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Apple TV+’s The Tragedy of Macbeth Perfectly Illustrates Why We Retell the Scottish Play

Denzel Washington as Macbeth in The Tragedy of Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth, written and directed by Joel Coen, is currently streaming on Apple TV+, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

Macbeth is a brave Scottish general and cousin to King Duncan, and he receives a prophecy from three witches that he will one day become the King of Scotland, along with other titles. Once one part of the foretelling comes true, spurred on by his ambitious wife, Macbeth murders Duncan, takes the throne, and slowly succumbs to the darkness, going so far as to have women and children killed off. Civil war breaks out, and Macbeth learns just how heavy the weight of a stolen crown really is.

Taken almost exactly from the Shakespeare play, the Coen adaptation has amazing performances, with Denzel bringing a perfect sense of gravitas to the role as the tragic Scottish King. Kathryn Hunter portrays all three of the Witches and, with her trademark physicality, brings a whole new layer to the haunting image of the Weird Sisters.

Of the main cast, Frances McDormand’s Lady Macbeth is … fine. She’s a more than competent actress, but something feels flat about her in comparison to everyone else. I would have loved to see Angela Bassett in the role, personally, but I think my screen would have melted under that type of screen presence.

Filmed in black and white and shot entirely on sound stages, there is eerie surrealism as everything seems to echo and pound under the intensity. It leads to claustrophobic moments during intense scenes and ones that seem to swallow everything up. You feel like an audience member fully immersed in the unraveling of fate’s odious design.

We have so many adaptations of Macbeth, and it is such a popular play, that it could seem almost too repetitive, but honestly, it’s just that good.

Every time I watch Macbeth—besides thinking about my first introduction to it, Gargoyles—I go down the rabbit hole of the prophecy question.

If Macbeth had never heard the Witches, would he have stayed a loyal servant to Duncan and become King somehow through other means? Duncan had literally just finished going to war. Heirs die all the time, and Duncan tells Macbeth that he has plans for his cousin.

Was this just the outcome with the most bloodshed and, therefore, the most pleasing to the Witches? Or did the prophesy only reveal Macbeth’s own ego and ambition that would have come out anyway?

With Denzel, it feels like the latter, but again, that varies from performer to performer. For Shakespeare fans, this is certainly worth checking out, and I would love to see more adaptations like this.

(image: Apple TV+)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.