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Lady Macbeth in Scotland, Pa

By bohemianr4zbry Nov 12, 2008 2116 Words
In a world consumed by economics, it is easy to get swept away by the desire for power, wealth, and prestige. Many people lose sight of life’s natural wonders and become engrossed by greed as they yearn to acquire and maintain an affluential reputation. This central theme is apparent in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, which is further translated into Billy Morrissett’s Scotland, PA. Although Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s desire to “achieve absolute monarchical authority is absurdly reduced to the McBeths’ desperate bourgeois ambitions,” in Scotland, PA, the main concept remains intact (Hoefer 154). Essentially, Macbeth is transformed from a tragic play about the uncontrollable desperation for monarchial power kindled by a prophesy to a modern movie about a low class couple who, despite their patient efforts, cannot seem to achieve the success they desire and are therefore driven to violence and thievery to obtain it. Within the play the Macbeth’s commence a bloody trail of deaths with the murder of King Duncan, which initiates a series of events leading to false accusations and the unnecessary deaths of those that were once friends to the Macbeths. Scotland, PA presents this plot in a completely different context while maintaining the general story. The movie begins in much of the same manner with the murder of Norm Duncan. This is followed by immediate glory for Pat and Mac, as they become new owners of the restaurant, although they eventually become paranoid and commit many different acts in an attempt to cover their trail. As the story progresses, one can obviously recognize the undoing of Pat and Joe McBeth. The purpose of this film is to portray Mac and his wife as victims rather than villains, which can be discerned by tracing the evolution of Pat McBeth through the film and comparing her actions and reactions to those of Lady Macbeth.

In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is seen in the beginning as very bold and ambitious. She does not believe that her husband is ruthless enough to complete such an act as murdering the king, and therefore feels that she must be the one to take control over the situation. She conveys this belief when she says to herself, “Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way” (Shakespeare I. v. 16-18). In order to truly take control, she acts as if she is the man in the relationship and goes as far enough to say, “Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty” (Shakespeare I. v. 47-50). She remains fearless all through the comforting of her husband and goes on to say, “A little water clears us of this deed” (Shakespeare II. ii. 86). It is not until after Macbeth’s fits at the banquet that her mind begins to play tricks on her.

This is the point at which Lady Macbeth’s mood is changing. She might not consciously recognize and admit to her guilt, but she expresses her shame subconsciously through dreams. When rubbing her hands excessively in her sleep, Lady Macbeth says, “Out, damned spot, out, I say!” (Shakespeare V. i. 37). Her regrettable behavior is observed only by a gentlewoman and a doctor, yet is very significant in deciphering the transformation of Lady Macbeth’s character. Examples of Lady Macbeth’s destructive behavior are very prominent throughout Acts I and II, until it suddenly becomes apparent that she is feeling so guilty about the murder that she cannot even get a peaceful night’s rest. Changing from a gluttonous villain to a helpless woman haunted by the ghosts of her past, Lady Macbeth certainly has one very important part to contribute. By relating Pat’s transformation to that of Lady Macbeth, a significant evolution in character is established, which can be further related to the overall point of the film. As Marguerite Rippy from The Chronicle of Higher Education states, “…where aspiration and ambition tend to center on quick money and fame, it makes sense that the fast-food industry might spawn a Lady Macbeth” (108).

As the movie begins Pat, Scotland, PA’s version of Lady Macbeth, is portrayed as a sexy and sassy compliment to her admiring husband. Working as underlings in the restaurant business, they lead a substandard existence with a meek income, but are hopelessly in love. Their constant displays of affection and devotion to one another make it apparent that Mac would do anything for Pat. This attribute becomes immediately important as the opportunity to kill Duncan presents itself. Pat expresses her desire to kill Duncan only after it is evident that Mac will never receive the recognition that he deserves. She becomes bored with her life as it is and yearns to move up the social ladder. A specific scene in which Pat expresses her frustrations is set at the bar where she says to Mac, “You know you’re the one running that place, and we live in a truck” (Scotland). She frequently reminds Mac that they deserve more and that they should do something to try to obtain it. Pat, like Lady Macbeth, has to assist her husband through the process, step by step, and gets almost frustrated with his insufficient maliciousness. Having to persistently convince Macbeth that, yes, he can do this, Lady Macbeth says to him, “But screw your courage to the sticking place And we’ll not fail” (Shakespeare I. vii. 70-71). The mood displayed here by Lady Macbeth correlates to Pat’s behavior. An example occurs when Pat brings Mac back to his senses after they kill Duncan by saying, “It’s all over. You did it. You did it, Mac, and you were amazing” (Scotland). Even after trying to praise him, Pat still has to say, “Mac, it’s done. It can’t be undone,” and kiss him to calm his nerves (Scotland). She shows a sense of control that Mac does not possess. A significant difference in Pat’s behavior as compared to Lady Macbeth’s lies within the way she speaks to her husband. In the play, she mainly tries to encourage him by degrading his masculinity, while Pat’s method predominantly includes pep talks and reassuring words. Each woman’s technique in communicating with her husband yields sufficient results in convincing him to follow through with his wife’s plans in achieving the status they desire, which, after all, is the primary goal.

Pat’s personality is noticeably different from the people she associates with in the way that she exudes a manner of superiority, and while this seems to be an admirable quality, it actually hurts more than it helps. All throughout the movie, she is depicted as being a little more clever and brighter than the rest. In other words, “Tierney’s Pat McBeth outclasses everyone who surrounds her” (Rippy 109). Blatantly expressing this mentality she says, “You animals just sometimes forget that there’s a fucking lady in the room,” in response to Mac’s friend Jimmy’s perverted remark, which immediately exposes her proper nature as artificial (Scotland). Straying a bit from the original, it is indisputable that the director and writer Billy Morrissette is trying to place Pat in a different light than Lady Macbeth. Within the play, there is little evidence that Lady Macbeth assumes superiority over those around her, although she does trick a fair number of people. In Morrissette’s version, though, it is clear that Pat is the one whose actions made it possible for she and Mac to achieve the goals they had initially set, although she may not come off as very graceful. In an article by Elizabeth Deitchman for Literature/Film Quarterly, it is stated “Pat not only understands the connection between taste and social class but also attempts to distinguish herself from Scotland society by articulating this knowledge” (123). Her behavior borderlines on pompous, though, and threatens to bring her down. For instance, she never takes the time to truly remember her employee’s name, which just goes to show how self-centered she is. Also, when questioned by the pharmacist who all the ointment she’s purchasing is for, she tries to belittle him in an effort to justify her own deranged behavior. Situations such as these become more and more common as the movie wears on, and as they increase in frequency, her mental destruction grows more obvious.

This destruction is due to a number of things including her own guilt in combination with her lack of control and her social class. In the eyes of some, it may seem as though Pat and Mac cannot achieve the success they desire because they have been living a low-standard life for so long that for them to adapt to a classy, more sophisticated way of living would be impossible. A particular point in the film shows Pat applying ointment to her ‘burn’ while looking in the mirror at her unkempt self. Jackie Kennedy’s picture is shown tacked to Pat’s mirror, and the viewer knows that while Pat aspires to be more, she never can truly change. Deitchman articulates this idea by saying, “The film performs its most searching class analysis in its treatment of Pat McBeth, demonstrating the (often unspoken) limitations of modes of distinction for determining class mobility” (145). This idea can be looked at in a more concise way by saying, “Despite her financial success, she will never more beyond the white-trash world of Scotland” (Deitchman, 145). This is where the evolution of Pat in comparison to Lady Macbeth reveals a significant difference between the point of the film and that of Shakespeare’s vintage version. In the play, it is not the Macbeths’ social and hierarchical status that limits them, but rather their uncontrollable ambition and Macbeth’s belief in prophecies.

Pat’s gradual demise can be traced by the scenes in which she tends to the burn she received when Norm fell into the fryer. On that very night Mac asks her how her hand is, and she replies with, “I’m fine, it’s just a little burn” (Scotland). Eventually, Pat’s paranoia about the burn overwhelms her as her obsession with covering it up increases. She continually purchases ointment for her burn where there is clearly no mark on her hand. She also wraps it in excessive bandages to hide it, going as far as wearing an oven mitt when Lieutenant McDuff comes over for an unannounced visit. This display of neurotic behavior corresponds with Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking, but differs in the way that many people are aware of this obvious behavior. For each woman, though, it represents mental destruction. One big change in the transition from play to movie is the way that Pat dies. Instead of being murdered by an attacking army, she cuts off her own hand in an attempt to remove the ‘spot,’ which shows the effects that Pat’s struggle for success had on her. As Marguerite Rippy notes, “When she removes the spot, she gives us a smile of relief, not pain” (110). This final account confirms Deitchman’s statement that, “…the film links social class directly to morality, vilifying the white-trash McBeths actually trapped in their class category” (140). In retrospect, Pat was only trying to escape her inevitable downfall.

With this in mind, it is easier to make the comparison between Pat and Lady Macbeth. In Pat’s situation, she was trapped within the confines of her shoddy lifestyle, and no amount of money or success could change that. Billy Morrissette’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth gives the movie’s meaning a bit of a twist. Instead of a couple driven mad by greed and ambition, Pat and Mac are simply trying to attain a specific lifestyle that, despite their efforts, never truly comes within their reach.

Works Cited
Deitchman, Elizabeth. “White Trash Shakespeare: Taste, Morality, and the Dark Side of
the American Dream in Billy Morrissette’s Scotland, PA.” Literature/Film
Quarterly 2006: 140.
Hoefer, Anthony, Jr. “The McDonaldization of Macbeth: Shakespeare and Pop Culture
in Scotland, PA.” Literature/Film Quarterly 2006: 154.
Rippy, Marguerite. “A Fastfood Shakespeare.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 19 Apr. 2002: B16.
Scotland, PA. Dir. Billy Morrissette. With Maura Tierney, James LeGros, Kevin
Corrigan, James Rebhorn, and Christopher Walken. Abandon Pictures in association with Sundance Channel Home Entertainment, 2002.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.

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