Order and Disorder in Macbeth (Welles and Pollanski's Projections)

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Order and disorder

“Uproar the universal peace, confound/ All unity on earth” William Shakespeare,Macbeth

Macbeth is about the tragic fall of a king from grace. Macbeth appears first as a military hero, a “brave Macbeth”, but he ends it as a cruel tyrant, disserted by both his soldiers and allies, and he is finally slain by Macduff. Malcom, rightful heir to the throne, is crowned. His first act as king –the closing speech of the play- is to reward his followers with earldoms. The audience, and us readers, assist to a restoration of peace, “The time is free” (Macduff, Act 5 Scene 9). Although this action seems sensible, earlier in the play Duncan appointed Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor and this prompted Macbeth’s ambition, which led to murder and tyranny. So there is uncertainty as to whether Malcom’s reign puts an end to tyrannical rule or his nobles may turn into the new Macbeths. The end of Macbeth leaves room for two dissimilar interpretations: there is a restoration of order, or there is a cyclic renewal of disorder. These are present in Orson Welles’ and Roman Polanski’s Macbeths, who projected their visions of the tragedy in their own way, which influenced their filmmaking, thus leading to two different perspectives of the same text. Both films have different ends, and they both differ from the end of the play. Wells’ involves Fleance and The Witches in the final scene, while Polanski shows Donaldbain and The Witches. The supernatural element -the presence of the Weird Sisters- and the idea of a cyclic renewal of disorder are a characteristic they share. The fact that both show a renewal of disorder shows that the idea of order and disorder plays a crucial role in the play. There are many instances of order and disorder in Macbeth and the play as a whole can be regarded as one that centers upon the subject of cosmic order and forces wrecking it, so this essay will deal with this issue. I aim to explore the different instances of order a disorder throughout the play to understand the extent to which they condition the ultimate meaning of the play as a whole, and to relate this subject with the thematic implications of the different endings that Welles and Polanski developed in their Macbeths.

The Weird Sisters: ominous disorder

In the very first Scene of the play, the audience senses something is not right. The witches appear in thunder and lightning, an atmosphere of menace and mystery. And without delay, we learn the ominous disorder is linked to Macbeth: “There to meet with Macbeth”. Contemporary audiences would not consider their words a real threat and would probably not take them seriously, but in Elizabethan times, audiences would see these characters as true as any other character. We learn throughout the play that their words have influence on Macbeth’s actions –although the idea of murder is spawned by himself and by the spurring ambition of Lady Macbeth. They are a clear sign of disorder in Macbeth. The witches play an important role in the different ends of Polanski’s and Welle’s Macbeths, which shall be discussed further ahead in the essay.

Elizabethan Times and the Devine Rights of Kings: a social order

In the eleventh century, Kings of Scotland were elected by their thanes. Their title did not automatically descend from father to son. When Macbeth is declared king of Scotland, nobody argues this is inappropriate, nor does anyone speak up for the claims of Malcom and Donaldbain. However, the context in which Shakespeare wrote was a very different one. Kings ruled by the Divine Rights of Kings, by which they were absolute monarchs and exercised full control over their subjects, and by which the crown passed on from father to a direct heir in the family, the son. In this context, treason stands as the worst possible crime: to kill a king is a direct threat to destroy social and natural bonds. Elizabethan audiences, which deeply perceived what took place on stage and tended...
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