Another Scottish Tragedy

“I have no spur/To prick the sides of my intent, but only/Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself/And falls on the other— “-Macbeth, Macbeth, I.vii.

“They think me Macbeth, ambition is my folly. I’m a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive pain. Madison is Banquo, Jefferson’s Macduff, and Birnam Wood is Congress on its way to Dunsinane.”-Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton: An American Musical

What does the eponymous lead character of Broadway’s hottest musical have to do with a legendary Scottish king? More than you’d expect.

Today I was lucky enough to see Macbeth at Berkeley Rep (who have great student and under-30 deals, btw). This rendition was directed by Public Theatre vet Daniel Sullivan and starred Conleth Hill (aka Varys in Game of Thrones) and Frances McDormand as the murderous couple. Their portrayals were haunting and specific, the direction was precise, and the eery scenic and video design enhanced the story without distracting. Especially moving was Korey Jackson’s MacDuff, who when  encouraged to avenge his family’s murder “like a man” cries,  “But I must also feel it as a man.”  I think I shivered on that line.

All in all, it was a satisfying if not extraordinary afternoon of theatre. As has been the case in my past viewings of this play, I became a bit lost in all the high medieval politics, but The Bard’s peerless verse always drew me back in.

Another slight distraction was my noticing the lines Lin-Manuel Miranda either alludes to or borrows outright in Hamilton. The quote above is from a letter he sends to his sister-in-law Angelica in  “Take A Break” while he struggles to get his controversial financial plan through Congress.

Later in the same song, Hamilton’s wife Eliza urges him to “Screw [his] courage in the sticking place,” the exact words uttered by Lady Macbeth convincing her husband to murder Duncan. Sort of eery, no? Eliza begging Hamilton to take time off to spend with his family (he doesn’t, to great loss), Lady Macbeth encouraging brutal murder (he does, to great loss). Two women whose husbands would be undone by their own ambition. Two men, at once mythic and forgotten by history, who married women stronger than they. Sure, Hamilton didn’t go around murdering his friends, and certainly did more good for the world than Macbeth. But one can’t help but wonder at Miranda’s choice to use such a bloodthirsty leader as a foil to our ten dollar founding father. Maybe he wanted to hint at some darker nature in Hamilton, quelled only by circumstance? Or perhaps he merely thought it would be fun to test fate to say Macbeth in a theatre eight times a week.

Something to ponder this oddly overcast California day.

Love and theatre (and toil and trouble),

-K

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