"Seeds of time": Women, children, and the nation in Kurzel's Macbeth (2015)

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Date
2020
Authors
Semple, Edel
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Johns Hopkins University Press
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Abstract
From the outset, Justin Kurzel's Macbeth (2015) foregrounds the family, presenting it as the building block of civilized society. While Duncan and his son Malcolm are obviously central to the state, the Macbeths, the Macduffs, and Banquo all have progeny, and in this film even the witches and the Scottish army have children among them. In its opening images, the film presents women as mothers, implying that they are primarily biological and social reproducers. We see the witches on a hillside with two children, and Lady Macbeth gazes grief-stricken at the corpse of her son on a funeral pyre. Multiple boy soldiers are slaughtered in the opening battle and, later, Macbeth personally murders Lady Macduff and her three children. Children, then, are highly valued—Fleance is a beloved son and of course he will be the progenitor of kings, the Macbeths never recover from their child's death—but they are endangered subjects. Indeed, Hanh Bui's remark on Banquo's son can be applied to almost all of the children in the film: "[f]rom the moment he appears on screen, Fleance bears constant witness to life's hardship, insecurity, and death" (Bui). In this essay, I argue that in Kurzel's Macbeth the only hope for the future of the nation is its children, but they are a finite resource threatened by a militaristic and power-hungry patriarchal culture. I contend too that women are shown to be the victims of the state; as men compete and strive to shape the nation in their image, women are often collateral damage. However, women, in the form of the witches, are also revealed to be the best guardians of the state. While the film implies that the only safe place for a woman is on the margins, and the only safe role that of observer, this paradoxically is how the women can actively protect their interests and shape the nation's future. Ultimately, Kurzel's Macbeth [End Page 615] presents the viewer with the birth of a nation; yet, with its mothers and its children endangered, it is a parturition fraught with grave difficulties.
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Macbeth , Children , Family , Justin Kurzel
Citation
Semple, E. (2020) '"Seeds of time": Women, children, and the nation in Kurzel's Macbeth (2015)', Shakespeare Bulletin 38(4), pp. 615-633. doi:10.1353/shb.2020.0065
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© 2021, Johns Hopkins University Press.