Roman Polanski's Macbeth

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The story of Macbeth is a classic tragedy written by William Shakespeare in the 17th century. Macbeth is a general in the army of King Duncan, as well as the Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and, for a short time, the King of Scotland. When three witches tell Macbeth three prophecies, and the first two come true, Macbeth is determined to make the third become reality as well. Tragedy occurs when King Duncan is murdered and Macbeth is pronounced the new king. Macbeth becomes an isolated individual and is eventually destroyed by his own arrogance. In Roman Polanski’s 1970 film Macbeth based on the play written by Shakespeare, Polanski adds scenes to the original story in order to make the film dark and sinister. The reason for Polanski making his film sullen is because of the tragic events that happened to him prior to this production. The first major difference in Polanski’s Macbeth is showing the execution of the Thane of Cawdor. In the play, during Act 1 Scene 4 Malcolm summarizes the execution as offstage action:

“They are not yet come back. But I have spoke
With one that saw him die, who did report
That very frankly he confess’d his treasons,
Implor’d your highness’ pardon, and set forth
A deep repentance. Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it. He died
As one that had been studied in his death,
To throw away the dearest thing he ow’d
As ‘twere a careless trifle”(Shakespeare I.iv.3-11).
In Polanski’s movie, a scene is added showing the Thane’s execution. The scene shows the Thane of Cawdor on a platform in a noose. His last words were ‘Long live the King’ before you see the Thane jump off the platform, dieing instantly. By showing the death of the original Thane of Cawdor Polanski is creating a dark mysterious tone that will be carried on throughout the film, as well as foreshadowing the death of the new Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth.

In the first Act, when the witches tell Macbeth three prophecies he is most interested in the third prophecy, “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!”(Shakespeare I.ii.48). After the first two come true and Macbeth is pronounced the Thane of Cawdor, he is determined to do anything it takes to become the reining King of Scotland. He knows, however, that the only way for him to become king is if the current King, Duncan, perishes. In Act 2 Scene 2 the ‘worthy’ Thane, with the help of his Lady, murders the king. During the 17th century it was illegal to show the death of a monarch on stage, because of this, Duncan’s death - just like the Thane of Cawdor’s - is not shown in the play, but only referred to as offstage action “I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?”(Shakespeare II.ii.15). Polanski, being the mentally maladjusted man he was, showed the death of Duncan “If you make a film about a murder, you have to show the murder…. If you use the screen as a medium, then what you tell has to be told by visual means.” (Dubois, 98). The scene starts off with Macbeth standing over King Duncan with a dagger. When Duncan wakes up and stares at Macbeth, Macbeth freezes and for a moment is hesitant on whether or not to kill the charismatic king. After a few seconds of doubt he slits Duncan’s throat as well as stabbing him multiple times. Polanski added this bloodthirsty scene to show how sinister and evil Macbeth was. Duncan’s death helps to show that Macbeth would do anything to achieve the crown, even if that means killing dozens of people. This scene carries on the dark and sinister mood of the movie, as well as showing Macbeth as a cold-blooded murderer.

Polanski believed that in order for a movie to be good, it had to be disturbing; "You have to show violence the way it is. If you don't show it realistically, then that's immoral and harmful. If you don't upset people, then that's obscenity"(Polanski). In an interview, Polanski comments on his style of filmmaking, "I don't really know what is shocking. When you tell the story of a man who...
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