The Staging of Macbeth, Act 5: Scene 1
Macbeth is a tragedy of Ambition. In Act 5 Scene 1 we can tell that there has been a substantial lapse of time, for the deterioration of Lady Macbeth’s nervous condition has progressed sizeably. In the early stages of the play, she was strong willed, more so than Macbeth, but now the roles have reversed.
She has become inactive, almost listless, while Macbeth progresses from one act of violence to another. Every word spoken by Lady Macbeth shows that the memory of the first murder is always with her, and there is no particle left of her original hardness and cynical purpose, but only remorse and suffering.
To clothe Lady Macbeth, many directors have chosen red and orange costumes earlier in the play. I feel that this suggests blood, danger and fire, which echoes her dark thoughts. In the same way, I, in this scene, would clothe Lady Macbeth in white, silk to show wealth, and to be light and flowing. I hope this would make Lady Macbeth appear to the audience almost as a spectre, eerily gliding along the floor.
The garment would be a night gown that entirely covers the character’s feet, to enhance the super natural effect. I would have the actress walk bare footed to suggest vulnerability.
Also, to accompany the white gown, Lady Macbeth would have white make-up, with the eyes and lips black as the night. This would give the impression that Lady Macbeth is pale, and sick, the black perhaps showing that she has been enveloped in her devilish and dark thoughts.
In this scene, the doctor remarks, ‘You see, her eyes are open.’ The Gentle woman replies, ‘Aye, but their sense is shut,’ meaning that Lady Macbeth is unconscious. Now she spends her nights wandering in the darkness – literally a lost soul. And one may think about whether, in a way, Lady Macbeth has not been conscious, throughout the play, at all, having shown disregard to the consequences of her earlier actions.
To light Lady Macbeth I would use the candle alone, held below her face, rather than a spotlight or stage light. This, as well as emphasising the pallor of her pitiable face, the shadows under her eyes, and her haggard appearance, would defeat the problem of an effective light following her pacing to and fro, and would enhance the sinister-ness of the scene, her fear of the dark, and the use of her speech, “Hell is murky.” After all, she remarks that hell is dark, not the expected, “Hell is painful,” or “Hell is fiery.” When she says this, I would want her to cower into a corner of the stage, her voice dropping back to a trembling whisper, to emphasise her fear and insanity.
I feel that the doctor and Nurse should be hidden from the direct focus point, of Lady Macbeth. They would be standing close by, whispering, (loudly for the audience), to emphasise the need of secrecy. I would not place them in complete darkness, for their effect on the scene and their speeches and comments on Lady Macbeth are almost as critical as Lady Macbeth and her actions, herself.
To back all of this, I would play a soundtrack in the background, as not to leave the stage silent at any time. This suggests that although the characters are silent, there are still thoughts, dashing around in their heads. The music would not be too obviously eerie, but a mix of this and something soft and sombre, similar to ‘The Nutcracker.’ To announce the entry of Lady Macbeth, a clock or bell would strike, left to echo. This was Lady Macbeth’s signal to Macbeth that the coast was clear for the murder of Duncan to commence, “One, Two, tis time to do it.” Therefore, I think it apt that it should be the same on this occasion.
To costume the Doctor, I would have him wear a formal black waist-coat and trousers, asking his questions clearly and sharply, and having the clean cut appearance of a learned man. His speeches would be delivered in an infallible, yet sceptical and frustrated tone, for he is standing watching with the Gentlewoman for the 3rd night to no avail, in the cold.
The Gentlewoman however is the opposite of the doctor. She would speak in an anxious tone, as she does not want to repeat Lady Macbeth’s incriminating word, and she is frightened of spreading false rumours about Lady Macbeth, and being denounced as a liar by the Doctor. The Doctor is assertive, he asks the questions to the Gentlewoman, and expresses all authority over her: “You may to me!”
However, on the appearance of Lady Macbeth, the Gentlewoman is a contrast to her former self. She has regained confidence, and she is now authoritative. Her way of speaking will have changed, as she takes charge, because she knows than she will be vindicated.
Stood perhaps these to the side, these two side characters would be lit by a subtle and dim light from a wing. However, I would be careful as to not put them so far to the side, and in obscurity, that the audience would lose them, or so far to the centre that they steal the audience’s focus on Lady Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth acts as if she is washing her hands. To do his, she must place ‘her command’, the candle, down. Therefore, I would place a small table and stool to one side of the stage, as the only two parts of furniture, the stool for Lady Macbeth to perhaps sit down on then quickly rise from, as she hesitantly walks from side to side.
But to make clear the action of the washing, which holds a vital few moments in this scene, the actor would stop beneath a newly switched on white crisp stage light. All other lights should be extinguished for this part, including the wing light. I feel it is necessary that this should be particularly highlighted, not only because it reinforces the madness of Lady Macbeth, but because she says, “Out damned spot,” – the spot, to Lady Macbeth imaginary blood, would have been recognised as the devil’s mark of evil, to the Shakespearean audience.
In Lady Macbeth’s speech, from “Out damned spot” to “So much blood in him,” where there are many moments of the past in a few short sentences, I would have Lady Macbeth’s face constantly changing emotion with the theme of her speech, combing fear, hatred and her kindly assurance to Macbeth, as she re-enacts her own speeches in different tones and expressions.
When Lady Macbeth speaks, “Here’s the smell of blood,” I would have her act as if she is dabbing perfume onto her hand, smelling it, adding some more, then smelling, and then in helplessness, crying, “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,” This emphasises my earlier point of her role reversal with Macbeth, echoing his earlier speech after he commit the murder, “Will all of great Neptune’s oceans wash this blood clean from my hands?”
Throughout, as I have implied earlier, Lady Macbeth would be wandering around the stage, stopping and starting randomly. I felt that this would reflect her speech- jumbled, with no sense of time or logicality, Lady Macbeth refers to event of the past, in this scene in an incomprehensible order and seems distracted by another thought, as she speaks one. In fact, on one occasion, Lady Macbeth even speaks in a rhyming couplet, “The Thane of Fife had a wife,” like the mind of a child, like Lady Macbeth’s fear of the dark, yet deeply evil.
Later, when Lady Macbeth, in confused speech, says to Macbeth, “Come, come, come, come, give me your hand,” I would make her grab the doctor’s hand, and try to lead him away, for as the Gentlewoman had spoken earlier, Lady Macbeth’s eyes are open, but their sense is closed. As the Doctor resists her, she must drop his hand, sag her shoulders, and say, “What’s done is done.’ If you remember, the last time she said this was after the murder, to reassure Macbeth, but now, she says it as a consequence of her realising that she has lost control. In this way, I would overcome any problem of creating some sort of spectre-like appearance of Macbeth, or the lack of scope for the audience to imagine him on the stage at all.
I will now refer to further particular points in the scene concerning the Doctor and Gentlewoman that I think that need special attention. After Lady Macbeth says, “Here’s a spot,” I would have the Doctor reach into his breast pocket and take a note book, scribbling vigorously, very concerned on Lady Macbeth’s condition. He might perhaps move forward, cautiously, towards her, to hear her words more clearly, and to examine her more closely, at which point Lady Macbeth says, “Come, come, come,” and clutching at the Doctor, frightening him, and causing him to quickly return to his original position.
The Doctor, during Lady Macbeth’s words about Duncan: “Who would have thought the old man had so much blood in him,” should be shocked. His eyes wide open, dropping his notebook, he should seize the Gentlewoman when he cries, “Do you mark that!” The Gentlewoman at this point would be shaking and whimpering herself, as the magnitude of the events and the relief of her knowledge to be let out to another is finally unleashed.
Lady Macbeth, after saying, “The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?” as she feels guilty for setting Macbeth onto the path to evil, says, “No more.” Her own thoughts conflicts each other, as she has a confused mind. For the pause between these two lines, I would make Lady Macbeth shake her head, in anger and disgust, as if incredulous for blaming herself.
After Lady Macbeth leaves the scene, having condemned herself, the Doctor and Gentlewoman would move to the centre of the stage, as they are the focus now, lit by a dark reddish light, and talking clearly.
One other point I would like to make particular reference to, and point out to the audience with special vigour, is when the Doctor says, “Foul whisperings are abroad.” He should almost hiss this, making the audience remember the witches’ speeches of, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” This emphasises Lady Macbeth’s turn to the dark side, and her striking similarity to the three witches. In a strong way, she resembles those not only due to evil-craft, but also because she, like them was one of the causes of the murder of Duncan, yet not the murderer herself.
The Gentlewoman, when she says, “I would not have such a heart in my bosom for the dignity of the whole body,” should be self-righteous and should follow on to cross herself, when she speaks, “Pray God it be.” In the same way, the Doctor should cross himself, when he says, “God forgive us all.” These acts, strongly contrast the irreligious behaviour of Lady Macbeth. The scene ends with the Doctor speaking, quietly, and not directly to the Gentlewoman: “My mind she has mated, and amazed my sight.” Here, he should be nodding his head in disbelief and leave with the Gentlewoman, sighing regretfully.
To conclude, I would set the play in Shakespearean times, as you may have recognised. Although perhaps unoriginal, I feel after studying several stage plays of ‘Macbeth,’ that this is the most effective. Shakespeare wrote in those times, to fit the times and the audience. Therefore, if I had set in, say, a post-war Britain, some of the lines and theories behind ‘Macbeth’, such as the spots of blood being a sign of the devil, would not have as powerful an effect as it deserves, especially since the time of Shakespeare was the time at which beliefs about the super natural were at their height, and certainty in witch craft and evil was universal. This scene has many moments of suspense and revelation, and by highlighting particular events, I hope that I would do justice to Shakespeare. Belief
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