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To What Extent Do Feel That Roman Polanski's Interpretation Of The Witches Is In Keeping With Shakespeare's Text?

Categories: Shakespeare

William Shakespeare wrote this pre-eminent Jacobean Tragedy for James the 1st around 1603. The play is set in Scotland during the dark ages. Shakespeare set the play in Scotland for the reason that James was Scottish and his ancestors were kings during that time period in Scotland. One of the major themes that can be seen throughout the play is that of witchcraft and evil. This is a primary theme in the play as James the 1st had a great belief in witchcraft and the powers they possessed, he believed witches had conjured up storms and shipwrecked him.

To write the play Shakespeare used the Holinsheds chronicles as his main resource.

This was a book that contained records from the dark ages of Scotland. In the same way Roman Polanski used Shakespeare’s text as his main resource to create his film. This is evident in Polanksi’s version as he sets the play during the same time period Shakespeare set his Mac Beth.

As soon as we open act 1 scene 1, we immediately see the theme of the subversion of nature and malevolence. The witches enter with thunder and lighting in the background and instantaneously begin talking about unsettling weather and war. Shakespeare uses the weather here to create an eerie and unsettling atmosphere.

The witches speak in trohain tetrameter, which is a very fast smooth moving metre. This gives the feeling that they have telepathic powers. In Polanski’s version of the play he uses discordant music that’s sounds like howling and lamentings to set the scene of evilness and treachery.

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He uses a panoramic camera angle that shows us mountains and shows you that the sun is rising. The camera then swoops down like an eagle ready for the slaughter, to the witches were we see that the weather is now dark and tedious. This shows that the witches have influence over forces of nature.

We see this also in the text as they talk about what genre of weather they shall meet in next “In thunder, lightning, or in rain? “. In the stage directions in the text it says that the scene is set at an open place. In the film version we see Polanski setting the scene at a desolate beach with the wind howling in the background. As the witches perform the scene Polanski has them casting a spell using body parts and a hangman’s noose. The noose symbolises a murderer and the witches are using this murderer to entice another murderer Mac Beth into their world of deceit and treachery.

Polanski’s interpretation of this scene is very inventive as at the time there was an ongoing war between islanders and the king, naturally this would mean the battles would be fought near the sea. Therefore there would be a lot of death in the area and the witches need body parts from the dead soldiers to perform certain spells. Shakespeare portrays the witches as three different characters, the first which seems to be the most inquisitive as she asks all the questions “When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain? “.

This tells me that she must not obtain the power to see into the future. The second witch is the most dominant of the group because the others seem to look up to her and ask her where they will be meeting next this proves the 2nd witch must have the power to see into the future. The third witch seems to be and apprentice who has not yet conquered the devil inside her she has some physic ability as she predicts “There to meet with Mac Beth. ” Polanski’s interprets the witches outstandingly in his version. He has the 2nd witch played by an old meagrely dressed blind women.

The women has no eyes yet can see what is occurring around her. A middle-aged woman plays the 1st witch. The 3rd witch is very young and has almost no control over her self as you see her being helped to walk by the other witches. The age range suggests the power and experiences they hold, the 2nd witch being the eldest she holds the most authority and knowledge as the youngest is the most unproven and timid witch. Also in Polanski’s version he gives the 3rd witches lines to the 1st witch, this empathises even more of how the 1st witch has not yet overcome the devil inside her.

The witches say, “Foul is fair and foul is fair hover through the fog and filthy air”. This shows how they can twist and manipulate situations. They then disappear; Polanski has them walking off into the distances then vanishing in a cloud of fog. Polanksi captures this first scene excellently and keeps the same effect we gain from reading the play when you watch the film, of the scene being very unsettling and unnatural. In act 1 scene 3 we see how malicious and spiteful the witches really are, they use their powers to stop a sailors husband sleeping “Sleep shall neither night nor day hang upon his penthouse lid. They do this because the sailor’s wife would give the 1st witch some chestnuts. In this scene we see that although the witches are very powerful they do not have the supremacy to kill “his bark cannot be lost”, they can merely assist a man destroy him self. Polanski incorporates this first part of this scene in with act 1 scene 1. I think this is a good idea as it shows you how malicious and spiteful the witches are, right from the beginning of the play. Further on in the scene as Mac Beth and Banquo are returning from battle they have their first encounter with the witches.

Polanski has Mac Beth and Banquo riding through a storm, the storm gets so bad that they have to take shelter then as soon as they see the witches the rain stops. This shows the witches have used the weather to lure them in to their trap of equivocation and betrayal. Upon sight Banquo is astounded by the witches appearance: “so withered, and so wild in their attire, that they look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth, and yet are on’t? “. The witches intrigue Mac Beth as he says, “speak if you can. What are you? “.

The witches give Mac Beth their prophesies 1st which “all hail Mac Beth, hail to the, Thane of Glamis” 2nd witch “all hail Mac Beth, hail to thee, Thane Cawdor” 3rd witch “all hail Mac Beth, that shalt be king hereafter! “. Immediately he is won over as he states “Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more”. We see this in the film as he chases after the witches to try and learn more. The prophecies are not strictly true as the first two were already reality and the 3rd is self fulfilling as Mac Beth makes it come true not the witches.

These prophecies are used to attract Mac Beth into a dark world of betrayal and treachery. Again Polanski uses unnatural and discordant music to set the scene. He sets the scene at a ruin of a house on a heath and instead of the witches disappearing they run down into the ruins, this differs slightly from Shakespeare’s text as has them disappearing, however I believe this is good as it shows how the witches are not completely unnatural and have some human qualities. Act four scene 1, the final scene that witches appear in.

The scene is set in the pit of Acheron the river of hell in Shakespeare’s text. Polanski sets the scene in the ruins of the house where Mac Beth and Banquo first met with the witches. I feel this change enhances the scene, as it illustrates to the utmost the theme of the subversion of nature. On the outside the ruins of the house look normal nevertheless when you venture inside you delve into a world of iniquity and immortality In this final scene the malefaction and vice of the witches becomes even more unambiguous. This can be seen in the repulsive ingredients they use for their “Hell Broth”.

The language Shakespeare uses to describe the ingredients such as “Finger of birth-strangled babe ditch delivered by a drab. ” And “liver of blaspheming Jew. ” is awe-inspiring as it makes you sick to the stomach but the atmosphere of weirdness and incongruity remains the same. The witches use the prose “double double toil and trouble”. This means that they want this particular spell to be extremely evil as they are doubling and doubling the trouble it will cause. In Polanski’s version I feel he managed to keep the same atmosphere as Shakespeare achieved very well.

He has more than three witches performing the spell this suggests how powerful the spell is. Also he has them all naked which gives the image again that witches have some vulnerability and virtues. When Mac Beth enters we see him asking for more information “I conjure you, by that which you profess, Howe’er you come to know it, answer me. ” The witches say to him “say if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths. Or from our masters. “. In the text they use the potion to conjure up the devil that will show Mac Beth the apparitions.

In Polanski’s version he works to improve on this basic idea, by having Mac Beth drink the potion. The potion acts as a drug and sends Mac Beth into a world of hallucinations. The four apparition Mac Beth sees in the text are “Mac Beth, Mac Beth, Mac Beth beware Mac duff; beware the thane of fife. Dismiss me. Enough” 2nd “be bloody, bold and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man, none of woman born shall harm Mac Beth. ” 3rd “Mac Beth shall never, vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him. “.

These apparitions make Mac Beth feel invincible and immortal however the prophesies are only riddles to trick Mac Beth which show further the equivocation talent possessed by the witches. The final apparition shows a line of kings and the last with a glass in his hand and banquo following, this symbolises how Mac Beth’s descendants will not be kings no matter what he does. Mac Beth realises how the witches have tricked him and he has killed for nothing. Polanski portrays this excellently as we see Mac Beth in A trance actually experiencing the apparitions and just not seeing them.

He uses Malcolm and Donaldbain to tell him the first apparition, their voices seem distorted and distant this helps emphasis the drugged effect he wants to illustrate. He uses a forest and Mac Beth running through trying to catch Malcolm and Donaldbain he then stubbles across kings sitting on thrones. The kings have a mirror and it reflects to the next king until we see banquo laughing at Mac Beth and pointing out at his ancestors who are kings right down until his ancestor James 1st the first king to link the Scottish and English crown together.

The image of Banquo mocking Mac Beth Symbolises Mac Beth’s downfall and illustrates how he has killed for nothing. There is one more scene that the witches appear in, act 3 scene 5. However I believe as do many scholars that Shakespeare did not write this scene. I believe this as Mac Beth consists of a tightly woven plot and this scene does not further the plot in anyway. Also every other scene the witches have appeared in, they speak in trohain tetrameter and why all of a sudden would Shakespeare change this to iambic pentameter. I deem that this scene was merely wrote and added in at later date by a different writer.

After comparing and contrasting Roman Polanski’s film version of Mac Beth to that of the original text. I have come to the conclusion that in Polanski interpretation he has indeed kept very much in line with the text. Polanski has added an even more cathartic feeling to the end of the play than already exists by using the fight scene, which shows that even though Mac Beth knows he is defeated and is going to die he does not surrender and fights like a true hero to the death. The changes he made to his film furthered the excellence that the play already possesses and they were very innovative and creative.

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To What Extent Do Feel That Roman Polanski's Interpretation Of The Witches Is In Keeping With Shakespeare's Text?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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