The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0873 Thursday, 28 March 2002
Date: Wednesday, 27 Mar 2002 11:27:27 -0800
Subject: "A Beautiful Macbeth"
Greetings Fellow SHAKSPERians,
Alas, I missed the Oscars, but I woke up this morning wondering if it
might be possible in performance* to portray Macbeth as a textbook
schizophrenic a la John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind."
In a production with this theme, the gradual escalation of Macbeth's
fantasies might play out rather nicely. Macbeth's early penchant for
detaching from his surroundings ("he seems rapt withal" 1.3.59 & "Look
how our partner's rapt" 1.3.142) might be the early signs of a
The dagger Macbeth imagines ("Is this a dagger which I see before me?"
2.1.33) might be his first full hallucination, with the later appearance
of Banquo's ghost (3.4) and the second visit to the Witches (4.1)
further examples of his delusions. Generally speaking, Macbeth's
increasing paranoia is not inconsistent with schizophrenia. I could go
on, but these are the highlights.**
In performance, what might the impact of this sort of interpretation
be? Might it make Macbeth more sympathetic? Less sympathetic? Would
it affect the way the audience understood the relationship between
Macbeth and his lady? By the time we started to think that Macbeth was
schizophrenic would we remember that Banquo saw the witches too in 1.3?
Would we therefore conclude that the witches couldn't *always* be
More concretely, how COULD we convey this in performance so that an
audience got it? Is there a way of doing it effectively without mugging
the tragedy with a concept? And do you think we could get Russell Crowe
to do it?
* I specify "in performance" simply because I don't want to get carried
away with a lot of fuss and bother about how schizophrenia might be
considered an anachronistic notion for Jacobean theater, etc. etc. blah
blah blah. The whole point of this email is not that I think the TEXT
supports a diagnosis of Macbeth as schizophrenic, but that I think a
production of Macbeth might do so.
** By the way, this hypothetical production reminds me of an RSC
production of HAMLET I saw in the 1980s with Mark Rylance playing the
prince as a manic-depressive. It didn't bowl me over, but it was
memorable. I searched the Shaksper archives and found occasional
reference to Hamlet as a potential schizophrenic, but nothing on the
Thane, hence this email.
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