I watched Macbeth last night, partly because of the lure of shirtless Fassbender, but also because FUCK YES THE BARD!!!
Shakespeare’s tales are saturated with the best and worst of human nature – lust, violence, madness, hilarity, love, vengeance, ambition – to such an extent that they’ve endured for over four centuries. Not only that, but many lines are ingrained in our contemporary language as everyday idioms… a foregone conclusion, a sorry sight, all of a sudden, all’s well that ends well, dead as a doornail, as luck would have it, bated breath, more fool you, wild goose chase, vanish into thin air, there’s method in my madness, the short and the long of it, the Queen’s English, send him packing, in a pickle, and my personal favourite Elizabethan sexual euphemism, “the beast with two backs.”
An illustration from Holinshed’s Chronicles, which Shakespeare drew inspiration for the story of Macbeth from.
For example, the real Macbeth, or Mac Bethad mac Findlaích to give him his catchier title, ruled Scotland from 1040-1057. In reality, Macbeth killed King Duncan in battle, and was later killed in battle with the English. The popular 16th-century history book Holinshed’s Chronicles portrayed Macbeth as a stabby witch-botherer, and it was from this depiction that Shakespeare’s play drew inspiration. Further influencing Shakespeare was the Stuart king James I’s belief that he was descended from King Malcolm. Never piss off your patron, especially if he has the power to have you hanged, drawn and quartered.
And now a story that is a millennia old, once performed to catcalls and the throwing of rotten vegetables, can be enjoyed in the comfort of one’s living room, where every ripple in Michael Fassbender’s pectoral muscles is rendered in high definition. It’s almost as though Shakespeare, whether through prescience or rampant egotism, had some inkling of his eventual longevity, as he states in the closing lines of Sonnet 18,