Previously in Macbeth: Witches, war, heroism, prophecies, and thoughts of murder consume the first act. A floating imaginary dagger, regicide, the death of sleep, flight of the sons, the second act. In Act Three, Banquo suspects Macbeth, but still accepts an invitation to that night’s banquet. Macbeth meets with murderers to make sure that that never happens and that Fleance dies as well. The murderers succeed in killing Banquo but Fleance escapes. When Macbeth is informed of this at the banquet, he sees the ghost of Banquo and loses his composure. Macduff leaves to meet with Malcolm in England to convince him to return to Scotland and fight for the throne.
Previously in Macbeth: Witches, war, heroism, prophecies, and thoughts of murder consume the first act. In Act Two, Banquo is troubled by thoughts of the weird sisters, but Macbeth doesn’t want to talk about it. Macbeth hallucinates a floating dagger and it seems to lead him where he was already going, to kill Duncan. Lady Macbeth, despite being rattled herself by the similarity in appearance between Duncan and her own father, tries to comfort a clearly upset, post-homicidal Macbeth. When Macduff and Lennox come to wake Duncan, the king’s corpse is discovered. Macbeth kills Duncan’s guards, citing his rage over seeing them sleeping and covered in the king’s blood. Malcolm and Donalbain, fearing for their own safety, flee Scotland, which both puts suspicion on them, and clears the way for Macbeth to assume the throne.
Previously in Macbeth: Witches wait to meet with Macbeth. Duncan, King of Scotland, facing rebellion and treachery, has his battle saved by the military exploits of Macbeth, on whom he will confer the land and titles of the treacherous Thane of Cawdor. The witches meet Macbeth and his brother-in-arms Banquo. They hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis (his title before the battle), Thane of Cawdor (which he won in battle, only he doesn’t know it yet), and King hereafter; they also say Banquo is better off than Macbeth in a way–he will father kings but not be one himself. Macbeth begins to flirt with the idea of becoming king, but learns that Duncan has named his own son Malcolm as his successor. Lady Macbeth, hearing of the prophecy, begins to plan Duncan’s murder, fearing her husband is too kind to move forward on this himself. The king visits, Macbeth vacillates, Lady Macbeth manipulates, and the first act ends with murder on Macbeths’ minds.
Act One, Scene One of Macbeth is not one of those “quiet openings.” Nope. “Thunder and Lightning” (I.i.1 opening stage direction). Three witches enter and question each other when they will next meet. And their answer–to quote Benedick–is enigmatical: “When the battle’s lost and won” (I.i.4) later that day. Lost and won. The very short scene (13 lines only) is bookended by sing-songy rhymed non-iambic pentameter, but it does set up one of the main themes of the play: doubles-duality and opposition within a single entity… “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (I.i.12).
After waiting three weeks to see the new Macbeth film (with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard), I found myself in a bit of a fix. As of last weekend, the film was playing in only one theater in southern California, and there only for one matinee showing a day. (and people, it’s gone-gone as of the 31st)… as luck (good luck, that is) would have it, it was playing in Pasadena, where my wife and I like to spend our anniversary.
So when Beatrice requests, then demands, then implores Benedick to “kill Claudio” (IV.i.288) in Act Four, Scene One of Much Ado About Nothing, we see a rhetorical preview to another strong female character, one we’ll see a little later in the project: Lady Macbeth.