“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…” With these words the fateful encounter between Macbeth and the three Weird Sisters begins, setting in motion William Shakespeare’s tragedy of imagination and ambition, which in theatre circles is known as “The Scottish Play,” but in literary circles as The Tragedy of Macbeth.
The Santa Ynez High School Theatre Group is about to tackle this, one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest (and spookiest) plays.
Director Jeff McKinnon has assembled a cast and crew of 30 students who have immersed themselves in Shakespeare’s harrowing tragedy of witchcraft, ambition, and murder for the past three months.
Rehearsals have included intense fight scenes, directed by Patrick Lawlor, choreographer for last spring’s popular and rollicking production of Treasure Island. In addition to the fights, senior Davis Reinhart has composed and will perform an original instrumental music score to set the appropriate creepy mood and punctuate the action. Lights and costumes are designed by long-time Theatre Group collaborators David and Tatiana Johnson.
“When Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in 1606, England was just two years past the death of Queen Elizabeth and the coronation of James the Sixth of Scotland," McKinnon notes. "Now James the First, is king of Ireland, Scotland and England (“treble sceptered”), as well as being in the immediate aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, the unsuccessful attempt by a group of Catholic separatists to blow up a full session of Parliament along with James and his family."
James also had a fascination with and fear of the occult, culminating in his 1597 publication of Daemonology, a pseudo-scholarly rationalization for his popularizing of what we now think of as “witch hunts.”
McKinnon further explains that Shakespeare was also aware of the popular appeal of a tale involving witchcraft drenched in blood, to an audience thirsting for such fare.
"The “witches” thoroughly dominate this tale, and in this production their presence is ubiquitous," he said. "The Macbeths, with their “vaulting ambition,” and Macbeth’s own imagination-on-overdrive personality, are vulnerable to the Sisters’ suggestions. They know his weaknesses and exploit them with tragic results. Macbeth is one of us. He is not evil, but in his world, as perhaps in ours, evil is everywhere. One only needs to invite it in.”