Macbeth: Act 1 Scene 1, Film Version
In Elizabethan England, witches and the supernatural were a very genuine threat to everyday life. They were recognised as an antithesis to the divinely ordained order of the universe, often attributed with unexplained disease to neighbours and to livestock, as quoted in Act 1, Scene 3 when the second witch notifies the others that she has been ‘killing swine’. The Elizabethan population did not commonly believe that witches were born supernatural beings, rather that they gained their powers by selling their souls to Satan. Indeed, this play was extremely relevant to modern life around the time of its first production. James I was personally terrified yet fascinated by witches after an attempt on his life by Agnes Sampson, a convicted witch. This led to the practice of witchcraft becoming punishable by death. A theme of such forbidden ideas, shrouded in the mystery of the supernatural would surely have horrified those watching the play yet left them intrigued.
The witches embody a malign and demonic intelligence. They utilise this to guide the main themes and characters within the play, notably by their reversal of nature when chanting ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’. These unnatural deeds are reflected in Shakespeare’s depiction of the witches as ‘women with beards’. They are ‘withered’ in appearance and symbolise sterility and death by how they look and the deeds they commit. It can be disputed whether the witches are real, physical beings or a figment of the imagination. Shakespeare’s audiences would have undoubtedly believed in witches, yet his portrayal of the hallucinatory power of the imagination is also compelling.
As director of a new film version of ‘Macbeth’, I have decided to modernise the play in order to make it easier to relate to for modern audiences. Medieval Scotland has become modern day Scotland. I have decided to remain almost entirely faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, changing very few lines. I have cast gypsies in place of witches, as these people are still very much a part of modern culture, yet there is still an air of mystery about them, such as the stereotypical gypsy fortune-teller. I chose Act 1 Scene 1 as it is the first and one of the most important scenes in the play, setting the tone of the play and shaping much of the remaining storyline. I feel it should be presented in a disturbing, chilling way to make a dramatic opening for the film and to unsettle the audience slightly.