1. The original Macbeth takes place in the 11th century Scotland, while Scotland, PA takes place in the American 1970s. Thousands of historical events and many generations set these two time periods apart. Yet, while the time p seems immense, noting really changed in human nature. People undoubtedly were and remain social creatures who intensively struggle for their rights, and, in extreme circumstances, power.
Of course the setting of Medieval Scotland and modern America contrast each other, but what doesn’t change is the characters’ drive. Both in the play and in the movie, Macbeth wants recognition and rewards for his work, whether it will be a throne or a boss chair. Macbeth and his lady want to emancipate themselves from subjection and be the ones to take control. Thus the issues of social struggles are visible throughout both versions. Another human quality revealed is the abuse of power. In the original Macbeth, the lovers become absolute, despotic rulers of Scotland.
They throw feasts, rejoice in their glory, and, unfortunately, often forget about their subjects. Although the film couple does not obtain this much control, its excessive pride does shine through. Pat used to complain about her boss, but once she herself took the position, she didn’t change any of the things she disliked not so long ago. She couldn’t remember an employee’s name, annoyingly calling him ‘Richard,’ and wore beautiful clothing, while the employees wore ugly, orange uniforms. Additionally, in both versions, Macbeth falls under pressure. In persuading her husband, Lady Macbeth uses her eloquence to achieve her greedy means, while Bet cunningly employs her charming looks. Macbeth also lets the witches/hippies guide him, albeit he suspects that they aren’t the best advisors.
It must be admitted that Scotland, PA did lose some of Macbeth’s themes by switching the time setting. For instance, there are no battles between Norway and Scotland, no problems with the tyrannical ruler, no loss of followers, and no strong social dissatisfaction. However, the unrest and struggle between the subjects and the state can still be observed, only in the form of the workers versus the Duncan’s restaurant. It can even be argued that the narrowing of the population circle serves well, because the struggles of the workers are easier to follow.
2. Macbeth is a noble work of literature that for many centuries was accessible only to the elite or educated people. By adapting the play into a film that contains things familiar to everyone, the creators of the film gain a larger audience. Now, the viewers don’t have to relate the events to history or have any background information on the beliefs of the age. Keeping the work up to date also makes it easier for the audience to relate to it, while the themes of revenge, manipulation, guilt, and fate are well preserved.
Additionally, for people who are familiar with the actual play the movie is particularly interesting. It is entertaining to parallel the events of the play with those on the screen. On the one hand, some details are cut out or diminished. For instance, instead of the commander’s acclaim of Macbeth’s performance on the frontline, the viewers see a scene in which Joe throws two troublemakers out of the restaurant. On the other hand, some events are completely new to the plot. For instance, the play avoids the actual killing of Duncan, while the film clearly shows how he gets boiled. If in the play the murder was intentional, in the movie the murder is shown as a result of Macbeth’s carelessness. Other events are interwoven strictly with the original plot. For instance, Pat’s guilt manifests itself as a burn that cannot heal, and the viewer immediately recalls Lady Macbeth’s famous sleepwalking. The alterations in the plot somewhat dilute Shakespeare’s tragedy, but yet keep it recognizable.
Of course the “descending” of Macbeth to such level is open to criticism. For instance, conformists and lovers of classics would argue against such a rebuilding of Shakespeare’s work. They might view the cutting out of important scenes and Shakespearean language and addition of too many kisses and curses as a bad reflection of modern culture. Also, if in the play there are slight hints on Macbeth’s intellectual level, in the play he is openly displayed as a dummy. I would also agree that this is a wrong interpretation of his character, that doesn’t look in the depth of him inner conflict. From my own standpoint, I would say that it has to be kept in mind how much time passed between the two versions. I would appreciate the way this film finds an inventive approach and risks standing out from the rest of the interpretations.
3. Scotland, PA completely revolutionizes the play by turning it from a tragedy into a comedy, and thus missing some of the play’s serious issues. The film is also visibly low budgeted and should probably be viewed as an experiment. Nonetheless, through comical approach the film serves a purpose of social criticism. Morrissette satirically comments on fast-food, small towns, and culture of the 1970s. The viewer recognizes the people, the shops, the cars, and many other aspects of the 70s, but this recognition comes through a new light. By watching the events unfold from a side, the viewer sees how the lack of opportunities in the 70s created the most appropriate atmosphere for greed, lust, and dishonestly to proliferate. Since the film is an overall comment on human greed and desire for leadership, it can be viewed as a subliminal message about Richard Nixon, who covered up the Watergate break-in that led to his resignation.
However, from a positive side, the viewer gets acquainted with the goodness of the age. For instance, the witty slang of 70’s Middle America, the clothing, and the sneaky fellows introduce the culture of the time. Also, the soundtracks play the Bad Company’s songs, which were extremely moving and valuable to the youth of the 70s. The youth itself is very well portrayed with Malcolm as a rock ‘n’ roller, and Donald an enigmatic gay teenager. The progress and innovation are also showed in how Macbeth invented the “drive-thru” in the restaurant. This is the time when some of the major corporations begin to arise and attract customers. For example, in the matter of a few weeks after it underwent the renovations, the restaurant skyrocked in its popularity.
4. Many students have trouble following the events in Macbeth and interpreting Shakespeare’s complex language. The dark comedy Scotland, PA relates the story in an understandable manner, but spares students of the real Shakespearean classic. The adaptation is oversaturated with its own whimsy, which obliterates most of the drama in the play. Shakespeare’s dictions, allusions, and symbols, which are essential to the play, are completely obliterated. Instead, the addition of the references to the 1970s forces one to view the play as “American-made.” By over-simplifying the play and giving it new cultural references, the creators leave only superficial plot references to the tragedy. Thus the highly intellectual ideas that Shakespeare incorporated in his work are lost along the way.
Very clever writing and great casting make this a comedy that is fun to watch even if one is not familiar with the source material. However, the adaptation can supplement the understanding of the play, but absolutely cannot take its place in the school’s curriculum. The witches as three hippies, Duncan as a hamburger joint owner, Banqo as a hamburger seller, and Macbeth and his wife as self-advantageous couple undoubtedly may help the youth to perceive the characters’ relationships. However, their original connections and motivations are not demonstrated in-depth. For example, the desire to become a King is much more powerful than desire to become a restaurant’s owner. Similarly, predictions given by supernatural beings are much more convincing than those given by the three hippies on marijuana. Thus the power Shakespeare invested in his play is indeed undervalued and “dumbed-down.”
5. It sure was an original decision to give Macbeth a new birth by bringing it into the American 1970s. Although low-budgeted, the film literally re-builds the 1970s. This is partly achieved through shooting the film in a Canadian suburb that resembles the 1970s’ streets. The shooting in the Nova Scotia, whether planned or serendipitous, adds a nice touch to the film production and even more unexpected irony to the modern interpretation of Macbeth.
The switch of the settings may seem dramatic, but the Moorissette’s underlying message is that human nature applies to every historical period and section of society. One can be a dignified man in 11th century Scotland, a homeless guy in American 1970s, or any other person in any other place and time, but the humiliation and power games will always exist. The adaptation proves that although Shakespearean epoch passed, his work is still appreciated in America.
6. On the one hand, Macbeth has always been considered one of the literary world’s most celebrated tragedies. It is possibly the darkest and most gruesome of Shakespeare’s plays. Scotland, PA steals all of the play’s seriousness by turning it into something sloppily simple and funny. If the original version centered on characters’ development, the reworking was unable to create characters of even the slightest interest and fully show how they change after their gruesome actions. The result is a lifeless film, which is only saved by its setting and soundtracks. The film will most likely be enjoyed by someone who knows absolutely nothing about Shakespeare, because those who know the original work would view Scotland, PA as a silly parody. Also, although much gets cut out, the added details get unnecessarily overcomplicated and the film gets unexciting.
On the other hand, Scotland, PA stays on the task. It has many parallels with Macbeth and enhances some of its themes. Major themes from the original work: revenge, guilt, self-doubt, fate, and prophecy still exist in this manipulated adaptation, even in a new light. These themes are revealed straightforward through peculiar, funny, and incredibly well-conceived approach. The adaptation is also educational, for it shows an interesting piece of American history. For teenagers like me, the setting in the 1970s is very exciting to see because this is the time of our parents’ youth. So looking at contrasting young characters – bold, rebellious Malcolm and gentle Donald – it is interesting to think about to which extreme our parents appealed. Also, the portrayal of vegetarian lieutenant McDuff and suspicious Banconi captivate the reader. Actors who played these two characters, in my opinion, showed the best effort and understanding of the actual characters in Macbeth.
With both its drawbacks and its wonderful additions, Scotland, PA causes a lot of mirth and leaves the viewers with positive impressions.
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