What is Polanski's interpretation of Macbeth?

Essay by brainiac April 2003

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"I see Macbeth as a young, open-faced warrior, who is gradually sucked into a whirlpool of events because of his ambition. When he meets the weird sisters and hears their prophecy, he's like the man who hopes to win a million--a gambler for high stakes."

"You have to show violence the way it is. If you don't show it realistically, then that's immoral and harmful. If you don't upset people, then that's obscenity."

(Quotes by Roman Polanski)

Roman Polanski well known, not only as a french born actor and director of a number of films but also because of his controversial life. Born to Jewish parents who were victims of the Holocaust Macbeth was his first studio project in 1971 after the traumatic death of his wife Sharon Tate, who was brutally murdered by the Manson family. Roman Polanski had seen his share of violence in the real world, so it's not too surprising that the Shakespearian play he decided to direct was Macbeth, which portrays a series of bloody murders and a rapidly descent into madness.

Made shortly after the Sharon Tate murders, there's a disturbing parallel when Macbeth's gang of wild-eyed assassins butchers noble MacDuff's wife and children Not surprisingly, an already grim and disturbing play was turned into a hellish nightmare on film, reeking of corruption, greed, and needless bloodshed. Fortunately it's also one of the director's most brilliant films.

Although it is remarkably faithful to the original text, with a few notable exceptions, it takes a different view from the traditional theatrical interpretation.

Polanski's Macbeth gained notoriety in part through Lady Macbeth's nude sleepwalking scene, a choice inspiring much comment in 1971. Was the nudity really justified? It has no textual justification, but there is, perhaps, a case to be made. It is...