Short Shakespeare!


January 22

March 5, 2011

in CST's Courtyard Theater

by William Shakespeare
adapted and directed by David H. Bell


A​ct I

The three Weird Sisters meet in thunder and lightening and await Macbeth. At a battle camp, King Duncan of Scotland and his son Malcolm learn that Macbeth and Banquo’s heroic fighting against the rebels was successful. The Thane of Cawdor, who led the rebels, will be executed, and his title given to Macbeth. Returning from battle, Macbeth and Banquo come upon the Weird Sisters. The witches address Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor and the future king; they tell Banquo that it will be his heirs who will rule Scotland. Then they disappear. Ross and Angus arrive to bring the two men to the King, and report that Macbeth has been named Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth and Banquo are stunned that the witches’ prophecy has come true, and Macbeth muses on the second part of their prediction that he will be king. Duncan receives the warriors warmly and arranges to visit Macbeth’s castle. He then names his son Malcolm as heir to the throne—an obstacle in Macbeth’s eyes on his way to seeing the second prophecy fulfilled.

Lady Macbeth reads her husband’s letter telling her of the Weird Sisters’ half-fulfilled prophecy and the King’s imminent visit to their home. Lady Macbeth thinks her husband too weak-spirited to usurp the crown, but thinks that Duncan’s visit will provide them the opportunity. When Macbeth returns home, Lady Macbeth tells him her plan to murder the king as he sleeps that night, a guest in their home. He recoils, and she tells him that she will take charge. Duncan arrives at Inverness where Lady Macbeth, greeting him hospitably, speaks of how much she and her husband owe to their king. Macbeth fears the consequences of murdering Duncan, but Lady Macbeth furiously defends the plan and insults his manhood in now rescinding what she calls an oath. Macbeth concedes to go ahead with the murder that night.

Ac​t II

While he awaits the appointed moment to kill the sleeping Duncan, Macbeth encounters Banquo. They speak of the Weird Sisters, and Banquo warns Macbeth against taking their prophecy seriously. Macbeth dismisses their legitimacy, but agrees with Banquo to speak of them again. Left alone, Macbeth hallucinates a bloody dagger, and fears the dire effects of murdering the king. The bell tolls midnight—the signal for Macbeth to proceed to the king’s bedchamber. Having drugged Duncan’s guards, Lady Macbeth awaits Macbeth’s return from the king’s chamber. He appears with the bloody daggers, and tells her that the deed is done. Furious because the murder weapons remain in his hand and he cannot bring himself to return them to the scene of the crime, she takes the daggers back so that Duncan’s guards appear guilty of the crime. Hearing a knock at the castle door, they rush off to bed.

The knocking continues and a drunken porter admits two noblemen, Macduff and Lennox. Macbeth appears to greet them, pretending to have been awakened by their arrival. Macduff heads to Duncan’s chambers while Macbeth and Lennox talk about the night’s horrific and unnatural storm. Macduff shouts out that the king is murdered. Macbeth goes to investigate, and while he is gone, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, and Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, all gather, awakened by the alarm. Macbeth returns to confirm Macduff’s story and reports to the group that, in his rage he has killed the guards for murdering the king. Malcolm and Donalbain fear that they are no longer safe in Scotland and agree to go their separate ways and flee the country. Macduff and others suspect Malcolm and Donalbain of paying the guards to murder their father, and their flight confirms the suspicions. Macbeth will be crowned king.

Act II​I

Banquo contemplates the truth of the Weird Sisters’ prophecy about Macbeth, and wonders if what they said about him will also prove true. Macbeth joins Banquo to remind him of the royal feast that evening, and in answer to the king’s questions, Banquo replies that he and his son Fleance plan to ride but will return for dinner. Alone, Macbeth wonders whether his accession to the throne was fruitless if Banquo’s heirs are destined to take his place. He plots the deaths of Banquo and his son, sending for two henchmen to do the deed. Macbeth reveals to Lady Macbeth his desire to rid them of the threat posed by Banquo and Fleance, and alludes to their murder, then dismisses her summarily from his company. Three murderers assault Banquo and Fleance. Banquo is killed, but his son escapes.

At the banquet that night, one of the murderers pulls Macbeth aside to report what has happened. When Macbeth returns to the table, he sees the ghost of Banquo take the last remaining chair. He reacts with astonishment and dread. Lady Macbeth explains that her husband is ill, and Macbeth recovers when the ghost vanishes, though is horrified moments later when it reappears. Lady Macbeth urges their guests to leave, and Macbeth tells his wife that he must immediately seek out the Weird Sisters and learn more. Outside the castle, Lennox and another Scottish nobleman discuss Duncan and Banquo’s murders and the flight to England by Malcolm, Donalbain, and now Macduff, to enlist help from King Edward in defeating Macbeth.

Ac​t IV

To respond to Macbeth’s demands for more knowledge, the Weird Sisters conjure up three powerful spirits. One warns him that Macduff is a danger; the second tells him that no man born of a woman may harm him; the third tells him he will not fall until the woods at Birnam come to Dunsinane Castle. Macbeth surmises from this that nothing can cause his downfall. But when he asks if Banquo’s heirs shall ever lay claim to the throne, he is shown Banquo’s line stretching out into an unforeseeable future. The witches disappear as Lennox arrives to tell Macbeth that Macduff has deserted. Macbeth decides to act immediately this time to kill Macduff’s family as retribution. At Macduff’s castle, Lady Macduff is outraged by her husband’s flight, leaving his family unprotected. She tells her young son that his father is dead. A messenger tells her that she and her children are in grave danger and must flee—just moments before the murderers appear, killing all they can find in Macduff’s unprotected castle.

In England, Malcolm tries to assess Macduff’s true loyalties. He slanders his own character, questioning his own fitness to rule Scotland because of his many vices. When Macduff cries out in fear for Scotland’s future, Malcolm places his full trust in him. Ross seeks out Macduff to report that Macbeth has killed Lady Macduff and their children. Macduff swears revenge, and, with Malcolm, plans Macbeth’s downfall.

Act ​V

A doctor and gentlewoman look on as Lady Macbeth, walking in her sleep, tries desperately to wash the memory of blood from her hands. She speaks of the murders of Duncan, Banquo and Lady Macduff.

Outside Dunsinane Castle, a group of Scottish rebels prepares to meet the English army led by Malcolm and Macduff, and converge to attack Macbeth’s defense. Malcolm orders the soldiers to cut branches from Birnam Wood to use as camouflage as they march toward the castle. Bolstered by the Weird Sisters’ predictions, Macbeth waves off news of the gathering troops. When the doctor tells Macbeth that his wife is gravely troubled, he refuses to acknowledge it. Soon after, Macbeth is told that Lady Macbeth has taken her own life, and he hears the news seemingly without feeling. A messenger reports that the woods appear to be moving toward the castle, and Macbeth recognizes this as a part of the prophecy now fulfilled. The English and rebel army approaches the castle, and Macbeth readies himself for battle. In hand-to-hand combat, he slays Siward, affirming that the youth, born of woman, is unable to kill him—just as the Weird Sisters prophesized.

Macduff now challenges Macbeth. Macbeth, guilty of the murders of Macduff’s family, urges him to turn away. Macduff reveals that he was removed from his mother’s womb, and therefore not, in fact, born of a woman. Macbeth understands at last the witches’ equivocation, and dies by Macduff’s sword. With Macbeth’s severed head, Macduff hails Malcolm the new king. Malcolm decrees that all his supporters be made noblemen to celebrate Macbeth’s defeat.

– Contributed by the CST Education Department

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