February 26

March 22, 2015

in CST's Courtyard Theater

by David Greig
directed by Roxana Silbert
from the National Theatre of Scotland
and Royal Shakespeare Company

Playgoer's Guide

The Story of Macbeth

Victorious in battle, Macbeth and Banquo come upon the three Weird Sisters, who greet them with strange prophecies: Macbeth will be named Thane of Cawdor and Scotland’s king, but Banquo will father Scotland’s future kings. Lady Macbeth presses her husband to take destiny into his own hands by murdering King Duncan, a guest in their home that night. In the morning, the king’s body is discovered; Duncan’s sons flee and Macbeth is crowned king.

Macbeth’s thoughts return to the Weird Sisters’ final prophecy—Banquo, not he, will father Scotland’s royal line—and he hires henchmen to slaughter Banquo and his son. The child escapes—and the father’s ghost appears to Macbeth. Tortured by his fears, Macbeth seeks out the Weird Sisters, and once more mistakes their cryptic prophecies as assurance of success. Leading his country toward the abyss of civil war, he orders Macduff’s family murdered, and Lady Macbeth is tormented into madness. His wife’s death is reported to Macbeth before his own fatal confrontation with Macduff.

Macbeth’s Origins in Print and in Performance

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is drawn largely from two stories in Raphael Holinshed’s history, Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, revised in 1587: one of King Duncan and the usurper Macbeth (b. 1005); the other of King Duff, slain by Donwald with the help of Donwald’s ambitious wife. Crowned king in 1603 following Elizabeth I’s 55-year reign, James I of Scotland claimed himself a descendant of Banquo.

Scholars are fairly certain that Macbeth was first performed in 1606 or 1607, soon after the great Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when revolutionaries attempted to overthrow the new government of King James I. The first published text of Macbeth appeared with the first Folio in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. As with a number of Shakespeare’s plays, there is evidence of the work of collaborators, including portions of the Witches’ scenes attributed to Shakespeare’s contemporary, Thomas Middleton.

Dunsinane on Stage

An artistic partnership between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Royal Shakespeare Company launched the development of Dunsinane, which was premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company at London’s Hampstead Theatre in 2010, followed by performances in 2011 in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stratford-upon-Avon at the Swan Theatre. Two years later, Dunsinane began a tour across the United Kingdom. In 2014 the production toured to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Moscow. On its 2015 tour of the US, the company visits North Carolina, Washington DC, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Macbeth on CST’S Stages

Chicago Shakespeare Theater first staged Macbeth as a full-length production in 1992, (with Kevin Gudahl in the title role, and the company’s first international director, Roman Polak) and again in 2009, directed by Barbara Gaines and featuring Ben Carlson and Karen Aldridge. Two CST World’s Stage productions were inspired by Macbeth: Kabuki Lady Macbeth, starring Barbara Robertson, and Marionette Macbeth with Italy’s centuries-old marionette company, Carlo Colla e Figli. Other adaptations staged at CST include MacHomer, a one-man melding of Macbeth and The Simpsons, and numerous Short Shakespeare! plays, including this winter’s 2015 production, directed by Kirsten Kelly. 

Back to Dunsinane

Additional Pages