Macbeth is one of the most popular Shakespeare’s plays that have different film adaptations. Comparing and contrasting the opening scene of the best-known adaptations by Roman Polanski and Orson Welles, it is possible to notice that although both directors use the same classical plot and effectively transform Shakespeare’s text, they see this story from the different points of view.
Thus, Polanski preserves the realistic description and tries to make film more shocking in order to demonstrate the evil part of Macbeth and emphasizes the appearance of the characters instead of their dialogues, while Welles involves witches as the characters that bring some sense with their words rather than their appearance, making film more impressionistic and picturesque.
The opening scene of The Tragedy of Macbeth starts with the words “fair is foul and foul is fair” that Polanski takes from the end of the Shakespeare’s scene (The Tragedy of Macbeth). On the other hand, Welles starts film using the last words of act four: “Double double toil and trouble” (Macbeth).
Due to the different understanding of Shakespeare’s intensions, both directors emphasize different ideas and elements of the story. Welles supposes that witches can be the agents of evil and, thereby, the audience can expect the forthcoming troubles. At the same time, the director does not indicate the names of those withes as it is mentioned in Shakespeare’s text, he just makes hints about the possible problems that the witches can make.
Perhaps, Orson Welles supposed that the audience of the XX century was not familiar with the certain spirits of the Elizabethan time and with their names, moreover, in this context, it was not important to mention the names, the director just wanted to emphasize the evil background of the events.
Roman Polanski shows the appearance of the witches trying to emphasize the different sides of the nature of the characters. As it was mentioned before, adaptation of Polanski seems shocking because of the bloody scenes and specific mood of the actions. His witches are grotesquely ugly; however, their characters are not opened well. The director wanted to emphasize their appearance instead of providing more psychological explanation.
The interior elements of the adaptation of Polanski distract an attention of the audience from the words of witches. The voices of the witches are screeching and difficult to understand.
It is impossible to comprehend the meaning of this scene in case if one is not familiar with Shakespeare’s text. Therefore, the opening scene of Polanski seems poorly done. The opening scene is the most important moment of the film and it is difficult to understand the whole plot without understanding of the beginning.
At the same time, Welles creates more tremendous picture using not only the visual elements of the withes’ appearance, but also demonstrating their evil character and intentions. The dialogues are clear and precise. The audience can easily comprehend the main idea of the film. Thereby, the opening scene of Welles seems more interesting and picturesque.
Analyzing the opening scenes of the of Macbeth by Orson Welles and The Tragedy of Macbeth by Roman Polanski, it is possible to conclude that, although both directors used the same classic plot, they demonstrated Shakespeare’s idea in the different ways. Welles provides more precise and picturesque description of the evil side of the characters, while Polanski emphasizes their appearance, making film more shocking and bloody.
Macbeth. Ex. Prod. Orson Welles. US: Republic Pictures, 1948. DVD.
The Tragedy of Macbeth. Ex. Prod. Roman Polanski. US: Columbia Pictures. 1971. DVD.