Review: Fassbender-Cotillard Macbeth

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.246  Wednesday, 27 May 2015


From:        Charles Weinstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 26, 2015 at 9:37:16 AM EDT

Subject:    Fassbender-Cotillard Macbeth


The following is Variety’s rave review of the new, filmed Macbeth.  The terms of praise do not inspire confidence.


--Charles Weinstein


Cannes Film Review: ‘Macbeth’


Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender excel in Justin Kurzel’s thrillingly savage interpretation of the Scottish Play.

Guy Lodge 


As the shortest, sharpest and most stormily violent of William Shakespeare’s tragedies, “Macbeth” may be the most readily cinematic: The swirling mists of the Highlands, tough to fabricate in a theater, practically rise off the printed page. So it’s odd that, while “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet” get dusted off at least once a generation by filmmakers, the Scottish Play hasn’t enjoyed significant bigscreen treatment since Roman Polanski’s admirable if tortured 1971 version. The wait for another may be even longer after Justin Kurzel’s scarcely improvable new adaptation: Fearsomely visceral and impeccably performed, it’s a brisk, bracing update, even as it remains exquisitely in period. Though the Bard’s words are handled with care by an ideal ensemble, fronted by Michael Fassbender and a boldly cast Marion Cotillard, it’s the Australian helmer’s fervid sensory storytelling that makes this a Shakespeare pic for the ages — albeit one surely too savage for the classroom.


No viewer familiar with Kurzel’s blistering 2011 debut, “The Snowtown Murders” — an unflinching true-crime drama that doubled as a rich essay on destructive masculine insecurities — should be too surprised that he’s chosen to enter the mainstream by reviving one of the English language’s most unforgiving studies in malignant male ego. Meanwhile, any fears that the director’s poetically severe style might be mollified by the tony demands of traditionally rooted prestige cinema are allayed by the opening reel. As a stark, stonily beautiful shot of an infant’s funeral segues into a combat sequence of bruising, heightened viciousness, it becomes clear that Kurzel, as well as screenwriters Todd Louiso, Michael Lesslie and Jacob Koskoff, have not taken a timid approach to their source material — either at a stylistic or interpretive level.

What is perhaps most striking about this introduction — the incantations of the Weird Sisters that begin the play have been relocated — is how wordless it is. Adam Arkapaw’s camera probes the anguished geography of human faces as they ritualistically prepare for battle or burial: Macbeth himself is first seen as a steaming, heaving, near-alien warrior, his human countenance given up to smeary, demonic war paint.


A carnal battle cry finally breaks the silence; the armies of Macbeth and the traitorous Macdonwald charge and collide in silvery slow-motion, while composer Jed Kurzel (the director’s brother) amplifies the tribal percussion to nerve-fraying extremes. (As in “Snowtown,” the sound design is set at a needlingly low, industrial hum throughout.) It’s a technique seemingly made redundant by Zack Snyder’s “300” and its legion of imitators, yet Kurzel plays it more as brutal shadow theater, connoting the dehumanizing effects of mass slaughter without disregarding the collective cost of death. In visualizing trauma usually left offstage, Kurzel builds vital psychological context for the future King of Scotland’s bloody path to glory and dishonor.

What is seen, and by whom, emerges as the key consideration of Louiso, Lesslie and Koskoff’s respectfully inventive overhaul of the play. (Louiso, director of the U.S. indies “Love Liza” and “Hello I Must Be Going,” is hardly an expected name for this assignment, though he and his co-scribes exhibit a keen collective ear for the human nub of Shakespeare’s more expansive verse.) Crucial incidents are here given witnesses that shift the narrative tension, not to mention the balance of moral accountability, in provocative, constructively questionable ways. Young heir to the throne Malcolm (a fine, full-hearted Jack Reynor) catches Macbeth crimson-handed after the murder of King Duncan (David Thewlis), before fleeing in a youthful failure of nerve. Later, in an equivalent, particularly inspired adjustment, Lady Macbeth is made a witness to the public killing of Lady Macduff (Elizabeth Debicki) and her children; this callous wasting of a family makes a cruel mockery of her failure to create one.


The absence of Macbeth’s own heir, obliquely alluded to in Shakespeare’s text, is here made a more explicit point of anxiety for the couple — beginning with the lifeless child of that chill-inducing opening frame. Their joint power lust is made to seem a grievously unhappy displacement therapy for loss; in a play that already doesn’t want for uncanny visitations, quiet visions of her offspring return to our hero’s hand-scrubbing Queen at her most disoriented and guilt-ridden.


A plum role for any actress, Lady Macbeth proves an exhilaratingly testing one for Cotillard, whose gifts as both a technician and an emotional conduit apparently know no linguistic barrier. Streaked with unearthly blue eye shadow — Jenny Shircore’s daring makeup designs are a constant marvel — and working in a cultivated Anglo-Continental accent that positions the character even more pointedly as a stranger in her own court, Cotillard electrically conveys misdirected sexual magnetism, but also a poignantly defeated sense of decency. It’s a performance that contains both the woman’s abandoned self and her worst-case incarnation, often in the space of a single scene. Her deathless sleepwalking scene, staged in minimalist fashion under a gauze of snowflakes in a bare chapel, is played with tender, desolate exhaustion; it deserves to be viewed as near-definitive.


If Fassbender is more obviously cast than his leading lady, that’s not to say his performance is any less considered or intensely textured. There’s nary a hint in his interpretation of a man once “full of the milk of human kindness,” but his nervous unraveling does reveal Macbeth as a gauche, dependent soul, elevated by self-assigned male privilege. Fassbender may be a grand, seething physical presence, but his vocal delivery is immaculate: As befits a text judiciously edited to evoke a certain tartan terseness, the actor brings an inflamed, animalistic bark even to his most mellifluous monologues.

Kurzel likewise opts for high-impact spareness in the film’s visual and sonic design. He’s not afraid of broad symbolism: There may be one austere cross too many in the image system here, but this “Macbeth” does bear a substantial sense of spiritual consequence. Many filmmakers wouldn’t be able to pull off the blood-red filter that gradually saturates the screen in its final act, but Kurzel brings the proceedings to a pitch of disorder that makes this extreme stylistic leap seem intuitively inevitable: It’s as if the camera pre-emptively descends into the galleys of hell with its doomed subject.



Shooting on location in thorniest rural Scotland and England, Arkapaw’s work here (supplemented with additional lensing by Rob Hardy) is remarkable, exposing all the most hostile facets of the region’s beauty: Its dominant, sickly tones of gorse yellow and hurricane gray are permitted into the interiors of Fiona Crombie’s soaring yet rough-hewn production design. Costumes by Jacqueline Durran, an established master of fusing period authenticity with modern sculptural influence, are breathtaking: The coarse, hessian finish of 11th-century palace finery and battle gear alike are consistently offset by delicately suggestive detailing. Nothing is more effective in this regard than Macbeth’s own chunky crown — which, viewed close, resembles either a jagged chain of headstones or an oversized set of extracted baby teeth. In Kurzel’s thrillingly elemental new adaptation, death is a most literal burden to bear.


Call for Papers Extended: ESTS

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.245  Wednesday, 27 May 2015


From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 26, 2015 at 1:26:52 PM EDT

Subject:    Call for Papers Extended


The Call for Papers for the 12th Annual Meeting of the European Society for Textual Scholarship has been extended to 30 June 2015. Details follow.


“Users of Scholarly Editions: Editorial Anticipations of Reading, Studying and Consulting”


The 12th Annual Conference of the European Society for 

Textual Scholarship (ESTS) will be held at the Centre

for Textual Studies, De Montfort University, Leicester

England 19-21 November 2015


The ESTS returns to Leicester where it was founded in 2001 to stage a major collective investigation into the state and future of scholarly editing. Our focus is the needs of users of scholarly editions and proposals for 20-minute papers are invited on topics such as:


* Are users' needs changing?

* How does edition design shape use?

* Stability in print and digital

* Where are we in the study of mise en page?

* Facsimiles and scholarly editions

* Collaborative and social editing

* Editorial specialization in the digital age

* APIs and mashups versus anticipation

* The logic of annotation

* Is zero the best price point for editions?

* Readers versus users

* Can we assume a general reader'?

* Indexing and annotation versus search

* Editors, publishers and Open Access

* Is technology changing editing?

* Digital editions or digital archives?

* Are editions ever obsolete?

* Scholarly editions versus popular editions

* Any other topic related to the use or users of scholarly editions


Plenary Speaker (subject to confirmation) include:


Hans Walter Gabler (Munich University)

David Greetham (City University of New York)

Tim William Machan (Notre Dame University)

Gary Taylor (Florida State University)

Elaine Treharne (Stanford University)

Andrew Prescott (Glasgow University)

Christina Lee (Nottingham University)

Terri Bourus (Indiana University)

Peter Robinson (University of Saskatchewan)


Hands-on workshops will be given on setting movable type, letterpress printing, and getting started with XML.


Proposals for papers should be emailed to Prof Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>


See for information and registration



The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.244  Monday, 25 May 2015


From:        John Drakakis <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 23, 2015 at 5:54:34 AM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Deconstruction


Perhaps we need to go back a stage in this debate. David Schalkwyk is right to point to the Derrida essay, but it is the first 2 pages or so of that essay that are crucial. They are a critique of Saussure’s ‘structuralism’, and they identify a Saussurean process whereby an appeal is made to a metaphysical entity. You can call it ‘langue’, or as Kenneth Chan puts it, ‘mind’. What Derrida says is that when you get to the ‘centre’ you find that ‘the centre is not the centre’, thereby identifying a contradiction between the relativism of ‘parole’ (the idea that there are no positive terms in language), and the ‘ideal’ stability of ‘langue’. When Derrida announces that “Il n’ya pas hors de texte” he is not reinstating ‘mind’ as the determining force in the construction of meaning.  Rather he is pointing out that there is no ‘outside’ text, and hence no metaphysical authority to which an appeal can be made. The issue then, is whether lanuage is instrumental or constitutive. Whichever of these alternatives we subscribe to - ‘choose’ is a misleading term here - will determine whether you think ‘mind’ is or is not a viable analytical category. This is something that philosophers have debated for a very long time, but once the Derridean cat is out of the bag it is difficult to return to a status quo ante. This has serious consequences for any critical practice and for any ‘reading’ of Shakespearean texts. It is worth reminding ourselves of Marx’s comment that human beings make history BUT not in conditions of their own making; we might cross-reference this with Terence Hawkes’s insistence that we ‘make’ meanings but that the meanings we make are overdetermined by various forces outside ourselves that exert pressure on us, and do not originate in some metaphysical origin that we might label ‘mind’.  



John Drakakis 



Lifetime Portrait of Shakespeare???

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.243  Monday, 25 May 2015


[1] From:        Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 23, 2015 at 12:32:31 AM EDT

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Lifetime Portrait?


[2] From:        Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 23, 2015 at 12:32:31 AM EDT

     Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Lifetime Portrait? 


[3] From:        Scott Newstok <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

     Date:         May 22, 2015 at 4:26:37 PM EDT

     Subject:    Gerard’s “Herball” 




From:        Walter Cannon <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 22, 2015 at 3:49:17 PM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Lifetime Portrait?


I’ve been thinking about the new “portrait” of Shakespeare and the puzzle of him holding the corn plant.  I don’t know much about ciphers, but perhaps someone has lent him his ear? 



From:        Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 23, 2015 at 12:32:31 AM EDT

Subject:    RE: SHAKSPER: Lifetime Portrait?


If Shakespeare was chosen to model Apollo, does that make him the original “actor/model”? I see great possibilities for a Zoolander on Masterpiece Theatre. 


Sean Lawrence

Associate Professor and Associate Head

Department of Critical Studies

University of British Columbia, Okanagan



From:        Scott Newstok <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 22, 2015 at 4:26:37 PM EDT

Subject:    Gerard’s “Herball”


SHAKSPER readers might find of interest Margery Corbett’s essay “The engraved title-page to John Gerarde’s Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597,” Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History 8.3 (November 1977): 223–30:


See especially page 227:


“They are scholar-botanists, probably Theophrastus and Dioscorides, whose works survived into the modern world; they are described by Mattioli in the introduction, together with many others including Galen, as the first investigators. De l’Obel in his Address to Gerard, among the preliminaries of the Herball, cites Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Galen, and Pliny in this context. It may tentatively be suggested that they are the four figures balanced on the scrollwork. At this time there was no fixed iconography for these personalities . . . in the second edition of the Herball brought out by Johnson in 1633, Dioscorides, named, holds a book in the same position as the top right figure in our title-page . . .”  



Scott Newstok

Department of English

Rhodes College

Shakespeare at Rhodes



Download Margery Corbett’s essay “The engraved title-page to John Gerarde’s Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597”:   pdf GerardHerball (929 KB)


From TLS: Brian Vickers Reviews Determining The Shakespeare Canon: Arden of Faversham and A Lover’s Complaint

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 26.242  Monday, 25 May 2015


From:        Hardy Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         May 24, 2015 at 9:53:22 AM EDT

Subject:    From TLS: Brian Vickers Reviews Determining The Shakespeare Canon: Arden of Faversham and A Lover’s Complaint


[Editor’s Note:  In the 3 April 2015 TLS, Brian Vickers Brian Vickers Reviewed MacDonald P. Jackson Determining The Shakespeare Canon: Arden of Faversham and A Lover’s Complaint. I will provide excepts below; and if anyone wishes the entire article and does not have access to TLS, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. -Hardy]


No Shakespeare to be found

Brian Vickers


MacDonald P. Jackson

Determining The Shakespeare Canon: Arden of Faversham and A Lover’s Complaint 

272pp. Oxford University Press. £55 (US $85).

978 0 19 870441 6


Published: 3 April 2015


In 1963 MacDonald P. Jackson was awarded an Oxford BLitt for a thesis called “Material for an edition of Arden of Faversham”, in which he argued that parts of this anonymously published play were written by Shakespeare. Earlier that year he had attributed to Shakespeare “A Lover’s Complaint”, a poem published with Shakespeare’s Sonnets in 1609. Now, fifty years on, Jackson returns to these works to sum up his arguments that both should be included in Shakespeare’s canon. One can only admire the determination with which he has pursued this goal. In the intermediate years he has published more notes and essays on authorship attribution than any other scholar (over 200 at the last count) and has become a widely respected figure in this field, regularly innovating in methodology. I have often expressed my admiration for his work, but here I must disagree with him; Shakespeare had nothing to do with either of these works.


The more important claim concerns the authorship of “A Lover’s Complaint”, a 329-line poem that follows the Sonnets in the edition of 1609. The fact that the publisher Thomas Thorpe himself signed the dedication, rather than the author, suggests that the book was printed without Shakespeare’s permission. As Colin Burrow has reminded us, Thorpe was guilty of several dodgy tran- sactions, while his printer, George Eld, misattributed Thomas Middleton’s comedy The Puritan to “W. S.” in 1607, a trick he then repeated for Ford’s Funerall Elegye in 1612. The authenticity of Shakespeare’s Sonnets is not affected, but Thorpe’s ascription does not guarantee his authorship of the “Complaint”. In 1592 Samuel Daniel had followed his sonnet sequence Delia with The Complaint of Rosamond, which became his most popular book, having eleven editions by 1611. Thorpe may have hoped to emulate Daniel’s success; but his volume was never reprinted. However, the mere fact that the “Complaint” was ascribed to Shakespeare in print has given it a special status, and critics have come up with elaborate theories connecting it with the Sonnets. Had the poem appeared in any other context, it would never have been ascribed to him.


As a representative of the “female complaint”, the poem is unusual in several respects. This genre presents the defeat of virtue (here understood as female chastity) and the triumph of male desire, resulting in loss and suffering. Most examples use the narrative of a woman whose beauty attracts a lover but is then left alone, by his death (as in Shore’s Wife by Thomas Churchyard), by the vengeful wife causing her rival to commit suicide (as in Daniel’s Rosamond), or by the man abandoning her (as in the Complaint itself). Uniquely, in Shakespeare’s great poem The Rape of Lucrece, it is the mere report of Lucrece’s virtue and chastity which prompts Tarquin, sight unseen, to pursue and violate her. Also uniquely, this innocent victim feels so polluted that she kills herself. In poems where the woman’s beauty is the cause of her downfall, she blames her “don fatale” for singling her out. Daniel has Rosamond’s ghost tell how the King hired a woman to corrupt her with libertine arguments, rejecting “fame”, or virtuous reputation as “but an Echo, and an idle voice”. But Rosamond also blames herself for being seduced by the promise of sexual pleasure and royal gold, expressing self-disgust from beyond the grave.


The “Complaint” attached to Shakespeare’s Sonnets is very different. A narrator hears a woman “shrieking undistinguished woe” and finds her seated by a riverside, taking from her “maund” or purse many precious items, evidently a lover’s gifts, including “letters sadly penned in blood”, which she bathes in “fluxive tears” before throwing them into the water. We already note the Latinate, Spenserian diction, with heavy alliteration in the style of Churchyard’s poem (reprinted in 1593), all typical of much uninspired verse from that period. But we soon notice other, unusual features. In most, if not all complaint poems it is the woman’s beauty which causes the fatal seduction, but in this poem it is the man’s. The poet gives this ruined woman ten stanzas describing the seducer’s beauty, his “browny locks” which “the wind / Upon his lips their silken parcels hurls” (an instance of the poem’s many clumsy inversions), smooth-cheeked, “maiden-tongued”, skilled on horseback, among other “beautious . . . qualities”. Her effusive praise sounds more like infatuation than sorrow, and at this point the reader should begin to grasp that, far from sympathizing with the woman, the poet is in fact displaying her weakness critically. Having described the many women who fooled themselves that he loved them, she recounts how, by a deliberate choice, she “threw [her] affections in his charmed power, / Reserved the stalk and gave him all my flower”. (This is not a metaphor found in Shakespeare, as Professor Jackson notes, and it leaves unclear who received the stalk.)This poet shows no pity, making her admit that, although she knew many “proofs new-bleeding” of the seducer’s “amorous spoil”, she still pursued him, unable to learn from experience.


At this point in the standard complaint the victim might express regret that she hadn’t listened to good advice, but this one is made to indict her whole sex by asking what woman “ever shunned by precedent” any “counsel . . . ’gainst her own content”, if it means “to be forbod the sweets that seem so good”. The poet shows how the pursuit of pleasure inverts the traditional moral categories, as she is made to exclaim “O appetite, from judgement stand aloof! / The one a palate hath that needs must taste, / Though reason weep, and cry, ‘It is thy last!’” (We never learn what the other hath.) That is, women’s rational faculties are unable to control their appetites. As Ian Maclean showed in The Renaissance Notion of Woman (1980), these are recognizable features of anti-feminine literature. The poet now shifts focus to anatomize the wiles of “The Faithless Lover” (the title of a poem by Thomas Morley), giving the woman over a hundred lines, a third of the poem, to describe her seducer’s tricks. He boasts of all the women he has ruined – as if Don Giovanni were to sing Leporello’s catalogue aria, including the Sister who gave up her religious vows for him (what became of her, one wonders). Having shown his latest target the many rich presents he has received from women, he actually re-gifts them to her. Surely no man was ever so shameless, and no woman ever so blinded?



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