By the time that it came to be printed, the script of Macbeth was in a sorry state. One scene at least had been incompetently cut about; some passages and some whole scenes had been inserted. It is not to be assumed that all of these additions were changes for the worse, but some of them certainly were. They fail to articulate properly with the rest of the play; and therefore they make it more difficult – in some cases they make it impossible – to understand what is happening. There is no hope of restoring Macbeth to its original form, even supposing that were thought to be desirable, but some of the alterations made to it can easily be reversed. Once the damage has been undone, people will be more able to follow the plot of the play, whether they are reading it or acting in it or watching a performance of it. The better they understand it, the more they are going to enjoy it.
This is a fairly straightforward reproduction of the script of Macbeth, as it appeared in print for the first time. I have modernized the spelling, adjusted the punctuation, made a few small corrections (blue), and numbered the printed lines, scene by scene. Nothing more than that.
This is my first attempt at a revision of the script. I have overhauled the division into scenes (blue), altered the lineation where some change seems to be required, and marked an assortment of passages – including four whole scenes – which I am proposing to omit (grey).
The second file contains some notes explaining the reasons for these cuts; in most cases, however, the reason should be obvious enough.
After making the prescribed cuts, I take this stab at a second revision of the script. I have tried to knock some sense into scene 2, introduced some changes to the peripheral text (blue), and marked some passages – including one block of eighty odd lines in scene 22 – which, to say the least, it would do no harm to omit (grey).
The second file contains some explanatory notes.
For anyone who has not read the play before, my advice is to read this version first. (For anyone who has read it before, my advice is to pretend that you have not.) Feel free to skip the grey bits. Above all, do not boggle. The play is 400 years old. You cannot expect every word and every line to be instantly comprehensible. (Besides, some bits are missing.) Just aim to catch the drift of what is happening. Read it again (and again and again) if that is what you need to do. A play which has lasted for 400 years has to be worth the effort. Just try, and you will find that this version makes sense – which is more than can be said for the version printed in 1623.
You should disregard this advice, however, if you are studying the play for an exam. In that case you have no choice but to read the version which does not make sense. Your teacher pretends to understand it. The examiners pretend to understand it. You are not going to score any points by calling their bluff.
The play exists, not to be read in the classroom, but to be performed on the stage. The construction of a performable script will involve numerous decisions, large and small, which, in the end, it is the actors’ business to make. But I do have some suggestions which perhaps they may want to think about. (Following the example set by some acting editions, I have expanded Seyton’s part, so that he becomes Macbeth’s principal henchman. But I am not sure that this is a good idea. If Seyton is made that prominent, the audience is going to expect to be told what happens to him – and will be vaguely puzzled when he just disappears. (Orson Welles let him be seen to have hanged himself.))
A list of the scattering of lines – rhymed couplets mostly – which have been or might be questioned, either because they are doubtfully authentic or because the play works better if they are omitted.
Some comments on one of the unwanted interpolations – the so-called ‘show of kings’ in scene 20.