James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan at the Almeida Theatre
Photograph by Marc Brenner
038 – Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
Published 2nd December
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a tragedy of love, ambition and betrayal, full of relentless energy and shocking violence, infused by an air of the supernatural. With the ghostly witches, the plot of a thriller, and most of all the passionate partnership of the Macbeths and their doomed ambition, this has always been one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. It has some of the most memorable scenes in all of theatre: the witches chanting over their cauldron, the ghost of murdered Banquo haunting Macbeth at the banquet, Lady Macbeth sleepwalking and wringing her bloodless hands, and finally the avenging army approaching camouflaged by the branches of Birnam Wood.
The ‘Scottish play’ was written in 1606, in some way as a compliment to the new monarch and sponsor of Shakespeare’s theatre company, James I or James VI of Scotland. The three “weird sisters” may owe their creation to the king’s well-known obsession with witchcraft, and the story and consequences of a regicide echo the real-life assassination attempt by Guy Fawkes less than a year before.
Since the 17th century the parts of the central couple have attracted the greatest actors of the age, and the story has inspired multiple films, including those by Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski and more recently in 2015 by Justin Kurzel, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the title roles. As we record this episode The Tragedy of Macbeth is also running on stage at the Almeida Theatre in London, directed by Yael Farber, with riveting central performances from James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan.
I am joined in this episode by a familiar face, Professor Emma Smith, who teaches Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, Oxford. Emma was my expert guest in episode 17 of the podcast where we talked about another murderous Jacobean play, John Webster’s wonderful potboiler The Duchess of Malfi.
Professor Emma Smith
Professor Emma Smith teaches early modern drama at Oxford, with a special focus on Shakespeare, on which she has published a number of books, including The Cambridge Guide to Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s First Folio – Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, 30 Great Myths about Shakespeare and most recently This Is Shakespeare published by Penguin last year, and which was a Sunday Times bestseller. Her lectures on Shakespeare are also available as podcasts, which you can find on the Oxford university podcasts pages. She is reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement and most pertinently perhaps for our purposes, she also happens to have written the Arden Student Guide: Macbeth, Language and Writing.
Emma recommended Antigone by Jean Anouilh
The Footnotes to our episode on Macbeth include observations on the unnatural, propulsive pace of the play, and on the origins and interpretations of Shakespeare’s three ‘weird’ sisters.
BECOME A PATRON!
Since I launched The Play Podcast in April 2020, I have managed to eschew any form of advertising or sponsorship, and I would like to continue to produce the podcast without doing so. I therefore invite you to help me to continue to make the podcast by becoming a Patron.
Additional benefits available to Patrons include Footnotes on the plays covered in the podcast, as well as exclusive access to The Play Review.
For details click here
Thank you very much for listening and for your support.
If you are interested in buying the play text or other related books, we’d be delighted if you choose to purchase them by following the links below. We will earn a small commission on every book you purchase, which helps to keep the podcast going. Through our selected partners Bookshop.org and Blackwell’s you will also be supporting independent bookshops. Thank you.
Lynn Nottage’s play Clyde’s is set in a truck-stop diner on the outskirts of Reading, Pennsylvania. This is no ordinary diner though, because the short-order cooks that make the sandwiches that the diner is famous for are all ex-cons. The eponymous proprietor, Clyde, has not offered these characters a second chance out of the softness of her heart, but they discover some unexpected hope for their futures in their communal sufferings and support.
Lynn Nottage has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice, and as we record this episode the European premiere of Clyde’s is on stage at the Donmar Warehouse in London. I am delighted to be joined by the show’s director Lynette Linton, who also directed Nottage’s last play Sweat at the same theatre in 2018.
The poet Percy Shelley called King Lear “the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world”. It is a prodigious play in every sense. There are ten major roles, it has multiple significant plot lines, an elemental stormy setting, intense domestic conflict, and acts of war and violence which roll on with a propulsive tragic energy and conjure a challenging philosophical vision.
As we record this episode a new production directed by and starring Sir Kenneth Branagh arrives in London’s West End.
I am very pleased to be joined in this episode by Paul Prescott, who is an academic, writer and theatre practitioner specialising in Shakespearean drama.
Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge tells the tragic story of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman who works on the docks under Brooklyn Bridge. Eddie lives with his wife Beatrice and 17-year old niece, Catherine, whom they have cared for since she was a child. But Catherine is no longer a child, and her natural desire to pursue her own life will tragically rupture the lives of this family and the close-knit immigrant community of Red Hook.
As we record this episode a new production of A View from the Bridge is touring the UK, and I’m delighted to talk with its director, Holly Race Roughan, about this powerful play.