How would different audiences interpret the dramatic conventions that are written below for Act 1, scene 5 of Macbeth?The dramatic conventions are: cast lady macbeth as a man; allow audience to...

How would different audiences interpret the dramatic conventions that are written below for Act 1, scene 5 of Macbeth?

The dramatic conventions are: cast lady macbeth as a man; allow audience to voice their opinion; and have lady macbeth talk direcly to the audience in her soliloquies.

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shakespeareguru eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hi peace786!  Since I am the one who gave you those conventions, I'll try to show how different audiences might react.  Let's look at audience reaction instead of interpretationInterpretation is a more scholarly, thoughtful process that usually happens when someone reads something.  An audience is generally reacting to what happens in the moment during a performance, rather than pausing to reflect and interpret.

I will also say that the conventions are universal tools, not special effects that one might employ in this scene or that.  Conventions are meant to be in place for an entire performance of a play.  For example, having Lady Macbeth read her letter from Macbeth to the audience and discuss her scheme with them, in effect, is the same convention as, in Act II, scene i, having Macbeth actually ask the audience "Is this a dagger which I see before me...?"  So, it makes more sense to discuss the overall effect of the convention on the audience, rather than the effect in one scene alone.

I'll use a couple of different examples of Modern Day audiences to give you an idea of how these conventions could be received today.

Let's start with an audience of school kids.  If one staged a production of Macbeth with a man playing Lady Macbeth, they would probably find this funny.  It would be hard, I think, for them to get over the oddness, since this sort of non-literal casting is not something that our society is used to.  However, when school kids are given permission to interact verbally with the performance, they generally jump right in.  In my experience directing touring productions of Shakespeare for school performances, this is the single most successful convention to use.  Students do far less withdrawing to talk to their neighbor and are much more engaged in the action of the play.  One of the main ways to let the audience know that it is OK to voice their opinion and participate in the play is through having the actors speak directly to the audience in their soliloquies.  So, the use of these two conventions goes hand in hand.  By and large, the overall reaction of school audiences (even as young as grades 5 or 6) is that the play is more fun and easier to understand with these conventions--even though the text is 100% Shakespeare.

What about a much more mature audience, maybe one  that has been attending theatre performances for quite a few years?  Well, I would say that there reaction is much more skeptical.  They have attended theatre, with its twentieth century conventions for quite some time.  And while they probably would react in a more open-minded  way(less giggling and laughter) to the man cast as Lady Macbeth, they would be much less likely to jump into the interactive atmosphere of characters directly addressing them and being encouraged to be vocally involved in the play.  This is natural, however.  It isn't really that easy to give up one's conditioning.  That said, I have seen older audiences warm up to these conventions and allow themselves to have more fun at a Shakespeare play because of it.  They often react with a sense that they "understood it" better as well.

The link below gives more information on Modern Day audience reactions to Original Staging conventions.


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