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Macbeth

Jack Young, Artistic Director
And
Miller Outdoor Theatre
Present

Macbeth
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jack Young
July 31, August 2, 4, 6, 8

Designers/Production

Executive Director, Voice and Text Coach

Jim Johnson*

Scenic Designer

Jonathan Middents

Costume Designer

Margaret Crowley

Lighting Designer

Matt Schlief

Sound Designer

Jack Young*

Production Stage Manager

Rachel R. Bush*

Stage Manager

Rachel Dooley-Harris*

Literary Director

Dr. Robert Shimko

Fight Director

Adam Noble*

Props Master

Abigail Kehr

Associate Dramaturg

Rachel Aker

Associate Dramaturg

Tyrell Woolbert

Associate Dramaturg

Troy Loftin

Cast List (Alphabetical Order)

Lennox

Camron Alexander

MacDuff

Leraldo Anzaldua

Bloody Catpain/Seyton

Josh Clark

Witch

Kat Cordes

Porter/Second Murderer

Greg Cote

Young Macduff

Jackson Doran

Second Apparition

Hazel Egging

Lady MacDuff/Gentlewoman/Fight Captain

Amelia Fischer

Duncan/Doctor/Ensemble

Adham Haddara

Witch 1/Murderer 1/Soldier

Elissa Levitt

Ross

David Matranga*

Donalbain/Young Siward/Banq. Ld/Apparition

Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott

Macbeth

Adam Noble*

Witch

Suzelle Palacios

Malcolm/Apparition

Kyle Powell

Lady Macbeth

Tracie Thomason

Banquo

Mirron Willis*

Fleance

Wesley Whitson

*A proud member of Actors’ Equity Association.

Plot Synopsis for Macbeth

After a gruesome battle, Duncan, the King of Scotland, enters with his sons Malcolm and Donalbain. A bloody captain shares the news that the Thanes Macbeth and Banquo successfully routed a rebellion. This news is reinforced by the Thane of Ross, who tells the King that Macbeth and Banquo have succeeded in turning the tide of the battle, repelling two invading armies. Duncan declares that Macbeth should be awarded the lands of the traitorous Thane of Cawdor.

After combat, Macbeth and Banquo encounter three witches who prophesize that Macbeth will be made Thane of Cawdor (a greater position than he currently holds) and then crowned king of Scotland, while Banquo will father a line of kings but never be King himself. After the witches disappear, the Thanes of Ross and Lennox reach Macbeth and inform him that Duncan has made Macbeth the new Thane of Cawdor. The King bestows blessings on the warriors and declares that his own eldest son, Malcolm, shall become next in line for the throne.

Lady Macbeth receives a letter from her husband, expressing his uncertainty of the possible outcomes of his new title and the witches’ prophesy.  She chooses to call on dark spirits to bolster her own resolve, and is rewarded with the safe return of her husband. She discloses a plan to murder Duncan, but Macbeth puts off the discussion for a later time.

Duncan and his lords come to the castle, Inverness, where Lady Macbeth welcomes them in for a great banquet. Macbeth slips away, pondering the ramifications of killing the King. Lady Macbeth confronts her husband about his uncertainty, eventually strengthening his resolve. She succeeds in persuading Macbeth to kill the King that very night and to place the blame on Duncan’s men, whom they would get blackout drunk at dinner.

Banquo and his son Fleance take a late night walk where they encounter Macbeth.  Macbeth and Banquo agree to talk later about the witches’ prophecies. After Banquo and Fleance retire, Macbeth is captivated by a vision of a floating dagger which leads him to Duncan’s room.

Lady Macbeth keeps her worries at bay by talking herself back through the assassination plans. Macbeth enters and tells her that it is finished. He has killed King Duncan. Supernatural voices haunt him, but Lady Macbeth is able to steer him away to clean the condemning evidence off their bloody hands.

The next morning, Macduff arrives to escort Duncan back to his own castle but discovers the slain king.  Macduff’s alarms bring out the entire household.  In the frenzy of the alarms, Macbeth kills both of Duncan’s guards, pleading that it was “in his rage,” and pointing the blame on them. The Thanes leave to discuss what they should do next.  Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan’s sons, agree that they are not safe in a house of murder, and choose to flee the country.

Newly crowned as King, Macbeth remembers the witches’ prophecy about Banquo’s sons becoming kings.  He enlists the help of cutthroats to assassinate Banquo and his son, Fleance. Lady Macbeth discovers Macbeth wrestling with his conscience.  He succeeds in banishing his sympathetic feelings by invoking powers of darkness.

The murderers attempt to kill Banquo and Fleance; they succeed in cutting down the father, but the son escapes in the chaos of the night.

Macbeth hosts a banquet for his lords, but during the feast, the ghost of Banquo appears to him. Macbeth’s panic and striking out at a specter none of the others see destroys the evening’s ceremony, eroding his status with the nobles. He resolves to push forward by taking even stronger actions, starting by tracking down the witches and demanding more news of the future.

*Intermission*

Macbeth visits the witches, who summon apparitions telling him to beware Macduff, a Scottish nobleman who was suspicious of Macbeth’s fast ascension to the throne. A second apparition shares the news that Macbeth can only be harmed by someone not born of woman; a third reveals that he will never be defeated until the forest of Birnam moves up the hill to Macbeth’s castle at Dunsinane. Macbeth demands one wish too many and is shown a line of Kings, all sons of Banquo. Lennox arrives, informing him that Macduff has fled to England to join Malcolm. Macbeth decides to take this opportunity to seize Macduff’s castle and murder his family while he is away.

The Thane of Ross visits Lady Macduff at Fife to reassure her that her husband is away on secret business.  Shortly after Ross departs, a messenger tries to warn Lady Macduff and her child about the incoming attack, but he is too late, and the pair is killed. In England, Macduff vows revenge against Macbeth and convinces Malcolm to lead an army against the Scottish king.

A gentlewoman leads a doctor to a private spot where they can see Lady Macbeth sleepwalks through the castle, making unconscious confessions of the murder of Duncan and Banquo.

Macbeth receives reports that most of the Thanes have deserted him, yet he holds on to the promises of the witches. A messenger arrives with news that ten thousand English troops have marched upon the castle. In order to disguise their true numbers, Malcolm orders his troops to cut down limbs from the trees in the Birnam forest and attach them to their helmets before marching onwards to battle.

Macbeth’s servant Seyton informs him that Lady Macbeth has died, but there is little time to mourn before a new messenger claims that he saw Birnam forest moving towards the castle Dunsinane. Though dismayed at the news of his wife’s death, Macbeth chooses to fight. Young Siward bravely challenges Macbeth, but is dispatched easily, confirming the witches’ prophecy that “none of woman born” should harm Macbeth. Macduff emerges to challenge Macbeth, who warns the challenger away because he does not want to kill any more members of that family. Macduff tells Macbeth that he was born via caesarian section and thus not “born of woman.” Macbeth realizes the last of the witches’ promises have turned inside out and against him, but chooses to fight to the last. Macduff presents Malcolm with Macbeth’s severed head, and the Prince is hailed King of Scotland.

—Troy Loftin

The Magic of Macbeth

Just as contemporary history affected the writing of Macbeth, the beliefs of King James and the direction of his personal interests found their way into the play as well. James was profoundly interested in witchcraft and the occult because of his Scottish ancestry and because of the recent explosion in Scottish witchcraft trials which he watched closely due to their political nature. Shakespeare chose to make Macbeth his most magical play, except for perhaps The Tempest, and this can be seen in his use of fate as a plot device, the numerous conjuration scenes, and the famous Weird Sisters. Magic permeates the play, infecting everything it touches with a dark and otherworldly air.

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Macbeth and Banquo meet three Weird Sisters

The Weird Sisters are some of the most striking figures in the play. They have been the most exciting features in many productions, and throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries they were the highlights of any Macbeth, with extra songs and scenes tacked on just to give the witches more stage time. However, while we call them witches today, it turns out they were not always considered so originally. Holinshed in his Chronicles (Shakespeare’s primary source for the plot of Macbeth) calls them many names but “witches” is not one of them:

It fortune as Makbeth & Banquo journeyed towarde Fores, where… soddenly in the middes of a laude, there met them iii women in straunge & ferly apperell, resembling creatures of an elder worlde, whom when they attentively beheld, wondering much at the sight… This was reputed at the first but some vayne fantasticall illusion by Makbeth and Banquho, in so muche that Banquho woulde call Macbeth in jeste kyng of Scotland, and Makbeth againe would call him in sporte likewise, the father of many kings. But afterwards the common opinion was, that these women were eyther the weird sisters, that is (as ye would say) ye Goddesses of destinie, or els some Nimphes or Feiries, because every thing came to passe as they had spoken.

Holinshed seems to believe that the Sisters have to either be goddesses or fairy beings—very different from the old, mortal crones that are oftentimes put on the stage. However, when Shakespeare was writing his play, Scotland and witches had long been associated with one another, and it might have been easier for Shakespeare to fit his Sisters into a witchy mold than mix together Greek, Roman, and Scottish mythologies. The all-knowing deities in Chronicles become figures akin to fortune tellers in Macbeth who cannot actually enact any of the prophecies they announce. While the sisters might have supernatural powers, they cannot kill Macbeth, and as far as we can tell there are limits on the amount of damage they can cause to humans. For instance, when the First Witch tells her sisters the story where she was rebuked by a sailor's wife we learn that she can only hurt the sailor, not kill him.

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Engraving of witches being tortured in James’ Daemonologie

King James and his inner circle thought they had good reason to fear witchcraft, not least because there had been instances of “actual witches” who confessed to trying to harm the king. Prior to 1590, Scotland generally and even James himself had relatively cool attitudes towards witchcraft, but during that and the subsequent year there were suddenly massive trials for sorcery that engulfed the public sphere. It was reported that a large coven of witches at North Berwick were responsible for two storms that delayed the king and his fiancé from marrying and then returning home to England from Denmark. This sparked James’ intense fascination with witchcraft, and only six years later he published his seminal work on magic, Daemonologie. It was informed by his study of witches on the continent and his constant probing into the world of magic and sorcery. The description of witches’ powers that James gives in his Daemonologie fits Shakespeare’s Sisters almost perfectly. He says their abilities are “to trust so much to their influences, as thereby to fore-tell what common-weales shall florish or decay: what persons shall be fortunate or unfortunate: what side shall winne in anie battell: What man shall obteine victorie at singular combate.” In the play the Sisters tell Macbeth and Banquo who will become king, and they certainly speak of each man's fortune and misfortune, not to mention how Macbeth will be victorious in combat until he faces a man not born of woman.

bAfter his publishing Daemonologie, there was no questioning James’ obsession with witches. In 1605, when Sir John the Earl of Mar was staying at the royal hunting lodge, he wrote that “We are here continually busied either at hunting or examining of witches, and although I like the first better than the last, yet I must confess both uncertain sports.” It is as though Shakespeare was writing a play specifically tailored for James when he completed Macbeth. Between the Sisters and the characters’ use of magic invoking actions, there is enough demonic action to rival Marlowe’s Faustus. Ingeniously, some scholars have made connections between Duncan’s murder and the banquet scene to black masses and infernal Eucharists. The Eucharist is one of Christianity’s most important sacraments as congregants partake in Christ’s body and blood through bread and wine. The ringing bells and ritual-like atmosphere of the scene containing Duncan’s murder conjure up images of witch meetings, dark reversals of traditional Christian services. And the banquet scene invites the Scottish court to partake in wine and bread gained by unholy means, until they are stopped by nothing less than a ghost. Even when we don’t at first see the magic inherent in Macbeth, it’s there.

—Troy Loftin

What’s in a Thane?

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Scottish thanes hailing their king

The early medieval Scottish court was not exactly a pleasant place to be. One lived in a constant fear of war, either with the Anglo-Saxons to the south or the Norwegians to the East, royal lines were hazily drawn leading to fights for the throne, and the relatively stabilizing force of organized feudalism had yet to reach the withering heaths.Shakespeare’s play deals with real history and several real people, and because of this many of the major players in medieval Scottish royalty are featured in the plot of Macbeth. But what exactly is a thane? And How do earls fit into this?

Let’s start at the beginning. Royalty in the time of Macbeth had three levels: thane (toísech), mormaer, king. A thane was the caretaker of a shire, a parcel of land in the Scottish kingdom. The thane’s duties consisted of collecting payments from his peasants, fighting with the king against his enemies, and providing the king lodging as he traveled the kingdom. The kings of Scotland more often than not were seen touring the countryside staying with different thanes as they went. One reason for this was so the king could maintain working relationships with these various men and their families, but the king also needed to collect his tributes, and they preferred to do it themselves instead of delegating the duty to servants.

A mormaer was a regional ruler who had power over the thanes and was only one rank below the king. Shakespeare condenses the mormaers and the thanes into one class, which isn’t surprising; by the fifteenth century the mormaers had been made into earls. Non-Gaelic speakers reading about the thanes and mormaers would have recognized the word “thane” since it came from the English but would scratch their heads at the strange Gaelic terms, and it is theorized that most writers of the day just did away with the confusing terminology in lieu of more accessible language. This can be seen in Hector Boece’s Chronicles of Scotland. In it, the three “weird sisters” hail Macbeth as the “thane of Glamis”, “thane of Cawdor”, and “king of Scots.” Moving from one thanage to another would have been confusing (and impossible in Scotland’s kin-based hierarchy), but Boece ignored the title of mormaer. The correct term for Cawdor would have been “mormaer of Cawdor.”

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Macbeth’s castle at Inverness

All of the thanes in Macbeth are generally on equal footing, except for the Thane of Cawdor (i.e. the Mormaer of Cawdor) and the thane of Fife, which, you might have guessed, should actually be the mormaer of Fife. Macduff is a semi-mythical figure in Scottish history because while a famous Macduff clan did exist and rule over the shire of Fife, we don’t know for certain who the earliest Macduff was. Some histories do tell us the importance of the thane of Fife, however, and the role he played in the court. By the thirteenth century, the thane of Fife was the chief enthroner and head of kingly inaugurations. This is seen in Macbeth, somewhat anachronistically, when Macduff proclaims Malcom king of Scotland.

Royal succession was indeed an important issue in medieval Scotland. This was a place and time where the throne was always in flux and the method of inheritance fluid. For instance, English historian William of Newburgh purports that until the 1180s it was “usual for every king of Norway to reach the throne by killing his predecessor.” The kin-based society of Scotland did not normally let the sons of kings inherit the throne but instead a cousin or nephew was designated to rule instead. In stark comparison to England’s clear line of princes, Scotland was full of competing thanes and mormaers who could conceivably become king at any moment.

                                                —Troy Loftin

Spin and Swear: The Macbeth Curse

Actors can be a superstitious bunch. Some superstitions encourage an action for a positive result, like really specific warm-up procedures that help one get into the right frame of mind. Other superstitions discourage an action in order to avoid a negative result, and the most famous of these is certainly the “curse of Macbeth.”

It’s difficult to say exactly when the Macbeth curse first started scaring theatre people. Of Shakespeare’s plays, it is the one that deals most directly with the subject of witchcraft (other of his plays deal with the subject in various ways, but Macbeth gives us three actual spell-casting witches on stage). Some people believe that for source material, he consulted real witches’ spellbooks; the incantation “Double, double, toil, and trouble,” for example, is supposed to have to have originated in one. The legend goes that the witches for whom these words were sacred took offense, and they cursed the play as a means of revenge.  So what is the actual curse?

The curse of Macbeth has two parts:

1.) Unless you are actively working on Macbeth, you should not discuss it, quote it, or speak its title aloud inside a theater. For some believers, the bad luck also applies to props and costumes that have been used in Macbeth, as well as to other plays that quote this one! Many people take this rule quite seriously. In 2013, producers of Macbeth at the Barrymore Theatre in New York posted a sign in the lobby that requested patrons “please refrain from speaking the name of the play.”

2.) The play itself supposedly generates evil and therefore invites catastrophe. Every production of it is susceptible to violent accidents. There are some famously horrible events associated with productions of Macbeth. Some of the more colorful stories include disastrous performances, collapsing sets, injuries, deaths, and even a mob riot.

Not all theatre people are convinced that the curse is real, though. Some theatre people are so adamant about the fallacious nature of Macbeth-related superstition that they actively cry out against it. During the 2013 Barrymore production mentioned above, actor Alan Cumming tweeted his own feelings on the subject: “I am going to say ‘Macbeth’ everywhere, even in the theatre. None of this ‘Scottish play’ stuff for me!”

Many skeptics argue that the play’s reputation as being accident-prone is partly due to a dangerous combination of three factors:

1.) dim lighting – much of the plot unfolds in heavy fog or in dimly lit castles or at nighttime;

2.) frequent stage combat – if the production takes a historical approach and seeks to accurately represent medieval Scotland, the fight scenes involve broadswords, which are not easy weapons to maneuver; and

3.) a tendency toward insufficient rehearsal – the play’s relative brevity and its high popularity make it an attractive option to companies who need a last-minute addition to the season.

If you’d rather be safe than sorry, there are a few different ways to counteract the curse. When you want to reference the play, you needn’t use its given name. You can use one of the following euphemisms instead:

  • The Scottish Play
  • Mackers
  • The Scottish Business
  • The Bard’s Play
  • That Play
  • The Unmentionable
  • The Comedy of Glamis  (This seems to be an ironic reference to the title, thane of Glamis, that Macbeth holds at the beginning of the play.)
  • The Caledonian Tragedy  (Caledonia was the Romans’ name for Scotland.)
  • Harry Lauder  (This was the name of a hugely popular Scottish performer in the early twentieth century.)

If someone in a theater does quote from or name Macbeth, there is a cleansing ritual that supposedly alleviates the danger. It goes like this:

The offending party (whoever spoke the offending language) must leave the room and may be asked to leave the building. Once outside he must spin around three times counterclockwise and then swear (i.e. utter an obscenity). Finally, he must knock on the door of the theater and wait for readmission.

Some people add that one should spit between spinning and swearing. If spinning is impossible for some reason, one may hop on one leg instead. Supposedly, an acceptable alternative to this ritual is a long stream of obscenities and/or a quote from Hamlet, especially “Angels and minsters of grace defend us!” The British actor Patrick Stewart has also suggested that any line from the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream will suffice.

Whatever your particular stance on the legitimacy of the Macbeth curse, it certainly lends an air of mystery and otherworldliness to one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays.

—Tyrrell Woolbert

Macbeth Director’s Note

Welcome, and thanks for joining us for the 41st season of HSF!  As the professional arm of the University of Houston’s School of Theatre & Dance, HSF is the vehicle that allows us to combine the talents of our students, alumni, faculty, and staff with guest professionals to share these plays with South Texas. It’s a special pleasure and a labor of love each year to put together two Shakespeare productions to share with you in Houston’s great Hermann Park.

I’m continually amused by how the pop zeitgeist draws on the material of Shakespeare’s plays.  The superheroes in the Marvel movies and the plot twists & turns of “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards” owe a great debt to the Bard (who would himself have to pass some credit along to all the other storytellers whose plots and characters he blended into his works).  As much fun as it can be to hear the echoes in these new works (as Simba's singing "I just can't wait to be King" rings in our ears), there's great value in digging back into Shakespeare's original take on these stories, to recharge our connection with them so that these common themes resonate even more resoundingly into the future.

The timeliness of a production of MACBETH should, in my mind, really be a year away, when we truly move into an “election year.”  But now that we already have more than twenty people running for the highest office in the land, exploring a tale about ambition and people who remind themselves “False Face must hide what the False Heart doth know” actually seems right on time.  The “fill-in-the-blank” answer for the high school test—“Macbeth’s tragic flaw is ambition”—misses the mark. It’s not ambition itself that leads Lady Macbeth and her Thane astray, but rather the dark forces they draw on to propel themselves to the top.  Let’s hope that the people pursuing power in our world remember the arc of this story and stick to the brighter path.

Thanks to my colleagues Jim Johnson and Dr. Rob Shimko, the Executive and Literary Directors of HSF, for sharing the challenges of steering HSF forward.  Thanks as well to the cast, designers, production team, and front of house staff for bringing their talents and skills as well.  Grateful applause in recognizing our donors, especially Rob & Nancy Martin and Pam & Rusty Guinn, for their generous support, and a hope that you’ll join them in donating to keep HSF thriving in the future.

—Jack Young, HSF Artistic Director