Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Teaching Macbeth

Today and a bit of yesterday, I introduced Macbeth by William Shakespeare to my two Y12 classes (that's 16 year olds to the non-New Zealanders).

I have avoided the Scottish play for a few years feeling my involvement in my imagined sequel tainted my instruction. A number of the girls I teach have read Banquo’s Son and Bloodlines and began making connections but I shushed them and said: put that story aside for now and look at this play afresh.

I was right to defer. And I was right to start again for, all the research I have done in the writing on this trilogy has so enhanced my appreciation of, not only the bard's excellence writing and appreciation of human nature but also the reality of the time, I know things which I did not before.

Act 1 scene 2. I could not have truly appreciated the weight of the claymore as Macbeth swung his passage through the battle (and therefore why the king was speechless with admiration for his fearless actions!). The description of Macbeth’s actions is akin to watching Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis in their action movies. Go back and, frame by frame, recount what Banquo and Macbeth achieved. Twice in one day they did this.

Act 1 scene 3 These were exhausted men. They had seen extraordinary horror. It was flippin raining and there was thunder and lightning. The irony of the situation was not lost. We, as an audience were introduced to intelligent but BOND like leaders.

So, now they meet the witches when all they can think of is a warm room, food and safe company (oh and a chance to wash off all that blood). The first thing Banquo says? ‘How far is it to Forres?’ This was the king’s hunting mansion which was the prearranged place they were all to gather. It’s probably about another day’s trek from what I can work out. (Trust me, I poured over the maps and worked out distances and times with horses and bad weather). Banquo is doing a 'are we there yet?' traveling filler.

Then, they are confronted with the witches. On the heath? Are you kidding? They've just slaughtered countless men and won a battle and its pissing down (‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen’) and they are stopped by three really ugly women.

Macbeth and Banquo are spent. They would be looking around thinking - okay -where is the rabbit (this is my Monty Python reference). Macbeth himself nails it when he says: 'why upon this blasted heath you stop our way with such prophetic greeting?'

The answer lies later on when we hear Hecate admonish the three witches for not doing as they should: cause the destruction of a mortal. Instead, she advises: draw him on to his confusion: he shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear his hopes above wisdom, grace, and fear; and you all know, security is mortals' chiefest enemy.'

There lies the intention.

Banquo says at the beginning: sometimes to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness do tell us truths; win us with trifles.'

These two hard-arsed soldiers who have proved themselves in a fierce battle are being tested. They are tired, cold, wet, emotionally spent and are tempted. Both respond to the prophecies – they are want to know more. The difference being in their response to what is offered. Fascinating.

No comments: