This is a film that all would be tyrants should watch.
This play is nearly 500 years old, but is clearly still relevant. This is the perfect time to watch this film or read the play. In these times when we see tyrants challenging freedom we should turn to Macbeth for spiritual nourishment. Macbeth, like so much of Shakespeare can drizzle wisdom on us in our hour of need.
Early in the play, the 3 weird sisters, or witches ask us to “all hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king.” Remind you of anyone? Then we are told “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” Is that not the 21st century?
This is also the land of untruth. For as honest Banquo tells us:
“The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
In deepest consequence.”
I immediately felt at home in the black and white colour of the film, with ominous black birds alarmingly in the sky.
Lady Macbeth the Putin master of the story tries to guide Macbeth the prize of kingship:
“Yet I do fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition; but without
The illness should attend it: what you wouldst highly
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,
And yet would wrongly win”
Like the little general from Moscow, Macbeth is filled with “vaulting ambition” and that, as we know, leads straight to pain and sorrow. She urges Macbeth to “look like the innocent flower; but be the serpent under it.” These are the men with whom we are entirely familiar. And the man who would be king knows what he must do. He must not only commit foul acts he must also must ensure that “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” Welcome to the 21st century.
In the Scotland of Macbeth, like the Ukraine of Zelensky “the earth was feverous and did shake” and as all good despots know, “Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.” And “Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.”
Yet the real question, the same question Shakespeare asks of Macbeth, and we ask of Putin, what is the point of this all? Why? Tyrants must “be bloody bold and resolute” but for what end.? In the end Macbeth is described this way: “now does he fell his title hang loose upon him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief.” Who can doubt that our modern dwarfish thief will not look any more regal? And who can doubt that in the end the tyrant will be forced to acknowledge, at least if he is open to the terrible truth, as Macbeth was, that this is profoundly true:
“Tomorrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
I so wish the Putins of the world had read deeply of Shakespeare. The world would be so different.