by Christine Nicholson
I love directing. I love being at the helm of the huge collaboration that comes together to create a theatrical production. I love working with others to bring to life the ever-continuing stories of humans – comedies, tragedies, farces, political thrillers, musicals, pantos – all the genres of storytelling that have been developed over the millennia. I love the challenge of bringing into life words that began as thoughts and images in the mind or minds of a person or persons, of working with others (in the case of this year’s Macbeth, over 40 others) to create order out of chaos, and to share that story with others. And what I love about theatre, and what is unique to it, is that it is a shared art form: those who are making the art do not exist without those who witness it in a shared moment in time. This is the essence of storytelling – whether that be ghost stories around a fire, small intimate theatres, big Broadway venues, or 5,000 people watching a huge musical extravaganza at an old Roman Arena.
But I especially love telling Shakespeare’s stories. I am always amazed how words written over four hundred years ago can still capture, beautifully capture, what I think of as the stories of humanity. Yes, he wrote about people from another time, who lived, and thought differently in many ways than we do today. And yes, he was a product of his time, with the blinders that come with it, as they do with all moments in time. But we still wrestle with how to find love and how to keep it strong, how to find and keep a healthy society, and how to harness our desires for power and status. And that is why plays like “Romeo and Juliet,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Twelfth Night,” Hamlet,” and yes, “Macbeth,” continue to be produced, reimagined, and relevant. And it is absolutely fascinating to me how his plays re-emerge and resonate at different times in history. “Macbeth’s” dive into the heart of the desire for power, and the pull that power has on the human psyche seems to be more profound than ever.
This year, as the theatre continues to recover from near annihilation during the covid pandemic (how can something exist when it is, by definition, a place where humanity gathers and the very act of gathering together was life-threatening), the Shakespeare Festival like many others, facing a budget shortfall, decided to produce only one production, rather than our usual two. We wanted to keep both of our summer directors employed, so we thought it was an excellent opportunity to try co-directing (I had recently performed in a production of Twelfth Night at Big idea Theatre where we had co-directors, Kevin Adamski and Leah Daugherty, whose collaboration showed how two minds can achieve so much more than one). We also decided that as we rebuild our audience, maybe we could create an opportunity to produce in our more intimate performance space, and what better vehicle than “Macbeth.”
Working in the intimacy of a thrust theatre is always a wonderful challenge. When we produced both outside in the park and in the 600-seat proscenium theatre, we had to stage our shows more like a moving painting – Actors need to face the audience for most of the staging, more two-dimensionally. But in a thrust theatre, with the audience on three sides of the stage, it is more like a moving sculpture, three-dimensional. And we need to be able to choreograph the movement so that audiences will see most of the action all the time. If we stage it conventionally, like a painting, like a proscenium production, only those in front of the actors will see the action. It’s much more of a dance. And that’s its appeal to a director. We need to keep the story activated, and with co-directors, we can view the staging from two sides simultaneously and see where we can improve the storytelling with staging.
So, both Lori Ann and I jumped at the opportunity to work together. We’ve worked together for almost twenty years in many capacities, but this was our first opportunity to collaborate as directors. We each bring complementary skills to the table and celebrate each other’s skills. We wanted to find a time where this story could exist, where witches or connections to the supernatural or natural forces were honored, where women could exist as warriors, and where ambition and desire for power could take hold and corrupt. We also wanted to appeal to a large population of actors and audiences. We had more actors audition than we’ve seen in five years. And we have a cast of thirty and a crew of around ten. And hopefully, this production will appeal to a large audience.
We’ve been working for five weeks now. Lori Ann has gathered all of the sound we are using, all of the weapons, worked with our Movement Coordinator with our witches (all 12 of them), our stage managers have been recording everything, staging, prop lists, costume changes, back-stage traffic patterns, while I have worked with our fight choreographer and with staging on a stage with audience on three sides. We put all that together last week, and this week we are adding lights and costumes. Three more rehearsals. Then we add the last piece of the collaboration, the audience. We can’t wait.
by Kathleen Poe
Let me begin by saying that it is always a pleasure to work on Shakespeare. Whether it is the timeless nature of his stories or the delicious taste of his words dripping off my tongue, I have had a lifelong love affair with the Bard.
Specifically, this play. Macbeth.
We read it aloud in my 10th-grade English class. I can still remember reading the part of Banquo and falling in desperate love with the story, the characters, the themes, the verse – all of it. We delighted in the Witches and their super-rad (to coin a term from high school) prophecy, we marveled at the wild, audacious ambition of the Macbeths, and we cheered for the miracles of nature that bring the story to its unexpected conclusion.
We laughed at “I am slain”, as you do. To be honest, I’m still laughing at it. The ridiculousness of announcing one’s own death never ceases to send me into a fit of giggles.
(Side note: as I am now a veteran of dying a Shakespearean death, I far prefer, “Thou hast slain me”. It just hits differently.)
I spent my late teenage years obsessed with The Scottish Play. During my junior year, in my English class, we were asked to write a diary of a famous person, and I chose Macbeth. That summer, I spent my babysitting money to go see a production of Macbeth at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. It was amazing. They performed it in the round, and I was up close and personal. The Witches pounded thick ropes on the stage while giving their prophecies, and one of them ended up in my lap (the ropes, not the Witches). Mac and Lady M swapped an outrageous amount of spit. I was even more enthralled. How could I not be enthralled? I promise it wasn’t because of the spit.
In college, I took a Shakespeare class that only fueled my fire. Not only did I passionately love Macbeth, but now that adoration stretched to King Lear, Henry V, and Richard II (it took longer for me to love Hamlet, to be honest, but now I do, with all my heart).
When I first started doing Shakespeare on the stage, about eleven years ago, I couldn’t believe that I got to speak those words, and actual people would come to see and hear me do it. I also couldn’t get enough. I’ve now done 18 Shakespeare plays. Yes, 18.
Including my favorite – Macbeth.
But, strangely, up to this summer, I’ve never been able to participate in a fully staged, full-scale production of Macbeth.
My first experience was in a staged reading that we performed on Halloween. I read the role of the First Witch, and I couldn’t believe that I got to speak those words – “Double, double, toil and trouble”. That experience kept my Macbeth fire blazing.
A few years later came two nights as Macduff and the Second Witch, as part of our all-female Wildflower Women’s Ensemble. We performed in a park in midtown, with minimal staging, surrounded by traffic noises, beer bikes, and live, amplified, tonally suspect covers of Beatles tunes blaring from the café across the street. Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, it was a wonderful experience. I dearly loved playing Macduff and hoped for another chance at the role.
I got another crack a few years later, during the pandemic, when we put together an online version of The Scottish Play, complete with online sword choreography. It was an optimistic idea that didn’t quite work, but we gave it a good try. Whatever the case, it kept me in contact with my most cherished of all Shakespeare plays.
And now, here we are – the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival 2023. Macbeth, Macduff, we meet again…
When we first started our tech run-through on Saturday, some of us were dancing around backstage, almost giddy with excitement, as we saw the world that we’ve been working so hard to create begin to take a more complete and vibrant visual form.
Good grief – the colors are going to be spectacular (and I’m not just talking about the vivid bruises on my arms from sword battles and stage combat)!
I am floored by the talent involved in this project, both offstage and on. It is such a thrill to be a part of it, and to share the stage with such amazing, hard-working actors. How lucky I am.
In a way, this is some intense full-circle stuff for me. It is my lifetime obsession come to fruition.
And I can’t freakin’ wait for everyone to see it.
Sean Thomas is making his return to the stage for Sacramento Shakespeare after a 6-year sabbatical. He is a graduate of Sacramento City College. His previous credits include Florindo in Servant of Two Masters, Don Armado in Love’s Labours Lost, Captain Hook in Peter Pan, A British Panto, Solyony in Three Sisters, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Rochefort in The Three Musketeers, and Leandro in Scapino! all for Sacramento Shakespeare or City Theatre. As a director, his most recent work was as co-director of The Three Musketeers by Ken Ludwig last summer for ACME Theatre Company in Davis.
Deandre is super honored to perform in Macbeth and would love to thank his parents and peers for supporting him along the way. Deandre recently performed as Pseudolous in the musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Phil in the play The Fisherman And His Wife with other selected credits including: Much To Do About Nothing, Little Shop Of Horrors, Pajama Game, Almost Maine, and You Can’t Take It With You. He hopes to someday act in more film and theater productions!
Thomas Dean is excited to be in his second production of Macbeth and second production at Sacramento Shakespeare! Thomas has most recently been seen on the B Street School Tour and at Big Idea Theatre’s production of Twelfth Night! He also co-wrote and directed SuperMa’am at Big Idea earlier this year. Some of Thomas’ favorite roles that he has played include Clarence in Jasper, Saul in As Is, and Reverand Hale in The Crucible.
Gabriela is excited to be making her Sacramento Shakespeare Festival Debut. Llarena received a B.F.A from NYU where she trained at Stella Adler Studio. Recent stage credits include Twelfth Night (Viola) at Big Idea Theatre and Rocky Horror Picture Show (Janet) with Amber Sweets. When not performing theater, Llarena can be found on stage sharing her original poetry or running errands with her Abuela or Lola.
Christine has been teaching Theatre at the University/College level for over twenty years, directing professionally over twenty years, and has been a working actor since the 1980s. She is Associate Producer/Director for the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival, founding member of Splinter Group Theatre (a theatre dedicated to Panto), and member of Wildflower Women’s Ensemble. She’s directed 12TH NIGHT (twice), ROMEO AND JULIET, 3 MUSKETEERS, COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO for Sac Shakes, HAMLET and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM for Sac State, and MIDSUMMER at both UC Berkeley and STC. She’s also adapted and directed 10 productions for SCC’s Shakespeare Lite. She played Feste/12TH NIGHT at Big Idea Theatre; Rosalind /AS YOU LIKE IT at Tahoe Shakespeare; Antipholus/COMEDY OF ERRORS, Emilia/OTHELLO, and Lady Macbeth at Sacramento Shakespeare; and title roles in /KING LEAR and MACBETH, Angelo/MEASURE FOR MEASURE, Dogberry/MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Friar Lawrence/ROMEO AND JULIET for Wildflower Women’s Ensemble. Other favorite roles include Martha/…VIRGINIA WOOLF, Anna/CLOSER, and Greta/CARTHAGINIANS. Christine holds an MFA in Theatre from UC Davis (Irish Drama focus).
A member of the faculty at Sacramento City College since 2005, Lori Ann has been working in the local theatre community since 1994. As an artistic fellow of both the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival and City Theatre, she takes on both administrative and artistic positions with those organizations including directing, management, and education. She is the program director of the High School Intern Program for SSF which she created in 2004. She founded an all-female Shakespeare ensemble, Wildflower Women’s Ensemble, to provide free Shakespeare in the park to her community and opportunities for women to explore traditionally male roles.
July 1 was our longest day in the rehearsal process. It’s often called the “10 out of 12” day. A day where the technical elements – scenic, lighting, props, sound, and special effects are incorporated into the show. It’s the beginning of tech week and is one of my favorite days.
Last week, while watching this brilliant cast do their work during rehearsal, I whispered to my co-director, Christine, “I can’t wait to see this with lights.” And I was not disappointed.
As a lighting designer, there is a lot of magic to be made. The script gives insight, the conversations with the director(s), and the intricate knowledge of how light works can lead to beautiful shows. And then there is this show – our designer, Isaiah Leeper – has been indeed giddy over working with the cast. One of the greatest compliments I’ve heard given to a cast is that he is excited to light them…not just the show, but the actors/characters and the work they are doing which are inspiring more magical moments than anticipated.
Another aspect of this rehearsal process that I’m thrilled to hand over has been some sound design-ish work. Music is very inspirational to me and at least a few times, I’ve based entire show concepts on the feeling I get from one song. When I was directing “After Juliet” in 2013, I had just been introduced to The Punch Brothers and Electric Guest. “The Bait” by EG and “Movement & Location” by The Punch Brothers evoked such imagery for me that I commissioned some original music based on that feeling and decided on a steampunk theme, which tied the whole show together.
For this show, we have set it in the mid-1200s where the Vikings were being beaten by the Scots after over 400 years. We have incorporated that Viking theme into the show, and the music is a big part. And to truly work with the music for the witch scenes, alarums, and flourishes, we had to get creative. And I’ve been trying to run as much of it as I can, as it was gathered, during rehearsal, I discovered I was missing watching the show as much as I wanted to. As we are co-directing, I knew we were covered, but wanted to do more of my part in the note-taking. So, on Saturday, I got to give over the sound to our sound team, Elijah, Scott, & Gabi and it was remarkable to hear it through the theatre speakers. It’s going to be amazing!
Tech day is over, we made it through the show, and it is going to be stunning! The cast is ready for the next step, which is Monday with first dress. They will dress in their costumes, put on their makeup and do their hair…then just four more days til opening. I hope you’ll join us!
~Lori Ann, co-director, Macbeth
by Gabriela Llarena
Makeup has always been a tool for self-expression and identity. In modern days, makeup is
often viewed in an artistic sense and a skilled artist can entirely transform their face. Within
the theater, makeup is used to enhance the storytelling for two very important reasons:
characterization and clarity over distance. In layman’s terms: the audience needs to know who
you are and what you are expressing from a distance.
Theater is the reason I began doing my own makeup and the lockdown of 2020 gave me plenty
of free time to explore. When I got cast as Witch 1 for the show, my mind immediately got
excited at the opportunity to have a creative makeup look! As our show is set during the time
period at the end of the Vikings’ reign in Scotland, makeup is a fundamental support to help drop
the audience into the moment we are playing in. After speaking with our directors, Christine
Nicholson and Lori-Ann Delappe-Grodin, and conferring with our costume designer Nicole
Sivell, I had my parameters within which I could come up with a witch makeup look.
The assignment was this: eyeshadow of earth tones (greens/browns), white lines, and minimal
makeup around the mouth. I asked if I could include runes in the look and was given the green
To be accurate to the time period, the look would need to be colors and styles that would have
been prominent near the 1300s. Traditionally makeup has been used as a form of protection
against sunlight. This plays a part in the longstanding popularity of kohl, a dark mineral that lines
the eyes. Along with the practicality makeup provided, it was often used to identify the
individual’s power or strengths as well as to evoke the gods. The three main witches in Macbeth
are magical and powerful in their own right. The three of us cast in these roles (Gabriela
Llarena, McKenna Sennett, Shelby Saumier) dived deep into the mythology surrounding our
characters and brainstormed how the makeup could enhance the storytelling.
When I finally sat in front of the mirror, I let the makeup tell me where it wanted to go. I started
with brown eye shadow in the inner eye area because I wanted to emphasize a deep-set stare
that would contrast nicely against the brightness of my eye. I blended that out to a deep shade
of green. As the witches were not following the standard kohl look, I wanted to still incorporate
the practical usage of makeup at that time. By having a dark green shadow, it mimics the effect
of providing sunlight protection. Underneath the eye, I went in with a brown shadow that would
blend out into the skin. The witches live in the dirt and the forest, constantly getting into
mischief, so this is to further showcase the difference between the witches versus the rest of the
humans in the play. It felt wrong to have the right side disconnected from the left side so I used
a simple line over the nose to bring the look into unity.
I ended the look by combining the directors’ desire for white lines with the usage of runes. With
white eyeliner, I drew on 3 runes: gateway, breakthrough, and disruption. Gateway and breakthrough
went on my forehead. I’ve been playing my witch as someone who loves mind games so a large
source of my power comes from my ability to break into other’s minds. The rune for disruption
went below my mouth because it is through the prophecies and spells spoken that the witches
create major disruptions and shifts in the play. When I finished the last rune and looked at the
overall effect, I felt confident and powerful – ready to cause havoc. Each witch will have their
own runes that are unique to their character, so if you want to learn more come out to our show!
Dramaturgical research provided by Lauren Ormond
Dramaturgical research helps directors provide context for an existing play. Dramaturgs look into many aspects of the play’s creation, first productions, time periods expressed, and more. For example, when researching a play like “Macbeth,” there are many avenues to pursue. Research areas may include:
- Shakespeare and his time
- Macbeth’s time
- Traditions of the culture the play
- Expanded themes outside of the time it was written or originally set in
- and the list goes on.
Each dramaturg takes their own approach with guidance from the director(s). Our dramaturg, Lauren Ormond, has worked on multiple shows with us now and provides wonderful research for us to build our world on. One of the questions we asked her early on was how to incorporate more female identifying actors in our cast by researching the roles of women in the time we are setting the play.
Our play is set roughly around 1263 in Northern (modern day) Scotland. At this time, there has been over 400 of Viking warfare with the locals. Viking culture had seeped into many aspects of Scottish life, so much so that over 1,000,000 Scots today have Viking DNA, and many town or village names are still Nordic.
Lauren found some amazing information on the women warriors of both cultures. It’s a lot of information, and incredibly fascinating.
Female Warriors Scotland High Middle Ages (900 – 1286 CE)
- SCÁTHACH, TRAINER OF HEROES
- Known as “The Shadowy One” “Warrior Maid”
- Mythology figure seen in 10th century Tochmarc Emire (Wooing of Emer) a legend of the Ulster Cycle in Irish mythology dating to the 10th century
- A Scottish female warrior and teacher of warriors in Celtic mythology
- Lived on an island (thought to be the Isle of Skye) in an impregnable castle, the gate of which was guarded by her daughter Uathach
- Scáthach trained numerous Celtic heroes in the arts of pole vaulting (useful in the assault of forts), underwater fighting, and combat with a barbed harpoon of her own invention, the gáe bolg. Her best-known student was Cú Chulainn, who stayed with her for a year in order to learn the skills that helped him win many battles
- Scottish Island of Eigg
- Roughly translates to “Island of the Big Women”
- Archaeological remains show a group of people known as the Picts resided there and in other parts of Scotland up until the ninth century
- Pictish texts and engravings detail legends of warrior women
- One specific legend details a clan of warrior women residing on An Sgùrr, Eigg’s highest hill
- Pictish Women Warriors
- Engravings from the 1500s based on Roman records describe the Roman army’s encounters with the Picts, and represent both men and women as scantily clad and tattooed warriors
- Engravings of warriors riding side saddle point to the existence of Pictish female warriors
- Scotland in the Middle Ages, like most settings of that time period, was a patriarchal society, and women warriors were not something commonly seen save for desperate moments in history
Female Viking Warriors High Middle Ages (900 – 1286 CE)
- Though the Viking society of the High Middle Ages shows women sharing equal rights with men (they could own land, initiate divorce, serve as clergy, and run their own businesses), their sphere of influence was largely domestic. However, Norse mythology has a great many instances of depicting women joining battle alongside their male counterparts
- These women are described either in the Icelandic sagas of the 12th and 13th centuries CE, in the work of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 CE) – an Icelandic mythographer who wrote down and preserved earlier Norse works which had been transmitted orally – or in the historical and semi-historical works of other writers such as the Dane Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1160-c. 1220 CE)
- The most famous type of mortal warrior woman known from the sagas is the shieldmaiden, a woman who took up arms and armor and fought in battle alongside men and who is mirrored in the spiritual realm of the afterlife by the Valkyries
- A real life example of a shield woman was first recovered in 1900 on a farm in Solør Norway, an 18-19 year old girl having been buried with her head resting on a shield, a bridled horse skeleton lay curled at her feet, and her body boxed in by a sword, spear, battle-ax and arrows
- She was the first Viking woman archaeological find with a notable battle wound, a partially healed skull fracture most likely from a sword that had cut her to the bone
- Another Viking warrior woman uncovered in Birka (a Viking settlement in east central Sweden that flourished from about 750 – 950) in 1878 but not proven to be female until 2017 was buried with with an array of weapons and horses, plus a set of chess-like gaming pieces that suggested a tactical aptitude commensurate with a high-ranking military official, leaning towards the fact that she may have been a general
- Though before the High Middle Ages, the best-known semi mythological account of this comes from Saxo Grammaticus in his description of the Battle of Bråvalla (or Brávellir) (c. 750 CE) in his early 13th-century CE Gesta Danorum where he claims 300 shieldmaidens fought for the Danes
- Skadi: Goddess of hunting and skiing
- After her father was killed by Thor, Skadi, who had no brothers, took it upon herself to avenge her father’s death
- Freyja: Goddess of fertility, love, and luck
- Chooses half the dead in battle to reside in the Field of the People, while Odin takes half for Valhalla
- A Valkyrie who, after supporting the wrong hero in a contest overseen by Odin, is made mortal and is imprisoned in a castle behind a wall of shields, asleep within a ring of fire, until rescued by the champion Sigurd, though is tricked into believing he has forsaken her and instead marries Gunnar, son of the sorceress and wife of King Gjuki. She murders Sigurd and his young son but, realizing her mistake, throws herself into his funeral pyre and rides with him into Hel
- Lagertha: The victorious shieldmaiden
- A figure within Chapter IX of Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum (‘History of the Danes’)
- The legendary hero Ragnar Lothbrok comes to Norway to avenge the death of his grandfather Siward and the humiliation of his wives and kinfolk at the hands of Frø, the King of Sweden. He is greeted by a number of women dressed as men who volunteer to help him
- “…among them was Ladgerda, a skilled female warrior who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All marveled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman. . .”
- Ragnar forces Lagertha to marry her after the battle, but later divorces her and marries another woman
- Hervor: Wielder of the magic sword Tyrfing
- Hervor is the heroine of the 13th century CE Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise)
- Hervor’s father, Angantyr, had a magic sword called Tyrfing but was killed in a duel and the sword was buried with him
- Hervor travels with her crew to the island of Samsø in the Kattegat region where Angantyr is buried and summons his spirit, demanding the sword. Her father’s ghost pleads with her to abandon her quest but she will not be denied. Finally, he opens his grave and gives her the magic sword.
- The sword curses its owner with nothing but trouble, and after several adventures Hervor marries and gives it to her son, who is plagued with its curse, before it is given to his daughter Hevor after his death, and she is shortly thereafter killed in battle
- Freydis Eiríksdóttir: Explorer and defender of her party (born circa 970 – circa 1004 CE)
- Portrayed as both either a great woman warrior (Erik the Red’s Saga) or an evil, conniving murderess (The Saga of the Greenlanders)
- In Erik the Red’s Saga, Freydis, daughter of Erik the Red, accompanies a party to Vinland (Newfoundland, North America). They are attacked by a group of natives and the men of the party retreat, leaving Freydis alone. She calls out to them, “Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me but have a weapon, I think I could fight better than any of you”
- Though hinted at to be pregnant, Freydis grabs a sword from a dead comrade and, tearing open her shirt and beating her breasts with the blade, defies the enemy who retreat from her, thus saving her party
- In The Saga of the Greenlanders she accompanies her husband, his men, and two brothers/business partners to Vinland. She dislikes the brothers and feels they are too presumptuous so she frames them, telling her husband they abused and beat her and that she will divorce him if he does not avenge the insult. Her husband and his men kill the brothers and their party but will not hurt the women so Freydis kills all the women herself with an axe
- It is likely that this second story, written later than the first, is an attempt to discredit the strong female figure from the earlier saga, and it is very likely that Freyda represents a real woman, given sagas concerning Vinland remembered real people and events
- Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir: Explorer in North America (Vinland)
- Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir (born 970/980 CE) was the daughter of Erik the Red and among the earliest explorers of North America, according to both The Saga of the Greenlanders and Erik the Red’s Saga
- After her first husband’s death in Greenland, she remarries Thorstein, younger brother of Leif Erikson, and accompanies them to on their expedition to North America where she explored Vinland with the others in the party
- Thorstein died there and Gudrid returned to Greenland where she married one Thorfinn Karlsefni and, sometime later, returned with him to Vinland to establish a permanent settlement there. Their son, Snorri Thorfinnsson, was the first European child born in North America
- Sigrid the Proud: Ruled on her own, killed her suitors
- (927 – 1014 CE, also known Sigrid the Haughty, Sigríð Storråda, or Sigrid Tostadottir), a Swedish queen
- She was married to Erik the Victorious, king of Sweden (970 – 995 CE), and after his death preferred to reign alone. She was courted by Harald Grenske of Norway and Vissavald of the Kievan Rus but recognized that both were only interested in her for her land and wealth. She invited them to a party where, after they and their men fell asleep from too much drink, she barred the doors of the hall and burned them to death to discourage future suitors
- The infamous Olaf Tryggvason (995 – 1000 CE) who converted the populace of Norway to Christianity through torture, allegedly also sought her hand but insisted she convert to Christianity first. When she refused, he slapped her in public and Sigrid vowed revenge. She is said to have then married Sweyn Forkbeard for his connections and power and orchestrated the Battle of Svolder (1000 CE) in which Olaf was killed
- Unn the Deep-Minded: Settled Iceland, commanded her own fleet
- (9th century CE, also known as Aud the Deep-Minded and Unn or Aud Ketilsdóttir) was the daughter of Ketil Flatnose of Norway who fled to Scotland following the rise of Harald Fairhair in Norway
- When her father and her son Thorstein died she understood her position in Scotland was precarious and went first to the Orkneys in the north and then to Iceland which she explored before settling down. She commanded a crew of men who were so loyal to her that none would enter into marriage contracts which might jeopardize Unn’s property or power
We have been working on the verse in Macbeth. Iambic Pentameter. What is that?
An iamb is a metrical foot comprised of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Such as ‘elope’, ’embrace’, or ‘raccoon’. A line of iambic pentameter is simply five of those stuck together. Pretty simple. ‘And if you do it right it sounds like this.’ If you say that sentence out loud, it should sound pretty natural, but you should hear the inherent rhythm.
‘And if you do it right it sounds like this.’
Why? Patterned language, language with a rhythm, has a beat. That beat, that some say imitates the human heart beat, keeps things moving. Like music, it just moves. And in a play, that’s good. But language with a beat can also be manipulated to create special effects within the speech, and create special moments that reflect what is going on in the speech.
Speaking of eloping and embracing, Romeo and Juliet. Probably not raccoons. Perhaps some of the calmest, most harmonious speech is that of Friar Lawrence. He speaks in almost predictable, unbroken, soothing speech, with little punctuation, and thoughts that fill the line.
Now ere the sun advance his burning eye,
The day to cheer and night’s dank dew to dry,
I must up-fill this osier cage of ours
With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.
Each thought takes a full line, or two. There is no punctuation within a line of verse, and the rhythm is even and predictable. But there’s more! These are rhyming couplets, which means that every two lines rhyme with each other. Even more soothing. Even more predictable.
The point of all this is to give context to some beautiful uses of disjointed, broken, unharmonious language in Macbeth. Speaking of raccoons. Are there raccoons in Macbeth? No, but there should be.
What could you do to a line of iambic pentameter to make it broken, not soothing, not predictable.? Break up the line with punctuation, or, worse, make it separate sentences. And then give those sentences to more than one speaker. What if you had four sentences in one line of iambic pentameter, spoken by two different people on stage, so that the audience actually has to look from one to the other four times in one line? Soothing? Not so much.
When Macbeth comes out of Duncan’s chamber after Duncan is killed, (spoiler alert, sorry), the lines are
I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?
I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.
Did not you speak?
As I descended?
Broken language. Broken harmony. Broken kingdom. Broken king.
When spoken as a single line, by two people, it sounds like
‘Did not you speak? When? Now. As I descended.’
The tension, the energy, the discord created by the rhythm itself, after almost a thousand lines of regular, mostly unbroken lines in the play so far, is palpable. And Shakespeare is telling the actors that this is the way it should be done.
Shakespeare also tells us when to pause. When Macbeth hears the news that Lady Macbeth has died, (another spoiler alert), Shakespeare literally gives him a pause.
The Queen, my lord, is dead.
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
After Seyton’s line, there are two iambs missing to complete the line of verse. Shakespeare is telling the actor playing Macbeth to wait exactly that long before he speaks again. And after his next line, there is another iamb and a half missing to give him time to gather himself.
Did Shakespeare really go to all that trouble just to make one of the most brilliant plays we have? Yep. Do actors really go to all that trouble to make it work? We try.