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My Own Personal Shakespeare : Macbeth Edition

I’m thrilled to announce an exciting giveaway contest for our latest release, My Own Personal Shakespeare: Macbeth. This edition offers a unique experience, allowing you to engage deeply with the text while adding your own personal annotations.

How to Enter:

It’s simple! To participate, all you need to do is answer one intriguing question:

Which Shakespeare play should I write about next?

I chose Macbeth as the first volume because my daughter inspired the entire project by coming out of her first college Shakespeare class and asking, “Can I get my own copy of Macbeth? I don’t care which edition, I just want one of my own that I can write in because I have thoughts.” Thus the idea was born for an edition of Shakespeare that strips away hundreds of years of other people telling you what to think, replacing it with plenty of room for you to discover Shakespeare in your own way and at your own pace.

But what should we do next? Hamlet? Romeo and Juliet? Twelfth Night, Much Ado? You tell me!

Two Winners Will Receive Free Copies of My Own Personal Shakespeare: Macbeth

I have two copies of my book to giveaway. (Amazon’s actually very good about “author copies,” so if this contest goes well, I’ll probably do it again soon!). All you need to do is answer the question in the comments and a few other necessary rules:

  • Submit your entry by the deadline: Friday, June 28, 2024
  • Provide a valid email address so I can contact the winner.
  • Be willing to provide me with a shipping address where I can send the book, of course.
  • Shipment to the continental US only. Sorry, international audience. Shipping costs take all the fun out of it.

Look Inside!

The whole point of our new series is about making it your own. There’s plenty of whitespace on every page, and blank note pages between all the acts. Check it out!

Enter Now for Your Chance to Win

Who doesn’t love free books? Free Shakespeare books, even better! We’ve taken the first step on what’s hopefully going to be a long and fruitful journey. Now you can help us decide the next step! Enter today!

My Dream Hamlet

Dreaming Hamlet

I mean that literally. The other day, while thinking about ghosts and special effects in modernized Shakespeare adaptations, I thought, couldn’t Hamlet have dreamed the whole thing? We’ve already got his “in my mind’s eye, Horatio,” reference. What would that do to the play? Has anybody done that before?

I don’t know about the answer to that last question but I thought we could cover the first two.

Marcellus and Bernardo

Step one, we have to get rid of the opening scene. Marcellus and Bernardo in the opening scene. I think this is an easy cut for this purpose, though, because it’s not like the fact that these two have seen the ghost makes any difference to the play at all. They don’t mention it again, to Hamlet or anyone else.

Horatio

Like Marcellus and Bernardo, Horatio seems to forget all about the ghost after they take Hamlet to see him. But the fact is that Horatio did see the ghost, and he does continue his ongoing dialogue with Hamlet for the rest of the play, so it must inform his thoughts and actions in some way. Thus the question for us has to be, does Hamlet tell him about this dream he had? Horatio never gets to hear what Hamlet and his dad talked about, just that they did. It’s basically just an extension of this scene:

HAMLET
My father!–methinks I see my father.

HORATIO
Where, my lord?

HAMLET
In my mind’s eye, Horatio.

HORATIO
I saw him once; he was a goodly king.

HAMLET
He was a man, take him for all in all,

I shall not look upon his like again.

Hamlet I ii

Let’s say that we insert a dream sequence scene between Hamlet and his father. Now, for this scene with Horatio, Hamlet drops a “methinks I saw my father” rather than “see”. Testing the waters, to see if he wants to tell Horatio what happened. But then he changes his mind, and turns it into a sigh and an, “Oh, that’s just be being sad, never mind, nothing to see here.” And nothing more is ever mentioned about it.

Hamlet’s Point of View

So now we’ve got a world where only Hamlet has seen or heard from his father’s spirit. This might as well be the definition of paranoid schizophrenic – the man’s hearing voices saying to avenge a murder. Even if he did tell anyone, he’s going to look crazy. His “antic disposition” now is all in his head, nobody knows what he’s talking about. Out of the blue, he tells his friends, “Listen, you’re going to think I’ve gone crazy, but I haven’t! Trust me!” And of course they’re all thinking, “He’s crazy.”

Gertrude’s Bedchamber

This is the tricky scene because, as we all know, the ghost comes back while Hamlet confronts his mother, Gertrude, in her bedchamber (even though he was clearly told not to!). We can’t easily make this a dream sequence, since Gertrude has to be an interactive part of it. There’s the theory that Hamlet really is imagining the ghost at this point, since Gertrude does not see him. But if we went down that path we are taking the mystery out of it, Hamlet’s definitely seeing things.

I don’t want that, I want the question of Hamlet’s sanity to remain front and center. We the audience are the only ones who know what happened in his dream so we’re the only ones in a place to say whether he’s gone mad.

We could do a flashback sort of thing where the ghost’s only appearance here is just a replay of the dream ghost saying “leave her to Heaven.” Hamlet suddenly reminding himself of this causes him to stop cold in his tracks, possibly mid sentence, which causes Gertrude to react. Maybe Hamlet forgets where he is and starts talking to himself as if the ghost is there. Something along those lines. Easier to do on film than on stage, though. Hard to get across “ghost isn’t really there, it’s just Hamlet remembering his dream”. Not sure about this part yet.

Is That It?

I’m no director, I just wanted to try brainstorming my way through a specific interpretation of an idea. What did I miss? Any horrible continuity errors if we did this?

Review: Ralph Fiennes’ Macbeth

I feel like we’re experiencing a resurgence in the popularity of Shakespeare lately. Tom Holland is playing in Romeo and Juliet. Sir Ian McKellen just revisited Hamlet. Both Ralph Fiennes and David Tennant have taken a turn at Macbeth, I hope all of these are filmed so we can share them far and wide.

Luckily I had the chance to see Fiennes’ version as it came through our local theatre in one of those pseudo “one night only” things. Very limited, very short time release. Is it available near you? Check your local theatres!

Witches from Ralph Fiennes' production of Macbeth

Our experience was interesting. We went at 7 pm on a weeknight, and with a 15-minute intermission, the show goes over 2.5 hours. For a while, we (my son and I) were the only ones in the theatre. I wish I’d brought my own edition of Macbeth so I could study up on the text while the lights were still on. But a few minutes before showtime, another family did join us.

So How Was It?

I go into all Shakespeare productions optimistically. There will always be something I like, and hopefully, those bits are more interesting to talk about than those that weren’t so good. This one, I think, ends up pretty middle of the road and overall kind of forgettable.

Stuff I Didn’t Like

  • Too many cuts. This production still went over 2.5 hours, and yet recognizable moments like the third murderer, Hecate, and even the entire Porter scene are cut completely. Macbeth is the shortest of the tragedies already. I guess they had to make time for Fiennes’ acting. Those are reasonable cuts that don’t add directly to the action (though I do enjoy seeing how productions choose to interpret third murderer), so it’s not a horrible thing, I just hate looking forward to a scene and having it not show up at all. That’s worse than seeing a bad version, at least we can talk about why a bad version is bad.
  • The audience. If it wasn’t already established, this is a filmed stage production. The first few scenes are completely silent. I honestly thought they were acting to an empty house, which I thought must have been really weird for them. But then — during Duncan’s murder, no less — the audience comes to life. And laughs. Once that seal was broken, so to speak, the audience began laughing throughout the rest of the play.
  • Apparently, you can play Macbeth for comedy. It’s one thing for the audience to laugh awkwardly or randomly. When Macbeth cowers around his wife, telling her he’s afraid to go back to Duncan’s room, the audience laughs. At other times Fiennes mugs for the audience, deliberately doing things worth laughing at. After Banquo ruins the banquet and Macbeth is left arguing with his wife, he does so while circling the table, emptying all the half-full wine glasses into one before downing it. I don’t mind a few laughs – after all, the porter was there for a reason – but the second half had way too many laugh moments and not enough shock and awe for me.
  • Second Murderer. Or maybe he was supposed to be First Murder, I’m just demoting him because the other guy did better and got more to do. This dude, though, went to the I MUST SHOUT ALL MY LINES NO MATTER THE CONTEXT school of acting. I thought it was a joke, maybe the audience should have laughed. They’ve just shown up at the banquet to let Macbeth know that BANQUO IS DEAD MY LORD HE’S LYING IN A DITCH BUT FLEANCE ESCAPED. Thanks chief, the people 10 feet away at the dinner table didn’t quite hear you.
  • Four words, “ghost of Lady Macbeth.”

Things I Did Like

  • I really liked Seyton, who was more “Generic Servant.” You’ve got half the cast military – tough, scarred, dirty – and have royal -prim and proper, fancy clothes and speech. And then there’s Generic Servant, with his shaved and bleached blonde hair and dangly earring, dressed nicely in a suit but clearly looking like he could hit the club when he gets off. This kid crushes it, serving up “I have been a loyal servant to this household and will faithfully execute my job, whatever it may be, but I can see everything apart around me and I don’t how how to stop it.” He shows up to warn Lady Macduff, he talks to the doctor while Lady M sleepwalks, and I’m thinking, “This kid had better be Seyton.” Which they definitely pronounced Satan. And he was. When Lady Macbeth falls to the floor he rushes to her side, at a loss how to help her but instinctually trying to. He was great.
  • Fiennes does act well, I’ll give him that. His Macbeth never really gave “warrior”. I never found him this scary beast or super soldier. He was more natural as a coward hiding behind his wife, who didn’t want to acknowledge that he was a coward. In the end, he does “paranoid and borderline insane” nicely. I just didn’t love this interpretation of the character. I didn’t feel anything for him. No fall, no redemption. Just a guy.
  • Macduff getting the news that his family has died. I am so used to this being an over-the-top hysterical moment that I didn’t know what to do with this one. Macduff reacted … not at all. Silent stare. And I thought that’s it? But as the scene continued I realized that what we were getting was a man in shock. The hysterical Macduffs have immediately realized what’s happened and are processing it. This Macduff basically froze, as if the universe had glitched around him. His repeated asking “all my chickens? all?” was done with lengthy pauses as if he kept getting the answer but couldn’t process the answer. Only at the end does he finally break down and bring the scene full circle. I thought it was outstanding. Never seen it done that way before.
  • The witches always seem to be the biggest blank slate when it comes to interpreting this play. I’ve included a picture. I keep wanting to say that there’s a certain “school girl” look to them but that’s not accurate. Maybe it’s just because they’re all dressed similarly and give off a certain creepy vibe. It’s almost Exorcist-like. They felt possessed. Which is good. The later ghosts are done as possessions of other bodies. Beyond their look, these were witches that wandered randomly throughout the play. Sometimes they were on stage, watching. Never interacting. They even come back at the end, putting a nice bookend on the whole thing. One thing I didn’t like, though, is that there’s a spot where Lady Macbeth clearly looks right at them. That could have been a mistake for all I know, but I have to assume that a filmed version has the opportunity to edit out such things.

Conclusion

One scale to use for judging filmed productions is, would you recommend it to someone? Would you bring it up in conversation? As far as Macbeth’s go we all talk about Ian McKellen’s and Patrick Stewart’s, and even the more modern Denzel Washington and Michael Fassbender versions are often in the conversation, though perhaps precisely because they’re the more modern ones. Then you’ve got your classics, your Roman Polanski, your Orson Welles.

I just don’t see this one in that pantheon, even though it’s arguably now the newest and should be (by the Fassbender Washington rule) the most discussed. It will soon be more like, “Oh, yeah, Ralph Fiennes did Macbeth, too. I forgot about that one. It was all right.”

Still The Champion

Shakespeare as the champion

Well, folks, that’s another Shakespeare Day in the books. Did you have fun?

Maybe I’m watching too much pro wrestling lately (did anybody even recognize the shout-out at the beginning of the day?), but I love this image. I had it painted in classic LeRoy Neiman style, if anybody remembers his class Sports Illustrated images. Shakespeare as the Champ.

Twenty years ago, I started teaching my kids Shakespeare before one of them could even talk. It’s been a long trip, to be sure, and I had no idea how it would turn out. Now here we are with a book and everything! I wonder what’s next?

Number #1 With A Bullet

So, there’s this funny thing about publishing a physical book on Amazon – the reports don’t actually update until the book ships Which means the next day. So I have no idea how many copies of My Own Personal Shakespeare: Macbeth Edition we were lucky enough to sell today. I’m not sure I’ll sleep tonight, I’ll just keep refreshing the page into midnight and hope the time zones are my friend.

But what I can say is this…

#1 NEW RELEASE IN SHAKESPEARE PLAYS!

Check It Out!

New Releases in Shakespeare Dramas & Plays

Look! It’s me! Thank you so much to everyone who ordered. I may have no idea what that actual number is yet, but I know it’s enough to do *that*. And that is pretty cool.