The second time I saw Roman Polanski's “Macbeth,” I was 20. The movie had been out only a few months and when I had first seen it (while away at school), I had fallen in love with it and with the notion that I would someday watch it with my father. Dad admired writers more than just about anyone, and the best of them, he often assured me, was William Shakespeare. Add to this that there was nothing Dad liked better than a good battle scene, and especially a good battle scene that involved sword fighting, and you can see why I thought Polanski's "Macbeth" would make my father happy.
Of course some will find it interesting that of all the great Shakespeare films coming out in those years—“Romeo & Juliet,” “King Lear,” “Antony & Cleopatra”—it was “Macbeth” that I felt compelled to share with my father. It is, after all, the story of a young man who turns his back upon an older: his rightful lord and master, the king. Who knows, these would ask, what dark subterranean currents churned through the turgid stream of my subconscious in those days?
Still, whatever the Freudian implications, Dad and I had a great time. I remember that after the movie was over, when we came out into the parking lot, we reënacted the film's concluding sword fight before a backdrop of parked Chevies and Oldsmobiles. I can still see Dad swinging his imaginary sword through the air, can still hear the whistling sound he made with his teeth to indicate the vicious slash of its blade. It was, I suppose, in a way, the last time we ever got to be young together, ever got to play at swashbuckling, play at being actors in a great Shakespearean tragedy.
I find myself thinking about that long ago parking lot, the Chevies and Oldsmobiles, my father's thrust and parry, now that the library's celebration of Shakespeare's 450th birthday is entering its final months. The Bard's been dead almost 400 years now, my father a little more than 10, yet still they both inform and enrich my life. How many people do you suppose Shakespeare has touched like this, how many novels, poems, films, plays, have been sparked by an idea, a thought, that first found human expression within the relatively small radius of that one extraordinary mind?
And so I'd like to invite you out for dinner and a play. On Monday, February 2, at 5:30 p.m., in the Easton library, we will offer a free showing of Roman Polanski's “Macbeth” on the library's big, professional screen. I'll set out some hors d'oeuvres. There'll be a bottle or two of cheap plonk, as well as water and juice. You bring something in a brown paper bag to make your dinner complete, and we'll all sit down and watch the movie that is far and away my favorite film version of a Shakespeare play. If we start the movie right at 5:30, it should end in time for us to talk about it a bit before we all go home tired, replete, and ready to dream of traitors and heroes, Banquo's ghost and Macduff's little chickens, Lady Macbeth's steel ... and Lady Macbeth's undoing.