The Incomplete Shakespeare: Macbeth by John Crace and John Sutherland

Review published on February 26, 2017.

This is one of a new series of selected Shakespeare plays that have pared down to the bare essentials. John Crace’s much abbreviated and re-written text of Macbeth is accompanied by John Sutherland’s annotations. The text includes some lines from the original, so that those who know the play can feel the warm glow of recognition, with witty additions in contemporary language that move the plot and characterisation along at high speed. For example:

Macbeth: ‘Oh, whoops, I clean forgot to let you know
That I did slay these faithless flunkeys
Upset was I that they had done for Dunc.’

Lady Macbeth: I’m out of here, I feel a little faint,’

The annotation for this line is ‘Does she really faint (the beginning of her descent into madness) or is she covering for her hopelessly waffling husband? Literary-critical brains have been wracked by the question’. Exam-like questions such as this challenge the reader’s comprehension while succinctly poking fun at the reams of literary criticism concerning the play. The annotations are wide ranging – on topics including the weather, ornithology, witches, venues for the performances, casting, King James’ interests and lineage, historical sources for the play, weaknesses of the plot and, of course, language. I chose this book because I was at the time studying one of Shakespeare’s other plays (Cymbeline) and I thought this would provide a contrast. It succeeded; the clever and irreverent approach reminded me of performances by The Reduced Shakespeare Company that I saw some years ago. The Incomplete Shakespeare: Macbeth was good fun. it moves at a cracking pace and provides the sort of summary that you would like to provide to friends if only you were clever and witty enough. It would be enjoyed by reading groups that are doing Shakespeare and don’t feel so attached to a play that a parody would upset or irritate them. I look forward to reading John Crace and John Sutherland’s version of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

Adie Batt 3/3

The Incomplete Shakespeare: Macbeth by John Crace and John Sutherland
Doubleday 9780857524263 hbk Apr 2016

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