A great many of William Shakespeare's plays like "Romeo and Juliet" are based on a true story. But several more like "Macbeth" are actual history - with a little dramatic license.
MacBheatha mac Fhionnlaigh, (don't try to pronounce it, just move on) was the real King of Scotland from 1040 to 1057. Upon the assassination or regicide of King Duncan I, Macbeth, a great general of noble birth, became King over Duncan's young son Malcolm.
In 1052, Macbeth was involved in a dispute with England for receiving Norman exiles into his court. In 1054, England mounted a very large invasion of Scotland, which culminated in a bloody battle resulting in the deaths of 3,000 Scots and 1,500 English soldiers. It is very likely that the loss of this battle, implied in the Shakespeare play, is why Malcolm III was placed into power by the English as the new Scottish King.
A literal bloodbath of executions and murders plunges Macbeth (Will Makozak) and Lady Macbeth (Beth Williams) into stark-raving madness in MAPA’s production of “Macbeth.”
JACK GRACE photo
Macbeth, who still commanded a loyal army, was finally defeated and killed by Malcolm III's forces near Aberdeen, Scotland in 1057. Upon his death, Macbeth's stepson, Lulach mac Gille Coemgain, was briefly installed by the Macbeth posse as king, but by 1058, after several additional battles for the throne, Malcolm III had secured his place as King of the Scots.
The play is believed to have been written around 1607, with the earliest record of a performance being in 1611 at the Globe Theatre. It was likely written for James I of England, a patron of Shakespeare's acting company, and Macbeth ancestor as a member of the royal Stuart family.
"Macbeth" is easily Shakespeare's darkest and bloodiest tragedy. It tells the story of a once honorable and brave man who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. The ambitious Macbeth, coaxed on by his wife (who repeatedly questions his manhood), murders King Duncan and takes the throne for himself. At first he is celebrated as a hero for removing a tyrannical king who collaborated too frequently with the English, but soon his reign is consumed by constant guilt and paranoia.
In time, he becomes an even more tyrannical ruler than Duncan I, forced into a literal bloodbath of executions and murders in order to remain in power. Pure evil eventually possess Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, plunging them into stark-raving madness.
It is believed that the dark elements of this tale have lead to misfortune and mishaps over the past 400 years. Actors consider it bad luck to mention Macbeth by name while inside a theater, referring to it instead as "the Scottish Play." Legend has it that all this superstition is because Shakespeare used word for word spells of real witches in the text, angering the witchcraft practitioners who cursed the play for all eternity. To say the name of the play inside a theater is believed to doom the production to failure, perhaps causing physical injury or death to cast members. Believe it or not, there are in fact many stories of accidents and even deaths taking place in productions of "Macbeth," dating back to the 17th century. There is, however, a tradition to dispel the curse, so you may want to write this down. If you accidentally say the cursed name, immediately leave the theater, walk around it three times, spit over your left shoulder, say an obscenity and then knock on the door three times. Wait to be invited back in and then for good measure quote a line from "Hamlet."
I sat with director David C. Johnston, dramaturge Carolyn Wright and lead Will Makozak last week to discuss the production.
"Why Macbeth?" I asked.
"I taught it in high school, and it's been on my bucket list to direct for some time. It's accessible to audiences. The plot is very straight forward, not wrapped around several subplots," said Johnston.
When asked about the superstitions he offered, "I'm fascinated by the supernatural aspect of this play, and I'm influenced by a book called Witches & Jesuits, by Gary Wills. 'Macbeth' is a political commentary on King James and the Gunpowder Plot. Wills believes a great disservice is done to the play by not focusing on the supernatural."
Wills, a professor at Northwestern University, also believes the play had greater appeal and significance for audiences in the early 1600s versus today. He suggests it spoke directly to the patron of Shakespeare's company, King James, and his court as a commentary on the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
The Gunpowder Plot was a failed assassination attempt of King James by a group of English Catholics who conspired to detonate a huge load of gunpowder under the Parliament chamber while King James I was delivering an address.
Wills claims Shakespeare's use of witchcraft is a direct connection to King James, who had a deep personal interest in the subject, which many English Catholics of the time would have been aware of. Another legend suggests it was Shakespeare who created the King James Bible, generally rejected by Catholics.
So is the trio superstitious in dealing with the dark side? Johnston proposed, "Perhaps the curse is because the elements of the witches are not properly honored. Maybe it is mitigated by honoring those supernatural elements as opposed to removing them or lessening their importance in a production."
"We've been speaking the name repeatedly for over a year and nothing has happened so far," said Wright as she knocked on the wooden arm of a director's chair.
Poker faced on the subject was Makozak, who will be playing the title role. "I've never seen the show before," he admitted.
"But, because he's never seen it, Will brings a freshness to the role," said Wright.
Makozak talked about his take on the classic role. "Some of his meanness comes from being vulnerable. He thinks he's right, but has doubts and wonders sometimes if he is in fact doing the right thing."
"One can only imagine the pressure of leading a nation and making the right decisions. Macbeth makes me think of Nixon, wandering the White House corridors late at night, wringing his hands and maybe going a little crazy," added Johnston. "He did what he did because it felt right. He wasn't a bad guy, he wanted Scotland for the Scots, I don't want the English here," said Makozak, speaking on behalf of Macbeth.
* MAPA presents "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare, directed by David C. Johnston at Steppingstone Playhouse at the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Just in time for Halloween, Shakespeare's dark tale of witchcraft and murder opens Friday, Oct. 26 and will run at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 11. Tickets are $18 for adults, and $15 seniors and students. For more information, visit mauiacademy.org or call 244-8760.
King Kekaulike High presents "Salem's Daughter," by Craig Sodaro, directed by Chris Kepler, Friday through Sunday, Oct. 28. This spooky horror play is set in Salem, Massachusetts, 1691.
Sarah Brooks, who has been tried as a witch, is sentenced to hang, cursing those who would disturb her rest. The chilling tale of suspense promises to draw the audience in and it doesn't let go until the surprising climax.
Performances are at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays in the King Kekaulike cafetorium. Tickets are available at the door only one half hour before the show, adults $8, students $4.
Seabury Hall presents a tale of the early days of radio in the Midwest, with "The Voice of the Prairie," by John Olive, directed by Sally Sefton.
Performances will be at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 26 through Nov. 3 and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4 in the A'ali'ikuhonua Creative Arts Center at Seabury Hall in Makawao. Tickets are $11 adults, $9 senior citizens and $5 for students. For more information and reservations, call 573-1257.
Catch Canadian-Indian comedian and actor, Russell Peters in performance at the Castle Theater at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26.
Peters is quickly becoming one of the more popular comedians in the world and his stand-up performances have been compared to Eddie Izzard's. His "Notorious World Tour 2012" has been selling out houses from Australia, England, The United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Singapore, South Africa, Norway, India, the Philippines, America and Canada.
This one-night-only event is intended for mature audiences. Ticket prices range from $29.50 to $65. To purchase tickets, visit the MACC box office, call 242-7469 or order online at mauiarts.org.
Congratulations to Maui's own Kit Kat Club Cabaret on their invitation to perform at the 5th annual "Hallowbaloo Music + Arts Festival" in the China Town Arts District of Honolulu, Saturday Oct.27 and Sunday, Oct. 28.
This Halloween weekend street festival is Hawaii's largest music showcase boasting more than 40 bands, DJs, and theatrical groups. This year's "Hallowbaloo" features four outdoor stages and Hawaii's top performance artists for 12 hours of non-stop free entertainment. For more information visit hallowballoo.com.