My 11 Grade English teacher was Mr. Woods, the teacher that no one wanted to have. He was an imposing figure: Think Ving Rhames, but with a slight Jamaican accent. However, he was the one who put the love of language into my soul, and he did it with Macbeth.
Macbeth is, by far, my favorite Shakespeare play, so I was VERY interested in Joel Cohen’s new adaptation, “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” with Denzel Washington as the lead. One of my favorite directors and one of my favorite actors doing my favorite play? What could POSSIBLY go wrong?
Except it did. First off, the movie excises key bits of dialogue. In Act V, Scene I, Macbeth realizes his scheming has boxed him in, and he has no recourse but to do what he does best, and fight his way out of it.
They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,
But, bear-like, I must fight the course.
That’s not in this version, and it makes Macbeth seem like a weaker person as a result. The biggest problem I have with this version, though, is how Ross is used to advance the plot (big spoilers ahead).
There are a bunch of theories about who the “Third Murderer” was in Act 3, Scene 3. Some say it was Macbeth himself, in disguise, wanting to make sure the deed was done properly. Roman Polanski and others think it Ross, Macbeth’s right-hand man, who came along for the very same reasons. This version adheres to that idea, with a twist. Not only did Ross accompany the murderers, but he was the one who facilitates Fleance’s escape, thus dooming Macbeth to never have an heir inherit the throne.
Ross plays a huge role in this adaptation, far more so that is in the play itself. It’s insinuated rather heavily that Lady Macbeth’s death wasn’t a suicide. Rather, it was Ross who (literally) pushed her over the edge. In the last scene, it’s Ross who hands Macbeth’s head and crown to Macduff, showing how he became literally the kingmaker after Macbeth went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and started seeing things that weren’t there.
I’ll admit this idea is in the original somewhat, as it’s Ross who talks with Malcom and Macduff while those two are in exile. However, by making Ross the power behind the throne, Macbeth is no longer a tragedy of one man’s struggle to control his “vaulting ambition,” but rather a tragedy of a man stabbed in the back by a trusted friend. Shakespeare already wrote a play about that, it was called “Othello.” Actually, he wrote another about being stabbed in the back, it was called “King Lear.”
Macbeth is strong enough to stand on its own. Let’s not turn into something it’s not.