Who bears the responsibility for the tragedies of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? To what extent are each of them culpable for the destruction they unleash on themselves, each other, and Scotland? Rupert Goold’s Macbeth (2010) seems to place the immediate burden of responsibility upon the witches, yet in no way exonerates the murderous pair themselves. Goold’s opening, in which the witches, here appearing as nurses, keep the messenger alive just long enough to deliver his report conflates Shakespeare’s first two scenes. The report convinces the king to advance Macbeth to the title of Cawdor, which seems to pave the way for the treachery to follow and by including the witches in the scene, Goold implicates them in that treachery. He also gives them a near-continuous presence throughout the film, adding to the sense that they are pulling the strings.
Goold’s witches are no warty hags, but are instead attractive (despite post-production film techniques that often render them as the jerkily-moving denizens of a modern horror film) young women who exert power over Macbeth through their sexuality. While it is Macbeth’s warlike masculinity that is directly responsible for the majority of the deaths in the film, it is actually female sexuality that appears to be most problematic in Goold’s adaptation. Whereas the witches set events in motion, Lady Macbeth’s overtly sexualized relationship with her husband, most visible in the scene in which she manipulates him into complicity with her plans to murder Duncan, is central to the havoc she wreaks on and through him.
In its emphasis on the witches, and on their and Lady Macbeth’s sexuality, Goold’s adaptation seems to credit this as the main destructive force in the film, blaming it for the bloody action of Shakespeare’s play. By imbuing his female characters with such power, upsetting the conventional roles of dominance and submission, and demonstrating the danger of this subversion, Goold’s adaptation can be seen as fearful of the dissenting voice and seeks to demonstrate the dangers of the destabilization of the status quo.
I would like to be included on a panel together with Sandra Parker (Brockport), whose paper is also on Goold's Macbeth.