In the theater, we often say that audiences remember the beginnings and endings of plays. Think of the way Shakespeare launches us into a story: “Two households, both alike in dignity . . .”; “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York . . .”; “O, for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention!,” “Thunder and lightening. Enter three witches.” His plays start with passion, verve, mystery. The endings, in turn, are often more complicated than an array of happy couples or a stage strewn with bodies might lead us to believe. Shakespeare’s resolutions frequently point to questions. What are we to make of Isabella’s silence at the end of Measure for Measure? Who will be pardoned and who punished in Romeo and Juliet? We leave many of Shakespeare’s characters in process, with great work yet to be done.
Every fall, I open my course in script analysis with Macbeth. In addition to being a compelling work of literature, it is technically elegant, from the standpoint of script construction. From the way Shakespeare delivers exposition, to the hook into the dramatic action, to the use of foreshadowing to guide an audience’s attention, this play ticks. When I read and teach Macbeth the language transforms into a glorious machine—gears turning, maneuvering the audience to discoveries and understanding at precisely the right moments. I love watching students delve into the architecture of the play, understanding the poetry of the language in a new way—understanding Shakespeare not just as a literary and historical figure, but also as a writer of the theater, a maker of drama, a master of technique.