In The Night Kitchen

Macbeth In the NYRB, Stephen Greenblatt on Rupert Goold’s Macbeth (which was brilliant) and Adrian Noble’s version of Verdi’s Macbeth:

[T]he Stalinist setting does something more than provide an instance of modern tyranny; it closes off the vistas of hope that might otherwise have been glimpsed in such characters as Banquo, Malcolm, and Macduff. Some monsters are manifestly worse than others, but none of the dour-faced men on the reviewing platform should inspire any trust—and the fact that the principal monster happened to want to destroy this or that person and slaughter his family does not in itself confer any moral authority on the victim.

Spread now over the entire social world of the play, we encounter the flattening that we have already remarked in the characters of Macbeth and his Lady. No doubt the lives of Sergey Kirov or Lev Kamenev, Politburo members killed by Stalin in the 1930s, had their edifying moments, but one would be a fool to dream that if only one of them, rather than the Great Father of His People, had been at the helm of the USSR it would all have been so wonderful. The setting has the effect of diminishing any serious interest one might have had in Banquo’s scruples—

         Merciful powers,
Restrain in me the cursèd thoughts that nature
Gives way to in repose,

or Malcolm’s self-doubts: “The king-becoming graces,…I have no relish of them.” More tellingly, it drains away the significance of the spiritual torment that Shakespeare goes out of his way to depict in Macbeth at the play’s opening. Patrick Stewart is a viscerally powerful actor with a huge stage presence, but Goold’s conception of the play gives him almost no room to convey convincingly Macbeth’s metaphysical horror, his fear that Duncan’s virtues

Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off,
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubin, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye
That tears shall drown the wind.