Different interpretations of Macbeth

There is no right way to interpret Macbeth and the drama has been performed in many different styles since it was written. Here follows seven different ways of interpreting Macbeth:

1) A historical thriller: Macbeth has a historical aspect and includes the Elizabethan way of living. Furthermore it is a fast-moving action-packed murder story with a high tension. A moral aspect can be included in this interpretation; the play shows that crime does not pay. This is done by letting Macbeth and his wife die.

2) A psychological study of a murderer’s mind: Macbeth changes from being a sympathetic young man to a coldblooded murderer. The use of soliloquies gives a good possibility to study the psychological aspect, because it reveals Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s inmost feelings. This interpretation will deal with both the evil aspect and the ambitions of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

3) A play of political and social realism: This focus will be on the oppressive hierarchical society and how it produces corrupt individuals. Macbeth is one of these corrupt individuals of high birth. In the beginning, when Macbeth is thane of Glamis, he already is in the top of the hierarchy, but because of the lust for a greater power he gets corrupt and murders the king.

4) A play of ideas or themes: An example here could be “appearance and reality”. Shakespeare uses many antitheses and an interpretation could focus on the use of them. Examples on these antitheses could be light versus dark and blood versus water.

5) A dramatic poem: This interpretation will focus on how Shakespeare uses his great language and imagery to create a great imaginative effect. He uses a lot of symbols, metaphors and other effective rhetorical elements and the focus will be on the way he uses language and the effect on the audience.

6) A tragedy: Macbeth can be compared to the Greek tragedy because of the structure and the dramatic elements. Macbeth can be seen as a portrayal of the fall of a great man because of a fatal flaw in his character. The Greek tragedy had the purpose to led the audience go through a process of cleansing – also called catharsis. This is made by waking the audience’s sympathy to Macbeth and after that letting him die.

7) Three characters in one: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the three witches can be seen as one person. Lady Macbeth and the witches are the inner voices of Macbeth and they guide him and force him to do the terrible actions. They are a symbol of his divided consciousness.

Macbeth has been interpreted in many styles by different directors. The first version, which was radically different from the original way of performing Macbeth, was in 1672. It was Sir William Davenant who made it a musical with song and dance. Furthermore he added a couple of scenes. There are many examples on these added scenes from later on. One example is from the 18th century, where Macbeth was given a dying speech. In every production some adaptation takes place and Macbeth has also been made in the First World War, in Hitler’s Germany and in South Africa in an all black version.

The fact that Macbeth can be performed again and again shows that it has some universal qualities. Most people can relate to the moral aspects and the psychological feelings. Furthermore it has the same tension as a Greek tragedy, so it is not strange that it is so famous even today.
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A Danish performance of Macbeth from 2010