What are some differences and similarities between Shakespeare's Macbeth and Great Performances: Macbeth with Patrick Stewart?Do you think the film helps the original meaning of the play? Or do you...

What are some differences and similarities between Shakespeare's Macbeth and Great Performances: Macbeth with Patrick Stewart?

Do you think the film helps the original meaning of the play? Or do you think it hurts it? 

Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most striking difference between Shakespeare's text and the PBS version starring Patrick Stewart is, of course, that the latter is radically modernized with costumes and settings. Most of the male characters in the modernized version are wearing military uniforms, and they all carry guns instead of swords. The most striking similarity is that the PBS version preserves more of Shakespeare's beautiful language than any of the other film adaptations of the play. The Roman Polanski adaptation, for instance, really butchered the dialogue in favor of showing scenery and action, including lots of men on galloping horses as in a Kurosawa epic. The PBS version was probably the longest film adaptation of Macbeth ever made, which allowed the screenwriter to retain a great deal of Shakespeare's dialogue.

I think the PBS version of Macbeth was an excellent idea because it makes the events seem much closer to the viewer and therefore more significant. We understand that men don't change very much over time. They are grown-up boys playing Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians.

The idea of presenting Shakespeare in modern costume was not new. I believe Orson Welles presented a stage version of Hamlet in modern costume in New York many years ago. It's funny how quickly the viewer can get used to seeing Shakespeare's characters wearing modern clothing, including uniforms and suits with neckties, even though they are speaking old-fashioned English. It is refreshing to see these modernized versions, but one would not like all the productions of Shakespeare's plays to be updated in the same way. It is also pleasing to be able to travel backwards in time and feel what it was like to live in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Roman Polanski had a lot of outdoor scenes to "open up" the play. The Patrick Stewart version did just the opposite. Nearly everything was shot indoors and had a claustrophobic effect. The three witches become three nurses taking care of wounded soldiers. Lord and Lady Macbeth travel to and from their upstairs chambers by an elevator.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Patrick Stewart film adaptation of the play is wonderful. Although there are obvious changes, most notably the updated setting and costumes, it still conveys the emotional intensity of the play as well as the decline of the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth effectively.

One change that really hits home takes place during Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene: in the movie, she wanders blindly into the scene, carrying a large flashlight. We watch with the doctor and gentlewoman as she desperately tries to scrub the blood she thinks she can still see and smell on her hands. When that doesn't work, she reaches under the sink and pulls out some kind of cleaner or solvent, pouring it onto her hands. Steam rises from them as the chemical appears to burn her skin as she continues rubbing them together. Such a change conveys the extent of her desperation in a memorable, if appalling, way without having to alter Shakespeare's language at all. This is the kind of change the film adaptation makes: small but incredibly effective at conveying the play's mood and themes.