Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Orson Welles and Macbeth

Orson Welles had a love affair with Macbeth.  Many teachers know him from the 1948 feature film which he both directed and played the title role. Sure it’s in black & white, and yes he rearranges scenes, seems to make up bits of dialogue , and even leaves the witches out of act 4, scene 1 (we only hear their voices), but the film has enough originality to make it still work today.

Here’s the opening minutes:


But perhaps lesser known was the 1936 stage version, commonly called Voodoo Macbeth.  The play was part of the W.P.A. and opened in Harlem before moving to Broadway and later going on a national tour. Here’s one of the few videos from that groundbreaking production that survive:


If you want to read more about this production, I’d suggest two books. The first is simply called Orson Welles on Shakespeare edited by Richard France. In addition to an excellent foreword by Simon Callow, it includes the entire script that Welles used.

Weyward Macbeth:Intersections of Race and Performance is a more recent book that touches on that production in some depth. 

The collection of excellent essays was edited by Scott Newstok and Ayanna Thompson who devote an entire section of the book to this fascinating episode in the American theater.





















So I wonder: does anyone still use the 1948 Macbeth film when teaching the play? And does anyone discuss the Voodoo Macbeth with students? I’d love to hear from you if you do.

















  • Mike, I have that Weyward Macbeth book, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I need to! Getting ready to teach Macbeth again. I like that version of Macbeth that comes with the Folger edition of the book. Have you seen the new one with Patrick Stewart? I think I will use that one in class, too. I like the Polanski and Geoffrey Wright for a few scenes, too. Ian McKellan’s soliloquies are great. I think by the time we’re done with the unit, they’ll have seen parts of at least three to five versions of the play, but I haven’t used Welles’s adaptation.

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