Contrasting Interpretations of Lady Macbeth in Two Productions of Macbeth

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Introduction

“Macbeth” isn’t classified as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” yet the complex contradictions and role reversals within the central characters often pose challenges for those interpreting the play. Two current productions of “Macbeth” – the Royal Lyceum Edinburgh’s “Macbeth (An Undoing)” in Brooklyn’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center and the Shakespeare Theater Company’s “Macbeth” in Washington – take contrasting approaches to the text, particularly in their portrayal of Lady Macbeth. These productions offer distinct interpretations, resulting in differing tragic outcomes.

Analysis of Productions

“Macbeth (An Undoing),” written and directed by Zinnie Harris and presented by Theater for a New Audience and the Rose Theater, aims to re-examine the female characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy. The play initially follows a loose adaptation of the original material: Macbeth, a respected soldier, is informed by three witches of his future rise to power. Together with Lady Macbeth, they eliminate obstacles to seize control. The production introduces modern elements, such as a romantic subplot and an expanded role for the witches, breaking the traditional narrative.

In the second half of the play, a significant shift occurs: Macbeth’s descent into madness mirrors Lady Macbeth’s typical trajectory. Lady Macbeth, in turn, assumes the role of the king, with others addressing her as “sir” and “king.” Her character reveals a connection to the witches, seeking their aid to prevent a miscarriage but failing to compensate them when the child is lost. This version of Lady Macbeth challenges stereotypes, yet introduces inconsistencies that undermine the character arcs and themes.

The production struggles with its attempt to subvert the gender dynamics of the original play, ultimately muddling its own message. For instance, the emphasis on Lady Macbeth’s desire for a child contradicts the play’s intent to redefine her character beyond infertility. The lead actors, Nicole Cooper as Lady Macbeth and Adam Best as Macbeth, while individually strong, lack chemistry on stage, further flattening the character portrayals.

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