Author: Becca Vaclavik

So You Think You Know Macbeth

If you’re familiar with Shakespeare, you’re familiar with “Macbeth.” Whether the play was required reading in school or even if you’re just familiar with the cultural references — double, double toil and trouble, anyone? — you know the story. Or you think you do. 

Most likely, there’s the “Macbeth” you have been taught … and then there’s the play as it was actually written, says Colorado Shakespeare Festival managing director Wendy Franz, who will direct CSF’s 2024 production.

“As I dug into the layers of research, I realized how so much of what we think we know about this play is seen through a historical lens of misogyny,” Franz says.

Take the witches. No character onstage actually refers to them as such; they are the “weird sisters,” as in the Old English word “wyrd,” meaning fate, destiny, or fortune. The addition of witchcraft is a cultural evolution, likely driven by Western society’s relationship to feminine power. (You can read a more in-depth analysis on witches and wyrd-ness in the festival’s program.)

Or Lady Macbeth. While she’s certainly written as cunning and perceptive, many of her more notorious characteristics as we know them are actually indicative of a woman who is devoted to her husband and his goals, rather than her own. Is she ambitious and conniving? Or is she supportive and deeply loyal? How have cultural expectations of the “good wife” shaped our understanding of her character?

Franz is eager to explore what Shakespeare’s writing reveals when we peel back these added layers of historical and cultural interpretation from the words on the page.

It’s a perspective that will be heavily reflected in the production design, too. Alongside scenic designer Matthew S. Crane, costume designer Meghan Anderson Doyle and others, Franz is building an imaginary world that is full of rich texture and color and explores elements of fantasy and tribalism. While you may be inclined to try to find parallels to modern cultures or communities, Franz is clear: Macbeth’s landscape is not our own. 

Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from his story.

“This is a play that has sparked so many people’s imaginations and has so many interesting moral questions. I believe that one of the great tragedies is that Macbeth ignores so many opportunities to choose the right thing,” Franz says. “And the other tragedy is that when people turn away from each other instead of toward each other, that’s when the world falls apart.

“The people who ultimately prevail in the play are those who turn toward each other and figure out a way to trust each other against all odds.”

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival presents “Macbeth” in the Roe Green Theatre from June 8 to Aug. 11, 2024.