Every year for Halloween I watch an adaptation of Macbeth. It’s a tradition I started in undergrad that started as a way to do something literary and spooky but also get in the writing mood for NaNoWriMo (oh for the time to put into a novel again!). So far I haven’t repeated the same one twice, and it’s been fascinating seeing how many different ways the same story is interpreted. This year’s Macbeth was a little special – an online interactive (and somehow very claustrophobic) adaptation put on by the Independent Shakespeare Company called the last syllable.
It is mentioned early on that Macbeth’s wife has a name – Gruach. Interestingly, we don’t really see Macbeth for a long time – instead time is spent on Lady Macbeth learning of the prophesy, with Macbeth appearing beside her, as if summoned by magic. Really, Macbeth is pushed to the back burner a bit – he is only the latest in a long line of kings to rise to and fall from power by violence, a force that leaves the ruined lives of everyone it sweeps by – particularly the women and children – in its wake.
The structure of the story – told through video, audio clips, maps, images, phone calls, etc in a fashion that feels disjointed and cryptic – conveys a sense that this is a story too big and strange to be captured in text. In pandemic times, the production is very slippery – the Artist portrayed as researching the play could very well be the observer, the audience, you, as we participants consume the very imagery and recordings the Artist is using in her work. The idea of a lost production, the Artist/Audience working in isolation with only recorded messages for company, are a bit too close to home.
This inarticulability of a crisis oddly parallels a book series I’m currently reading, the Ravicka series by Renee Gladman. These books are about a lot of things, all of which appear at the corner of the eye as if they would turn to smoke if spoken about directly. Ravicka is a city, but it is un-becoming in a way that nobody, inside or outside the city can truly articulate. This crisis, one of translation or architecture or political upheaval, unfolds slowly, with each book adding layer upon layer and new perspectives o the change.
Ravicka and the last syllable have little in common in their conclusions. Where the problems of Ravicka remain untranslatable even to the city’s most loyal inhabitants, who persist in spite of change, the last syllable features a triumphant ending of sorts (as much as you can for a tragedy) – the actor who plays the Artist also plays a witch and Macduff in the final scene – delivering the final blow to Macbeth before taking her place among the weird sisters. Macbeth has been tamed by the travails of a scholar, who upon being asked whose side she would be on “when judgment is passed for what has been done” chose to confront the creeping, violent force that has destroyed so many lives and break the tragic cycle.
In either case, it’s good, interesting stuff. The perfect amount of unsettling for autumn.