What are the differences between Macbeth the play and Macbeth the movie, directed by Roman Polanski?What are the differences between Macbeth the play and Macbeth the movie, directed by Roman Polanski?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, it is important to remember that plays and movies are two very different mediums, so of course you need to make some changes to suit the differences. In a sense, to make a film from a play, you have to make your own interpretation of what the play contains, similar to the kind of choices that any director must make if they wish to stage the play. However, what is interesting about the film of Macbeth as directed by Roman Polanski is the focus on death and violence from the first. His version includes the death of the original Thane of Cawdor, as he chooses to jump off and hang himself. The action is accompanied by eerie music that dominates the descent of Macbeth into evil, and there is a lot of blood and gore in the way that Macduff's family is killed, Banquo is killed and then the murderers themselves, having killed Banquo, are themselves dispatched. Another key image in the play that is developed in the film is Macbeth's famous image from Act V scene 7, when he compares himself to a bear being baited:

They have tied me to a stake: I cannot fly,

But, bear-like, I must fight the course.

This image is developed by having an actual bear-baiting during the play, and then the grisly corpse of the bear being carried away, focusing on how Macbeth is, by the end of the play, pictured as a bear being baited, awaiting his death.

These are some of the major points of what I remember from the film, but I do recommend you watch it yourself as it is a very good, sinister interpretation of the text.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth the play reflects the stage conventions of its era, in which male actors played female roles, while Polanski's movie version reflects the experimental zeitgeist of the early 1970s. It also reflects Polanski's own pessimism following the brutal murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson "family." Shakespeare's vision is more optimistic. 

Polanski's version famously filmed Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking in the nude,  something that would never have happened in the original staging, especially with a male actor playing her role. The filmmakers justified Lady Macbeth's nudity through research that showed that people of Macbeth's era normally slept in the nude.

Shakespeare depicts the tyrannous Macbeth as a temporary aberration. His bloodthirsty ambition wreaks havoc for a time, but justice fairly quickly reestablishes itself. In Shakespeare's telling, it is very clear that Malcolm, because of his personal virtues, will enact God's mercy and goodwill. Polanski's version, in contrast,  depicts a universe in which kings repeatedly gain the throne through bloodshed, such that Macbeth's actions are not unusual. This concept is reinforced with an added line near the end of the play describing "unending treachery." In Polanski's version it is Ross, who has an expanded role in the movie as an evil opportunist, who hands the crown to Malcolm. This taints Malcolm from the start.