The Short Version: Ten years since Macbeth was slain and Malcolm still sits upon the Scottish throne. Things are relatively peaceful, although the anniversary stirs up some still-simmering insecurities about that lingering bit of prophecy regarding Fleance. Malcolm is led by his less-than-good courtiers into a spiral of deceit and murder not unlike that of his predecessor, again leading to the inevitable conclusion that the witches prophesied so long ago.
The Review: I’ve been wary of this play for some time – but also very intrigued by it. After all, if there was ever a play of Shakespeare’s that cried out for a sequel, it was Macbeth. Arguably Love’s Labour’s Lost too but that’s another story. Anyway, the immediate plot of The Scottish is wrapped up rather neatly… but there are larger-reaching plots that Shakespeare leaves hanging, which is something he doesn’t really do in most of his plays that don’t have follow-ups.
Still, writing a Shakespeare play is tough work and often leads to infuriating results. And did I mention that The Scottish is probably my favorite of The Bard’s work? So yeah, I had the lowest of hopes going into this.
I’m pleased to say that it isn’t a total disaster. In fact, it isn’t even half-disaster. I’d argue that it’s more than half good, in fact. There are echoes of Shakespeare’s other works – some annoying, like lines or scenes stolen from other plays (sometimes wholesale), but most fitting with the way that all of his works seem to lightly connect to each other. And the plot is a humdinger, although it gets a little too convoluted without any redeeming features towards the end. Still, the idea of the Macbeth-child continues to fascinate (see: Dunsinane, that RSC show from a few years ago. Need to read that…) and watching Malcolm’s fall is an interesting one. I personally subscribe to the secret-evil Malcolm, which doesn’t fit with this play, so I couldn’t entirely get onboard with this woefully ignorant one – but that’s a personal issue.
The real problem with the play lies not in the winking homages to the original play or to the other major works of the canon but to the resolution to the plot. Malcolm marries the Macbeth-child, a daughter. This is all good and fine – but within a day he goes from believing her totally pious to believing her a traitorous wench? Donalbain slain in the first act for no real reason? Macduff stabbed by Malcolm because he was jealous that he might’ve been schtupping the aforementioned wife? Come on. That’s not Shakespeare, that’s just lazy plotting. Give me a bit more intrigue. Earn the tension in the same way that Shakespeare himself does it – although therein lies the problem: no one is Shakespeare except Shakespeare. Suck it, anti-Stratfordians.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. An interesting and modestly successful exercise. It isn’t Shakespeare but it’s a passable full play in blank verse, echoing and growing from the original text. There are whole scenes that could be excised – and should this play receive a full production, I would hope that directors would treat it like a Shakespeare play and allow themselves to cut, slice, transpose, etc. Because some of the scenes with the crowds and what-not are wildly unnecessary. But the idea of the play itself is a strong one – and anyone who is a fan of The Scottish ought to at least check this out. It isn’t the way I’d write the story, but I don’t mind it being written this way.