Signifying the Abstract: The Male Gaze, Maternal Power, and Homosocial Bonds in Geoffrey Wright’s Film Adaptation of Macbeth

Jason Pitruzzello


Shakespeare’s Macbeth has always been a favorite work for directors and screenwriters to adapt into film. It has everything a filmmaker could ask for: battles, murder, witchcraft, domestic drama, dark humor, and it is much shorter in comparison to longer tragedies like Hamlet. If you combine these attributes with the fact that no one has to pay Shakespeare royalties, Macbeth’s popularity for film adaptation is easy to understand. Certainly, Geoffrey Wright’s 2006 film adaptation of Macbeth fulfills these criteria. Displaying sexual acts and nudity in the scenes where Macbeth and the Weird Sisters interact, viewers are treated to what, on the surface, appears to be a puerile and obvious attempt at drumming up ticket sales by objectifying women’s bodies. The nubile and sexually aggressive witches seem to provide little more than vicarious sexual pleasure for heterosexual men in the audience, dumbing Shakespeare down for a knuckle-dragging patriarchal audience. A cursory examination of these scenes invites the conclusion that the film is yet another case of an unreflective use of the male gaze. However, the film’s juxtaposition of the male gaze in scenes involving the Weird Sisters with scenes in which Macduff and Fleance reject feminine images entirely indicate a more subtle approach in the narrative. This approach successfully signifies, for a contemporary audience, very abstract Early Modern problems with Macbeth’s performance of masculinity. The film consciously utilizes the male gaze of the camera to portray Macbeth as trapped by his own sexual solipsism; because that gaze is attached to scenes between Macbeth and the Weird Sisters, not Macduff and Fleance, the film adequately signifies abstract concepts relating to Early Modern masculinity, imparting to the audience the wrongness of Macbeth’s dependence on the Weird Sisters. 

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