Macbeth: Character Descriptions
A common theme between both this and Tempest can be summed up from the Coldplay lyrics for "Viva la Vida:"
"And I discovered that
My castles stand
Upon pillars of stone
And pillars of sand...."
MACBETH. (Male) A very minor soldier at the outset, self-effacing, jocular, who becomes by a combination of pressure, fear, and ambition, more bloody. It is important that he radiate a sense of warmth and kindness that draws the audience in, despite his increased monstrosity. He should be always in danger of salvation—just before he rejects it. In some ways, he is driven by a need to please and prove himself to others.
LADY MACBETH. (Female) A powerful and alluring woman, whose beauty lies not in her face, but in her fascination. She is of better birth than Macbeth, and feels the unevenness in their stations, and her present situation keenly. Her marriage was a love match, but to a Machiavellian woman, who would sleep with Duncan to get Macbeth his first advancement (pre-show), and then ruthlessly urge Macbeth to kill to get the next. This production is particularly interested in her statement that she had a child, who seems not to exist. Unless Lady Macbeth’s tryst with Duncan produced an heir…whom she disposed of while very young. The death of children will prove her undoing.
DUNCAN. (Male) The King is not necessarily an old man, although he is older than the Macbeths, but he more perfectly resembles the rowdy boisterousness of Henry VIII, even in his later years. He is lecherous, and has enjoyed an affair with Lady Macbeth, for which he gives her husband advancements. As a consequence, both Macbeths are indebted and resentful of him.
MALCOLM. (Male) The young prince, eldest child of Duncan. He has reacted to his father’s wantonness with an almost Puritanical sanctity. But once he is forced to flee, he takes on, Hamlet-like, the face of wantonness and excess, to look like a harmless fool to others, and so to spare his life. After his father’s death, there is the look of one who has grown up too fast.
DONALBAIN. (Female) A few years younger than Malcolm, and in the full bloom of her youth, she is engaged to Mentieth. The men in her life have all worked to keep her innocent of the ills of this world, or to make light of them, but when she returns for war, she proves the true daughter of a war-like king. (This character will take Siward’s lines as Donalbain’s.)
BANQUO. (Male) In some ways, Banquo is Macbeth’s doppelganger, his other self if he had let his conscience rule. He has a child, but no wife (she died in childbirth), and the Macbeths are both friends and godparents to his child, Fleance. He is of a humble gentry that spans the way between dukes and common men, so that at first it was Macbeth’s honour to be befriended by Banquo, and then his peerage, and now his usurping sovereign. Like Macbeth, we must see a real warmth from him, a deep and painful friendship.
FLEANCE. (Male or Female) Banquo’s young child, about eleven years old or so, and full of that sort of careless innocence that kicks at beehives to see what will happen. The Macbeths are his second parents, and he is especially fond of Lady Macbeth who has taken him under her wing as a surrogate for her own child. Later, Fleance is saved through the intervention of Mentieth, who brings Fleance disguised to Dunsinane, to tend on Lady Macbeth in her madness (taking the Gentlewoman’s lines).
MACDUFF. (Male) A bull of a man, this fellow is an army all in himself. Second in rank only to the king, he is fiercely loyal to his motherland, even before the mother of his children. His lineage may be as old or older than the king’s own, and so firmly ensconced within his rights, he has no ambitions. There is great love beween he and his wife—very Catholic in its size, and in its dealings with the world, quite open.
LADY MACDUFF. (Female) Also from old family, whose lineage crosses over many continents and many kings, her loyalty to the idea of kings transcends who the king may be. Protected by her birthright, she is one of those sturdy women who’s accustomed to speaking her mind, as though the whole world were her child or her subject. Her blind patriotism, and refusal to budge destroys herself and all her young children, however.
MACDUFF CHILDREN. (Males and females) The eldest, hopefully a boy, worships his father to the point of defending him against every accurate accusation. The next eldest, a girl, is at that age when everything’s a joke, especially anyone foolish enough to be serious. If possible, another child, very young and innocent; the type who can make sandcastles for hours without saying a word. And a baby, played by a doll (not auditioned!).
ROSS. (Female) The silly spinster aunt of the Macduffs. She is the type of woman who tries to be everyone’s friend, playing all sides and pretending she’s a peacemaker. Therefore, through her foolish simplicity, she becomes an unwitting pawn. Only when her family is destroyed does she choose a side. A coward, who rather than face a crisis, denies it.
LENNOX. (Male or female) A lord who enjoyed the excesses that Duncan’s court allowed, and now enjoys and encourages the excesses of Macbeth’s court. Like Ross, he is very willing to play both sides of the field. But where Ross does so to stay unnoticed, Lennox does so to remain on top. He is not ambitious, allowing others to take the fall should things go sour. At best, he may be called a ruthless survivor.
MENTIETH. (Male) The fiancé of Donalbain, Mentieth is the son of a high lordling, perfectly fit for the younger daughter of a king. He is fresh-faced and noble in every deeper sense, perfectly ready to go into war as he is to go into love. However, when everyone flees after Duncan’s death, he is trapped in Macbeth’s service, where he plays the role of the obedient servant…even while undermining the tyrant. It is he who takes the Third Murderer’s lines, saving Fleance . He will also take Young Siward’s lines at the end of the play, where poor Mentieth’s heroism will be paid with death at Macbeth’s hands.
FIRST WITCH. (Male or Female) Most often in the guise of a beachcomber, a scavenger who lives off the hoity-toity noblemen who come to picnic. There is something of the seagull in ‘em. (Will also play the First Murderer and Seyton.)
SECOND WITCH. (Male or Female) A jack of all trades, who now sells hot dogs, now ring-tosses, now nickelodeons, or plays the hurdy-gurdy; the keeper of the games. (Will also play the Second Murderer and the Porter.)
THIRD WITCH. (Male or Female) A child or someone child-like, the type who is amused by carousels. (May double as one of the many children needed!)