Macbeth Inspires throughout Time

Artists have always been interested in reinventing Shakespeare. They are as inspired by him as he was by the artists who came before him. Since its premiere in the early 1600s, Macbeth has been re-envisioned in many different forms.

Herman Melville’s book, Moby Dick, the story of Captain Ahab and the Great White Whale, may not look like it was inspired by Macbeth, but Melville utilized many of Macbeth’s nastier character traits in crafting Captain Ahab.

In 1936, one of the most original interpretations of Macbeth took the stage. Orson Welles’ production of Macbeth took on the nickname of “Voodoo Macbeth,” as it took place 19th century Haiti. The production starred an entirely black cast and was extremely controversial, but was also a major success. The cast even included a genuine witch doctor from Haiti, who had the unfortunate tendency to fall into deep trances, from which he could not be awakened. Orson Welles would also go on to direct and star in a film version of Macbeth, which was filmed in only 23 days and on a budget of $700,000.

In 1957, Akira Kurosawa adapted Macbeth into a black-and-white film named Throne of Blood. His version transposes the action of Macbeth to feudal Japan and explores fighting between Japanese warlords. Many changes were made to characters’ names and dialogue, but the film captures the play’s spooky element and the ambitious theme.

            Macbeth has been adapted for film many times as well. The first known film version was a silent film in 1908. Since then, it has been turned into movies, television specials and even an animated series. Ian McKellen (Magneto in the X-Men franchise and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings franchise) played the titular role in 1979. The film adaptation was based on the stage version that McKellen had starred in in 1976.

In 2006, a film version starring Sam Worthington (Jake Sully in Avatar) set Macbeth in modern-day Melbourne, Australia. Instead of being about Scottish nobility, the film portrayed the characters as gang members and the actors used their native Australian accents. Patrick Stewart (Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise) played Macbeth in a televised version of the play on BBC in 2010. Alan Cumming (Nightcrawler in X2 – the second film of the X-Men franchise) starred in Macbeth  in the spring of 2013; Cumming did not only play Macbeth, but combined all of the other significant roles in a chilling one-man production set in a mental institution. James McAvoy (Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class) also played the role in the spring of 2013 in London’s West End; Scotland was transformed into a dystopian nation struggling for survival.

In June 2014, Kenneth Branagh (Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) will premiere his own staging of Macbeth in New York. Branagh, who is known for his stage and film work, will be making his New York stage debut in this new production.

Thomson Jaffe
Education Program Assistant