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Photographic Print from New York production of Macbeth, 1936

[Detail] Photographic Print from New York production of Macbeth, 1936

Interpretations of Macbeth

Different productions of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth offer multiple interpretations of this classic play. The Los Angeles production notebook focuses on the power of the supernatural and includes a synopsis that claims, “Especially in this colored version of Macbeth, the hero appears to be a mere tool in the hands of a witch doctor and his sinister three sisters, who, with weird and sensuous jungle incantations, strip all pretense . . . off loyalties.”

The Boston production notebook, on the other hand, approaches the piece as a murder thriller. The director’s report emphasizes a simple production in which “[s]peed and excitement were the principal keynotes. . . . ” This approach was selected for the audiences of students studying the play: “My object was to send these children back to the classroom with a vivid picture of the play as a whole and perhaps enhance their interest in the study.”

The Cincinnati production notebook features a "Director’s Report" that points out the influence of production limitations on the interpretation: “Realizing we did not have any exceptional Shakespearian actors . . . [I invested] . . . the performance with a novelty in staging and business that would not point up the individual performance too much.”

  • What is the emphasis of each production?
  • Are the interpretations of each director valid?
  • Is there a difference between a general audience and an audience of students? Why or why not?
  • How do the various interpretations relate to the goals of each director?
  • How do these plays compare to contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare in film or on the stage?
  • What makes a play (or any piece of art) open to interpretation?
  • Are there general themes or ideas that should always be conveyed?
  • How do personal ideas influence interpretations of someone else’s work? What else inspires and influences interpretations?
  • Who in a production is responsible for these interpretations? How does this person work with the other members of the production to convey his or her ideas?