In this essay I will analyse the opening scenes of three versions of Macbeth. The three versions are directed by Orson Welles, Michael Bogdanov and Trevor Nunn. Each expert in their directorial field. The directors brought their own interpretations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The main feature of Orson Well’s interpretaion was the use of black and white film. A feature of Michael Bogdanov’s version was the modern set. He chose to bring the story into the twentieth century and chose a set which reflected this. Trevor Nunn’s interpretation although on film was actually like a theatre production.
In the following paragraphs I intend to show how the directors use of Lighting, set, costume, camera shots, pace, mood and script for the opening scenes will set the tone of the play. The Michael Bogdanov setting has to be the strangest of the lot instead of a dark and misty day, which we expect it, opens with a bright hazy day this confuses us because we expect the opening to be much more moody and dramatic to reflect the evil in the play. There is a panning shot of a junkyard then we zoom down into it where the opening scenes are set.
By setting the play in a junkyard the director hopes to portray the witches, who are the main characters in the opening scene, seem separated from civilisation. Objects like burning cars, lying about the yard, help to create the feeling of chaos and disorder. The Orson Wells version of Macbeth has been filmed exclusively in black and white and this helps to accentuate the supernatural aspect of the film. Black and white film helps to create a more dramatic mood especially when filming at night. It makes the set look more menacing. The opening scene shows the witches gathered around a boiling cauldron and the floor is shrouded in mist and fog.
This setting contributes to a feeling of instant evil. This dramatisation seemed to me to be the closest to what I’d expect of a dramatic play like Macbeth. The Trevor Nunn setting is simple in comparison with the others. It starts with a brief look at king Duncan looking aged and weak at prayer. In the background we can hear the witches shrieking and King Duncan’s prayers are drowned out by the noise. Nunn uses this scene to emphasise the comparison of good and evil. Nunn also has a circular stage with minimal props and background so that the audience will focus more on the witches’ dialogue rather than on the props.
I found that the lack of props made this more like theatre. The green lighting helps create a supernatural atmosphere. Michael Bogdanov has chosen to portray the witches in a more modern environment than the other two directors. The play opens in a scrapyard. Bogdanov has tried to imagine how the opening scenes would be set if Shakespeare had written this play today rather than in the sixteenth century. He has achieved this by dressing the witches’ rags, making them of mixed race and of varying ages. This looks too modern in comparison with the other plays.
The witches talk confidently and are their conversations are loud. They do not appear to be scared that outsiders may hear them. The expressions on their faces are sinister and the talk is of when they shall meet again. The characters seem to be very individual. Orson Wells opens his scenes with the witches. They play an important role in the opening scene by helping to depict an atmosphere of evil. Orson Wells has the witches portrayed as withered old hags. The scene opens with them on a cliff with no backdrop or landscape. We never see their bodies only their faces are shown as silhouettes.
The witches are gathered around a boiling cauldron where they are whispering to each other. We can’t understand what they are saying because they have been directed to whisper and mumble. The speech is made to sound like the chanting of a spell. At the end of the scene they manage to turn a lump of clay into a clay baby which they call Macbeth in a voodoo like way. This part of the play serves to draw the audiences attention so that they are drawn into the drama anxious to know what happens next. Trevor Nunn portrays the witches as being dressed in rags.
One of the witches appears to be experiencing spasms. The close up shot shows her spitting and sweating as if speech and physical effort are difficult for her. Each witch appeared to be slightly different as if to suggest that they each had their own character and personality and that this would inevitably fulfil a particular role within the play. These features allowed the audience to identify with each character separately. The one with the turban looked like she was probably going to be the dominant witch and this would have given the audience a feeling that this witch was the powerful one.
The scene was made more powerful by the use of screaming. Screaming was supposed to make the witches seem even scarier and the air permeated with evil and a sense of the supernatural. The music stops as soon as the witches enter and is replaced with lots of thunder and lightning sound effects. Bogdanov starts with a fast drum beat to set the pace he has used many camera angles. He uses a wide camera lens to make a good panning shot of the junk yard and surrounding landscape. He then zooms down into the junk yard we then get a brief shot of each witch independently saying there lines.
The audience is then focused on each witch and is able to take in the full impact of the dialogue. There is no artificial lighting the set is lit naturally by daylight. Orson Wells uses only a few camera angles the camera focus on the cauldron in the middle of the three witches. He shows many close ups of the cauldron and sets the camera above the cauldron so that all the audience see is the cauldron with the witches hands inside it. Clever use of light filtering through from the back of the set and from the fire and music and the diagetic sound of the cauldron bubbling contribute to feeling of eeriness.
Nunn has used several camera techniques to achieve an eerie sense to the scene. He has used slow panning of the camera from one side of the set to the other showing the characters individually. The characters are standing still like statues and the witches are whispering. Whispering, itself creates a feeling of secretiveness and the audience subconsciously will feel compelled to be drawn into the play in order to find out what the secret is. When the witches start screaming the camera joins in with the action by introducing lots of quick close up shots changes between them and Duncan.
Non diegetic sound like the organ music makes the scene feel religious almost in a Gothic way. Good and evil are represented at the same time in the scene by the mutterings of Duncan’s prayer and the wailing of the witches. Duncan representing good has been lit by a bright hazy light. Lighting is used to represent the evil witches by lighting them from behind making their faces appear darker. As they turn their faces appear more angular in the silhouette the lighting creates almost as if they had ugly abnormal faces. Bogdanov’s use of dialogue is of a more fast pace.
The characters speak quickly and loudly. He stuck more to Macbeth’s original lines. The dialogue for the witches was more shared between them rather than create a dominant character to speak all the lines. This created some interest for the audience, as their eyes would have been jumping from character to character as each spoke. Orson Wells has made many alterations to Macbeths original script he has added extra lines for the three witches to mumble as well as taking some out like Graymalkin’s and Paddock’s speeches.
He probably wanted to focus on the witches more for effect and therefore gave them extra lines so that they would be on stage for longer but found Graymalkin and Paddock’s lines slightly irrelevant to the drama. Trevor Nunn changed the original script by moving the scenes around. He chose to introduce the character of Duncan at the outset rather than in a later scene. There were noticeable changes to the words the witches spoke he chose to accentuate part of the speeches by repetition. For example he made the witches repeat the name Macbeth.
The witches were characterised into ‘the witch who asked the questions’, the witch who answered the questions and the witch who never spoke but gave the feeling of being psychic this meant the lines had to be changed to accommodate these characterisations. In conclusion I think the most successful version was Orson Wells interpretation and this was because he chose to use black and white film. He made the best use of language, set, lighting, and sound effects which created the best sense of the supernatural and therefore captured the spirit of the play.
I think the worst interpretation and the one I least liked was the Trevor Nunn one. This was because of the stark setting, minimal props and the language did not flow well and the pace was too slow and I got bored. I thought Michael Bogdanov’s interpretation was very innovative. It was interesting to see how he brought the play into a 20th century setting. The pace was fast which kept me interested. Bearing in mind that today we don’t believe witches exist he managed to convince us that they were real by the costumes they wore and their acting.