Macbeth: The Tragedy of the Game of Thrones
By Guy Shepherd

'The Tragedy of Macbeth' captures the animating pursuits of 'Game of Thrones' and 'House of Cards.'  Putin's ambition is certainly Macbeth-worthy. The question before us: is Zelensky—and a united world—Macduff-worthy?

Macbeth: The Tragedy of the Game of Thrones


Shakespeare’s Macbeth—and Coen’s rendering of it—is a master-class in ambition unhinged from morality and honor.

Putin should be fearful that if his oligarchs and bodyguards watch this, they may be inspired to stage their own “Tragedy of Vladimir Putin.”

Zelensky should watch and share Macduff’s performance with his “partners in greatness” — the rank and file of his nation's defense.

The “poisoned root of ambition” is a regressive arc that gives human history its tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Joel Coen’s rendering of it is a master-class in ambition unhinged from morality and honor. Ambition is a double edged sword.  It can ennoble a man and push him to distinguish himself and produce great deeds.  It also can lead those possessed by it to become a traitor to oneself and those to whom he has sworn his loyalty.  

Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Coen’s rendering of it is a master-class in ambition unhinged from morality and honor.

Macbeth enters the play as Scotland’s most capable warrior.  He has just successfully defended the king from an outside coup that had some inside help from his highest ranking officer and a couple of noble buddies.  Macbeth exits the play with his severed head and crown in the hand of a deep state operative.  In between is one of the greatest renderings of the “insane root” of ambition and what it does to twist the characters of good men into monsters, and give human history the regressive arc of a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. 

As a reward for Macbeth’s most excellent service in defense of the king’s neck, he is given  title of Number Two—and the burning ambition that comes with it—as a well-deserved war prize. Not a bad bonus and a promotion for the king’s number-one earner.  Tragically, Macbeth can’t bear the crown being passed from the father to a lesser man, Malcolm, the king’s son.  Macbeth is not satisfied with being the managing  member of the  “partners in greatness”— an aristocracy of men loyal to their king.  The Macbeths want what the three wicked sisters promised as his destiny: the crown, to make it to the top alpha post, to sit on the throne and wear the crown and hold the scepter of state.  In the eye of the ambitious, covetous beholder, the crown makes one “so much more a man.”

If folks are looking for examples of toxic masculinity and femininity, Mr. and Mrs Macbeth are a tragic toxic power couple. Macbeth is manly ambition unchecked by loyalty.  Lady Macbeth is ambition that is “unsexed.”  If you are a fan of Yellowstone and its femme-fatale ideal, Beth Dutton—and her “by any means necessary” defense of her father—you’ll notice a darker rendering of such a soul in Lady Macbeth.

When asked why he chose to do a movie of Macbeth, Joel Coen said. “My wife told me to.”  Showing that allowing one’s wife direct a man’s ambitions, does not always lead to tragedy. It can also lead to great human beauty.  Coen erects a stripped-down, black, white and gray rendering of the nature of political ambition and its bloody, tragic, Technicolor historical consequences.  Coen pulls off not only filming it in black and white, his casting picks are black and white and blended.  In doing this, Coen’s shows an important truth of Shakespeare that is being lost: Shakespeare’s subject matter is the human soul in its full, dangerous, beautiful and shared richness. When it comes to being a great guide for men, Shakespeare is King among Kings. 

For those who find the Shakespearean English a barrier,  the signal is clear this American rendering.  You can plainly hear our common tongue.

The acting is great.  Kathryn Hunter’s performance all all three of the “wicked sisters” is a masterful presentation of  twisted body and soul. Denzel Washington is made to fill the big shoes of world historical men.  The man has soul, strength and gravitas, which in this case shows up even at a great man’s fallen moment.  Frances McDormand delivers another award-winning “hear me roar” performance—showing both fallen strength and weakness.

The interchange between Macbeth and Macduff is what it’s all about. Macduff is a younger Macbeth; a Macbeth before his prideful fall—a young and loyal noble with a bright future ahead of him in the King’s “partnership of greatness.“  One distinguishing feature is the Macbeths are without children, while Macduff is surrounded many beautiful children.  Observation: watch out for power couples without kids.  

My favorite scene is Macduff’s response to finding out that Macbeth’s men have murdered his wife and children and razed his estate.  Shakespeare captures—and Corey Hawkins, as Macduff, perfectly embodies—where a man’s gentle nature and his warring nature touch —and the righteous, course-correcting consequences that tyranny releases upon itself. Macduff interrupts the self-exiled Prince Malcolm, goading him to take his revenge against Macbeth.  It’s a course of action that will allow the Prince to return home to his crown—gaining by another man’s arms what he was unwilling to fight for himself.  Before Macduff can “dispute it like a man,”  he “must feel it like a man.  Revenge—properly understood and done right—is tied to real acts of injustice with justice being meted out  personally and with existential finality.  It’s frontier justice, or Dutton Justice. 

While Prince Malcom is purposely cast as small in stature and courage, he has been educated in the art of moving aggrieved men to his political ends.   After Macduff has his “feel it like a man” movement, the Prince advises Macduff to let the tempest of his feelings be a “whetstone to your sword,” “turn  he turn his grief to anger: “Blunt not your heart—enrage it!”  The logic of these words can be seen in the growing ranks of Ukraine’s defense against invaders.  

I love what Coen has done with the quiet reality of mankind’s Ross, the poster child for shifting loyalties.  In The Tragedy of Macbeth,  Coen gives a minor omnipresent character a deep-state debut.  Ross, a Scottish nobleman and a Macduff cousin, is a party to all parties—and masterfully plays the margins between them in the service of this own ends. Kings and nobles come and go, but the unseen hand and interests of the deep state are playing their own  Game of Thrones.  

Guy says: Three Thumbs Up!


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