April 25

June 24, 2018

The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare

by William Shakespeare
adapted & directed by Aaron Posner and Teller

Playgoer’s Guide

The Story of Macbeth

The Weird Sisters await Macbeth and Banquo as the two warriors, victorious from battle, return home. On the heath, they greet the two men with strange prophecies: Macbeth will be the Thane of Cawdor and King, but it will be Banquo who fathers Scotland’s future royal line. Soon the men hear word that the first part of the prophecy is now true: the treasonous Cawdor is to be executed, and Macbeth’s bravery earns him the new title from the grateful king, Duncan.

Learning of Duncan’s visit to their castle, Lady Macbeth presses her husband to take destiny into his own hands; the next morning, the king’s bloody body is discovered in his bed. Fearful for their lives, Duncan’s sons flee and Macbeth is crowned king. Among Scotland’s warriors, Macduff decides that he does not trust and will not follow the new king.

Macbeth cannot stop thinking about the Weird Sisters’ last prophecy: it will be Banquo, not he, who fathers Scotland’s royal lineage. Macbeth hires henchmen to slaughter Banquo and his son Fleance, but the boy escapes. At their coronation banquet that evening, the ghost of Banquo appears before a guilty king.

Tortured by his fears, Macbeth seeks out the three Weird Sisters once more, and, once more, mistakes their cryptic prophecies as assurance of success. Their paths covered in blood, Lady Macbeth is tormented into madness as Macbeth leads his country toward the abyss of civil war. And the Weird Sisters’ prophecies prove true, each more dark and dire than the last.

Its Origins

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is drawn largely from two stories in Raphael Holinshed’s history, Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, revised and reprinted 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. Six centuries later, after the death of Elizabeth I, Scotland's King James VI ascends to England’s throne in 1603 as James I—claiming himself a descendant to Banquo, the man who Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters prophesize will father England’s future line of kings.

In Print

Scholars are fairly certain that Macbeth was first performed in 1606, 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—printed seven years after Shakespeare’s death. There is evidence in the first Folio text (as in a number of Shakespeare’s other plays) of the work of collaborators, and indeed portions of the witches’ scenes are attributed to one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Thomas Middleton.

In Performance

Macbeth is a play shrouded in mystery and superstition so rife that, to this day, some fear uttering its name in the theater. In 1660 with the end of the Commonwealth and the reopening of London’s theaters, an adaptation (penned by Shakespeare’s godson William Davenant) elevated the honorable Macduff to the play’s central character; his godson’s script ousted Shakespeare’s Macbeth from the stage for nearly a century.

Seminal productions have since included Orson Welles’ all-black production of Macbeth in 1936—known as the “voodoo” Macbeth—set in nineteenthcentury colonial Haiti. Trevor Nunn’s celebrated 1976 production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, was staged within a small chalk circle, signaling the play’s demonic associations. Macbeth played on Broadway in 2008, with Patrick Stewart in the title role. The play has inspired many television and film adaptations, including Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957) set in medieval Japan, as well as gangster movies, like Joe Macbeth (1955) and Men of Respect (1991).

Chicago Shakespeare Theater first staged Macbeth in 1992, starring Kevin Gudahl in the title role and directed by the Theater’s first international director, Roman Polak. Macbeth returned to CST’s mainstage in 2008, staged by Artistic Director Barbara Gaines, starring Ben Carlson and Karen Aldridge. The play has been staged in three CST WorldStage adaptations: Kabuki Lady Macbeth, starring Barbara Robertson; Marionette Macbeth, with Italy’s venerable marionette company Carlo Colla e Figli; and, as part of Shakespeare 400 Chicago’s yearlong festival in 2016, a concert version from Belgium’s Theater Zuidpool. CST presented MacHomer, a one-man version of The Simpsons performing Macbeth, created and performed by Rick Miller in 2006. In addition to a number of abridged productions for student and family audiences over Chicago Shakespeare’s history, Posner and Teller’s staging will be the Theater’s third full-length production of Macbeth.

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