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Polanski’s Macbeth versus the original play

Firstly it needs to be said that Polanski is a talented director whose movies are veritable works of art. However, when one decides to alter Shakespeare one draws upon oneself a certain attention and criticism in terms of whether that change was necessary to begin with. There are several differences between Polanski’s Macbeth and the original, but the most obvious ones are of course the conversion from soliloquy to monologue for the sake of psychological sense and continuity within the movie. Furthermore, there were quite a few lines that got rewritten, which makes sense bearing in mind that the original play was written in modernly incomprehensible Shakespearean English. Also, quite a few scenes were not shot at all as they were considered trivial in the larger image. There were also changes that can be considered to be flat out mistakes such as the lyrics to the song sung by Fleance at the banquet that Macbeth holds for Duncan at Iverness.

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These lyrics were taken from a poem known as “Merciles Beaute”, written by Geoffrey Chaucer. This is an anachronism as the poem was written three centuries after the chronology of the play. However, if one can forgive such slight oversights, there is much within the Polanski version of Macbeth to be desired and lauded. For instance, the bleak ending seems to offer more of a moral story and message for the viewers than the play ever could. The reason for this is that the play itself is a dramatization of royal interfamilial relations, whereas the Polanski version focuses more on the morality of Macbeth’s actions as being a consequence of his status and role. That is to say, in the original, Macbeth is being judged as an individual but in this version he errs because he is human and it is in his nature.

Furthermore, the Polanski version makes the assumption that all royalty is doomed to fall into the same sequence of traitorous events. That is why the ending to Polanski’s version shows Donalbain seeking the witches’ counsel, presumably to usurp Malcolm in the same manner that Macbeth did to Duncan. This implies that the cycle can and will repeat itself ad infinitum. What’s truly fascinating about this version is that Polanski’s Macbeth is more of a historical work than a dramatic one as it does not try, beyond reason, to tragically paint these historical figures. Rather, it attempts to stay as grounded in reality as possible, thereby displaying the many negative sides to humanity and royalty, specifically in the middle ages.

I suppose that while rewriting plays of this caliber the most important thing to remember is that critics will always wonder whether or not the latter version were necessary, but Polanski does not suffer from this issue, probably because he does such an effective job portraying his characters as both tragic and cinematic. In fact, the cinematic aspect of this movie makes for a very easy to view the movie that can be followed easily and coupled with the simplicity of the language, it’s basically a very effective Shakespeare cover.

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