Macbeth. Dir. Sir William Davenant. Perf. Thomas Betterton and Mary Betterton. Britain, 1663. Annotated by Joy Strickland using the following: Barnet, Sylvan. “Macbeth on Stage and Screen.” The Tragedy of Macbeth. New York: Signet Classic, 1998. 186-200. Orgel, Stephen. “Macbeth and the Antic Round.” Shakespeare Survey: an Annual Survey of Shakespeare Studies and Production. Ed. Stanley Wells. Cambridge: University Press, 1999. 154-165. Wilders, John, Ed. “Introduction.” Macbeth. Cambridge: University Press, 2004. 1-75. Davenant’s Macbeth: Revised and Revitalized by Joy Strickland William Davenant Thomas Betterton William Shakespeare’s Macbeth had met moderate success since its initial performances in 1605, but it was not until “Sir William Davenant adapted the play into operatic form in 1663” that it became truly popular (Barnet 188). Thomas Betterton and his wife, Mary Betterton, were the first to play Davenant’s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth; they both received rave reviews for their acting, and Thomas Betterton was compared to Burbage for his theatrical style (Wilders 11). Davenant placed the role of the witches on a pedestal in his performances, including “the whole text of the witches’ songs from Middleton[‘s The Witch]—these are really musical dialogues, short scenes (Orgel 143). Davenant also “expanded the roles of Macduff and especially of Lady Macduff, making them more evident foils of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth…and he simplified the language” (Barnet 188). Davenant’s most infamous change occurs in 5.3.11-12, when Macbeth shouts at the servant who reports that Birnam Wood has come: “‘The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon! / Where got’st thou that goose look?’ becomes, in Davenant’s more decorous text, ‘Now, friend, what means thy change of countenance?’” (Barnet 188). In an effort to end the play more succinctly, Davenant wrote “a rather awkward dying line for Macbeth (‘Farewell vain world, and what’s most vain in it, ambition’, 5.7.83)” (Orgel 152). Davenant’s revisions and additions to Shakespeare’s Macbeth still influence modern performances: the witches often play pivotal roles and provide mysterious spectacle; the female characters and their motives, especially Lady Macbeth, are carefully studied; and people still try to figure out how to best express Macbeth’s mysterious speeches. Though he did “not quite succeed in disarming the ambiguities of the ending,” Davenant created a popular Macbeth that was not revised until Garrick attempted to return it to Shakespearean glory in the mid- eighteenth century.
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