Shakespearean noir sounds like some kind of mash up a Hollywood exec would churn out over his leafburger amidst ideas for kiddie giallo lessons and synergistic gun ballet anime/apps. But realistically they’re a Big Willie’s staple, he just gave them a different label:
Shakespeare was constantly a dick to his characters. Othello is made to murder his faithful and loving wife. Romeo + Juliet playing revolving glass doors with their death scenes in a horrible tragedy. I can’t help but wonder that a modern day Shakespeare would have his people caught in school shootings and crushed by fallen space debris and would be made to watch as one is sliced up on Skype while the other can only watch and scream into the void.
Shakespeare was dark in his love stories and historical documents so when he finally went all out to tell a story about when a man become a villain, he brought witches and dagger assassinations and madness onto the page and stage with fury. He delivered a true noir masterpiece and cornerstone because the downfall of Macbeth, King of Scotland, is all about his selfish and stupid choices, and how one begets another. Each one a step into his own grave, and you know he knows it with every inch he advances.
The play opens with three witches plotting. These creatures, depicted in various guises but always hideous to their core, are integral to kicking off the whole mess as they tease Macbeth with his future crown, which he knows he can only claim if the current king were to die. The witches are the cause of all this though they do nothing other than offer counsel, words, and a hidden prophecy that Macbeth knows will be a monkey paw [something that offers good and will always twist it to your demise] but he follows their words rather than shrug them off and live his own full life without striving for another person’s place and vocation.
Macbeth suffers the sin of ambition.
The witches, however, have no discernable motive other than to fuck shit up. They are malevolent but they hold no purchase in the world without the villainy of man. This time, Macbeth. They ably represent the fact the world is a cesspool and will constantly offer up opportunities for you to screw yourself over. If you look with even half an eye, you’ll find ways to sell out your soul for a donut, or maybe less. It’s the saddest truth of the world and it’s what makes being a good person so difficult, because you have to fight that world all the time and stay strong.
The first step down into the abyss comes when Macbeth becomes too intrigued by this future, this certainty he has tricked his brain into believing, into wanting, into making. So he murders the King, Duncan, and he ascends the throne. Though this alone does not secure him his place and he becomes desperate to stay there and so a plot of murder, assassination, and insanity unfolds.
The brutal aspect of this play is the fact Macbeth didn’t need to do any of this. And every time he murders, he wants to believe it’ll stem the flow, it’ll allow him to access the light at the end of the tunnel, but in his heart he knows the tunnel has no end, he’ll die in it. You know this because at no point does Macbeth even get happy about getting what he’s slaughtered to achieve. He never settles, he never enjoys, he never uses, he only clutches at ways to save it. It’s nothing but sad.
We watch Macbeth turn from masterful soldier to excoriated King who is slowly rounded by people who wish him the exact same treatment he saw fit to dole out at tale’s beginning. As the woods close in on him, and his defeat rises on the horizon, Macbeth holds fast to an aspect of the witches prophecy that he believes to be his saviour. They say no man of woman born can harm him and so he counts himself as blessed right up until someone delivered by Caesarian swims against that tide and beheads Macbeth, closing his tale and making all his efforts, all his apparent desires for naught.
Because greed is not good. Because killing for something you barely thought about before is stupid. Because men are weak and foolish and always want more and will forever be tricked by the shiny promise into doing dastardly things so they may hold but one more trinket. But once in their grasp, they realise the shine is gone and they are empty inside, often then looking to fill the void with the next hopeful trinket and thus the black ouroboros is fed.
Shakespeare noir is always fine but Macbeth is possibly the bleakest of them all, which obviously makes it my favourite – be damned those leg breaking actors who refuse to say its name. They knew what they were signing up for when they took on the darkest script of the middle ages, may their femurs and tibias be eternally damned to splintered pyres.