of them, either). This debate has been raging for decades, and still no one has come up with any solid answers. Most people accept Shakespeare, because of how much evidence there was of him during the time period involved in theatre and politics, but some people argue (sometimes very effectively) that it could have been someone else. This isn’t a focus for this edition, but it’s certainly something to think about.
Shakespeare was a big proponent of changing his own work. He thrived on different stage adaptations even when he was still alive. Therefore, when reading through the different folios and quartos that have been made during and since his time, it’s easy to see how different each play is from the other. It’s interesting to think that Shakespeare liked his own work being changed, even if it was by other people. Macbeth itself changes quite drastically from the earlier versions to the later ones. Many different playwrights added their own flare and magic to it, creating famous lines we attribute to Shakespeare (when really we shouldn’t). Ever heard of “double, double, toil and trouble?” Yeah. Not by Shakespeare.
His death, interestingly enough, was on the 23rd of April (possibly on his own birthday, which is sad), 1616, in the same place he was born--Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. After making himself incredibly famous, he died early . . . and his influence is continued to be felt throughout the world. Why? Because his versatility and creative, productive attitude. And, also, because even those who don’t like reading Shakespeare have to admit that he’s a genius.
- Born: 26 April 1564 (baptized - birth unknown) in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
- Died: 23 April 1616 at Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
- Wrote and/or influenced around 36 plays
Annotated Play: Act 1 Scenes 4-7
History of Macbeth
Believe it or not, Macbeth was a real man! A real man distinctively different than his fictionalized portrayal. Macbeth’s life and leadership was not a tyrannical mess, but a just and generous one. He was born around 1005 to Finlay Findláich, Mormaer of Moray, and Donada, daughter of Malcolm II. Macbeth’s father was a Mormaer, which signified the family’s heritage to the House of Steward and their social power and rank. Celtic Scotland was divided into seven provinces or areas and a Moramaer was the ruler of one of those seven territories (The Editors). The Mormaer ruled his mormaerdom much like an Earl, a British nobleman.
The historical Macbeth provided a rough skeleton for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. For one, Inverness is a real place that the Mormaer of Moray ruled over. It is still around today, located in northern Scotland. The real Macbeth was married and had a step-child. At 27 years-old, Macbeth was elected Mormaer of Moray after his cousin, Gilla Coemgáin, was reportedly burned to death along with fifty of his men. Macbeth also married Coemgáin’s widow, Grouch ingen Boite, and adopted her son, Lulach (Naranjo). Lulach succeeded Macbeth, even if it was just for a little while.
Macbeth had a legitimate claim to the throne. Grouch was Kenneth III’s granddaughter, and their marriage strengthened Macbeth’s claim to be king (Macbeth (r.1040-1057)). Macbeth’s grandfather, King Malcolm II, was succeeded by his first cousin, the oldest grandson, Duncan, who ruled as Duncan I. Malcolm II despite Scottish tradition of tanistry. Tanisitry is the early Irish law of succession where the heir is chosen based on patriarchy lineage and a cast of votes during the current leader’s lifetime. This system allowed a semblance of balance between powerful family clans when leadership rotated between them. Even though Macbeth was believed to be ‘second to the king,’ Malcolm II named Duncan his successor and Duncan was crowned king. From then on the heir apparent was determined by direct descent.
Duncan ruled for six years throughout which he lost favor with his people and brought problematic times for Scotland. Contrary to the play, Duncan was young and not a good leader. He was power hungry and not knowledgable in battle. He put his country in defeating situations and in 1040 he died in battle against Macbeth (BBC). With Duncan dead, Macbeth succeed the throne as King of the Scots.
When Macbeth defeated Duncan, Duncan’s oldest son, Malcolm III, is sent away for protection. While Macbeth successfully leads the country, Malcolm grows up in England only to return with an army out for Macbeth. Malcolm kills Macbeth and Lulach takes the thrown. He is king for less than a year before he also murdered and Malcolm is crowned king (Moss).
Though Shakespeare’s Macbeth is based on Macbeth’s life, the play does not portray his legacy accurately. The play immortalizes a Macbeth that historically inaccurate and false, detracting from his actual 17-year-old reign of peace and generosity. “Macbeth” is the English translation of his Scottish name, Mac Bethad mac Findláich meaning “son of life” (Naranjo). His monarchy was prosperous and enjoyable. He traveled to Rome where he met the pope and his generosity knew no bounds. He went around giving alms ‘scattering money like seed’ (British). He and Grouch are credited with passing socially positive laws, one allowing daughters to have the same inheritance rights as sons. Throughout the kingdom, they revived a traditional Celtic oath by enforcing officials to protect women and orphans (Naranja).
Shakespeare used factual people in this play. He used the same names and some similar relationships, but he also rewrote many characters to fit his own purposes. Macbeth is not the only one: Duncan, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Macduff.
Why do you think Shakespeare did that? What would motivate him to rewrite and present history in a way that would perpetuate false or biased perception?
Whenever people think of Macbeth, they immediately think, “Oh, it’s that play with the crazy guy and his crazy wife who kill everyone.” You may be thinking, how is that different from every other Shakespearean tragedy (because honestly, with the Bard, almost everyone usually dies, especially if the play is named after you). But what really sets this play apart from the rest is Lady Macbeth, who is, for lack of a better definition, totally crazy.
Let’s take a step back first and establish just why everyone thinks that Lady M is as mad as a hatter. When we first meet her, Lady M has just received a letter from Macbeth, saying that he has been made Thane of Cawdor, which was prophesied just moments before by those creepy witches. He also informs his wife that the witches also promised that he would one day become the king of Scotland. Rather than rejoicing for their good fortune in Macbeth becoming the thane of another jurisdiction, Lady M immediately begins planning how to get the kingdom as soon as possible. And naturally, as it always is with Shakespeare, the only solution is to kill or frame anyone who stands in their way. Lady M has already made the plans before Macbeth even arrived home. When she tells him the plan, it is clear that Macbeth is not as comfortable with the whole murder thing as his crazy wife, but agrees to talk to her about it later. Eventually he gives in to her plan and kills the king, causing the princes to flee for their lives, making them look guilty. Lady M decides now to rejoice in their new position as king and queen, not realizing what she has done to her husband.
But Lady M is much more than crazy; she is persuasive. After all, she was able to convince her husband, a loyal and trusted member of King Duncan’s court, kill his own king when their succession to the throne is not politically ensured. She is working off the predictions of the witches, an account she receives second hand, by the way. And how does she convince her husband to commit the ultimate sin of murder? She tells him that he is not a man if he cannot kill the king. Right away, it is clear that gender is important to the plot as a whole. This issue is generally what drives all the action of the play. Lady M plants the idea in Macbeth’s head that, in order to be a man, he must be violent and take what he wants for himself without caring about the consequences. Just like in Inception, when Leonardo diCaprio’s character convinces his wife that the world isn’t really, a thought that remains with her even when they return to the real world, Lady M’s idea stays with Macbeth, and he remains under the impression that murder is the only way to prove he is a man and keep the kingdom to himself.
And then there is that weird moment when Lady M says she wants to be “unsex[ed]” so she has the power herself to help her rise in status since Macbeth is obviously not manly enough to do it himself. This speech of hers suggests that as a woman, Lady M has no power over what happens in the kingdom and within the play, but rather it is men who have all the power. However, it is Lady M who really has the power in her marriage with Macbeth. Macbeth only achieves power because his wife had a plan and forced him to go through with it. His power ultimately came to him because his Lady M allowed it. Does that sound like a woman who has no power in the play? Definitely not.
Lady M has the power over all in the play, even King Duncan, as she controls those around her. Her gender identity is what ultimately allows her power because no one suspects her of her actions. She is able to fly under the radar as a helpless woman, while really being a powerful influence throughout the play. It isn’t until Macbeth takes her plans to the next level to remain manly and kingly that Lady M loses the power in the relationship. Her husband begins acting on his own, showing Lady M that her role as a woman has finally caught up with her, and she no longer has the power to tell Macbeth what to do. She has become the helpless woman she was once only suspected of being, just in time for everyone in the kingdom to start realizing the dark deeds of the new king and king.
Lady Macbeth is an excellent example of how gender roles can be switched, and switched back even quicker. Even as a woman, Lady M proves to be the character in the play that has the ability to set everything in motion, much like some would say Eve set everything in motion by giving Adam the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Shakespeare is simply taking this typical role of women in his time and showing how this influence can work, but ultimately reverts back to where the gender role should have been all along.
Staging and Adaptations
Ever since Macbeth was first written, adaptations have drastically changed the original play. You might think that Shakespeare’s words are law, but it’s just the opposite--even since Shakespeare himself was alive, people have been adjusting and changing not only his words but whole scenes from his plays into what they believe sounds/looks/is the best.
Take the 1723 version of Macbeth, for instance: in one of the scenes added, Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff are speaking together--clearly an addition to the play that wasn’t there in the original folio. Lady Macbeth even spurns Lady Macduff in various ways, most of which are subtle and go over Lady Macduff’s head. She even addresses the audience once, telling them that Lady Macduff is severely trying her patience, and she’s about to do her best to get rid of her.
Adaptations haven’t stopped there, either. The famous lines, “Double, double, toil and trouble . . . something wicked this way comes” that everyone’s heard of wasn’t even from Shakespeare at all; instead, it was added by someone else that wanted to quote another work from that time period instead of sticking with what Shakespeare had first wanted.
In 1948, the first film version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth came into being as a horror. Since then, every other film version has made it a part of this genre. Orson Welles, the director of the first movie, made Macbeth so popular in the horror genre that no one has taken it out of there and transformed it into anything else. And if you think of all the things that happen in the play, from witchy spells to several murders to Lady Macbeth and Macbeth going insane, I guess it makes total sense. But that first film really embedded Macbeth into this genre.
In more recent times, Shakespeare has spanned the globe and gone from solely English speakers to nearly every language imaginable (even if it hasn’t broken from the horror genre quite yet). And it has also found film and stage versions in other countries, including China.
Really? China? Why is it that Shakespeare would be so fascinating to the Chinese people when they already have so many other great authors and works they could be performing?
Alexander Huang says that “by staging and enjoying plays by a world dramatist like
Shakespeare, China is initiated and re-qualified to join the world” (2). China, in the 1960s and 70s, needed a way to get back into the swing of the world as a whole. They thought that by creating different adaptations of something the world found not just famous but revered, they could bridge the gap between their culture and the Western culture. And while the adaptations of Macbeth (Huang and another scholar named Yuwen Hsiung write about two specific ones: Throne of Blood, a stage version, and Kingdom of Desire, a film) transform Shakespeare’s culture into an extremely Chinese world, the metaphors and symbolism Shakespeare incorporated into his plays stay very much alive. Hsiung writes about how Chinese culture shows off these metaphors and symbolism mostly through the incorporation of color and body image/movement (including dancing); she writes about how in Kingdom of Desire, everything is depicted as white, while in Throne of Blood everything is red. She says, “the degree of white
on the face indicates the degree of evilness. The mountain spirit's [how the Chinese portray the witches] face is painted white, as is Aw's [Macbeth’s] face before his death. Moreover, each hand gesture has its designated meaning and varies according to the identity of the character. The basic hand gesture of a female role is called "open hand," with the third finger and thumb lightly touching each other. [This] symbolizes that something is "lacking." Here the suggestion is that the political ruler has lost control and also that there is a lack of controlling power over one's own behavior” (5). It’s interesting to think that white, to the Chinese, is symbolic of evil. In Throne of Blood, red for the Chinese culture is associated with femininity, and so the fact that everything is painted in red is symbolic for Macbeth’s descent from masculinity towards the femininity of his wife as he continues to follow her and the witches’ advice and murders more and more people for the throne (Huang 5).
All of these different adaptations show just how much Shakespeare can change from one person and culture to another. Instead of thinking of each edition of Shakespeare and his plays as set in stone, there is a point where everyone needs to realize how different Shakespeare can be from one version to the other, because they are all incredibly unique.
Power and Politics
One obvious question that Macbeth raises is why would Macbeth kill his king and friend and then continue to kill others? Or, another similar question, what does it take to make a person become a murderer? In the beginning of the play, Macbeth says “The service, and the loyalty I owe, In doing it, pays itself (1.4.25-26). Basically, Macbeth serves his king out of loyalty, and not out of worldly gain or power. This brings up the question: was Macbeth only giving lip service, or was he being sincere? If he was sincere, what made him change so quickly? He had already met with the witches, so the seed of murder was deep in his mind. It is important to note, though, that the witches never said Macbeth had to kill the king personally; Macbeth only assumed. Lady Macbeth on the other hand is elated that they have been given a huge chance. She declares that if she were in his shoes, she would not falter from killing even her own baby if it would mean she would gain power. Lady Macbeth knows her husband’s weaknesses and his ambition. She pulls and tugs at it until he concedes to the murder. It can be compared to the Garden of Eden and Eve tempting Adam.
Even with the seed of murder in his heart, Macbeth is still indecisive about killing his king. He ponders about the morality of the action. He says, “First, as I am his kinsman, and his subject, Strong both against the deed: then, as his host, Who should against his murderer shut the door, Not bear the knife myself” (1.7.13-16). Macbeth is a relative to the king and loyal to him as well. Next, Macbeth is the host of the king; it would be like offering a close relative to spend the night in his home, but plan to kill him. This repulses Macbeth and he almost backs out of it. Lady Macbeth needs to step in again to convince Macbeth to commit the first murder.
Notice the after effects of the murder on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth was not able to follow through with her grand schemes, instead she cracked. Once she became queen, she thought the thought of murder would fade away because she got what she wanted. However, her guilt remained with her no matter how hard she tried to scrub the blood away. Also, seeing her husband go crazy didn’t help her own sanity as she was the one who pushed him over the edge. Macbeth was still going on a killing rampage. He remembered the other prophecy the witches said about Banquo’s children becoming king and Macbeth wanted to make sure that prophecy didn’t come to fruition.
There is irony behind Macbeth believing in the prophecy that made him king, but not accepting the one that says his line will end. He has selective hearing as he believes and doubts prophecies at the same time. Once Macbeth has made his first kill, the next kills come easier. He has the mentality that since he is already beyond saving, nothing matters but to keep his power. However, his mind breaks under the guilt of murdering his friends and his kingdom suffers because of it.Macbeth’s crime play huge role in understanding human nature. Once a little chink in our armor is open, it is easy to slip into insanity.