Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
Picture This! Shakespeare: Macbeth by Philip Page and Marilyn Petit
Macbeth: A Retelling by Adam McKeown
Macbeth by William Shakespeare, annotated by Burton Raffel
Publication date: from the 1623 Folio, probably first produced in 1606, according to Burton Raffel’s Introduction
Summary: Macbeth, a Scottish baron, and his wife plot regicide after witches predict that Macbeth is to become king. Macbeth is of two minds about the whole affair, but does the deed with the help of Lady Macbeth. They frame the king’s guards, who Macbeth then kills in his supposed outrage at the king’s murder. The king’s sons doubt that the guards are to blame and flee in the fear that they will be next on the murderer’s list. Macbeth uses their escape to spread the story that the king’s sons paid the guard to murder their father and, thus, Macbeth takes over the throne.
Macbeth’s friends and countrymen begin to suspect Macbeth’s guilt. Banquo, who was with Macbeth during the conversation with the witches, received a prediction as well: that it would be his progeny, not Macbeth’s that hold the throne in the future. Macbeth fears Banquo’s suspicion and realizes that if all the witches’ predictions come true, Macbeth has committed murder to benefit Banquo’s son. Macbeth sends ruffians to fix the problem. They kill Banquo but his son escapes.
Banquo’s ghost, visible only to Macbeth, shows up at a banquet, unnerving Macbeth visibly which causes his guests such discomfort that they leave the table.
Macbeth visits the witches again (“double, double toil and trouble”). With visions, they offer some advice (beware Macduff) and assurances (“none of woman born shall harm Macbeth” and “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him”) but they also continue to predict that it will be Banquo’s descendants, not Macbeth’s, who inherit the throne.
Macbeth receives word that Macduff has gone to England to help Malcolm, King Duncan’s son, regain the throne. He sends troops to Macduff’s home where they kill his wife and children.
Lady Macbeth, attended by a maid and physician, is witnessed sleepwalking and obsessively rubbing her hands (“Out, damned spot!”).
Macduff and Malcolm, the prince, march toward Macbeth’s stronghold at Dunsinane with a force of English and Scottish soldiers. They gather in Birnam Wood and order everyone to cut down branches and use them to disguise their presence and number as they proceed across the field to Dunsinane, thus fulfilling the prophecy that Birnam Wood will move against Dunsinane.
The Queen, Lady Macbeth, dies and Macbeth makes this famous speech:
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The battle commences. The castle is lost, but Macbeth fights on, believing that he can not be killed because all men are of women born. Macduff, who demanded of his fellow fighters that he be allowed to kill Macbeth in retaliation for the deaths of his wife and children, seeks out Macbeth and fights him declaring, “Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.” Macbeth is slain, fulfilling the last of the witches’ prophecies about him.
The battle ends. Macduff presents Macbeth’s head to Malcolm with the greeting “Hail, King of Scotland,” a cry that is taken up throughout the castle.
Thoughts: Reading the original play seemed a bit daunting, so I made it easier by reading four versions of Macbeth. The first is a classic, although new to me. Charles and Mary Lamb wrote a book called Tales from Shakespeare, published in 1807. They are short retellings of many plays. “Macbeth” is thirteen pages. To a modern reader, the language of the Lambs seems archaic, but not as archaic as Shakespeare. The Lamb version provided a quick overview of the story.
The other three books, I read concurrently, one scene at a time. I started with the Picture This! Shakespeare version of Macbeth, a graphic novel. Then, I read the relevant chapter in Macbeth: A Retelling by Adam McKeown, part of The Young Reader’s Shakespeare series. According to the library catalog, The School Library Journal deemed McKeown’s retelling suitable for Grades 5 to 10. It’s a large format chapter book with dramatic drawings, sharp angles and expressive faces, by Lynne Cannoy. And, finally, I read the actual play using the one from The Annotated Shakespeare series by Yale University Press, annotated by Burton Raffel.
Armed with three versions, I worked my way through and I have learned it well enough that I can retell it, as above, and to Rick so that he will also be prepared to see the play tonight.
Appeal: Macbeth is a timeless tale of political intrigue interspersed with witches and battle scenes to entertain all of us who like our stories with a dash of adventure.
Have you read Macbeth or seen the play? What did you think?