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The Universal Themes Of Shakespeare Tradegys English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3601 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Shakespeare’s tragedies have universal themes depicting human emotions like greed, lust, superstition making them presentable and acceptable in almost all cultures of the world and perhaps, this is what makes film directors across the world adapt his works till date. Shakespeare’s plays were greatly lyrical, having a kind of poetic flair to it. Also a lot of visual imagery and symbolism are evident with Shakespeare’s writings. He wrote most of his plays in a particular verse and made the speech very dramatic and poetic. The basic conceptualization of most of Shakespeare’s tragedies is probably based on Aristotle’s tragedies. While doing ancient Greek theatre in school, I learnt that even the Greek theatre had conventions of a tragedy, with a hero who is flawed, ambitious and thus leads to his downfall making him a tragic protagonist. The line between good and evil is blurred somewhere by Shakespeare’s heroes and at that point the divine hero becomes a mortal man, with capability of innate evil and ambition that creates evil.

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The play has many themes- deception, greed, appearance, reality, predestination, free will, good, evil and the supernatural being many of them. These themes make the portrayal of the story very interesting and make its film adaptations very effective as well. Also, the play has various other implications of patriotism and contemporary history, which can also be implied to the movies of the different cultures and directors.

The setting also is important in the adaptations for making the story effective enough as it adds to the cultural connotations of the movie. For example, the director of every Macbeth adaptation looks at the place, the locale, the castle of Macbeth, the witches’ lair and all other exquisite details.

This Shakespearean tragedy could easily be ignored due to its dark setting, with almost no character to sympathize with and a main lead who is constantly influenced by his wife and the three witches. But strangely enough these are the reasons that directors and actors take up Macbeth as a challenge. Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, perhaps easier to compress in a film, the most adapted as a movie as well, second only to Othello.

Shakespeare always interested me, right from his poems to his plays. His tragedies and comedies always appealed to me. I was introduced to his works in my middle school, where I studied his poem “All the World’s A Stage”, from then on I read many of his plays, “The Twelfth Night”, “The Tempest”, “Julius Caesar”, “Othello”, but Macbeth was always my favorite play. I had always visualized how Macbeth would have been filmed, so I decided to base my research topic on Macbeth and see how the plays were given the shape of a movie.

The topic has great research value, as the adaptation of a play into a movie is quite a difficult task. Also, the auteur theory was very exciting to know about when I learnt about it through the film class. “Auteur” is the French word-meaning author. The meaning of auteur in context of the theory is a person, usually the director, who was able to stamp his own identity upon a film despite commercial pressures of the studio system [1] . Also, the auteur theory insisted upon the film, like a book is the author’s product, in this case the director. By this research I would come to know how different auteurs perceive the aesthetics of theatre and make their own version in the form of a film.

An auteur handles every character with particular care, seeing every single detail right from his appearance to his behavior. Vishal Bharadwaj took particular care assigning his character of Maqbool as a henchman. The degradation of the role of a noble warrior to a deputy of an underworld don is one of the most frequently done adaptations of Macbeth, but Maqbool changes parameters when it tells the story of Maqbool change of fate, jut like Macbeth’s but in an entirely different way. Vishal Bharadwaj gracefully adapts the grammar of the Shakespearean play but then interweaves his own created characters in the story. This is also a part of the auteuristic trait, to create an individual character and play with the original story in an adaptation. Similarly, Kurosawa makes Macbeth a Samurai warrior in feudal Japan. Macbeth’s portrayal is considered to be very challenging, as he has various shades to his character, along with being fearless and brave, he also has to show attributes of insecurity, losing his sane mind. Polanski’s Macbeth, actor Jon Finch, is quite a young man. The middle age angst seems to be missing within him, the attribute of being a senior is absent, but probably due to the director’s requirement, a very young Macbeth takes charge of all the events. Jon Finch’s Macbeth reacts to things differently than Irrfan Khan as Maqbool or Toshiro Mifune as General Washizu, just like his counterpart in the play. Washizu and Maqbool do what they know best, try and take an aggressive stance towards situations, where Washizu is deceived purely by overconfidence, while Maqbool dies at hands of his own ill fate even though he gets a moral awakening towards the end. The director plays an important part here of how much attention is paid to show that part of Macbeth’s character.

// Banquet Scene- The fear in him.

Another important adaptation is of the character of Lady Macbeth, who is the main instrument to provoke Macbeth into killing Duncan. Francessa Annis in ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ is a Lady Macbeth who is a pretty young damsel, not the middle aged, mature lady as in the play. Though some people argue that she does not seem very convincing as the character in the movie, and seems very naïve and child-like in her evil ideas and later also in her collapse as the guilt consumes her due to her vulnerability. To me the purpose of casting this inexperienced actress in terms of Shakespearean stage is clearly to preserve the amateurish nature of the relationship of the Macbeths. The scene where she calls spirits to “unsex her” [00:25:30- 00:25:56] almost shows herself as the raven almost, this is where Polanski presents this character with utmost and direst cruelty of the worst order, but with the face of young child. Vishal Bharadwaj on the other hand, with almost the same aged Macbeth and his Lady, makes Lady Macbeth a very strong character, using her manipulative skills to hand over “courage” on to Maqbool to love her and for that love, indulge in killings. Director Bharadwaj emphasized heavily on realistic characters, saying that “getting the reality” was the most important thing in every character. It is important to note here that Francessa Annis’ character, uses a lot of tears and a frustration [00:32:40- 00:33:30] on her face similar to that of Nimmi’s helplessness which is shown in the form of tears as well [00:53:12- 00:53:36] as both these women challenge their man’s manhood, and both these situations are placed perfectly in context to the original play by the directors in their version of the adaptation. Kurosawa’s Lady Macbeth on the other hand seems middle aged, and is much more dangerous than the other two. Her movements make her look almost as if she were to be gliding as an animal looking for its prey, so gentle and subtle yet quite deadly. Perhaps, for the same reason, Kurosawa adapted Shakespeare to his local theatre. Asaji’s (Lady Macbeth) face very closely resembles a mask, as featured in a Noh play. She convinces Washizu, suggesting at every moment what is to be done. And as her character ceases to appear on screen, Washizu’s strength starts decreasing as well, a well-executed plan by Kurosawa, which finally pays off as Asaji goes insane. A key feature of all the three Lady Macbeth’s is the guilt, which they cannot overcome, and finally succumb to it, trying to wash off the blood of their hands.

One important scene that auteurs explore to discover the traits of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is the sleepwalking scene. All the three movies has the sleepwalking scene, and excluding Polanski’s version, all the sleepwalking scenes have Macbeth with Lady Macbeth in the scene. The scene represents the guilt in the husband and wife, which they cannot contain, and Lady Macbeth loses her sanity completely till then. The way every director treats this scene shows how he handles the themes of fear and guilt and presents it in his movie.

Polanski’s scene is a very controversial one, Lady Macbeth sleepwalking in the naked. Though the open sexuality isn’t required, the director probably might just have felt the need to present the woman in the open, as they’re crimes are exposed and she is exposed, everything comes out in the open. The nakedness is probably a symbol used to depict the how vulnerable and fragile she is at the moment. Though Macbeth isn’t present in the scene in the play, likewise in the movie, it suggests how isolated has Lady Macbeth become. The camera is also used to show her expressions clearly; the shot-reverse shot is used, while the mise en scene covers the pale, white expression on Lady Macbeth’s face as she trembles, cries and almost howls, trying to wash the “spot” out of her hands, remembering all the sins she’s been a part of, while struggling to keep herself mentally stable. These traits are completely different from the characteristics she showed earlier. Though she cries before, it is more for the manipulation of her husband unlike at this moment where she seems even more fragile.

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The other two Lady Macbeth’s are shown to be stronger than Francessa Annis’ character, but in this particular scene the ‘man’ part of Lady Macbeth completely abandons her, effeminizing both the women. Asaji in ‘Throne Of blood’ and Nimmi in ‘Maqbool’ both give birth to still born babies, the director’s purpose is to show their loss, like Macbeth, even the female counter-parts lose their most prized possession. This is where the director leads us to the maddening of Lady Macbeth. Asaji for example, shows a complete difference in the way she moves, in the earlier murder plotting sequence, where body language remains stable, but here she trembles and succumbs to the culpability she’s accused of. Her face also is completely different, looking a completely flipped mask compared to the mask she wore before, with the eyes widening and shocked and terrified look on her face. Washizu is shown to be helpless here as even a great warrior like him cannot stop human emotions from over taking the mind.

On the other hand, Nimmi is more shattered because of the stillborn baby, than only by guilt. Bharadwaj tries to show here, that how the dreams of a young woman are shattered because she was a mistress to an old underworld don. Her love for Maqbool is possibly true, but the cost what she has to pay for it is very high, and she pays it off with her death. The use of darkness in the scene creates a big impact, as Maqbool sits in the foreground with the light on his face and she at the back, in the dark weeping and sobbing, while trying to clean up the spots. Maqbool sits aghast, where “nought’s had and all’s spent”, as the director tries to bring out each emotion by the time he spends in the particular scene.

One more interesting thing is the portrayal of the supernatural and superstitions in the films. Vishal Bharadwaj gives the three witches a very Indian flavor, showing them as two corrupt cops, both of them as brahmins, who can draw horoscopes, not only for people but also for the entire city, balancing the rise and fall of forces. Bharadwaj portrays what a common man perceives a corrupt cop as, a witch. Veteran actors, Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah played the roles so as to highlight the roles according to the director, as he wanted the importance of the supernatural forces to be very emphatic. As Shakespeare uses the metaphors and symbols, so does Bharadwaj with the blood imagery, and the horoscopes for the prophesy. While the cops in Maqbool, try and save Maqbool they actually act as the balancing forces of nature, but his moral awakening leads to his death. What Bharadwaj does to the movie is adapt it the way he has seen Macbeth happening in his own backyard, truly impressionistic cinema. Kurosawa on the other hand makes the three witches appear as one woman, who sings as the prophesy is told. Again influences of the theatre he saw in Japan can be seen here clearly, as the lyrical song speaks of Macbeth’s success and triumph, and then again of his failure. In the Tragedy of Macbeth and The Throne of Blood, it’s the supernatural that probably leads to Macbeth’s fall, though one may argue whether he could have made a personal choice than rely on the imperfect speakers, but we see that Maqbool has eventually formed an opinion of his own, though earlier driven by thoughts of both the cops as well as his lover. In the last scene at the hospital where he sees his son in the hands of Guddu (Fleance), he realizes it’s the end of everything he had owned.

Except the ‘Throne of Blood’, both ‘Maqbool’ and The ‘Tragedy of Macbeth’ have the opening scene as the witches establish the setting of the movie. The scene holds a lot of importance in Maqbool as, according to Vishal bharadwaj, “it creates the biggest impact on the audience”. The modification of cops to be seen as witches is done in the first scene, where “thunder, lightening and rain” are all present, the witches lair being the police van, and the horoscope of the entire city is supposedly filled with blood, with the name of Maqbool and his face suddenly cross dissolves and can be seen clearly, suggesting that he will be the one to play a part in it. On the other hand, the witches in Polanski’s adaptation are three traditional wiccans [2] but lot dirtier, murkier and ugly beings than in the play, reminding of their association with utmost sinister and evil deeds. They dig the sand and bury a hand with a dagger in it, an early implication of the gore and violent future. The background taken is very dreary; the carrion bird in the sky, indicating something very terrible is in store for Macbeth. Though, the wood-witch does not appear in the very first scene, the second scene provides for its appearance. A pale woman, who is weaving as she sings the song in which she prophesizes Washizu’s future of being the king. We notice the change in the number of witches, from three in ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ to two in ‘Maqbool’ and only one in ‘Throne of Blood’, but the purpose of them in the movie is almost the same. Their presence holds great importance throughout the movies and they also in the providing for supernatural element in the movies.

The first prophecy that the witches make holds a great importance, as it reveals a lot about the happenings that will take place later in the movie. All the three directors include the scene of the prophecy and its impact on Macbeth. The witches are very important to reveal and hide, masterfully equivocating and heaping laurels upon Macbeth. In ‘Maqbool’ for instance, the two cops are sitting along with Kaka (Banquo) and Maqbool (Macbeth) with horoscopes made again, this time in a big tray made to prophesize Maqbool’s future. The scene is visually appealing as it has a lot of colors. The chandeliers and colorful background of the scene points to a stark contrast between the scene and the dark connotations associated with the witches. The camera work is well directed, never going farther away from more than a mid close to an extreme close up. When the cop announces the prophecy of Macbeth’s future as a king, the expressions on the faces suddenly change, the dialogues indicating his loyalty towards his master. The lighting done makes the cop appear as if he had no eyes, the eeriness creeps in very effectively. ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ has the witches who are clearly from the supernatural world, never before seen and giving unbelievable predictions. The drab landscape and dull weather conditions, give a perfect backdrop for them to be effectively portrayed. ‘Throne of Blood’ has the forbidden forest, where the wood witch appears in front of Washizu and Miki (Banquo). The wood witch doesn’t prophesize with normal words or like in verse, instead using a poem, with sound effects of the air as an entity in the forest and the supernatural atmosphere with the presence of the fog. The camera here is used wisely, and Kurosawa makes use of plenty of cuts to show the expressions of Washizu and Miki and the close up of the witch. Unlike ‘Maqbool’, the witches aren’t someone whom Macbeth and Washizu know beforehand, but none of them trust the prophecies from the “imperfect speakers”, but as their foreseen events turn out to be true, the protagonists start trusting them, so much so that they seem haplessly dependent on them towards the end.

The foreshadowing scene is an example, where all the three Macbeths seem helpless and in desperate need of finding a way out of their troubles. In Macbeth’s example, Roman Polanski shows a fine show of technical display where he uses a montage sequence showing glass mirrors when Macbeth needs to know more about his future. An image of himself in the cauldron assures him, that no man of “woman born” could kill him and that he could not be defeated till the Birnam forest would move up to his castle He uses the mise en abyme effect [3] , something like looking through a mirror in a mirror, which is stylistically and technically very different, as the visualization of a fantastical, hallucinatory gaze which Macbeth gets by looking through the cauldron of the three witches, Polanski employs the different allusions of Shakespeare’s original over here, with the effect of the mirrors repeated eight times and the ninth one is where Banquo smiles and Fleance is on the throne. The scene is very well shot with all the witches in the lair appearing truly devilish and the place itself suiting to compete with hell. The lighting has been done brilliantly and the smoke with the lights gives a much more appalling look to the place. Also the expressions of Macbeth suggest he is indeed now afraid of them, whom he once regarded as no one have now become his last resort.

‘Maqbool’ has the foreshadowing scene set on a beach in the night. Like the forecast of the witches, the cops show a desperate Macbeth only a half-truth, as they believe in giving equal balance on both sides of the powerful and the powerless. The scene is in contrast with their previous meeting, where the prophecy is made in the bright indoors, this foreshadowing is made in the darkness of the night in the open, this time the horoscope is drawn on the beach’s sand. The scene uses light and shadows very well, the only ray of hope lying in the cops. The expressions on his face clearly shown with the using close ups and the partial light falling on the cops almost makes them look impish. They foreshadow that the sea could drown him and that he should take help from ‘it’ instead and a false promise of both Guddu and Boti (Fleance and Macduff) being killed and not harming him. His heavy reliance on the predictions is shown as he constantly asks the question of his survival, a thing which he did not even consider in the past.

The case of Washizu is also the same as of Macbeth and Maqbool, where he goes back to the labyrinth, a place where there is a danger of getting lost, with Kurosawa putting wind and the forest itself as a force to reckon with. The sounds are scary but Washizu isn’t afraid of anything, his aggression evident his voice, he demands an answer from the witch. The effects are very scary with the weather elements of thunder, wind and rain shown along with the fog. These conditions make the forest look haunted and spooky, the branches of the trees almost like hands looking very frightening and so correspondingly Washizu’s path also the same. The voice of Washizu has a lot of drama in it, being loud and filled with gestures. A series of apparitions can be seen, a reference from “Macbeth”, who warn him against the movement of the forest, and ask to be evil and merciless. The confidence in Washizu becomes over confidence and he is betryed by his own soldiers. The visual effects are tremendous in the scenes, the camera moves brilliantly, to capture every motion of Washizu and the apparitions, even being black and white, it captures the imagination of the viewer, as even that is an important characteristic of the supernatural powers.


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