How do the directors Trevor Nunn and Roman Polanski present Act I scenes I to IV of Macbeth to their audiences? In your work you must make reference to the techniques used by each director to create atmosphere and a sense of good and evil. You should pay special attention to the portrayal by each director of the character of the witches, Macbeth and Duncan.
In this essay I am going to explore the different representations of the Shakespeare play Macbeth by directors Trevor Nunn and Roman Polanski.
The scenes I will focus on are act I scenes I until act I scene 4. In these scenes I will pay specific attention to the Witches, Macbeth and King Duncan to show how the good and evil atmosphere in the play affected the events that befall.
The witches are going to play a strong part in my essay because I believe that the supernatural is a major part of the play’s concept.
The witches have a profound affect on Macbeth and so the plot is greatly governed by their actions. The atmosphere they produce has a great affect on the audience
The atmosphere is important because it gives the audience strong first impressions of what the play in trying to show. The portrayal of good and evil interlink with the atmosphere and are important in showing how Macbeth starts off with noble thoughts and is brought to corruption by the three witches.
I will start off by looking at how Trevor Nunn expressed his interpretation of the Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Trevor Nunn makes the play into a stage performance. The whole play is summed up with Trevor Nunn’s comment:
‘I want to photograph the text’
In my opinion I think this is just what he did. The sound effects were made openly by the actors and there are no scenic effects, just groupings and close-ups in coloured light. This gave the play the perfect setting for the atmosphere that Shakespeare was trying to portray, he wanted a strong feeling of uneasiness and the supernatural, and the close set gave just this.
After the play is introduced the 12 actors in the cast appear to be sat in a circle. A bright light behind illuminates each character so that each of the actors’ faces appear to be light or dark or in some cases only half in shadow. Trevor Nunn used this opening as a way to give the audience a quick insight into which of the characters has an evil side and which are good.
The scenes were performed in the centre of the circle while members of the cast who were not involved with the scene watched from outside. This works well because of the positioning of the lights; they illuminate the participating actors only and the light does not shine on the other members of the cast. The lighting arrangement on the stage allows the cast to appear to vanish. An example of this technique is after the witches have meet Macbeth: they appear to disappear in to thin air when in fact they have just stepped out of the light.
The play involves many close-ups and extreme close-up shots. This is because there is no scenery in the background, unlike Polanski’s version, so the cameras pay specific detail to facial features and body movement. The camera often shows a group of people before zooming in on the face of a particular character so as to show the circumstance s/he is in. This helps develop the plot and give more depth to the different characters and their personalities.
The costume in the play is very important in expressing good and evil. The costumes are mainly black and white because of this; white being associated with pureness and black being associated with evil. The white of King Duncan’s costume resembles purity and holiness while the green/black costumes of the witches resemble flagitiousness and the unnatural. During Act 1 Scene 4, Macbeth and Banquo help King Duncan to his throne where the Royal Crown is placed upon his head. The Crown is a very important stage prop because it reminds everyone that King Duncan is a powerful character. It is very important to the plot because it is Macbeth and Banquo who support the crown and Macbeth kills both Banquo and Duncan to get to it. King Duncan also possesses a crucifix which he wears around his neck.
Although he appears to be holy, the crucifix shows the audience that his faith in God. However, there is also a possibility that Duncan wears the crucifix because he fears the supernatural and he believes that the crucifix will protect him. At the beginning of the play we see that Macbeth is wearing a black costume. This means that the audience does not know whether he is noble or corrupt and this adds suspense to the atmosphere. I think that the use of this co-ordination is very good because it allows the audience to use the colour sense for good and evil to aid in their understanding of the plot.
The atmosphere is very important in the play. It keeps the audience interested and adds an extra depth to the plot. The stage set creates a feeling of claustrophobia that adds to the evil and unnatural. When they are accompanied by the fact that the cast are wearing monochrome costume and the black, featureless background the atmosphere is very strong and mystical. The atmosphere with the witches is especially powerful. The witches speak using rhyming couplets and to a different rhythm to the rest of the play. There is a chorus in which they all join in:
‘Double, double, toil and trouble: Fire, burn and cauldron, bubble’
Act 4 Scene 1
The alliteration with the repeated ‘d’ and ‘b’ sounds make the chant sound very powerful and is very catchy.
The supernatural aspect in Shakespeare’s Macbeth is very important and Trevor Nunn has captured it very well. By using the stage techniques previously explored, he captured the battle of good and evil between the witches and King Duncan. At the beginning of the play, we hear the witches scream of chaos against Duncan’s words of prayer. This strong image of good versus evil and the strong supernatural actions of the witches gives the play a powerful start. The lighting position he uses allows the witches to suddenly vanish giving a strong supernatural effect. Later in the play, Lady Macbeth calls on the supernatural through the earth (this has strong connotations with the Devil’s presence in the Earth) using methods that would have been thought suspicious in Shakespeare’s time.
In Trevor Nunn’s version of Macbeth, Macbeth appears to be young, valiant and noble. However as the play progresses we are able to see the changes occur in him. This change is much more apparent because of the fact that Macbeth starts off so innocent – we are able to see the change more clearly. Banquo appears to be older than Macbeth, a veteran maybe, who shows little fear and appears at the start of the play to be a noble man. He is dressed in slightly less dark clothing which inter-links with the evil/good dress code.
Roman Polanski’s version is a very different interpretation of Macbeth. The most noticeable difference is that he has presented his rendering as a motion picture. More colour and music is used to aid the portrayal of the plot to the audience and there is much more background detail. The film shows a lot of strong images, for example, the witches on the beach at the prelude of the play. The ability to edit scenes using computers and the possibility of picture enhancing allows a much more realistic play that the people of today can deal with more easily. The realism of the film helps the audience understand the plot using visuals, which are much more effective in assisting cognition.
The play starts off with the credits appearing with battle sounds playing. The camera appears to be moving towards the battle scene but it never gets there. The first scene is the battlefield, littered with bodies and burning remains of chariots, soldiers are roaming around salvaging what they can. When the witches appear on a deserted beach, they perform a ritual involving blood, spit and a severed hand. They bury them in the sand and perform their opening lines from Act 1 Scene 1.
Roman Polanski uses many effects that can only be used in a motion picture. The use of mid shots and long shots are possible because Polanski’s Macbeth has a very detailed background. The different screen shots are combined using wipes and fades that can only be used in films. Polanski has used special effects to emphasis the circumstance, for example, music or sounds of the event like marching and battle sounds. Zoom is often used to show up more detail in the background or foreground. For example, in the background the zoom is used to give the effects of expanse on the beech and of the countryside. In the foreground the zoom can focus on different relevant facial features such as eye shifting. Extreme close-up shots a give very good aspect view of important actions that are too difficult for the audience to spot from mid or long shots. The camera angle varies throughout to make the most of different views, this helps maximise the impact of the film on the audience.
The atmosphere in this version is not as intense as in the Trevor Nunn version. This is partially due to the expanse in which the scenes are set and very little of the claustrophobia that is entrapped in the Nunn version exists in this environment. The special effects that have been utilised by Polanski enhance the effect of the atmosphere. Though the same text is used, visual detail like different backgrounds helps stimulate the eyes as well as the ears. Also, the sound affects used by Polanski are much more intricate than Nunn’s because he has used computer effects for the battle sounds. The music he uses adds depth to the actions the cast are performing and plays a major part in boosting the strength of the atmosphere.
The lighting does not play as large a part as in Trevor Nunn’s Macbeth. However, the different angles at different times of day hitting the surrounds can cause effects that are very clever. For example, near the beginning of the film the witches are on the beach and when they depart, the light reflecting off the water makes it appear as if they are walking on water (The supernatural affect of this would have been good). From what I can tell, no artificial light is used, unlike in Trevor Nunn’s where artificial light is all that is used.
The costume in Polanski’s version is very extensive. Each individual character has their own dress colours; they appear to wear what they want. The Knights wear armour and the women wear colourful dresses, the men wear trousers and boots and the children wear similar smaller versions. The witches had to be portrayed as dilapidated so their clothes are ragged and shabby. One of the witches wears a mask and make-up to make her appear more of a reject of society, a freak. Modern audiences need special effects like this to keep them interested in the film. Macbeth and Banquo appear younger in this version. Macbeth appears to be a valiant young man who has now proved himself in battle while Banquo fights beside him having already proven his valour.
After having analysed both productions, I believe that they are both very strong interpretations of Macbeth. I found that Polanski’s version was more easily understandable because there were many things providing the outline of the plot both orally and visually. However, Nunn’s was more moving because he captured the atmosphere that I think Shakespeare wanted to encapsulate when he wrote the play.
I think that Nunn expressed his interpretation very strongly. His statement about wanting to photograph the text was defiantly what he set out to do and what I think he achieved. Roman Polanski swapped a couple of the scenes around to try and help the audience understand more easily. However, Trevor Nunn kept to the text indefinitely. This is backed up by the fact that he stated he wanted to ‘photograph the text’.
I think that they both portrayed Macbeth as I had imagined he would have been. He appears to start of a picture of heroics, which gradually changes for the worse. They are both young and have proven their honour in battle.
The theme of good and evil was very well portrayed in Trevor Nunn’s version. The witches created more of an atmosphere than in Polanski’s and the lighting worked very well in helping the witches appear as if they were disappearing. However, Polanski did a very good job of creating an evil atmosphere using a motion picture. He was able to use computers and colour more vividly.
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