Macblog: Prophecy

October 18th, 2010

Shakespeare: Writer, Director, Prophet?
 
Macbeth is a play that is filled with references to the supernatural, magic and prophecy.  Several key events of the play revolve around characters’ interpretation or disregard for prophecies, and various interpretations of the text have explored the idea of “fate” or “destiny” versus self-fulfilling prophecy.  One thing is frequently overlooked, however: in writing Macbeth, Shakespeare himself became a (likely unwitting) prophet…
 
 
The Vision of the Stuart Line
 
It is commonly thought that Shakespeare chose the subject matter for Macbeth to please King James I (James VI of Scotland), who had de facto united the monarchies of Scotland and England when he inherited the English crown from Elizabeth in 1603.  At the time, it was believed Banquo was the progenitor of the Stuart line (from which James hailed), and that James was his 8th descendant.  (As an aside, modern research has all but disproved this claim.)  In a move that was likely intended to curry James’ favor, Shakespeare included Banquo as an (at least seemingly) virtuous character in the play, and includes the witches’ prophecy that “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.” (I.iii.)  When Macbeth revisits the witches in IV.i., he demands to know if the witches’ prophecy will come to pass.  In answer, the witches show him a vision of eight kings:
 
What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?
Another yet! A seventh! I’ll see no more:
And yet the eighth appears, who bears a glass
Which shows me many more; and some I see
That two-fold balls and treble scepters carry:
Horrible sight! Now I see ‘tis true,
For the blood-bolter’d Banquo smiles upon me,
And points at them for his.
 
–Macbeth, Macbeth, IV.i.
 
The legend of James’ lineage would have been common knowledge at the time, so it is likely that Shakespeare’s audience would have recognized James as the eighth king who, “bears a glass Which shows me many more;  and some I see That two-fold balls and treble scepters carry:”.  Shakespeare may simply have been flattering James in these lines, by proposing a future where James’ descendants would rule for time immemorial.  However, Shakespeare’s text, as it turned out, was more accurate then he could have ever guessed.
 
The House of Stuart held the throne through another five monarchs after James I, until Queen Anne passed away without issue in 1707–100 years after Shakespeare wrote these fated lines.    Furthermore, though the monarchy was passed to the House of Hanover, one branch of the Stuart line descending from Elizabeth of Bohemia (James’ daughter) can be traced all the way to Queen Elizabeth II.  So, in one sense, James’ descendants continue to rule the United Kingdom to this day—400 years after the play was written.  
 
More than that, the vision references “two-fold balls and treble scepters” carried by the future monarchs of England; this is thought by many scholars to be a references to future kings ruling a unified England and Scotland (the two-fold balls), and eventually a unified England, Scotland and Ireland (treble scepters; like Scotland, Ireland shared the monarchy with England at that time).  Although James’ inheritance of the English throne had created a unified monarchy, England and Scotland were still politically separate countries with separate legislative bodies at the time the play was written.  James made formal attempts to unify the nations around that time (he announced his intention to do so in 1603), which were unsuccessful. However, in 1707, the Acts of Union were signed, unifying Scotland and England into the Kingdom of Great Britain, and realizing James’ dream of a single state.  Later, in 1800, the Act of Union between the UK and Ireland (who similarly shared a monarch but not a single Parliament) resulted in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: a single, united country.  Although it was not to last, Shakespeare’s ghostly prediction of one king holding the “two-fold balls and treble scepters” came to pass, almost 200 years after the prediction was performed onstage.
 
 
Interestingly enough, Shakespeare’s other plays may hold similar prophetic foreshadowings.  Many scholars note that Malvolio (a character that may have been based on one or more prominent Puritans of the time) speaks the infamous line, “I’ll be reveng’d on the whole pack of you.” (Twelfth Night, V.i.).  This line seems to foretell the Puritans’ rise to power in the mid 1600’s, and the eventual banning of stage plays in 1642 and the demolition of the Globe in 1644.  While Shakespeare may well have seen the way the winds were blowing at the time he wrote the play, it is still chilling that his words rang true less than 30 years after his death.
 
 
So, Shakespeare the Prophet, or just an author with an astute sense of the times he lived in?  Do you know of any other Shakespeare (or other classical text) that inadvertently foretold things to come?  Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!  And remember to visit often for more blogs and information about Mortal Folly’s upcoming production of Macbeth, opening December 1st at the Gene Frankel Theatre in New York.

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Welcome to the MacBlog!

October 12th, 2010

Macbeth…

A show so infamous that speaking its very name is said to bring a curse down upon you. How do you put together a production of a play that has such an incredible history? How do you breathe new life into a text that has been performed for over 400 years?

For the next few months, we’ll be dedicating this blog space to some thoughts and stories about the process of creating the world of Mortal Folly’s Macbeth. There may be some minor SPOILERS here, so read on at your own risk!

The MacBoot Camp

For anyone who knows Macbeth, you know that it is a violent story of war and murder.  To be ready for the intense fight scenes required of them, the actors have already begun working on the unique fighting style that our talented fight director, Nathan DeCoux, has designed for the show.  Below you can see a sneak peek into one of the fight rehearsals, where the actors are getting a feel for weight balance and sharing of energy.

Pictured, left to right: John Short, Sam Eggers, Eric Cheski, Mark August

Check back often for more news and “sneak peeks” at the process of building Macbeth.

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